Wilson Post Blogs
Elk again & memories of other hunts
By JOHN L. SLOAN
A Memory -- He is 75 yards out in the big meadow. He has been in the almost dry wallow for ten minutes with his harem of nearly a dozen cows gathered close by. I have tried everything from challenging bugles to plaintive cow calls. He has ignored them all with equal disdain. I cannot shoot 75-yards with the 65-pound Jennings. The camera clicks as he gathers his ladies and heads for Steamboat Springs.
Memories of an elk hunt.
I am going again. I am returning to the mountains. It won’t be long now and I’ll board the plane for Durango, Colorado. I’ll be met at the airport by Bo Pitman, a friend of many years with access to over 7,000 acres of private ranch that is loaded with elk. Robert Pitman, Bo’s father, age 75, will join us. He has not elk hunted in several years, either. Quite likely this will be his last hunt, too. Mostly he is just going for the company. Truth told, so am I.
Bo’s land is just outside Mancos, CO, halfway between Durango and Cortez. It is beautiful country. Robert, and I, despite various ages and infirmities believe we can handle it. The terrain and altitude are moderate and we are shooting rifles. For me, it will be aged and favorite Parker-Hale .308 with 150 grain, Winchester Supreme, silver tips or the venerable savage Model 99 with 165 grain ballistic tips. They are both tack drivers, plenty big enough for elk and I am ready.
A Memory -- It is late afternoon and the bull is slowly working his way toward me. He slips through aspens like wood smoke from a campfire. I cow call softly and he stops to consider. The arrow vanishes right behind his shoulder and two seconds later, I hear him fall. Now the work begins.
Robert and I began to plan this hunt back in March when Bo insisted we come. I have been thinking about it almost daily. It has been some years since I breathed that clean mountain air and felt the shiver that always comes when a bull bugles. I think of the big bull one of Foster Butt’s clients shot a few years ago. I was in camp at the time. Not the biggest bull I have ever seen but a beautiful bull. I want one like that but will settle for whatever legal bull comes by. I love the meat.
A Memory -- Finally, we have the last load on the ATV. We are both out of breath but the hard work is done. What was that?
Something big crashed in the brush. Bear? We agreed it made more noise than a bear usually makes. Mike slips the .44 magnum out of the holster. I scan the woods intently. We never did find out what made the noise.
Bo has a complete butcher shop at his ranch. We all know how to butcher. I’ll steak the back straps and tenders and maybe a roast or two out of the hams. The rest will be ground with 15% beef tallow for ground meat. Superb spaghetti and chili and not bad as just plain burgers.
You give some of that meat away. It is not uncommon to get 300-400 pounds of meat from a big elk if you bone it out carefully-plenty for all my friends and even Big Bird. Cut it up, vacuum package it and freeze it hard, solid. I’ll ship it home next day air the day I fly home. It should reach me still frozen.
First, I have to kill one. It will not be long, now. I am going back. Back to the mountains and that place where the earthquake, several thousand years ago, made the spilt the elk must pass through. They won’t climb the rocky slopes. I will be there one morning just as the sun touches it.
A Memory -- We scouted hard, Mike and I. We found the elk and we will spike out tonight. We’ll camp back in the black timber by the giggling water fall. The fire will be small, just enough to cook over and keep the haints away.
Downstream, near the big, flat rock, I took the cold bath…ice cold. But now I am clean and feeling fresh. Mike will bathe while I gently sauté the trout, smelling and tasting the clean mountain air. I can see him now, coaxing the 14-inch, silver bullets from below the falls.
I can smell it. I can smell it right now.