Tag Archives: Wildlife Management

Mule Deer Under Mother Mountain

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Photograph By David Massender

 

Photograph By David Massender

The Improbable White Beast Of Another Big Adventure

Leupold Golden Ring 20-60x80mm Spotting Scope,Shadow Gray,Impact Reticle (Sports)

The Leupold Gold Ring 20-60x80mm Spotting Scope optics deliver a high magnification, incredibly bright, high resolution image across a wide field of view, all with best in class eye relief for easy, full field viewing with or without eyeglasses. The prism-less Folded Light Path (FLP) system uses mirrors to compress a long optical system into half its length. The magnesium housing make this high powered optic lightweight and extra rugged.Features:- Digital Camera Compatible- Xtended Twilight Lens System- DiamondCoat 2- Magnesium Housing- Front Focal Plane (FFF)- Tripod Ready- 100 percent Waterproof and Fog Proof- Folded Light PathSpecifications:- Actual Magnification: Low 20.00 x, High 60.00 x- Linear Field of View (foot/1000 yard): Low 121.00 foot, High 42.00 foot- Linear Field of View (meter/1000 meter): Low 37.00 meter, High 13.00 meter- Angular FOV (degrees): Low 2.30 degrees, High 0.80 degrees- Twilight Factor: Low 69.30, High 40.00- Exit Pupil (mm): Low 4.10 mm, High 1.30 mm- Eye Relief (mm): Low 30.00 mm, High 30.00 mm- Objective Clear Aperture (mm): N/A- Length (inch): 15.50 inch Length (mm): 394.00 mm- Weight (ounce): 61.80 ounce- Weight (gram): 1752.00 gram- Close Focus Distance: 25.00 foot- Close Focus Distance (meter): 7.60 meter

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skeeze / Pixabay

 

June 15, 2015

By Michael Patrick McCarty

A seasoned and wise old billy of the mountain goat kind is many things, yet above all things, an extreme and elemental force defined by chilling winds, lightning,  and mother nature in all her raw and naked glory. He can be found, if you dare, in that dizzying land of avalanche chutes, jumbled boulder fields, and rarefied air far above timberline. And find him you must, for he will not find you.

Add to this mix a man who longs to do just that, yet wonders if the body will still follow the wishes of the mind. Somehow the mountain slopes have become even steeper over the years, and the realities of the inevitable aging of flesh and bone are fast approaching like ominous, black-dark thunderheads over the peaks. This combination of animal and man may or may not be  a match made in heaven. But it is a miraculous association none the less,  built solidly upon a foundation of hope and lofty dreams.

If you haven’t guessed by now, I was successful in Colorado’s annual big game application lottery this year, and I don’t mind saying that I must have been a perplexing sight at the Post Office a few weeks ago. Only another big game hunter would recognize the shell-shocked posture, wide open mouth, and classic thousand yard stare of a person holding that coveted, newly printed tag.

 

A hunting license permit issued by Colorado division of Wildlife for Rocky Mountain Goat GMU 12 Game Management unit 12, for my rifle goat hunt in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass wilderness
A Most Valuable Piece of Paper

Ten years are a long time to wait for a hunting permit, so I hope you will forgive me for not being able to think too clearly just yet. The receipt of what is most likely a once in a lifetime permission slip  has a way of immediately reorganizing one’s pressing list of priorities.

You might say that the mere thought of this adventure gives me considerable pause, as well as a strange and vague uneasiness in the innards. After all, mountain goat hunting is not for the faint of heart under almost any circumstances. Stories of its practical difficulty and sheer physicality are legendary, and in fact, sometimes terrifying.

Just two years ago a goat hunter died not far from where I will be hunting, and I doubt that I will be able to discount that kind of fact. He had been successful too, but then fell from a cliff while packing out his goat.

My license is for Game Management Unit 12 in the Maroon Bells – Snowmass Wilderness Area near Aspen, and it would be hard to find a more picturesque backdrop for a backcountry expedition. It may also be one of the more challenging units in the state due to limited access and other factors. In other words,  it is brutally rugged and unapologetically unforgiving.  The goats are a long, hard hike with a heavy pack from most almost any trailhead.

Legally, I may  harvest a male or female goat, and it is a rifle tag. However, in Colorado the regulations allow me to hunt with a bow & arrow if I so choose, and I do. I was born a bowhunter, and a man must stay true to himself in matters such as this

Perhaps it is testing the fates to leave the rifle at home, since it is not easy to get the job done no matter what the weapon. I would also like to locate a mature billy and place myself within range of my recurve bow, a short-range instrument to say the least. But I’ve never had trouble creating boundary stretching goals for myself, and there’s nothing wrong with setting the sights on high.

It would be easy to become overwhelmed with all of the logistics involved.  A great deal of contingencies must come together to be successful, which means of course that a lot of things can also go wrong. It would be fair to say that this hunt begins when you open that long-awaited envelope, and I suspect that I will never really feel fully prepared. And the fact is, even though I hunted them in Alaska forty years ago, I really don’t know all that much about goats.

Luckily, Douglas Chadwick does.  A wildlife biologist, Chadwick spent many years studying this fascinating animal and famously called him “The Beast The Color of Winter”, in his book so aptly named. He was the first biologist to immerse himself in their everyday doings so completely, and to read his words about his life among the goats leaves one in awe and admiration of an animal that frolics so easily upon a place of such majesty and formidable beauty.

