Pat Hayes and his last season, last day, 2017 elk.
Any wall space left in that trophy room?
Pat Hayes and his last season, last day, 2017 elk.
Any wall space left in that trophy room?
Summer Is A Deer’s Best Friend
The living is slow and easy in the lazy days of summer, and it’s time for rest and recovery from a long, cold winter and spring as the blood flows to a head full of antler.
They grow wide, or tall, and sometimes both. Take your pick, if you are good, and lucky, come the fall.
Meanwhile, the mule deer bucks grow ever bigger in Colorado…
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Posted by Michael Patrick McCarty
Sometimes in life it is much better to be lucky than good, and that applies to big game hunts too. I was lucky enough to draw a Colorado Mountain goat tag in 2015, and that’s plenty enough to celebrate. I was lucky in the hunt too, in many more ways than one.
And I did get my billy. And I did live to tell about it.
I made the shot with very little legal shooting light remaining in the long, end of summer day. The good news is that my hunting partner was prescient enough to snap a photograph just after we found him. My camera had decided to quit working, and I would have probably forgotten anyway had it not. I was much too preoccupied with trying to stay upright.
The not so good news is that this is the only photo taken before it was caped and quartered and stowed in our packs.
Don’t get me wrong. I am quite grateful to have it. After all, it is not an easy task to take any kind of photo while balancing upon the slick rocks of an extreme slope in a cold and driving rain. That was the easy part too, compared with the dangerous, almost death-defying hike back down to our spike camp.
We had not planned to be caught on the face of a mountain such as this, far above timberline in the deep black night. Extreme hunts can call for extreme measures, and a mountain goat is nothing if not an extreme animal. Still, I would not recommend such a predicament to anyone, except perhaps another goat hunter. Only another goat or sheep hunter would understand the beauty of it all.
It was, however, the perfect ending to a grueling and treacherous adventure. Adventure and grand pursuit before breakfast I say, or in this case, a long overdue dinner. It was a mountain goat hunt, after all, and I got all that I could have bargained for, and more. I would not have had it any other way.
I don’t mind saying that I could not have pulled this hunt off without my friends and brothers from another mother. You know who you are, and I owe you big. Very, Very big…
May you draw a tag soon – so I can return the favor, God, and screaming leg muscles willing! And for all of my friends that I have not yet met still waiting for a tag, please let us know when you do.
We can’t wait to hear about your encounters with the peaks and your mountain goat success. With luck, you will get the job done much earlier in the day!
Today was a big day in the grand scheme of things in this even grander adventure, for today I saw the first goats within the boundaries of my hunting unit. Two billy’s they were, hanging nonchalantly up towards the skyline and feeding on the carpet of shiny new green on the steep side of an open basin.
The sight of the goats and the stunning scenery took my breath away, which you could have said was simply impossible because I had already been gasping for oxygen for more than a mile already. Yet, I did have enough life left in me to grin a little grin and dance a little jig. It made the long hike seem but a small price to pay, and gave me more than a little hope that this quest might just all come together after all.
Still, we came to fish. A lake of indescribable beauty waited near the top of the trail, and my friend knew it to hold some great fish. He was not exaggerating.
As you can see the colors on these Cutthroat’s were almost too stunning to be true. I am sure that my inexpensive camera was simply not up to the task. When first removed from the water these fish were so bright and vibrantly red that it was difficult for the mind to believe the eye, yet, here they were in all their heavenly splendor.
I could say that they had grabbed my complete attention, but that would not be accurate. I spent most of my time fishing with one eye on the fish and the other on the goats, and soon put the rod down and sat to study them with my binoculars.
Both were mature males, and one was, to put it plainly, a bruiser of a big billy. I could see horn and heavy bases from a long way away, and his body shape and attitude told me all that I needed to know. I wanted to be up there with them, right then and now. I wanted to see what they see from their perch at the top of the world, and see it I will.
With some luck and some hard climbing, this goat and I will build some history together. I will be back a time or two before the season, and if he is as good as I think he is once the season begins he may find me quite a bit closer than he ever imagined.
And, oh yes. I will return to have another go at those beautiful cutthroat trout too!
Is their really any other place to be?
By Michael Patrick McCarty
What do antelope, wily coyotes, and wild fires have to do with each other, you might ask? Well, since it seems to be the year of surprise and big adventures just let me take a minute to tell you about it.
