(Note- I've thought about it for a while and decided that I would like to share some of the past hunts with everyone through a read along format. With no real timetable in mind, occasionally I will write a story with the sole purpose of entertaining the reader and promoting the bowhunting sport if there is any interest. Given all of them revolve around the traditional aspects of the sport, they will be posted in the traditional forum. Lastly, I will omit the last names of the people involved to not invade upon their privacy.
1984 Elk Hunt- Part I-The Trip
The world was a lot bigger in 1984 as technology had not cut the world down to size. Certainly the geography was the same but it was an age that lacked the internet, digital cameras, cell phones even fax machines were the modern marvel of the time having just been introduced. I was 26 years old and had never traveled to the Rockies of the great West. My picture of the Rockies were gleamed and mentally imprinted from the magazines I read and the western television series that were still popular in the era. Not only had I not ever seen the grand Rockies in person, I had never even traveled further west that Tallulah La?the western most range of my work area! When my good friend Archie asked if I wanted to accompany him on a trip for mule deer and elk in mid-September of that year, I was instantly intrigued.
There were economic concerns for sure. Archie said we could make the trip for $300. He broke it down in terms of the cost of the times, $100 for gas, $100 for food, and $100 for a mule deer license; a couple of hundred more if I wanted an elk tag. It seemed like an amount I might be able to swing, but I wasn't making much more than minimum wage so it was harder than it might sound today. My new bride gave me the green light and I confirmed my participation with Archie. Now the planning began!
The first plan involved a new truck. I went out and borrowed from the bank $7,000 for a new Toyota 4x4 to make sure that my spent $500 wasn?t going to be in vain! Archie went and rented a tent for the trip and he taught me what Mountain House freeze dried food was. Archie had a small Coleman stove and we both reasoned that was about all we would need as long as we could get a couple of cots and sleeping bags. I might mention that Archie always took a tool box of chains and spare parts for ?emergencies?. I think he could have built us a new vehicle out of all the parts he had. Definitely a good guy to make the trip with. I had been playing around with a 75 pound Martin Hatfield recurve and thought maybe I could kill a deer with it on the trip. Of course, I had my mainstay bow of the time, a 98 pound Mark V Talon compound by Golden Eagle with 2219 autumn orange aluminum Gamegetters and three blade Rocky Mountain broadheads. I found this more than enough for the local whitetails! I had gotten the 75 pound recurve trying to be sure and follow the advice of not ?overbowing? myself
People really shot heavier bows back then.
The trip was soon upon us and I can't explain the excitement I was having. I kept trying to let it sink in that I was going to see the Great Divide, the golden colors of the quakies, coyotes (not common in Mississippi at the time), mountains, cooler temps,and elk and mule deer! (hopefully). There was no way this trip wasn't going to be a rush! No one has ever accused me of not embracing a good adventure; but given a younger version of Stringwacker; coupled with the new experience at hand, I didn't sleep more than a couple of hours the night before we were to leave out. The plan was to meet at Archie's parents house early that morning shortly after daylight, load the truck, and drive non-stop to Montrose Colorado; before spending the night and heading up into the Uncompahgre National Forest the next day. We anticipated the trip to Montrose to take about 24 hours and we reasoned that by alternating drivers at each re-fueling we could travel non-stop to Montrose. With a few pictures taken to document the great occasion to the history of a photo album, we rolled the new four banger Toyota truck out of the carport and began our "epic" journey. So long 90 degree Mississippi temps and hello Colorado!
Now I know if sounds stupid, but crossing the Ole Muddy at Vicksburg started the great western adventure. Unchartered territory , new sights, and an uncontrollable spirit took center stage. Archie took the wheel before Dallas and I marveled at the size of the city, always thinking where J.R. might live! It wasn't long before we hit the Highway 287 stretch to Amarillo and I learned that no place could a fellow see further?and yet? see less; save a few thousand pumping oil wells. I figured it was J.R's home place.