Every aspect of a mountain goat is improbable. At first glance their outward appearance can severely contrast with the splendor around them, for they do seem to be built from an odd and incongruent collection of body parts.  They perform highly impossible, unbelievable feats in impassable terrain, clinging to tiny footholds on cliffs where even angels fear to tread.

Few people get to spend much time with them, if at all. If you do the encounters are more like the desperate escapades of a tethered astronaut who must return to base after a measured length of  time, or face terminal consequences. To hunt them is a hard-won and precious gift.

Yet, Chadwick also refers to them as creatures of habit, perhaps to a fault. Throughout the year they move from winter and summer ranges as conditions dictate, returning to the same areas each season. In late summer and early fall they will often feed in the same sunlit meadow in the early morning, and then return along a well-worn path to bed for the day on the same protective ledge.

skeeze / Pixabay

That’s a very exciting bit of news, since I am a creature of habit myself. I also have a large reservoir of patience, gathered over a lifetime of hunting experiences.

There’s some other things I know too. Concealment and ambush are the bowhunter’s stock in trade, and it is an extremely effective hunting strategy under the right circumstances. It is one of the few advantages in our little bag of tricks, and if you know anything at all about the severe limitations of archery equipment, you will know that we need and welcome any advantage that we can find. It’s not much, but it is…enough.

And so, the time is at hand. The exercise program and the preparations have begun.

“Let the games begin”, I cry, and I pray that the arrow flies swift and true. I plan to savor every breathless, lung-busting, leg-muscles-turned-to-jelly thrill of it all.

A photo of an example of the type of terrain that you can expect to find when mountain goat hunting in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Area in Game Management Unit 12 gum 12 in colorado
Just Exactly How Do You Kill a Mountain Goat Here? Hard to See, But Three Big Billies Are Escaping Up One of the Center Chutes.

You can believe that I will be in that special place called mountain goat country this September; watching, high on a ridge where brilliant blue sky crashes hard against rock and snow. I shall sit with back to granite, eternally waiting for that great white beast to turn in my direction. Hanging there on the mountain, part of it, with a shining smile upon my face and a razor-sharp shaft on the string.

Wish for me to possess, if just for a moment,  the fortitude and wilderness spirit of the goats themselves. Wish me the providence and predatory skills of all high country hunters everywhere, be they two-legged or four.  I am no doubt going to need all the moral support I can muster, and perhaps a portable oxygen tank to go.

It is what mountain dreams and big adventures are all about, and it looks like I am on my way at last, god willing…

By Michael Patrick McCarty

P.S. Stay tuned for more goat hunting updates to come.

Recommended Reading:

A Beast The Color of Winter: The Mountain Goat Observed. Chadwick, Douglas H. Sierra Club Books, San Francisco, Ca., 1983.

We generally have a copy in stock, and for sale. Quote upon request.

 

a vintage photo of legendary archer Fred Bear, one of the father's of modern bowhunting and manufactuer of archery equipment, posing with a mountain goat trophy he took on a bowhunting expedition to british columbia with a recurve bow
* “The Spirits of the High Places” – Quote Taken From An Old Fred Bear Bowhunting Film

You Can See The End Results of Our Hunt HERE

https://steemit.com/hunting/@huntbook/the-improbable-white-beast-of-another-big-adventure

The Bull of John Plute – An Elk of History & Epic Proportions

The John Plute Bull. A former Boone Crockett World Record Elk. Found now hanging at the Crested Butte, Colorado Chamber of Commerce
A Legend in Elk Genetics; A Dark Canyon Monarch. Photo by David Massender

October 2015

…An elk bugle echoes down and around us in the half-light of early morning, as the towering walls of Dark Canyon take over the skyline. The high, whistling notes are nearly overcome by the falls above, the waters now airborne, flying from the cliffs towards Anthracite Creek. We catch our breath as we climb up the Devil’s Staircase, towards the great unknowns of the Ruby Range and the perils of the Ragged Mountains…

No, this is not the scene of some campy, dramatic flick, as mysterious and foreboding as it may sound. But it was the backdrop, with some poetic license included, of a monumental event in the big game hunting world. It is here, in 1899, that John Plute of Crested Butte, Colorado looked down his rifle barrel and laid down one of the largest set of elk antlers ever recorded.

He has quite a history, this bull, and I can only imagine that his story only survives because of luck and some divine providence. It is said that Mr. Plute was a good hunter, and he often traded wild game for the goods that he needed. More than likely, he was usually not too concerned about the size of a bull’s headgear. Perhaps, in this case, he was.

He was also known to be a colorful character. An inveterate bachelor, a miner, and a mountain man, he traded the head to the local saloon keeper in payment of an overdue bar bill. It later passed to the stepson of the saloon owner, who dragged it out of storage and submitted the first unofficial measurement of its antlers in 1955.

The formalities took a little longer yet, until it was officially recognized by the Boone and Crockett Club as the new World’s Record Elk in 1961, The final score came in at a jaw-dropping 442 3/8 points.

Photographs simply don’t convey the magnificence of this specimen, and you can barely fit it within the view finder anyway. In person it is very nearly overwhelming, and it takes some time to evaluate its true size as the eye struggles to gain perspective.