Let me also say right from the start, that no – I’m not making it up. Ernest Hemingway once said that the secret to his writing was that he had no imagination, and that he had to experience a thing to be able to write about it. Or something like that, said he, I am quite sure.
I would not be so brazen as to compare myself to Hemingway, but I can relate to his predicament. My imagination has never been that well-developed, and in some cases it just wouldn’t matter. No one would believe you anyway.
I had decided to treat myself this year to an unguided, private land archery pronghorn hunt in northwest Colorado. Bowhunting for the king of the high sagebrush desert is one of my absolute favorite endeavors, but years of public land hunting have taken their toll on both body and spirit and have worn me quite thin. Tags are increasingly more difficult to draw, and competition for a prime waterhole has become fierce. It has become, quite literally, more than I can bear.
And so, reluctantly, I yield. I yield to the younger guys, and gals, and to those much hungrier and more aggressive than I. Private lands held the key to my peace of mind, and a waterhole all my own.
I found the right place.
Mine was a very special slice of mother earth, a true oasis, home to pronghorn, and sage grouse, mule deer and a myriad of small and furtive creatures. To sit there, relaxed and hidden, even for part of a day, was worth every penny that I spent.
The antelope on this particular ranch were plentiful and had been only lightly hunted for several years, creating a healthy supply of trophy class bucks.
Weather conditions were perfect. It had been hot, dry, and windy for several weeks. Water was in short supply, and they were very, very thirsty. Cautious and still careful when coming to drink, but not wound like a heavy spring as they so often are on more heavily hunted ambush spots.
So, as you can see, all factors suggested that this would be a very special bowhunt, and indeed, it was. You could say that I was more than successful by standard measures, though perhaps not exactly in the way I would have liked. Still, “success” is a very special word in the life of a bowhunter.
Yet, this is not so much a story about success, or strategy, or any of the many things involved in a great antelope hunt. This is a tale that begins after the shot. It is a story about follow-up, pursuit, and… recovery. I made a great shot, but not a clean kill, though deadly in the end. It happens, and when such circumstance lays its burden upon you it is always bittersweet.
But to backtrack a bit, there had been one major glitch in my gittyup, which was my choice, or lack thereof, of a bow for this hunt.
I am a traditionalist at heart, and I almost hate to say it but I prefer to shoot a finely tuned compound bow with a sight and release when hunting trophy pronghorns over the water. Archery has always been a game of inches, and those inches are particularly critical when a live target is involved.
Yes, the distance is short and you can generally pick your shot, if they stand still long enough. The reality is that an antelope presents a relatively small target with an even smaller vital area. More importantly, they can jump a string like no other animal on the planet. Their reactions to the sound of an arrow coming out of the bow can stretch the outer limits of acrobatics, and belief. Arrow speed and precision rule the day.
Unfortunately, I was unable to follow my own advice this time. To put it plainly, I am injured. My shoulders have not been working like they used to for quite some time, and a fall on the mountain a month ago really shook me up and has left my joints out of whack. At this point I am still unable to draw my compound or my heavy recurve, but I had booked this hunt a year before and was just unwilling to admit defeat.
I filled my tag with an off-the-shelf 40# Samick recurve named the Spirit II, with no sights and three leather-covered fingers on the string. It was like being twelve years old again.
I had positioned my pop-up blind on a mild slope above the stock pond one week prior, to let the animals adjust to a new-found element in their world. First light on opening day could not come soon enough, and the action began right away.
The first two small bucks came to drink at 7:30 a.m., stared at the blind for just a moment, and had their fill. They strolled about without a care in the world, and I knew right then that things were going to go well.
From then on out I was visited about every half hour by does and fawns and bucks of all ages and sizes. It was my own little wildlife show.
At one time I had a juvenile buck at 16 yards to my left and his brother at 16 yards to my right. The buck to my right must have been really parched, and I had to laugh as he worked himself out to the center of the pond and sprawled out like a half-drunk teenager. He slurped and sucked the murky water like he had never tasted anything so good.
I passed twelve legal bucks that morning, and there were five or six that would have easily qualified for the Pope & Young record book. Two of the bucks were particularly nice, but they approached from directly across the pond and left without giving me a perfect shot.
