Mule Deer, Elk and Western Big Game Hunting -

"Fast Food"

The sun finally peeked over the mountains and was now thoroughly blinding me. We were on our all night run from California for our annual elk and mule deer pilgrimage. Our pickup was somewhere in Utah, making for the Colorado Rockies. My sleeping brother-in-law was about to get his turn behind the wheel.

Our trip to Colorado this year was something special. We were scouting a large private ranch that has land in both Wyoming and Colorado. I spent time in the area last year looking for ranches to start an outfitting and guide service on. This ranch looked promising and I wanted to check it out myself. The best way to do that was to hunt it!

Since I had shown Daman lots of pictures and video of the big bucks and bulls I had seen the year before, I had no problem convincing him to help with the scouting that needed to be done.

We made a fast food and fuel stop in Craig, Colorado before heading to our cabin. We were both excited, but tired and looking forward to a good nights sleep.

Our first setback came when we reached the ranch. I had made arrangements with the landowner to have two horses and tack delivered to the cabin. We had a lot of ground to cover and a horse can sure save your legs. But the corral at the cabin was empty. I could already feel my legs getting tight…

After we unpacked our gear, we loaded some firewood in the little two-room cabin. A light snow was starting to fall and single digit temps were predicted.

We had just gotten the fire started in the kitchen stove, one of those big old cast iron cook stoves that could drive you out of a room if you really got serious about building a big fire, when an old pickup rattled into view. I recognized the tan face and gray beard of Jack, one of the ranch hands. We waved Jack into the cabin. He strolled toward us while he adjusted his beat up, dog dirty, full of holes, hunting hat. Jack listened as I explained my horse [or lack of] problem, Daman offered Jack some hot coffee as I filled my cup. The warm cup felt good in my hands.

Jack told us that the boss had gone to Denver for the week and didn't tell him what saddles to let us use. Jack didn't think we wanted horses without saddles. So for lack of two saddles we were destined to walk.

We started talking about the bucks and bulls we had both seen in this area over the last six months or so. The mule deer in this part of the country get big, typical 4X4 bowled out wide racks. They are a lot easier to find in the November rut than in the middle of an October snowstorm.

I told Jack that I had guided in New Mexico and that the bulls in Catron Country had kind of spoiled me. I didn't hold out any hope of finding antler growth to match the mass of those in New Mexico. Jack said "that may be but it's not uncommon here to see five or six bulls together". Jack deposited his drained coffee cup on the table and stood to leave. "In my book that makes the hunting a lot more fun" Jack said. Pushing open the door he stepped into the snowy night.

The heat from the stove had just taken the chill off of the cabins only bedroom when it was time to turn in. I was eager to warm the inside of my sleeping bag before the stove turned cold. I had a feeling that the only thing insulating the walls of the cabin was a few rolled up, old copies of the Denver Post.

Now this is a part of the story I thought about leaving out, being a sensitive guy and all. But I just had to tell of the event that to this day still gets the family rolling at holiday get-togethers.

I don't know exactly how long I had been asleep, dreaming about tomorrow's hunt, when a frigid blast of air hit my face. I woke with a stare. There before me, was my brother in law wearing only a tee shirt and his boots! Thinking this to be a little odd, I contemplated my next move.

Before I had time to formulate a witty query as to the whereabouts of the rest of Daman's wardrobe he started telling his tail of woe.

"It must have been the sandwich I ate" he stated. "I woke up with a bad case of cramps. I mean all of a sudden I had to go ya know what I mean? "So I pulled on my boots and figured I'd try to make a run for it in my underwear. After all, the outhouse was only forty yards from the cabin, in the snow…

I'm sure you can guess that he only made thirty of the forty yards before disaster struck. Of course he had to donate his longjohns to the outhouse gods. Then to avoid a bad case of frostbite Daman had to quick step it back to the cabin. The good news is that he recovered by the morning, but the image of him standing there will forever be burned in my mind…

The ranch property had three different drainages and I wanted to look over each one. The plan the next morning was to assess the public pressure on the adjacent forestland and cover at least one of the three basins.

About six inches of fresh snow greeted the start of our day. We followed a trail that started not far from the cabin and led into the eastern most drainage. There was a good mix of pine and aspen along the trail. The creek off to our left was spotted with beaver handiwork. Several ponds were iced over. We kept climbing slowly. Grassy parks broke thick patches of dark timber.

Fresh elk tracks disturbed the blue white snow and trailed into the trees. Soon our trail dropped down near the creek. The creek split with two equally vigorous feeders heading east and west. Daman and I decide to split up. I would head west and he would go east looking for game and signs of other hunters working this area.

I had only gone about a quarter of a mile up my creek when it started to narrow with large stands of dark timber lining both sides. As I continued walking the creek small aspen stands were now providing a measure of cover. Working through the aspens very slowly, I caught sight of a small patch ahead in the pines about 120 yards, a nice elkhide-looking color spot. Using the cover of the aspens I eased closer. Yep, there about 100 yards ahead and to my right was an elk feeding in the trees. All I could see was its rib section, a tree on the left blocked his head and shoulder and one on the right blocked his hindquarters.

After about ten minutes of feeding the elk was now moving. It had a big body and my experience told me "think bull" but I still can't see its head. Then I catch a glint of an antler… BULL! I also know this zone is four point or better this year. The bull moves again now he seems to be heading deeper into the timber. Makes sense. Its getting late he'll be looking to bed down soon.

Now I've been watching this bull for fifteen minutes and it seems like an hour. Finally, I get to see his antler top a big fork on the side I can see. That means he is legal! Now I know, It's opening morning and I might find a big six point if I pass on this guy. Then I tell myself, I'am not here on a trophy hunt. This is a working trip and Elk in the freezer sounds good to me.

I took a rest on an aspen branch and found the bull. The cross hairs were placed on the bull's lungs and I took a deep breath, I squeezed the trigger and the 7Mag barked.

I ejected the spent round and pick up the brass. I shouldered the rifle and started toward the bull's last stand. As I approach the familiar smell of elk scent filled my head. I found the young bull about 15 yards from his feeding spot in the timber. That nice bull would provide elk steaks for winter and spring and for that I was grateful. Then the real work began. It took Daman and me three trips to pack out the bull. Two miles one way! We surely did miss those two horses.

We worked hard that year scouting the drainages and packing out that elk. It all worked out in the end. I did make a deal to outfit with that landowner and the elk steaks lasted till darn near summer.

Written by Ron Gayer

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