The rack at its greatest spread tapes at over 51 inches, with 7 points on one side and 8 points on the other. One antler has a basal circumference of over 12 inches, and two points are more than 25 inches long. When first mounted many years after the kill, it was fitted with the biggest elk cape to be found. It was probably not quite big enough.

I have been fortunate to hunt some of the nation’s top trophy areas, and I have come across some big bulls in my time. A 325″ class bull is bigger than many elk hunters will ever encounter; a 350″ elk will really get your attention. I have yet to ground check a Boone and Crockett class elk, though it has not been for lack of trying.

Once, on a Colorado bowhunt, I very nearly harvested a bull that most certainly was approaching that magical 400 point plateau. The memory of that guy can still keep me up at night, and I doubt that I will ever forget the sense of awe he installed within me. I can hardly imagine another 40 or 50 inches of bone on top of his skull.

The Plute bull was the World Record for over 30 years, and many thought that it would never be beaten. The glory days of elk hunting appeared to be long gone, after all, …or were they?

In 1995, the elk hunting world shook once more when an antler buyer purchased a head that he had seen in the back of a pickup truck. Killed by an Arizona cattle rancher in 1968 and never measured, it was eventually determined to be bigger than the bull of Crested Butte. Even then, it only beat out the existing world record by less than 1/2″ of total score.

Obviously, Mr. Plute never knew just how big his elk really was. It does not sound that it would have mattered much to him anyway, though I probably should not speak as if I know. Very little has been passed down about his everyday doings, or his end.  Some have said that he died while breaking a spirited horse; others have said that no one really knows. Perhaps the truth of his ultimate fate is lost upon the winds and snow fields of the wild lands that he roamed, like many men of his era. In my way of thinking that only adds another layer to the legend, and to the mysterious nature of a place that once held a bull such as this.

It is impossible to know the full extent of this elk’s legacy. No doubt his genetics still warms the blood of his countless descendants, banked for the day when they can fully express their immeasurable potential. Who knows how many elk like him, have lived, and died, without being seen?

The head now hangs at The Crested Butte Chamber of Commerce, which might seem an ignominious end to such an important animal. Perhaps it may not be the best place to honor him, but I do not get to make that kind of choice. For most, he is a curiosity and a fine tourist attraction, though I doubt that the uninitiated can grasp its true significance.  For my part I am grateful for the opportunity to admire him in any way that I can.

The Dark Canyon of Anthracite Creek has yet to hit my eyes for real, but it will. I am drawn to it, curious too, and my hunter’s eye wants to see what it will see. Hunt there, I will,  just to say that I did. I hope that John Plute would approve.

Most of all, I would like to think that a giant elk like him still roams those mountains. In my dreams I see him there, hanging back in the dark timber just out of reach of mortal men, suspended on the edge of time and the longing of hunter’s soul.

See you out there!

 

The John Plute Boone & Crockett World Record Bull Elk. Now Found at The Crested Butte Chamber of Commerce in Colorado
A Proud Achievement. Mount On Display At The Crested Butte Chamber of Commerce

 

By Michael Patrick McCarty

“All the sounds of this valley run together into one great echo, a song that is sung by all the spirits of this valley. Only a hunter hears it”.

Chaim Potok, I Am The Clay, 1992

 

You Might Also Like Forever Humbled

If you would like to read more about trophy elk and mule deer, we suggest that you acquire a copy of Colorado’s Biggest Bucks and Bulls, by Jack and Susan Reneau. We generally have a copy or two in stock. Feel free to Email for price quote and other details.

Pronghorns & Coyotes & Fires…You Say?

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August, 2015

Ode To The Pronghorn

“Plainly speaking, a Pronghorn is nothing more than ‘prey on the prairie’, in the natural scheme of things. Just ask the prowling coyote, or one of his peers. Yet, he is not so easy to capture or kill. His speed is most obvious; his eyesight legendary. Still, you might just say that he just doesn’t look all that tough.

Well, you would be wrong…

Hunt him fair, and hard, and you may begin to discover an entirely different aspect to his personality. Hit him well with a broadhead or bullet, but perhaps just not well enough, and you will learn what he is truly made of.

For in his veins roars the blood of the fiercest warrior. His heart is the heart of the lion, and it will not stop beating so easily. May we all fight for life, all life, as tenaciously. It has been an honor to pursue him, all of these many years…”

Michael Patrick McCarty

 

Coyote Howling
Time For Dinner

 

Pronghorns & Coyotes & Fires

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.

 

A Great Blue Heron Visits a Waterhole In The Red Desert of Northern Colorado. Photograph by Michael McCarty
Another Cautious Hunter. Photo by Michael McCarty

 

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.

A Picture Perfect Hide a Primos ground blind set up on a desert water hole in pronghorn country
A Picture Perfect Hide

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.

 

Coming To Water A doe and fawn pronghorn antelope
Coming To Water

 

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.

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.

 

Fire. Fire Everywhere a trophy pronghorn antelope taken while bowhunting in northwestern colorado with a wildfire in the background
Fire. Fire Everywhere

 

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

 

There Is Always Light At The End of The Tunnel a double rainbow in the high desert of northwestern colorado taken on an archery pronghorn antelope hunt
There Is Always Light At The End of The Tunnel

 

You May Also Like Antelope Down


 

Danger Ahead! A new wild fire gathers power in the desert of northwestern colorado while bowhunting for pronghorn antelope
Danger Ahead!