Time just flies along when you are so completely entertained, and it was 1:00 p.m. before I knew it. It appeared that the action had slowed down, but as I reached for my thermos and my last coffee of the day I heard the sound of thumping hooves in the hard-packed dirt behind me. It was a buck, and he flew past the blind and dropped his nose in the water before I could grab my bow.
This buck was big – old and solid and my mind screamed “shooter”. That on-board computer that we all call a brain only took a moment to calculate and prepare.
The arrow was gone as if someone else had released it, and I remember being somewhat amazed as I saw it hit within a millimeter of where I had been aiming. I knew immediately that it was over, though I stifled the urge to celebrate, just yet. Still, I knew that within mere minutes I would be working to get that wonderful meat that I love so much out of the hot sun and into my cooler. Or so I thought…
The buck bolted away from the pond, and then…just stood there, barely out of range, stock still, but a bit wobbly. He stood, and I waited, and waited…, a couple of minutes stretched to five, and then ten, and then I knew that something was terribly wrong.
I ran the image of the shot over and over in my mind, and I knew that without a doubt I could have not placed the shaft any better. It was simply impossible for this not to be a fatal wound.
The buck obviously had other plans, though it was another 45 minutes before he finally began walking again and disappeared over the hill. Certainly, it was simply impossible for him to go very far.
And again, as so I thought…
I peeked cautiously over the top of the hill and found him bedded at about 35 yards, looking away. One more little half-step, and I watched in horror as his head whipped around and he stood…and then ran like he was never hurt down the hill and across a wide open valley.
He didn’t stop until he was 700 or 800 yards away, and for the first time I felt that terrible pang of anxiety of a great hunt gone bad. A bowhunter’s worst fear is to leave behind a wounded animal, and I was beginning to seriously doubt that I would be able to recover this wonderful trophy.
And then, he stopped, and again, just stood there. I stared, took a good like through the binoculars, and prayed that he would just give it up. And then, he laid down, gingerly, and there was hope again.
By now it had become obvious to me that somehow my shaft had penetrated one lung, but not both, even though the buck had been standing fully broadside when I released the arrow. Perhaps the broadhead had hit a rib or other bone, or he had somehow twisted before it had arrived. Either way, it was a deadly wound, and this animal was in big trouble.
Unfortunately, this buck did not get the memo. Before long he was on his feet again, heading for an area of tall sagebrush far up the ridge. I could do nothing but sit helplessly and watch him go. Hope can be a fleeting thing.
A couple of miles later I was on top of that ridge, having made a long, winding circle out of his line of sight. I gave it my best guess, and I tried desperately to locate him as I peered through the brush.
It was important to see him before he saw me, which can be a tall order to fill when dealing with pronghorns. I finally saw him about 80 yards below me, head up. He saw me first; he was up and he was gone.
It had become obvious that the only way to recover this antelope was to forget about stealth and push him hard and fast. The key now was to keep him in sight and deny him any chance to rest and recharge. Of course, that is easier said then done.
The air was desert-lizard dry and dead calm, with shimmering bands of heat rolling ahead like a mirage. I was beginning to feel like one of the bushmen of the Kalahari, and I thought of a documentary film I had once watched.
For the bushmen the hunt really didn’t get started until they had lodged an arrowhead in the body of an animal. Arrow placement was not always so important to them, because it really did not matter where it was hit. A non fatal arrow still takes its toll, and pursuit is what they do best.
Always moving, tracking and trailing, never quitting. Here, the earth becomes quiet and still. Perception slides into the realm of discernment and immaculate vison, and most of all human concerns vanish upon the wings of an ancient prayer.
But, there was an ill wind on the way that day, and things were about to get very strange…
The first thunderclap went off over my right shoulder, causing me to stop suddenly and stare up into a slightly hazy but otherwise cloudless sky. I looked far to the southwest and saw the darkening horizon of an approaching storm, as the wind came up and another boom of thunder rumbled over my left shoulder. I took a step and saw a bright flash over the near ridge in front and to my left, as the sun burned the sage through a faltering sky.
It took some time, but I found my buck. He was really tucked in the brush this time, but stalkable. I did my best to use the roll of the hill to close the distance. At forty yards, I nocked an arrow. One more step, I thought, and then he was up, again, and pounding down and away along the edge of a rough-looking ravine.