For the readers that have taken the 287 route, they know that it never really ends. It takes you through little Texas towns that all have a Dairy Queen, a bar, and a gas station?only the names really change as the native culture and scenery never does. In some ways I was glad to see the sun set on this portion of the trip as after hours of the same; I knew I wasn?t missing anything. Night brought forth it?s own flavor as cattle wagons (semi?s hauling cattle) blaze by you in the middle of the night going 85 mph with fire rolling out the twin stacks. I often wondered why they all were in such a hurry. Archie said to get behind them! Archie kept saying that that if I didn?t go faster, we would never get there. 55 mph was the speed limit of the time.
Somewhere in the middle of the night, we stopped in a slightly larger town called Dumas. I remember thinking it was a funny name and I renamed it something to more to my liking by adding a ?s?. Archie wasn?t amused. However, as I got out to pump gas, something was different?holy smokes?a cold chill was in the air! I asked Archie how far were we from the mountains and he just groaned/muttered something that I couldn?t hear. I figured we weren?t very close. I did pull a jacket out from the rear of the truck. The cold air felt good. The cold air and the coffee made me pull a double driving shift.
Later in the wee hours of the morning we found ourselves at Amarillo Tx. I kept thinking about the George Strait?s brand new hit ?Amarillo by Morning? as that is exactly where we found ourselves. Archie had made the trip before and he told me to stop at the Waffle House where 287 and I-40 come together. We stop and ate a very, very early breakfast?life was good. I smelled natural gas in Amarillo?a smell that I remember to this day. I kept asking Archie?how much further until the mountains??Archie would reply?if you would have driven faster we would be in them by now. He was a real nice fellow but definitely wasn?t a morning person! It was good to leave 287 behind. To this day, if I go to Colorado I prefer the Kansas route there as I still despise the 287 Highway.
Finally as we rolled through the endless corn fields of the Texas panhandle, we approached Raton, New Mexico?.and mountains! Archie said something about the NRA having an elk hunting operation there. It was the first time I had thought about the fact that WE WERE IN ELK COUNTRY! The mountains at Raton were magnificent in the dawn?but short lived. We found ourselves back in flat country. It was now good daylight and I could see rolling hills with very few trees. I saw some antelope which was exciting in itself as I had never seen one. I remember thinking the entire species would be eliminated in a week if they all lived in the open like that back home. Archie told me the real mountains lay before us?and to drive faster. I remember that I had the accelerator all the way down on the little non-fuel injected four banger and I was only going 50 mph on flat ground. Archie surmised the 5,000 foot thin air altitude combined with a slight but steady incline was the culprit. He finally stopped telling me to go faster.
By mid-morning we were cutting through some pretty rugged country on Hwy 69 and huge mountains were on the horizon. The terrain had turned ?rocky? and I would have been excited if it had been no more than that.
However, in the never ending winding passes that took us through little towns like Gardner, Texas Creek, and Kremmling?we suddenly had to slam on the brakes. The road was absolutely full of sheep. Not a common sight back home; but apparently the accepted norm in Colorado. The sheep herder walked by us and with a waive he was gone. I snapped a few pictures. I was kind of impressed despite the lack of sleep.
Archie kept telling me about we were going to get to ?Monarch? soon and we may need some chains. I asked why do we need chains and he replied it?s always snowing on Monarch. He said the ?mountains? start at Monarch pass. Monarch I learned is a 11,300 Ft pass over the great divide. The four banger was going to be in for a workout!
(A shot of the road leading to Monarch from Salida Co)
It wasn?t snowing but it surely had been. Snow covered the passes and ice was everywhere as the small four banger huffed and puffed its way to the top at 20-30 mph. Archie commented that he hoped it didn?t finally refuse to go any further. The painful climb to the top that took 10 miles was only eclipsed by the terrifying trip down the other side as I used the lower gears to keep the brakes from overheating. In the movie Wizard of Oz, Dorothy commented that she wasn?t in Kansas anymore?..and I knew I wasn?t in Mississippi anymore. WOW!!!! Heavy stuff for a fellow that hadn?t went further than Tallulah La just hours earlier. The rest of the trip was eye popping. It was God?s creation at its finest and the realization that this was wild country that didn?t compute with the woodlots I scouted and formed my opinion of ?wild? back home.
