The Flying Kayak

Hunting, Fishing, Rambling, and Complete Outdoor Hilarity

Category: hunting (page 1 of 10)

It’s The Freakin’ Weekend

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The obnoxious ring tone of your alarm jerks you awake. For a moment, you simply lay there before realizing how strange it is that at some moment in the past, you purposefully chose an alarm style. You tried different tones and jingles, wondering whether or not it actually had the ‘umph’ to get you out of bed. But after a few minute of searching, you finally found it.

This is the one. This is the alarm tone I will grow to hate. Time to ruin this jingle forever.

It’s 6:00am on a Monday morning and it’s time to go do that thing. That thing that so many of us do every week: Work.

Whether you enjoy your job or not, very rarely is anyone super stoked to be woken from a nice slumber, only to realize it’s not the weekend anymore. Alas, you’ve got five more days of this and another four rude awakenings before you can cut loose again. But at that moment, you merely stare at the ceiling and mentally prepare for what’s going to be another long work week.

Though you may work in an office, you’re an outdoorsman at heart. The only thing that makes your coworker, Janet’s insufferable stories around the water cooler even somewhat tolerable is the anticipation of hitting the woods on the weekend. It’s archery season, and chasing that big buck has been on your mind for almost a year now. The national forest you grew up hunting is just an hour outside of town, and the only thing standing between you and that tree stand you’ve picked out are five days of conference calls, emails, and TPS reports. The woods are calling.

By Friday afternoon you’re completely exhausted. It’s been a hell of a work week, but the one thing that’s gotten you by is the thought of Saturday morning. The crisp, cool Autumn air, the smell of the trees, and the anticipation of seeing deer has been on your mind since Monday morning. And so when you finally clock out for the week, you can barely contain your excitement. Tomorrow’s the big day and you race home to make sure everything’s ready.

It’s odd that the alarm that you absolutely loathed on Monday morning is now a welcomed friend Saturday morning at 4:00am. With a groggy mixture of excitement and anticipation, you get dressed and head out to the woods. The drive is actually kind of nice. Unlike the commute to work every morning, the roads are fairly empty at this ungodly hour. Who in their right mind would be up this early on the weekend anyway?

Soon you reach the cut off road for the national forest and turn down an old, bumpy dirt road. A few moments later a pair of headlights turn onto the same dirt road a few hundred yards behind you.

Hmm…Must be another hunter

With the excitement of getting to your stand beginning to creep up, you speed up a little bit as you head down the road. Soon, your headlights begin to pick up clouds of dust, and it isn’t long before taillights appear in front. The wire cable of a tree stand can clearly be seen poking up from behind the tailgate of the truck in front, and it’s obvious this hunter is on the way to his spot as well.

Eventually you turn off the road onto another and lose sight of the other two trucks. Not far up ahead is where you’ll park and walk in. It’s an area that you -thought- was relatively secluded. So it comes as a surprise when you round the corner only to find a truck parked where you were planning. Your headlights shine on the hunter as he’s getting everything ready to walk into the woods.

Damn it

You get out and greet the other hunter. To your relief, he describes where he’ll be and it’s no where near where you were planning. So with that, you ready yourself, slap the climber on your back and grab your bow before walking down the trail you marked during scouting season.

Once up the tree, you quietly wait as the woods slowly begin to wake up. It’s the magic hour. This is what you were waiting for all week. A chance to escape the office. To spend some time in peaceful tranquility, uninterrupted by the hustle and bustle of every day life. With twilight quickly turning into day, you begin to scan the woods for deer. It doesn’t take long before you catch a glimpse of a tail flick, and the body of a doe materializes about eighty yards away. It’s a good sign, and in that moment, work and all your weekly troubles have vanished. This is why you’re here.

Suddenly you hear the sound of a truck door slamming in the distance. The deer, thankfully, seems to have paid no attention to it. But for a brief second you’re reminded that you aren’t alone in the woods. About a half hour goes by and the doe you’ve been watching hasn’t moved a whole lot. Out of nowhere, however, she spooks. Tail up, she blows several times before bounding away into the distance.

What the hell?