Not to be outdone, I quivered my arrow and made a run for it. He looked tired and stiff, and I remembered thinking that this would be his last good run. I was ready to put this cosmic misadventure far, far behind me. I was not planning on telling too many people about it either.
It was then that I saw two coyotes rise from the shadows and come to rapt attention as all hell broke loose.
They had been bedded in the shade under a deep cutbank, and they must have been shocked out of their paws when an obviously wounded and otherwise compromised antelope practically bowled them over.
From that point on it was all just a blur.
They were on him in a flash, nipping at his heels as one coyote really poured it on and outflanked him to his right. The buck turned and gave one last burst of speed as the other coyote swung to cut him off. He turned again, but it was too late. He began to slow, then stopped…and waited for what was surely next to come.
I had some catching up to do, and the last thing I wanted was to watch a pair of big, snarling coyotes rip and strip my precious prize. I screamed for all I was worth as I stumbled down the draw, racing to insert myself into that classic standoff between predator and prey.
One coyote stood in front of the buck, looking up from under his nose. The other hung back and behind, sliding back and forth and looking for an opportunity to charge and hamstring the buck in one quick, surgical slash.
I wished that I could tell you what happened next, but I can’t. I had to go down again before I could climb to the other side, and for what seemed like forever I was out of sight of the action. When I reached the top the buck was down on his side, and still. The coyotes circled, ready to dive in and tear. I was almost there…
I screamed at the top of my lungs and screamed some more, and they either could not hear me or were simply too focused on the kill. Finally, when I was about fifty yards away they spun around to face me, in obvious shock and disbelief that I had seemed to materialize out of nowhere. Both hesitated just enough to make me a little uncomfortable, and then they turned-tail and bolted like their hair had exploded.
Half-stunned myself, I followed their progress while gasping for air, sighting down my sweat covered nose, and saw…fire.
Oh my God!…
Thick, billowing clouds of black smoke rose steadily from behind the next hill. Now it was my turn to be jolted with a wave of electric current, and I practically dropped my bow in the dirt right then and there.
A blast of wind snapped me out of it, and I turned behind me to see a wall of black clouds and dust headed my way. I dropped my pack at the downed animal and stood, a bit confused and unsteady on what had suddenly become very shaky ground.
But not for long, for I had some decisions to make.
The quickening wind buffeted and swirled, and I watched with almost morbid fascination as the plume of smoke twisted to the east, then to the north and away, and then back around – towards me. Could this really be happening, I mumbled?
More than once I put down the urge to step away, and run. I have seen wildfire in action, and I know how fast it can move and how rapidly things can go seriously wrong. I began to cape and quarter, and I can tell you that my knife was cutting along much faster than normal.
I suppose the next decision was not really all that tough at all. I was over 1 1/2 miles from my blind and another mile from my truck. To carry out everything in one load in my small pack was not possible, as much as I had wished otherwise. I wondered what might be left when I returned to gather up my second load.
A bow or a pair of binoculars can be replaced. Antelope horns are funny looking things that stand upon the head and are made out of hair, and I am pretty sure that the coyotes didn’t care much about them either. Meat is meat, red and real, made of fiber and protein, and in death, gives life.
I took the meat.
It took what seemed like forever to arrive back at my waterhole, and then another tough bit of time to return with my truck. The wind flew steady and the rains came, hard and wild, and then were gone as fast as they had appeared.
The fire laid low, for a while, and then took off with renewed vengeance as I marched back towards the cape and horns and other gear. I saw the flashing lights of trucks and other emergency vehicles in the distance, approaching fast. It was going to be a long night for a whole lot of people.
I cannot fully explain that series of cascading events that occurred on that day, and the images on my mind are still close at hand. I could find no tooth marks or punctures on the buck, so I can only assume that having a coyote in his face was finally enough to push him over the edge. The arrow was broken off deep inside his chest just exactly where it needed to be. It should have been a very swift demise right from the beginning.
I have never encountered a tougher animal.
I am also quite certain that those coyotes are also a bit perplexed. After all, just how is it that a big, easy meal could literally appear in their bedroom, die without apparent cause, and disappear just as fast into the hands of a raving, two-legged lunatic? Like I said, some things you simply cannot make up.
A native american friend once listened carefully to a somewhat similar story of mine and said that what had happened had been the universe talking to me. I didn’t understand it at the time, and his words have stuck with me for a good, long time. I would like to think that I am beginning to understand it now.