Late in the day we arrived in Montrose 6 hours behind schedule and booked the night at the Black Canyon motel. We made a trip to the Red Barn Steakhouse and despite the extreme exhaustion we ate real beef from real beef country. The next day promised to be one of yet a new adventure?the hunt itself! We tuned in that night to perhaps the best night sleep that I ever had.
1984 Elk Hunt-Part II- The Hunt
After a good night?s sleep at the Black Canyon motel in Montrose Colorado, we got up the next morning relieved to find all our gear still in the truck. We looked a lot like the old Beverly Hillbilly?s intro with the truck loaded to the top with our belongings. After a good hearty breakfast, we purchased our licenses and headed to a C-store that Archie knew about where we proceeded to fill two 30 gallon containers with water and gas for the week long stay. After getting block ice for our coolers from the local supermarket, we were ready to head up into the national forest.
The drive was beautiful. We saw lots of mule deer on our drive into the forest? but no elk. In 1984, the mule deer population was very good and it was not uncommon to see large numbers while you were hunting. Deer licenses were still over the counter with no antler restrictions (as were elk back then). While bowhunting was firmly rooted at the time, there wasn?t the number of bowhunters back then that there are today. We might drive 15 miles or so between bowhunter camp sites. It was still wild country back then.
The plan was to pay a rancher (that Archie knew from a previous trip) an access fee to get to a remote section of natural forest with the truck. I remember getting to the ranch and stepping outside the truck only to feel almost an ominous presence of the seasons. The wind was cold, high, and you had the feeling that fall was rapidly ending and winter wasn?t far behind. It left me a bit unsettled in what I perceived to be ?wild? country. We drove through the ranch and went straight up a mountain; so steep that I had reservations about trying it. Archie assured me that the truck wouldn?t turn over and we did make it without incident. I know I didn?t want to come back down until the hunt was over; if for no other reason that I didn?t want to climb it again. Once on top, the ground was relatively level and covered with heavy aspens. The colors were splendid and the sound they made (as the leaves shimmered in the wind) reminded me of the same sound as in a sea shell when held to the ear. We saw a couple of mule deer before reaching our campsite area.
(Home Sweet Home for the next 6 days)
The tent camp was a modest affair. The basics of living only; but it worked well for us and we had the mountain to ourselves. We had time to put up our tent and get the truck unloaded before having an hour or so just to take our bows and make a short trip around the camp area. I remember seeing some mule deer doe (I was planning to take ANY deer or elk on this trip) but they didn?t give me a shot. It was easy to close within 70 yards?.but very hard to get closer. As we returned to camp, A Mountain House freeze dried meal was prepared and tasted wonderful in the still of the evening. Good sleep followed even though the sounds of the night through the tent were unfamiliar for a Mississippi boy.
The next morning, I took my recurve bow as I reasoned that I could take one of those mule deer with it because they were so many. I had never taken anything with a recurve except a fox when I was much younger and I was excited at the thought of killing ANY deer with it on this trip. I remember that the mountain had ledges (benches) on it and I would travel the lip of the benches and look down on the one below for game. I saw a few mule deer but they were busting up ahead of me and it was a little discouraging. I really don?t know how to tell the next part, but I will try. After an hour or so, I realized what the toilet paper was for in my backpack. After a momentary delay in my hunt, I was off again. I hadn?t made it 50 yards and when I looked down at the below bench?I saw an elk!!! Not just an elk, but a BULL elk though he only had spike horns (legal back then). I readied my bow and dropped my back pack to close the distance.
I performed a three point butt crawl down the side of the bench to within 40 yards of the feeding bull. The bull was totally unaware of the hunter above him. A steady wind made the aspen leaves sing and he couldn?t hear the noise above him. I pulled out a 2219, placed it in the 75 pound recurve, took good aim?and released. Though the elk looked a large as a horse, the arrow sailed harmlessly over his back! Given the wind and noise, the elk never was even aware of the shot and I pulled another arrow from my quiver and repeated the same sequence and result.?this time under the elk; but so close one of the feathers scratched his underside. The elk still oblivious to anything wrong, just scratched his hide with his back leg?.much like a dog! Past the point of feeling pressure, I reasoned with one arrow going high and one going low?the next one I had the windage figured out. A third arrow was shot and the 700 grain arrow plunked into his side back in his liver. Completely startled, the elk took a jump and looked in my direction. I noticed that I had poor penetration so I had arrow number 4 on the string. Unfortunately, I shot high and as the animal turned to walk away it hit him square in the back of the head, between the ears. The elk crumpled in a heap where he stood and after a kick or two went still.
