The Flying Kayak

Hunting, Fishing, Rambling, and Complete Outdoor Hilarity

Month: January 2015

Downhill Elk Skull Sledding

The pale orange light of early dawn had just begun to creep over Wolf Mountain to my east. Slowly but surely, the surrounding valley took shape in the light. From the comfort of my hunting blind, I gazed across the countryside. Still too early to use my binoculars, I stared out over the windy grasslands in search of Elk. Not too hot from my walk in, and still not too cold, I felt like I’d worn just the perfect amount of layers for this morning hunt. I settled myself into a comfortable position, and waited for it to get lighter.

The weather was far from perfect. The forecast called for rain and wind. But it was for this reason, and this reason alone that I was even out in the field and not warm and cozy in my bed still. Elk seem to like it cold. They like it miserable. So the previous week’s routine of 65 degrees and sunny meant that the elk laid low and only moved around once it cooled off at night. But this weather…this weather was supposed to bring in the elk.

To my south I could see the outline of another mountain. In fact, it was one that I looked at practically every day. But on this particular morning it looked…odd. Something wasn’t quite right about it. Weird clouds were swirling around it, and it was this strange speckled color. I watched it for several minutes before I realized;

Oh shit, that’s snow.

With the exception of about an inch in Pensacola when I was a kid, this Florida native had never actually been in snow. So seeing it begin to coat the mountain to my south was something I’d never witnessed before. Cool as it was to see, I immediately hoped it would keep its distance and not snow on me. I was, after all, pretty well dressed. Maybe a little chilly, but nothing terrible.

About 30 minutes went by and the snow cloud moved off the mountain, leaving behind a fresh coat of white across the peak. To my west, I watched as more snow clouds began to roll in. It started to look like I wasn’t going to avoid the snow after all. Part of me was excited considering I’d never hunted in snow before. The other part of me was just cold. Maybe I should’ve brought some hand warmers.

I was busily staring down a hill and across a meadow when something hit me on the hand and landed in my lap. I looked down to see a tiny little piece of ice that had, moments before, tumbled down to earth and hit me. Soon another hit me, and another. Suddenly it was nearly raining little globs of ice hit and they exploded into tiny pieces as they struck my clothes, gun, and surrounding blind.

Is this snow? I thought to myself. How does anyone enjoy this?

I sat for another two hours as mother nature continued to dumb thousands of little ice globs on top of me. With the exception of a hawk that landed in a tree about 10 feet away, I hadn’t actually seen any animals on this particular morning either. To make matters worse, I was absolutely frozen. Even with my gloves on, it felt like they’d fallen off about an hour prior to this. Everything was just numb and it took very little consideration before I gave up and got out of the blind. I quickly stood up, turned, and was staring at a coyote that had been sneaking up behind the blind. We actually kinda surprised each other. He bolted before I could even get my rifle ready, and disappeared over the next hill before I could find him in my scope.

Later that day, back at the lodge, I watched as -real- snow clouds moved in. I had been informed by others that I’d simply been sleeted on all morning, and that snow was actually quite different. But to me, it was all just cold.

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This happened to also be the first time in my life I’ve had to put chains on tires. And after a crash course on attaching them, I was happily driving around, churning up all the dirt roads. Later that night, it snowed for real, and I awoke to discover everything to be blanketed in white powder. My hunters for the day happened to be from Minnesota, so they barely batted an eye at the sudden change in environment. Meanwhile I had to drive them to their respective hunting spots and, unbeknownst to them,

I’d never driven in snow.

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The trip up the hill toward Wolf Mountain was anything but uneventful. After successfully sliding off the road (and hill) twice, I managed to drop off my hunters and get them where they needed to go. I guess I was relatively surprised though. It wasn’t so much the snow itself that I kept sliding around on. It was the mud underneath. Picture thick Georgia clay, and then just add a layer of frosting. Even in 4-low going downhill, the truck threatened to bog down. I discovered too, that walking around in snow is one of the best character building exercises a hunter can do.

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A few days later, I swung by to pick up one of my hunters. He hopped in the truck and told me about a dead Elk he’d found at the top of a mountain. He said it was a big bull, and not just big, but one of the biggest he’d ever seen. He guessed it would score close to 400. Obviously wanting the rack, we discussed how we were going to go about getting it off the mountain and I was quickly reminded that I’m the one being paid, so I get the heavy lifting.

The next day we hiked 45 minutes to the top of the mountain and my hunter took us right to the spot where he’d discovered the bull. After weaving through some Junipers and snow covered Sage brush, we came up on one of the biggest and most beautiful animals I’d ever seen. It was, unfortunately, long dead.

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We honestly couldn’t believe how big the bull was. The mass on the antlers was absolutely absurd. This animal had been in it’s prime only weeks prior, and the only cause of death that we could imagine made us sick to our stomachs. Though we had no definitive proof, we couldn’t see another reasonable explanation. The bull had to have been poached. Shot at from a nearby public road, the bull may have been wounded and carried itself onto the ranch and the top of this mountain. To say it was a shame is a massive understatement.