I have learned a few things about my role as a hunter.
It’s all about respect, for life or death is a most serious business and there is no going back. Life is precious; hard-won and even harder kept, considering that so many factors conspire to take it away.
It is the hunter’s responsibility to kill quickly and cleanly, and in most cases, that is exactly what occurs. The topic of wounded game is never pleasant to talk about. It will never be politically correct, and it is a conversation most often avoided as if it had never happened. When discussed at all, it is usually spoken of in hushed and guarded tones, even among friends.
But truth can be stark. Realities must be faced, even when they are hard. It goes without saying that it is even harder on the animal. Perhaps that is never more evident than when a big game animal simply refuses to succumb.
A wounded animal deserves much more than concerned consideration. It deserves our full attention, and all of the resources that we can muster. We owe them that, and more. We owe them everything. They give up their lives so we may live.
Call it God, or Grandfather – the creator of all things. Call it Spirit; call it whatever you will. There is a life-force which permeates every living cell of every living thing, dancing and vibrating with everything there is and ever was. It is wide-eyed wonder, a masterful mystery, and a gift of all gifts.
It can speak to you about the eternal spark of elemental and sacred things, in a way that simply cannot be ignored. You may hear it, if you listen, in a place where the hunter meets the hunted within the heartbeat of the world .
Occasionally, you need a little help from your friends, even when they didn’t intend to offer it. It also helps when they have fur and fangs and a lust for a belly full of meat.
Sometimes, the universe can play clever tricks on the cleverest of all creatures, called coyote. I see them now, in my mind’s eye, pacing and pondering, howling at the heavens in hunger and unfulfilled need. Strange things can happen in the land of fire and new beginnings.
I wish them better luck with their next meal…
By Michael Patrick McCarty
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“Lightning across northwestern Colorado is suspected of sparking about 30 fires over the weekend, keeping firefighters running from one blaze to another… More than 4,000 lightning strikes hit northwestern Colorado on Saturday and Sunday”.
The biggest fire eventually grew to more than 1.5 square miles before being contained. “The fire was pushed in multiple directions by erratic winds from passing storms”.
There is a good chance that I witnessed the very first lightning strike that started it all.
—-From the Glenwood Post Independent, Tuesday, August 18, 2015, and from 9News.com, Denver, Colorado,
The front cover illustration for Run, Light Buck, Run: The Adventurous Life of a Lone Pronghorn and a Man on Arizona’s Paria Plateau by B. F. Beebe. Illustrated by Larry Toschik. Published by David McKay Company, 1962. Written for the juvenile audience.
We generally have a copy or two of the book in stock. Please email us at email@example.com for availability and price quote.
“Obsessive pursuit finally led the bull of his dreams. Then something else took him over”.
There is a place I have been that many elk hunters must eventually visit. The mountains may shine amidst spectacular landscapes and it may look like typical elk country, but somehow things are different there. It is a land of mystery and natural forces inaccessible by horseback, jeep or other conventional means. Inward rather than outward, it is a journey of the heart on a path unique to each individual. It is a place you only know once you get there.
I found myself in such a place some years ago, while archery hunting in the high desert country of northwestern Colorado. Elk hunting had been my passion for a couple of decades, more often than not with bow and arrow as the weapon of choice. I’d hunted more than a few of Colorado’s limited-entry units with a fair amount of success. And my overwhelming concern had always been the pursuit of the big bull – the bigger the better.
He filled my dreams and consciousness and became part of my daily motivation for living and working in Colorado. I would find him, and I would launch a broadhead deep into his chest. Of course, with that event, fame and fortune would soon follow.
I have always paid attention to “The Book”, and to who shot what where. I wanted very badly to be one of those fellows with the 27 record-book entries, who had just returned from Montana or Mongolia, or that private ranch many hunters drool over. You know the ranch of which I speak, the one with a Boone and Crockett bull on every other ridge. I wanted all of it, the recognition from my peers and the life that would come with my great success. The more entries the better and as fast as possible. I ran for the goal and rarely looked back. I can’t say nothing else mattered, but by god it was close.
Then, one long-awaited day, I found myself hunting a special-permit area in Colorado. It was indeed the land of the big bull, a trophy area of epic proportions and about as fine a spot as one could hunt without paying the big money. The animals were there. I had a tag, and I would fill it. I would take what was mine and move on.