 

*Fire Update

“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,

 

A Long, Scary Night Wild fire in the night
A Long, Scary Night

 

——————————————————–

 

The Front Cover of a library edition of Run, Light Buck, Run The Adventurous Life of a Lone Pronghorn and a Man on Arizona's Paria Plateau Illustration by Larry Toschik. Text by B.F. Beebe
Running is What Pronghorn Are All About!

 

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.

 

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Advertising for Run, Light Buck, Run, which was also A Disney Film

We generally have a copy or two of the book in stock. Please email us at huntbook1@gmail.com for availability and price quote.

An Elk Hunter Looks At Fifty – and Beyond!

Allen Backcountry Meat/Game Bags (Sports)


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My head throbs and the blood sings in my ears as I slowly climb towards the new day, and when I look behind I can already see my truck parked far below in a meadow of willows and lush green grass.

It had been a rough night with little sleep, but I had put a bull elk to bed here the evening before and I was exhilarated by the prospects of the coming hunt. It is a feeling for which I have found no match in that other world we all mostly live in. The world of bills and mortgages, marriage and children, business, and so on.

At that moment I am a free and joyful being with the promise of new country ahead, and I tend to wax poetic at the drop of a hat, if at least in my own mind. It has always been times like this that I am most clear and most right with the world. I am hunting. I am alive. I love elk, elk hunting, and elk hunters. Or should I say that most of the time I do, for it is not easy to find love in my present condition. I have a terrible mountain hangover, made worse because it is a hangover derived without the pleasures of drink.

I have become more than a little touchy at altitude these days, and the night before had again brought headache, shortness of breath, and the beginnings of altitude sickness. I’ve got to stop hunting at 11,000 feet, I told myself. I had said that for the last three years too, but of course I had convinced myself that things would be different this year, better, and here I am again. Hunting the high country of Colorado is an annual ritual that I cannot forego; to miss it would be more than I could bear. A bull elk bugling among towering peaks and impossibly blue skies can do wonders for one’s attitude and make most troubles seem far, far away.

This morning is different though, and it is a reminder of some realities I have done my best to ignore. At the age of fifty, and with over thirty years of elk hunting behind me, it has become obvious that these mountains are getting steeper and it seems almost impossible to cover the ground I once did. My bow seems heavier, and I don’t see my sight pins so good anymore. As I gasp for air and cling to a small spruce tree to keep from falling backwards, my body screams with the thought that maybe, just maybe, this endeavor is really not fun anymore. I don’t even want to think about what might happen if I happen to put an elk down in some impenetrable canyon far from camp. I have done it before, and this consideration is always in the back of my mind, like some recurring night terror I wish not to confront but march determinedly towards, ever closer.

To put things simply, I hurt. My body seems to be put together with junk parts that are worn and metal fatigued. I’ve got a knee that has bothered me for years from a knee cap smashing fall in a river, and it smarts like the dickens if I tweak it the wrong way, which is often. The other’s not so good either, and on a bad day I can tweak both knees, like today. It would be comical to watch me hobble about if it were not so sad. The toes on my right foot have suddenly decided that they no longer fit in my boots. In fact, my feet don’t seem to work quite right and appear to belong to someone else. The bottom of my soles seem to always catch some unseen obstacle as I stumble about at the risk of losing my dignity, grateful that no one is near to witness the spectacle of it all. I’m carrying way too much weight, and I’m not talking about what’s stashed in my pack.

It’s early in the season and the day warms quickly, and the sweat runs down my forehead as my glasses fog over. Is is really worth it, says I? Do I really want an elk that badly? At fifty, I may not be too old to hunt elk this way, but I fear that I have a pretty good view of the end of the road from here. I think of some of my friends, and realize with some sadness that it is already too late for some, and I wonder just how that happened. Only yesterday we were quite a little group of extreme elk hunters.

But now, a great friend has some chronic health problems and he spends much more time on his ATV then I know he would like. Another has found religion and for this or some other reason rarely hunts anymore. A friend that I had lost touch with informed me the other day that he has had not one, but both hips replaced, and will now leave elk hunting for the younger hunters. And another is the father of a young son that he loves beyond words, and he spends his time teaching him what he has learned of the mountains in his fifty years, caring not if he ever again takes another elk for himself. I don’t see them much anymore. I miss them, and I miss who we were.

A faint, whistling bugle snaps me from my circumstance, and at once my attention is focused like a beacon in the gloom. My heart skips a beat, and all my minor ailments, in fact all my troubles, vanish as if left behind for some other person still rooted on the steep slope below.

It takes some doing, but I struggle to the top and sit for sometime, until another bugle, closer, allows me to get a better bearing and plan a strategy. I cow call several times, and another bugle from my left lets me know that there are two bulls coming my way. I need a shooting lane, and I pick a spot to set up and must cover ten more yards. As I take the last step and begin to kneel, I hear the all too familiar crash of spooked elk, and I see hide flash through the trees and a bit of antler from both bulls. My last half step was one too many, and I have bumped them. I cow call in vain, already knowing what the result will be. Soon, I sit and smile and have a pull from my canteen. Just another “almost” in decades of “almosts” and very close calls.

 

“Catch Me If You Can”
Photograph Courtesy of David Massender of Glenwood Springs, Colorado.