But nevertheless, I set about sawing off the skull with a hack saw. It was far from the least smelly job I’ve ever done, but before long I had it disconnected and in a trash bag. Now the fun began.

The skull was heavy. I mean…really heavy. Factor in the weight of the antlers and it was almost like lifting weights. To make things even more interesting, the only good way to carry it was two hands on the antlers, nose pointed away, and the back of the skull resting on my stomach. It sounds OK, but you have to remember that I know have to hike back down a mountain, and I can’t see where I’m stepping.

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To both my hunter’s and my own surprise, I made it nearly 3/4 of the way back down the mountain without incident. Small slips here and there in patches of snow, but nothing major. There was, however, one narrow stretch of path that was extremely steep. And I was only a few steps along before my muddy, snow covered boots lost their grip on the path.

The fall wasn’t bad. Really I just plopped down on my butt in the icy snow. The problem was what happened next; I started sliding.

The key to downhill Elk skull sledding is technique. You can’t just lay down and hope for the best. There’s no pizza-ing or french-frying here either so leave your ski instructor’s lessons at home. I found that the best way to go about it is to hold onto the antlers almost like they can help you steer (they cannot). Next, cross your legs at the ankles to avoid taking a Sage brush to the groin as you plummet past them at terminal velocity. Always remember that you’re essentially flying down a snow covered hill, carrying multiple sword points, so keep the Elk skull pointed away from anything important. If you’re feeling exceptionally froggy, you can wrap a leg over the skull and essentially ride it like a somehow managed to do. A string of colorful and creative expletives is almost a necessity for events such as these. One can’t simply fly down a hill on an Elk head and say -nothing-. Finally, there’s the issue of dealing with cliffs and ledges. I’m no expert, but my personal favorite technique is to slide right off them and bounce like a basketball down the hill on your butt.

I’ve still no idea how to stop.

Luckily for me (I think), I ran out of snow, and just butt-slid my way into a muddy spot. I also miraculously didn’t impale myself on the antlers. It would have been a death that no one saw coming, but at the same time probably wouldn’t have been too surprised about.

Arms cramped, legs tired, and butt sore from my sled ride of death, we finally got to the bottom of the mountain. It was an amazing animal. We all just wish we’d have gotten to see it alive.

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Men Who Spoon With Elk

Icy cold wind ripped down the ridge line as the truck bounced along. Though it was a clear, sunny day, the wind and temperature was enough to chill to the bone. Luckily, the men in the truck were protected from the elements. They were busy telling hunting stories and enjoying the view of the northwest Colorado landscape with the windows up and the heater on. To make things even better, one of the men had just taken his first Elk which was now safely secured in the bed. Everyone was enjoying themselves on this cold November morning.

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Well…Everyone but the two of us forced to ride in the bed of the truck.

“J..J…Jesus it’s cold”, I muttered through clattering teeth. With a full cab of hunters, the other guide and myself had no choice but to ride in the back. So we bounced along, all the while trying to curl ourselves up into the tightest balls possible to conserve warmth, and take in the beauty of the surrounding. Soon we bounced past an open meadow lined with a rocky cliff facing on one side. It was the same meadow that I’d been in weeks before, with one of the biggest bucks I’ve ever seen in my crosshairs. Looking down into the field, I chuckled to myself as I remembered that day, and pulled the hood on my jacket just a little tighter around my head as another icy gust of wind hit me.

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“That’s a big ass deer”, I told the other passengers of the truck as I brought the binoculars away from my eyes. Everyone looked in the direction I was facing and after a brief description of actually where I was looking at (a task much harder than it sounds), everyone had seen the deer. Approximately 1000 yards away, all the way on the far side of a meadow were a group of deer. Several does and one big, BIG, bodied deer fed alongside a rocky cliff facing. The big bodied deer absolutely dwarfed the others around it. It was obviously a buck, but at that distance, there was no way to tell just how big his antlers were. We needed to get closer, and we did just that. We drove the truck around to the back side of a ridge line where we could hide it, and then make a hike up to the top of the hill to get a better look and maybe even a shot at the deer.

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When the two hunters and my boss stepped out of the truck to make a stalk on the deer, I hung back quite a bit. In fact, I almost didn’t even go along with them. But seeing as how I was still pretty new to the whole “guiding” thing, I decided to tag along. Who knew? Maybe all the elk in Colorado would step out. So I threw my rifle over my shoulder and hung back about 30 yards as the trio walked ahead of me and sneaked up to the top of the hill. Once there, my boss scanned down the opposite hill side (which I couldn’t see), and I saw him turn to the closest hunter to him. I couldn’t hear what he was saying, but I clearly read his lips as he mouthed “He’s a shooter”

Almost immediately it seemed as though the hunter got visibly nervous. A little more tense, if you will. I could see them both looking down the other side of the hill and discussing something. With a few more words whispered between the my boss and the closest hunter, the hunter shouldered his rifle, took aim offhand, and fired.