I hunted a grueling 10 days. The terrain was rocky and mostly open, with occasional brush patches and stunted cedars. It looked like a moonscape compared to the timbered high country I was used to hunting. Getting close enough for a shot was tough, yet I was able to pass up smaller bulls and often found myself within arrow range of elk that would make most hunters lightheaded. They made me lightheaded. They were the biggest-bodied elk I have ever seen, with towering, gleaming branches of bone. They looked like tractors with horns.
As so often happens in bowhunting, however, something always seemed to go wrong. I made so many stalks and had so many close calls, the events are just a blur. I eventually missed not one but two record-book animals. Each time a shaft went astray, I screamed and wailed with self pity, cursing my rotten luck and the useless stick and string in my hand. The prize was so close, yet always so far away.
Toward the end of the season, I glassed a small herd a couple of miles below me. Two were big bulls. One had cows, and the other wanted them. They were bugling back and forth and generally sizing each other up. I hurriedly planned a stalk and rushed downhill toward my dream.
I stalked and weaved and became enmeshed in a moving, mile-long skirmish line. More than once I slipped between the two animals as they worked their way through the brush and cedars. I saw flashes and patches of hide but was never able to loose an arrow. I knew that within few minutes a monstrous set of headgear would be laying at my feet. I felt I had been waiting for this moment all my life.
Soon the largest bull swung into the open sagebrush a couple of hundred yards below me, followed closely by a small herd of cows. Words cannot describe his magnificence. He was one of the finest specimens of elkness I have ever seen, with muscles that bulged and rippled under his skin. He was a bull of unique and exceptional genetics with a massive and perfect rack that appeared to stretch behind forever as he laid his head back to bugle. He was certainly at his absolute prime and, if the truth were known, perhaps a bit past it and didn’t know it. He took my breath away. Then I remembered why I had come.
Meanwhile, the smaller and closer of the two bulls had become even more vocal, and soon it became obvious he would pass very close to me on his way down the hill. He was not quite as large as the old bull, but he was big enough all the same. My bow was up and my muscles taut as I began my draw – and suddenly he was running and he was gone. I watched spellbound as he broke into the open and headed for the elk below us.
It was one of those unexplainable moments when time stands still, and you become something more than yourself. I could have been a rock or a tree or an insect in flight. I was at once both an observer and participant in the great mystery, a part of something far larger than myself.
The air was electric and my body tingled as the two warriors squared off. The cows felt it, too, and crashed crazily over the ridge. It was as if they knew something extraordinary was going down and wanted no part of it. The bulls screamed and grunted wildly at each other from close range, with quite a bit more intensity than I had ever witnessed. And suddenly they were one. They would have made any bighorn ram proud, as they seemed to rear up on their hind legs before rushing and clashing with a tremendous crack. I watched as they pushed and shoved with all their might, a solid mass of anergy and immense power surrounded by flying dirt and debris.
They showed no signs of quitting. Soon it dawned on me that they were too preoccupied to notice what I was doing, even though there was virtually no cover for a stalk. My legs carried me effortlessly over the rough and broken ground, and I was giddy with the exhilaration of the end so close at hand. The larger of the two was obviously tiring, and I remember feeling a pang of sorrow for an animal that would soon be beaten, probably for the first time in a very long time, and would now have to slink off humiliated and cowless.
They pushed and they struggled and, for a few moments, seemed to have reached a stalemate as I neared bow range. The old bull hesitated, then pushed, and when the other bull responded, the old bull spun like a Sumo Wrestler, took the uphill advantage and charged. I stood dumbfounded as the two hit the top of a shallow ravine and disappeared from view.
When I reached the edge of the drop-off, the fight was over. The old bull crawled slowly out of the ravine, managing to keep the only two trees between us all the while. He moved sorely and looked like he had just survived 10 rounds with Mike Tyson. I was probably the least of his problems.
I found the other bull where I knew he would be. I sent a shaft his way and ended what remained of his life, although his fate had already been sealed. A very long tine had done its job as well as any arrow ever could.
I collapsed by the side of that marvelous creature as if I were the one who’d just been beaten, and in a way I had. I stared off into space, confused, a little angry, and barely able to grope around in my pack for a gulp of water, half laughing, then crying. I don’t know how long I remained there before a distant bugle brought me back into the moment, reminding me of the work at hand and the long uphill walk back to my truck.