This is why it is called elk hunting and not elk shooting. Bowhunting can be so frustrating. Still, I am happy because this is success, in many ways. It is a new area for me, and the elk are here as I had suspected. For a long time most of my favorite hunting spots were largely untouched and I had little competition with other hunter’s.  Hunting pressure has always been a consideration on public lands, but lately it seems that someone has beat me to almost every spot, and for a time it upset me. I’ve had to search for new spots, never knowing if it was worth the walk, or if I would find other hunters.

I’ve noticed something different though. My competition all seem to be much younger than I remember, and they all look hungry. They look fit…eager, and determined. They drive beefy, jacked up jeeps, with large tires and lots of chrome parts shining in the sun. I don’t recognize the music blaring from their open tops.

Their smiles are broad and have that certain twist, and the glint in their eyes tell me that the long and grueling hike they just completed was just a warmup. They can’t wait to coffee up and leave me behind, as they strike out to see what’s over the next ridge. It suddenly dawned on me that they remind me of my friends and I – many years ago. Hell, they are us, I thought, and now I know that this is simply the natural progression of things in our world. We are here to pass the torch, and the young guns are more than happy to receive it, even if they have to pry it from some of our hands. I for one will not go down easily.

I agree with many who feel that a hunter is born and not made. I believe that a wise father knows that desire can be encouraged, but not coerced. Yet, an elk hunter must find some further dimension, grasp it tightly, and hold onto it for all he’s worth. In the end, the final product is hammered from iron, tempered by fire and ice, and honed to a razor’s edge by deep, dark canyons, jumbled black timber, and high windswept ridges.

A path so chosen produces legs of spring steel, the lungs of a mountain sherpa, and the heart of a young and fearless lion. An elk hunter must be confident and sure-footed, like the mountain goat on an impossible ledge. Above all, he must be eternally optimistic and willing to improve his skills and knowledge in the teeth of setback and hardship. For it is not easy, this elk hunting.

An elk, after all, is more than happy to accommodate the most determined individual. The more I hunt them, the more respect I have for every aspect of their nature. As worldly survivors they have few equals. Build a luxury golf course on their winter range, and come the heavy snows you will finding them lunching at the ninth tee and sleeping by the barbecue pit in the backyard of the neighboring house. Let loose a few elk in some of the west’s most forbidding country, throw in enough water and some sparse vegetation, and watch them thrive and multiply. Place an arrow from an errant shot in a non vital area of his anatomy, and if it is not too bad he will suck it up and hang low until the wound heels and he can be found bugling in the same spot next year. Elk give perspective to the concept of what it means to be tough.

From our point of view he is a pitiless and unaffected creature, and he expects nothing of you that he would not expect of himself. He is a “game animal” with a lot of game. He believes strongly in equal opportunity, for he will take on all comers with hardly a care. Should you decide to enter his backyard and hunt him, you can tread lightly and show little effort, like many, and experience small success, like most. Hunt him big, and you can peg the throttles until the rockets burn out. He can take it. Can you? Your choice.

Once committed, he will meet you head on and wear you out physically and mentally, a little or a lot. He can grind your hopes into gritty powder and turn your dreams into nightmarish obsessions. He will turn and happily watch from the hill above, as you beat yourself bloody on the rocks. He waits, until you sheepishly stop to pat yourself and make sure that nothing is permanently broken. Pick your poison, because it is all the same to him. In the end, your efforts are most often fruitless and only slightly annoying to him, and he shakes it all off like a december frost upon his back. If you are lucky or good, or both, and you take him, it’s O.K. too. It’s nature’s way, and the only way he knows. To take an animal in this adventure means little. It is the effect upon your person that matters, and if in the end your character is better or worse for the effort.

Last week I hunted with a very close friend who just happens to be the best elk hunter I have ever known. His hunting skills are just simply on a whole other level than us mere mortals, and he has always defined the term “advanced” in the concept of advanced elk hunting. I pick my friends wisely, I guess. Just a few short months ago he underwent major surgery, with complications to follow. While recovering from his complications, a blood clot suddenly passed through his lungs and could have killed him. Later, a second clot should have killed him, but did not. He suffered some minor lung damage, and had not completely healed from his ordeal. The doctor had told him that it was not quite time to hunt, but opening day is opening day and not often found on a doctor’s calendar. I suspect that the doctor may have disagreed with the idea more forcefully, had he known my friend’s style of elk hunting.

He wanted to hunt for big mule deer on our favorite ridges above timberline, and I had an elk tag. At first light we spotted several good bucks on the open slopes, and knew immediately that this was going to be a good day. Yet, as eager as we were to get started I thought I detected some slight hesitation from him as he geared up. We would have to move a long way down before climbing a long way back up in order to get around and ahead of the bucks. Our first step towards the bucks committed us to some tough hiking.

Our plans worked well, and we had continuous action well into mid morning. The bucks were numerous and respectable, and we attempted a couple of classic stalks on bedded deer. It was high country mule deer heaven, and it was a wonder just to be there. My friend was not able to let an arrow fly, but by all measures it was a successful day. Played out, yet satisfied, we turned for home with the promise of a cold drink in out near future .