I was elated to have my first traditional harvest. I went back up the bench to retrieve my backpack at the top of the bench. I had some trouble finding the pack I but eventually located it and went back down to field dress the elk. Imagine my surprise when I got to where I shot the elk?that there was no elk on the ground!!! I was witnessing a real life nightmare. I kept going up and down the bench thinking perhaps I was just turned around. I eventually found where I had sat when I shot as evidenced by some kicked out grass. It was confirmed??my? elk was gone!
I began to grid the area looking for the elk or sign. I couldn?t find either of the missed arrows and I only had one good arrow left in my quiver which would prove a problem later. I had looked the better part of 2 hours and had decided to try to locate Archie so that we could double the efforts. I felt the liver hit would be fatal if only we could find him. As I walked a jeep trail back to the camp, I saw a small spec of blood in the road. My spirits soared! As I step off the side of the road, the elk stood up and looked at me, the first liver arrow still in his side. I proceeded to rush the shot and missed him again at 20 yards! ARRRGHH!!!! I watched him go down the next bench and over the next. He didn?t look too stable, but he was still moving pretty good. I couldn?t find that arrow either so I went over the next ledge and looked down. I could see him bedded down about 150 yards down the mountain in some tall grass. Not really knowing what to do, I didn?t want lose sight of him this time and I crawled within 40 yards and just sat down. I decided I would watch him until he died. I had no arrows left to finish him off. I snapped the below picture during this time period.
(The only picture I have of the bull...obviously still alive and I had no arrows!)
After an hour the elk was so weak he laid his head down. It was getting a little after lunch and I thought I would go back to camp, dump all my gear except my knife out of my daypack, and go back for the bull alone. This proved to be an oversight as I had left my camera at the camp. The only picture I got of the elk is the one above that you can barely see him in the grass.
After returning the bull was found dead and I proceeded to debone the massive animal. If you have never seen an elk up close, they are startling in size. I had just shot the only elk I had ever seen in my life and now I had to get to the camp an animal as large as a horse. It was good to be 26 years old. I deboned and carried straight up the mountain many trips of 40 pounds of deboned meat (as much as I could get in my small daypack). I finished the job just before dark with the last meat in the cooler. As I was cleaning up, Archie (who had a muzzleloader permit) was returning and asked if I had seen anything. I told him just one and pointed to the elk antlers hung in the aspen tree near the camp. Astonished, he said let?s get the gear and the truck as close to the animal as possible to make easier work. I then open the cooler that showed full of meat and said it was all done. I think Archie gave me a little higher stature because of the endeavor... than he had earlier in the trip! That night we had pan broiled elk steaks as Archie had brought a skillet, some oil, and a fry pan. Best meal I ever had in my life and I had my first traditional harvest all in one day. Life was good that day.
Archie proceeded to kill a nice cow elk at 185 yards with an open sighted TC Hawken and a nice mule deer 4x4 to go with it.
The coolers were getting awful full of meat. Just to make it a little more crowded, I took a mule deer doe with my Golden Eagle compound later in the week.
(Look hard...may be the only picture you will ever see of "Stringwacker" with a compound bow)
We went down the mountain much heavier than when we came in.
On the way back we hit a major snowstorm and it took us 36 hours to get home. It snowed on us as far south as Amarillo Texas and the trip was very slow. Looking back on that trip is a great memory. You only get to do anything the first time?once. That trip will always be something special and I appreciate Archie putting up with a novice to allow all of it to happen. It stoked my passion for not merely hunting; but great adventures to go with it. In the next few years, each hunt built experience to go with the next hunt. I soon learned that the skills you employ to hunt and survive in the West served you well in the Alaskan Wilderness and the far northern range of Quebec. Hopefully, I can share some of those stories one day if anyone is interested.