His head hangs in my den now, and I still stare at him in wonder and amazement. When my friends and family ask why I didn’t have him officially scored for the record book, I usually mumble some vague and incoherent answer, as the right words never seem to come.
For some reason, antler measurements have ceased to matter to me. It has something to do with realizing animals are much more than the sum of their parts. Hunting and the hunted remain a significant part of my life, but my reasons for hunting, and my life in general, have changed in some way I have yet to fully understand. Perhaps more than anything, I realize just how much I love to hunt. And that in itself is more than enough reason for doing it.
The bull’s proud head on my wall will always serve to remind me of that special place I have visited and hope to never forget.
I am, and will always be, forever humbled. Perhaps you have been there yourself.
Directly above is a photo of an original print from my personal collection. I have owned it for several years, and in fact found this at an antique store not long after I wrote this article. As you might imagine, it means a great deal to me.
I am unable to translate the title, nor identify the artist. I would love to do both, and also give proper attribution to the artist.
Can anyone help?
—”Michael Patrick McCarty, longtime bowhunter, buys and sells rare tomes and texts from his bookstore in Glenwood Springs, Colorado”
–Originally published in Bugle Magazine, May-June 1999.
October 23, 2015
Today I hunted Mule Deer on Storm King Mountain near Glenwood Springs, Colorado. Climbing hard in the false dawn from the river below, I soon found myself enveloped in a gray, somber day, with light rain, low clouds, and misty vapors all around. It seemed a most appropriate collection of weather conditions for the moment at hand.
This is, however, not so much a story about big game hunting, as it is about, something else. I fully intended to kill a deer, but in the end, did not. Neither did I see a deer, and not one fresh track appeared in the mud within the view held tightly below the bill of my hat and hood.
Perhaps it was because the mulies were still tucked into cover, discouraged by the heavy rains of the last few days. Or perhaps it was because our usual snows had yet to appear in even the highest parts of the high country, and the deer had not yet migrated down to the lower elevations. Maybe, just maybe, it was just not the day to kill a deer.
But I came for other reasons too.
Fourteen fire fighters died on this mountain on July 6, 1994. Officially named the South Canyon Fire, it began with a lightning storm on July 2, and rapidly escalated from there. Fire crews were scrambling to catch up right from the start, and the town of Glenwood Springs was solidly in the crosshairs.
Residents prepared for the worst in terms of property damage and financial ruin, but no one could have predicted such a shocking course of events.
I remember exactly where I was sitting when the announcement of their deaths was relayed over the local radio. The impact of the news hit me like a sledge to the most vulnerable parts of my innards, so close to home, and not just because it had happened right down the road.
I was a fire lookout on a high peak in the Salmon River Wilderness of Idaho in the early 1980’s, and then after that an occasional firefighter as part of my duties with the U.S. Forest Service. I would like to think that I know just a little about wildfire, though I hate to imagine the panic and abject terror they must have felt as the flames overtook them.
Wildfire can put a fear in you like no other natural force on earth, and I have felt that fear firsthand. Fighting fires is an unnatural occupation, but one, nevertheless, that must be done. I would not be exaggerating to say that I have sweated and toiled alongside some of the most dedicated and indomitable people the planet has ever known. I became a far better person as a result.
Once, so many years ago, I called in a small lightning strike from my perch atop the mountain and then watched in utter amazement as a dozen smokejumpers hurled themselves out of a perfectly good airplane, only to land in a field of jumbled boulders and dead and dangerous snags for their troubles. They successfully contained the fire over a 24 hour period, without rest or sleep, and then humped their gear through snarled terrain to an exit point a few miles away. Those observations continue to influence my opinions on what it means to be “tough”.
Who would do that? Who would risk their lives to save oak brush and pinion and homes, often against impossible odds? Why did I do it?
That answer has never fully come to me, and it is far too easy to put myself in their boots. This could have been me. It might have been me, dying down in hot winds and flame, under some not so different circumstances. I feel for them. I grieve for them. They are my brothers, and sisters, who have left us behind far too soon.
Fire will have its way once it makes up its mind, and there is nothing to be done for it but to get out of its way. They did try, we know that they tried, but only nature and god knew their fate in advance. And though I cannot speak for them I would like to think that their soul’s may find some comfort in knowing that the South Canyon Fire and their ultimate sacrifice changed forever the way that wildfires are managed and fought.