On our way, however, we glassed two small bulls feeding in a meadow far below. My friend was determined to go after them, because I had helped him with his deer hunt and he wanted to return the favor. I tried to talk him out of the idea, but already knew he would have none of it. I knew by watching him that he was in great pain, even though he tried his best to hide it. I also knew that the last thing he needed was to drop off another impossible ridge and lose the precious elevation we had recently gained, and adding even more miles to our trip. Truth be known, I knew I would hurt badly before this day was done. I hoped I could make it.

We were very nearly successful in taking one of those bulls that afternoon, and surely would have had not the always troublesome mountain winds swirled at the last second. Left with a merciless climb ahead, I tried to concentrate on the ground just past my nose and could only wonder what we had been thinking. Towards the top, I struggled with all I had and had ever had to keep up with my friend’s unrelenting pace. I was glad I could not see the pain on his face, because it might have broke me.

Nearing the top, I practically had to lift my legs with my own arms and the thought of crawling was a distinct consideration. The fact that my friend had out hiked me in his condition would have embarrassed me had I not discovered the solid and unbreakable foundations of his character many hunts ago. After all – he is god’s own elk hunter, marching on.

The look on his face as he drove from camp later that day told me all I needed to know, which was that he had pushed himself past the limits that even he was aware he possessed, and I felt badly that I had contributed to his pain. He called me a few days later to let me know how much he had enjoyed our hunt together. In fact, he told me that it had been the best day of bowhunting in his life and he wanted to know when we could go again. When indeed? We shall hunt together soon, should the god’s smile again and we are both still standing, I thought. I am glad he could not see the emotion on my face.

At the age of fifty, I have learned that life, and death, has a way of placing things in proper perspective for those who listen. Hopefully, with age comes the wisdom to know what is important and what is not, and with it the courage to face the choice. My physical skills and mental drive have declined precipitously, and it is hard not to mourn for them and become despondent over the loss. I am aware that I am certainly not the elk hunter that I once was, but that is good. I also know that I would not be the man I am today had I not hunted elk, and that is better. Elk have a way of marking the true bearings of a man in a way known only to himself.

Occasionally, the meaning of life can be reduced to the simple act of placing one foot in front of the other, and the only question left in the end is if you will, or will not, take that step. For me, that silent footfall will always contain more meaning when placed next to the deep and profound track of an animal most loved.

What more can be said of elk, of life, and of a hunter’s heart?

 

The Last Fence

 

Good Hunting!

You Might Also Like Forever Humbled

Michael Patrick McCarty

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Colorado Enacts Seasonal Restrictions For Shed Antler Collection

 

A shed bull elk antler lays on top of the melting snow in Colorado. Photograph by Michael Patrick McCarty
A Late Winter Prize. Photograph by Michael Patrick McCarty

The Colorado Parks And Wildlife Agency (CPW) will begin enforcing new, sweeping, seasonal restrictions for shed antler and horn collection beginning March 2, 2018.

Thereafter, the closure will be in effect from January 1-April 30, annually, and will apply to all public lands west of I-25, with some additional closures effecting several game management units in the Gunnison Basin. These new restrictions will not apply to shed collection on private lands.

The purpose of this ground breaking regulation is to mitigate the recreational impacts on wintering big game animals, at a time when they are most vulnerable to stress and increased mortality. The restrictions were developed to address the specific needs and issues surrounding Colorado’s unique wildlife resource.

Repeat, or egregious violators are subject to a fine, and a levy of five suspension points applied to the application or purchase of any licenses issued by Colorado Parks and Wildlife. The accumulation of 20 or more points within a five year period can result in the suspension of hunting and fishing rights for up to five years.

Additionally, the possession of each individual antler can be considered a separate violation, with additional fines for each, in aggregate. Violators may also be charged with the harassment of wildlife. Other federal, state, and county agencies can coordinate with CPW in enforcement action.

According to CPW, “If you are hiking in an area where there is currently a shed antler and horn collecting closure and you see an antler or horn, you are advised to leave it alone. There is now way for a CPW officer to differentiate between you and someone who entered the area for the purpose of shed collecting”.

The requirement of a priced permit, or license, for shed collection is not required at this time, though it may be required in the future.

You can read more about the new regulations Here.

By Michael Patrick McCarty

12019 / Pixabay

A Mountain Goat Kinda’ Night

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And I Lived To Tell About It…

 

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!

 

Photo of a Rocky Mountain Goat taken just after dark, on a hunt in the Snowmass-Maroon Bells Wilderness of Colorado with a .30-378 Weatherby Magnum.
It Was A Dark, White Mountain Goat Night. Michael Patrick McCarty With A Hard-Won Wilderness Prize. Photo by Rocky Tschappat

 

A Hunter Poses with the cape of a Rocky Mountain Goat, taken on a self-guided mountain goat hunt with a .30-378 Weatherby Magnum in the Maroon-Bells Wilderness of Colorado's Game Management Unit 12
When Night Turns Into Day. I Took This Billy On The Cliffs Just Above The Snowfields in the Background.

 

A hunter prepares to backpack a heavy load of goat and gear, on a self guided goat hunt in the Maroon-Bells Wilderness in GMU 12 of Colorado
No Complaints Here. Just 4 More Miles To Go!

 

By Michael Patrick McCarty

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Sacred Ground – The Fate of Elk & Man

Animal signs and tracks have always fascinated me, no doubt encouraged by the knowledge that a living, breathing creature just laid them down and might be standing just over the next rise. Tracks are a record of nature’s wanderings and little doings, scratched and scribed on mother earth’s own back. They are placed there, as new each time, for those who wish to follow and investigate.