Then you hear it. The all too familiar crunch crunch of boots. You turn to see another hunter strolling in late to his stand, right down the trail you took to come in. The immediate reaction is surprise. Then anger. Then simply frustration. You wait until he’s about sixty yards away before whistling at him. Stopped mid stride, the late hunter looks up at you and raises a hand apologetically before turning around and slinking off the other direction. With a heavy sigh, you lean back in your stand. You’re beyond annoyed. The doe you were watching is long gone, and the morning hunt might as well be ruined. You slugged through a brutal work week, and the one thing you were looking forward to beyond everything was to be here in this tree. Away from people, and to have time to yourself. But now? Now it’s ruined.

Welcome to the weekend.

——————-

Over the years, the above scenario has happened to me far too many times. Of course, I don’t usually have office jobs, but it’s the same  concept: I have off on the weekends, I love to hunt/fish, so I go hunting/fishing on the weekends. The problem? EVERYONE ELSE DOES TOO.

I’ve been a weekend warrior before, so please don’t think I’m hating on them. Unfortunately many people have no other options than working that Monday-Friday 9-5. So that means they’ve no choice but hit the woods or the water on Saturday and Sunday. Weekends end up becoming insane. Hunting and fishing pressure go through the roof as everything is inundated with people trying to get their outdoor fix. But eventually there’s a point where it becomes unappealing. We all seek the outdoors for some reason, and often that experience becomes tainted with -far- too much human pressure.

“Why bother going fishing this weekend? There’s going to be 8 billion people at the boat launch Saturday morning. I probably won’t find a place to park the trailer”

“I guess we can go to the springs, but we’re gonna have to wait in line half an hour since it’s a pretty day”

“I’d rather not go to the trouble of getting to the tree stand. Someone will assuredly walk in on me”

It applies to almost any outdoor activity you can think of. Too many people end up ruining an good thing. And they don’t have to be destroying anything, or trashing it, or being loud, etc. Simply too many people being there end up taking away the experience that many look for.

Hell, I might as well have just stayed at the office. I’d see less people”

For almost two years now, I’ve been lucky enough to be a guide. Whether it be taking people out in the Everglades to look at Alligators, kayaking to look at Dolphin in St. Augustine, or chasing down Elk in Colorado. I’ve gotten to see people use our natural resources that have been set aside for just that: Use. And since I’ve been guiding, I rarely get a weekend off. Ever. It makes sense though, when you think about it. People primarily have off on the weekends. They want a guide and they hire me on their days off. So I’m thrust into these outdoor settings every weekend with everybody and their brother.

What it’s done is change me. At least as to how I enjoy the outdoors. On the off chance that I actually get a weekend off, you won’t catch me dead outside. I’ll be inside on the couch. I’ve had too many days practically ruined during the weekend rush. Be it a jet-ski buzzing by the kayak at 30 yards and scaring all the fish, or a hunter walking right up to my tree stand. It happens all the time and I’ve grown tired of it. Friends might ask:

“Alex! Can we go kayaking Sunday morning?”

“Absolutely not”.

I simply won’t do it. I can’t do it. There’s too much pressure and it’s lost its appeal for me. So I question; How many others are like me? How many hunters, or fishermen, or hikers, or whatever, have altered the way they use the outdoors? How many have all but just given up? Think about the most popular outdoor spot near you. Now imagine it on a holiday weekend. It’s going to be an absolute zoo. There are so many people that it might as well be Wal-Mart, and lord knows no one ENJOYS going to Wal-Mart.

Luckily for me, since I work the weekends, I often have weekdays off. I can go kayaking on a Tuesday morning and not see a soul on the water. I can hike after lunch on a Thursday afternoon and not see the faintest sign of another hiker. It’s fantastic. But I realize not everyone has the same luxury of doing things on the weekdays like I do. I’ll never claim to be any more or less avid than any of my fellow outdoorsmen. So I ask the question: How do you get around the weekend crowds when you’re stuck to the weekend schedule?

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I’m avid enough that should I ever find myself stuck with that schedule, I’d still try. But I can’t say I’d enjoy it nearly as much as I should. It would wear on me, and eventually might break me. I’d find myself skipping weekends and just watching football and drinking beer instead of being outside. Anything to avoid a tainted experience with something I love.  All because everyone wants to do the same thing at the same time with their days off.