Even before the sound of the gun shot had stopped echoing through the meadow, I heard my boss say, outloud, “Shoot. Again”

Again the hunter took aim and fire.

And again.

And again.

And again, and again, and again.

Now I looked over at the second hunter to see that he too had chambered his rifle and was joining his friend at shooting down the hill. Shot, after shot, after shot.

ALL THE ELK IN COLORADO STEPPED OUT!! I thought to myself as I raced up the hill to see what the hunters were shooting at. I chambered my rifle, stepped up next to them, and looked down the hill…

At one deer. Just one buck stood there, and he was looking the opposite direction from where all the shooting was coming from. Shots zipped down the hill striking nearby boulders and shaving juniper branches from their trees. But nothing touched the deer. He was just standing there.

Unsure as to whether or not someone had actually hit this deer yet, I decided to take aim. Almost immediately the buck turned, ran to his right, and stuck his head into the bushy branches of a juniper tree. In his mind, he was now hidden, though his entire butt was sticking out. Seeing such a strange behavior, I figured he may have been hit, so I took aim at the only shot I had on his right ham and squeezed the trigger. I watched as a boulder exploded three inches high over his back. I’d forgotten about shooting uphill and downhill.

I’m from Florida. Flat, flat Florida. So prior to going to Colorado, I’d never shot at any sort of angle to speak of. To shoot downhill, you need to aim low. Uphill, aim high.

So I chambered another round and took aim again. This time, however, the buck had moved and the only shot I now had were on vitals, but through thick sage brush. I pulled the trigger and…nothing. I chambered another round and fired again. Still…nothing. The buck then turned and ran back down the hill directly toward us. My boss was quick to say “No one shoot…let him get closer”. And closer the buck came before finally stopping and giving us only one shot: Right between the eyes.

Well I wasn’t about to try and dome shot this trophy, so I waited.

Suddenly I heard the hunter to my left say “I’m out of ammo”. And to my horror, I heard the other one speak up as well. “Me too”

I should note that at this point, my boss (who didn’t have a rifle) was about to lose his mind. Very calmly, but with every emphasis to suggest he was about to start foaming at the mouth, my boss said, “Somebody…has…to shoot this deer. Please…Someone shoot this deer”.

I looked down at my rifle to see that in its stock sleeve, I had one round left. One single 30-06 round. So I chambered it, walked down the hill some to get a better angle, and took a seat to rest my rifle on my knee. Almost immediately the buck turned, jogged right out into the middle of the meadow, and stopped broadside at 120 yards. I put the crosshairs low on his vitals, said one of those silent-pleading-instant prayers, and pulled the trigger.

A satisfying THUMP echoed back up the hill toward us, and the buck finally dropped.

A massive wave of relief instantly swept over me. My last round, last few moments of the last day of deer season, and I miraculously came through. I’ve never been one to make the game winning catch, or really pull through during clutch moments. So damn it felt good.

The deer was, of course, not really mine. It was the hunters’ deer and I proceeded to walk down to the buck to take their hero pictures. In total, we found out later that 16 rounds were shot before the buck every got hit. And at one point, one of the hunters had gotten so flustered from missing that he reached into his pocket to load more ammo and accidentally tried to chamber his chapstick.

I didn’t manage to get any shots of me with the deer in the field, but later that night I went down to the skinning shed and took a couple of the monster. Estimated at about 320lbs, the Mule deer absolutely dwarfed any whitetail I’d ever seen, much less gotten to shoot at. It was a buck of a lifetime, and with it came a story I’ll never forget.

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The truck hit a big hole just as we passed that meadow and I banged my back into the side of the bed. Rather than continue to get banged around, I needed to reposition, but the massive body of  a bull elk laid smack dab in the middle of the bed. With a shrug I knelt down and took a seat on his shoulder. Not only was it softer and infinitely more comfortable than the side of the truck, but it was warm. VERY warm.

“Dude…you have to take a seat on this Elk”, I told the other guide next to me. He sat down on the Elk’s thigh and immediately responded, “It’s warm”

Even though the thing smelled horrible, it was, in fact, quite warm. So much so that we soon found ourselves resting more and more of our body onto the Elk. First just sitting, then leaning, then practically laying on him. It was probably the closest I’ll ever come to a Luke/Tauntaun moment in my life.

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Eventually I ended up just spooning with the elk for warmth. It was one of those weird nature experiences that you hope to never have again. But I was grateful for the dead elk at that moment in time. After all, it isn’t every day you can get to say you were big spoon to an Elk.

What? Of course I was big spoon. Little spoon would’ve just made it weird.

 

 

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