Fire, in its infinite wisdom, consumes all that is presented before it. It does so without judgement, malice, or aforethought, no matter what we may believe. But life returns, and wildfire is also the great rejuvenator. It cleanses with impossible heat and complete conviction, and clears the way for new growth and replenished habitat in an endless circle of beginnings and endings.
In this case it created many hundreds of acres of mule deer winter range, and in the end, improved wildlife habitat for a multitude of creatures. It would seem far too small a compensation for so many human lives gone, but then, who am I to say? I am but one man, often so lost, in such a vast and unpredictable universe. Perhaps it is not for me to judge what is right and what is wrong, fair or unfair, nor to fully understand the true meaning of it all.
It took me twenty years to visit this place; to brace myself for the painful journey. I did not know them. I never met them, to my knowledge. But, I do feel them there, watching. I hope that they are not too sad, and that they do not miss this world so much. I pray that they feel some peace in knowing that they were doing some great things in the world, on that mountain of storm. I have no doubt that they never felt more alive, fighting for what they believed, in that wild and untamed country that they loved.
I know that there were hunter’s among the group, and I hope that they approved of my visit. I came to hunt deer, for myself, and for them. I came to honor the offering of kindred spirits, and bow my head in reverence. I hope that they were able to feel some of the joy that I feel when I hunt, a free man with a rifle on his shoulder and miles of unexplored territory ahead.
They remind us that life is precious, and short, and that any time spent hunting where there is still room left to roam is not to be taken for granted.
We will not forget.
May they rest in peace, with eagles overhead, and mule deer, and wild beings, and life, all around, forever.
“In storm and cloud and wind and sky, In heart and mind and hand and eyes, A bond still binds too strong to tell, All those who flew with those who fell”. – Anonymous. Found on the Plaque at The Storm King Memorial
“Time is the hunter of all men, and no one knows this better than we do. That knowledge gives us perspective, and direction. A hunter is never lost in this great big world, not in life, nor even in death… “- Michael Patrick McCarty
You can read more about the Storm King Fire and Other Fires Here
Below, are a few excerpts:
“For many of the specially trained crews that battle mountain wildfires in the American West, it was a blaze that made it more acceptable for firefighters to speak up or even decline assignments they consider too dangerous—once a rare occurrence that could result in a firing or ostracism in a profession that requires aggressive, type A personalities. No official report articulated that change, but among many firefighters it was an understood lesson of South Canyon.
The South Canyon blaze, which scorched 2,115 acres, accelerated technical advances in battling wildfires, from a new generation of fire shelters—small, protective “mummy” bags carried by firefighters that can be their defense of last resort from flames—to improved communications. “Immediately, we all had radios,” said one South Canyon survivor, Eric Hipke.
South Canyon also sparked more scrutiny of fire officials’ decision-making and strategies in battling deadly fires, and led to changes in the National Weather Service’s fire weather forecasting division, which doubled its number of fire weather forecasters and found ways to deliver up-to-the-minute weather information—including crucial details about wind, which can fuel a fire and its direction—to forecasters in the field. (Related: “Overwhelming Cause of California Wildfires: Humans.”)
After South Canyon, “incident meteorologists became rock stars,” said Chris Cuoco, the meteorologist whose accurate prediction of a dangerous weather shift during the South Canyon Fire never reached the firefighters on the mountain.
It’s widely accepted within the firefighting community that these and other lessons of the South Canyon Fire have saved lives during the past two decades. Even so, the dangers of fighting wildfires in the hot, dry summer remain real”.
From an article by By John N. Maclean
Posted by Michael Patrick McCarty
Sometimes you have to go a long, long, way up in the land of little air to find a turkey…and if your hunting in western Colorado, I can just about guarantee that you will.
Merriam’s are the name of the game, and they, of all the other subspecies, may be the most challenging wild turkey of them all. If you have any doubts in that department, just take a long, hard gander at where they live. It may force you to reevaluate your hunting strategy…and your hopes.
But then again, maybe not.
The terrain is usually steep, and deep, and big. Really, really big. But the turkeys are there for the undaunted, and it is after all, a Rocky Mountain adventure.
Did I happen to mention that there is very little O2 hanging about?
For some tips on hunting The Merriam’s Wild Turkey, see a great article here.