Temporary and ephemeral, they sing with animal promise and life eternal, bursting of meanings far greater than their small impression would indicate. They speak of purpose and plan, reward and desire, and adventure for all.

Tracks lead, I must follow. I aspire to ponder the possibilities of their message, and to attempt to practice what they may wish to teach. I wish could read them better. Maybe I can decipher them in this lifetime. I am determined to try.

I am a particularly fond of elk, and I am a dedicated student of elk tracks. Their shape intrigues me, and I like the way they cut deeply into the ground as if searching for the planet’s center, releasing the earth’s rich, dark aroma to mingle with their heavy musk. There is nothing subtle about the way that an elk marches through life, churning and slinging dirt and mud while becoming even more solidly rooted to the ground. It grounds my wandering boots as well. They pull me deeper into the ground with each step. I feel freer, calmer, and more fully connected to my life.

Their tracks tell their story, and I gain insight and know the characters more intimately through the added layers of each successive chapter. It is a long and complex tale. I have trailed along wherever and whenever I could. Later, my mind wanders, and I am on the move again, reliving old trails and experiences even when my body is somewhere else.

The characters in this tale are many and varied, each with their own unique qualities, motivations, and point of view. I can read the developing plot on the ground, at my feet, and just ahead. Here are tracks large and small, first meandering slowly, then running. Some are evenly spaced and calm, some are random and hurried. Yearling elk lay them down, as do old dry cows, new-born calves, and antlered bulls small and large.

They document the every day struggles, their hopes, their fears, joys, and occasional sufferings. I can picture in my visions the upturned head of an alert mother, nostrils quivering and searching for unwanted and dangerous scents. Ahead of her, I see a battle-scarred old warrior bull, standing tall in its last footprint, bugling and aching for a fight. It’s all written upon the ground, in the signs of animals and tracks.

Tracks have led me to vibrantly green, sundappled forests so beautiful it was difficult not to cry. It was tempting to lie down there forever, quiet and unmoving, until my body turned to stone, left to weather and crack and fall upon the earth.

I stood again, to wind my way through sage covered flats, with pounding rain and fog so thick that one is forced to look only down, watching the rain drops from your hat land squarely in the elk track below. Shielding my eyes from stinging, wind-driven snowflakes, I have waded through the unbearable snows of a terrible winter to find a calf’s last struggles against barbed wire and fence, too high.

More than once I have explored an anxious trail of tracks patterned by a solitary elk, and observed the paw prints of a mountain lion, or a bear, on top. Moving on intently, I have found only piles of hair or a few shards of bone in the last impression, with no elk left to pursue.

Backtracking upon tracks I was stepping on, I have been confronted with the reality of mountain lion or bear tracks covering my tracks, in turn. Tracks have led me to the center of nowhere, and back again. On the way I found myself, staring back. I am always looking for the next track to chase, eager to discover where it may lead.

My life is surrounded by elk and their tracks. apparently, I’ve made sure it worked out that way, without fully realizing it. Tracks lead past my house on their way to hay fields below, and I often stand in them on my way to our garden. Even at work, I look for them out of the corner of my eye, knowing that they are often just yards away from my comfortable shoes.

I work as a security guard, and my “office” is a “shack” at the main entrance of a golf course, country club, and home development. The sprawling property is interspersed with large homes on small lots, with much open space, and for now, many vacant house lots. A river runs through it. Public lands are near and expansive. Elk and mule deer are a commonly seen, along with a variety of smaller animals, birds and waterfowl.  I am a most fortunate person.

You might say I have a room with a view. Red rocky ridges, sparkling clear water, and manicured greenery wrap around and fill the big windows of the small building. To the south, Mt. Sopris looms above us and refuses to be ignored. Broad shouldered and solid, with a long, deep blanket of shimmering snow fields below her twin peaks, it is one of my favorite and most comforting friends. The Ute Indians revered her first, and named her “Mother Mountain”.

Somehow I feel that she is watching, and that she is caring and protective of the many beings down below. I look to her often, and wonder what she would have to say about our human doings. She already knows that all is not always well in paradise.

“Mother Mountain” has a grand view of the “eagle tree” on the property, and a section of the development has been declared off-limits to all activity in an effort to honor the pair of bald eagles that raise their young here every summer. It is a grandfather of all trees, a towering ponderosa with heavy, thick branches, perfectly placed on the bank of a sweeping curve in the shallow river.

The eagles have been raising their young here for decades, perhaps millennia, or more. They have seen a lot, these eagles. The place would not be the same without them and it is a credit to the developer and others who planned it.

 

werner22brigitte / Pixabay

In the spring and summer people talk of them and wish to see them. They call for the daily eagle report. They are famous, they are legend. Homeowners and club members can see them whenever they wish. Outsiders cannot. We must protect the eagles from disturbance, we say. To appease the general public, we occasionally host a coordinated observation tour to show everyone that all is well in eagle world. It’s the least we can do.

However, limited and brief access does not satisfy the public demand. Most of the excited, would be visitors arrive by vehicle unannounced, without appointment. They wish to watch the eagles and they want to see them very badly. They are curious about their eaglets and they can’t wait to take their picture. One of the parent’s may return with a freshly caught and wiggling trout to feed the young, and they want to encourage them on. For their own reasons they are humans who want to be part of something else, something wild.

Birders and eagle lovers can be very determined folks, and they do not like to be turned away. But we do, because we must, and we can.  After all, it is private property, you see. Members only, I’m afraid.

The private in private property can define and expose some harsh realities. It means that something, in this case the eagles, belongs to someone else. They are not for you. When I deprive someone of the eagles, I know that it was not my idea and that I am only doing my job, but that does not make me feel any better.  I must wonder, as I turn to Mt. Sopris and ask, what would “mother” say”?

My head is out of the office as much as it is in, and when I slide the door open to greet a guest I cannot help but look in the direction of the river and the eagle tree. Perhaps I can catch a glimpse of that distinctive white head flashing in the light of a low sun, as it soars calmly over the back of an elk on its return to the comfort of the family nest.

After sunset, the night belongs to the elk, particularly during the long, cold nights of winter. I often can hear them calling back and forth to each other, conversing in a language as old as time. They paw and crunch through the snow just out of range of approaching headlights. On moonlit nights I can spot them weaving around the trees near the building, a ghostly apparition that begs me to leave my confines and join them. Unobservable to the casual traveler and yet so close, it is our little secret, the elk and I.

During the worst days of our long winters, the elk congregate on the property to escape the heavy snows of the high country. Skiers on their way to Aspen, most of them apparently from elkless places, slam on their brakes and leave the highway. They can’t believe their eyes. They shower me with questions. Is that an elk? How many are there? Where did they go? How long will they be here? They want to see the elk, and they want to see them very badly. They need to see them. Why are the elk here, they ask? I do not know the answer to that last one, but I am glad they asked. That is the million dollar question, after all.

I want to grant the them access, because I love the fact that they are so completely enthralled with an animal that I love too. Instead, I must say no, and turn them away. It is that private property thing again, rising to rear its ugly head. The elk are standing on private property, I explain. It is a private subdivision and a private club. The message is clear. They are “our elk”, not yours. They may wander about on public land most of the year, but they are “our elk” now. They are not for you. I cannot let you past. I cannot accommodate your request.

Most of the time they look past me and through me as if I’m not there, eager for another elk sighting. They plead and they reason, hoping to gain some toehold to hang on to and work a crack to break my resolve. They cannot believe I am blocking their way, incredulous at my lack of compassion and understanding regarding their need. I stand uninvolved, professional, resolute. They do not know that I wish for them to see them too. I cannot let them see the inner workings of my conflicted mind. If I only could…If they only knew…

The west is not the west that I came to 35 years ago. More populated, yes, but different  in ways apart from the addition of people. Attitudes have changed. Colorado has become more and more like…other places. It has never ceased to amaze me how people come here to escape the problems of the place they have come from – and then promptly try to change the new place back into the old place they just worked so hard to escape. Too often our stunning views become valued most for the picture through the picture window in the great room of the palatial house on the new hobby ranch estate.

Here, as in many areas throughout the west, the trophy houses perch like sentinels above the river, on guard against the boatman who pass on the public waters below. In Colorado only the navigable and flowing water is public; the river bottoms and shorelines are private. May the heavens part and jagged thunderbolts smite the poor, unwashed soul who touches the river bottom with the metal of boat or anchor, or wader covered foot. They are watching, and the fish policemen are but a moment away. I should know. I am one.

skeeze / Pixabay

The fish, of course, belong to the public. The finny creatures are managed by people who work for a public wildlife management agency, which is funded with public funds, paid primarily by private citizens who purchase a public fishing license with their private dollars, which pays for the public fish managed by the public wildlife management agency. Yet, there seems to be some confusion over who owns the fish.

The private property proclamations and numerous no trespassing signs are placed strategically and obviously to remind the boatmen not to stop. The signs imply the desired message. You may pass but do not enter. Wet your lines and be on your way. The area is designated as catch and release, the sign says, so put our fish back too. Like the elk, and the eagle, they are “our fish”, and not for you.  I blissfully fished on these river banks many, many times over the years, with the eagles over my shoulders. There were no signs or houses then. I quit fishing here, a lifetime ago. Somehow all of the joy has long since been squeezed out of these troubled waters.

I like my job well enough. Like many people I have too many bills to pay, a mortgage to service, and promises to keep. I must work, but the duty does not particularly suit me. I struggle with my inner wranglings, and find it difficult to relate to people on equal or near equal terms, in an effort to provide what they need. Mind reading and the decoding of a person’s unspoken and true desire is not one of my strong suits. Oh how I wish that it was.

On the other hand, my desire is clear. I would prefer to be glued to a hot track, or directly connected to a pulsating and surging fish. I want to be the eagle, to fly away, circling ever upward and screaming fiercely in a bold, blue sky. I do my best to smile. No one has ever asked my opinion about anything substantial. In the end, I am a glorified Walmart Greeter, waving contentedly like a trained and tethered circus monkey, guarding a lifestyle at my back that I could never attain financially, but would never chose if I could.

To be fair, many of the residents love the elk and respect and cherish the gift of wildlife around them. They wish to help much more than harm. Most of the rest are nice enough. Some of the others, not so much. Some of the not so nice have long since moved away. Selling out, they were eager to move on to the next better place and conquer new-found worlds. Godspeed. I wish them well. Continue reading Sacred Ground – The Fate of Elk & Man