Are there ways around this? Yes. Well…Sort of. Take hunting for example. Don’t hunt public land like national forests, right? Okay, so you fork over the cash to join a hunting club, and you’ll get to avoid the crowds. But what’s that end up doing? Driving the cost of hunting through the roof. If you weren’t already aware, hunting is becoming a rich man’s sport. Yes people pay big bucks to hunt…well…big bucks. But they also pay up to avoid the crowds of people who flock to public areas when they can’t afford a private hunting lease.

I honestly don’t have a solution when it comes to dealing with the weekends. I’ve figured out how to deal with it personally, but I question everyone else. Do you simply grin and bear it? Do you wake up -extra- early to beat the crowd? Or do you hike those extra ten miles into the wilderness JUST to dodge everyone else?

Personally, I don’t see the issue getting any better. Hell, if it’s even an issue at all. For all I know maybe there are people out there who love fishing around the crowds or watching the chaos that is the county boat ramp in the morning (ok, that’s admittedly fun to watch). But for me, it’s a problem. And I can only hope that we can find some sort of solution before more people want to simply give up.

 

How to Elk

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They should be right up ahead…. Just over this rise. I hope Cody’s in position…

Ducking and weaving, I made my way through the low Junipers on the hillside. It was midday, and the snow clumps that had settled in the branches from the previous storm were just beginning to melt. The occasional “thwump” from a falling clump of snow would send me into high alert each time, convinced that it was an Elk. The terrain was difficult to say the least. Mud  caked boots provided little to no traction on the melting hill face and each step threatened to send me tumbling down the hill. That couldn’t happen. For this to work, we needed to be quiet. Surprise was the only way we’d pull this off.

With my radio in hand, I tried Cody again.

“Cody…” I whispered, “You ready man?”

I was answered with nothing but the crackle of radio silence.

“Piece of shit radio”, I muttered to myself as I shoved it back into the ALICE pack. Quietly, I got back to my feet and stared down the hill. Somewhere, in the Juniper thicket below were Elk. How many, I hadn’t a clue. But there was no where else for them to go. They HAD to be here. “…Showtime”

Silently I worked my way down the hill and into the thicket. With my head on a swivel, I kept my eyes peeled for any movement. I made it about fifty yards in and suddenly….

Elk! Two of them, in fact. A cow and calf about 60 yards away on a small rise. They hadn’t noticed me yet, so I took a step further. A twig snapped up the hill in front of me and I spotted another about 80 yards away. Another step and I hear snow crunch to my left. A spike. This one just 5 yards away, casually chewing cud and staring at me. The whole situation was odd. Save for the strong breeze and the spike chewing his food, it was pretty silent. Serene, even. Nature at its finest.

Then my phone went off. On loud.

—————–

Elk on Elk on Elk

It had been an insane Elk season so far. By the final day, most of our hunters had already tagged out and were busy drinking whiskey and telling tales around the lodge. The other guides and I, however, were functioning on very little sleep and energy drinks to make sure our last few hunters filled their tags. For the past 4 days we’d been going balls to the wall. Elk down all over the place. Spotting, tracking, recovering elk. All day. Every day. But there were still a few tags to be filled, and we’d be damned if we didn’t give those hunters the best chance.

We were hunting a slightly different area than last year. And since we were blessed with snow a few days prior, the Elk had been all over the place. Snow equals Elk, and this was obvious by the hundreds that were being seen every day. That ridge a few miles away? Elk. The ravine leading up that mountain? Elk. Crossing the road in front of us? Elk. Elk in the ditch. Elk in the bed of the truck. Elk riding shotgun. Bumping into Elk. Elk watching you pee. Tripping over Elk. Elk…Everywhere.

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In the brief periods of time where I wasn’t helping recover Elk, I spent it on a hill called “The Kitchen”. From this hill, most of the valley could be seen. To the east was a long ridge line that followed a flat valley, and that ridge line is where we placed most of our hunters. We’d see Elk every day down in the valley, and it was around this area where most of our kills had been. A few unlucky Elk were the ones who’d ventured just a tad too close to the western ridge of the valley.

The rest of the herd? Oh, we watched them. Trust me. All day long, all the way across the valley on a Juniper covered hill called “Yellowstone”. It was on this hill that the Elk felt safe. They rarely left during the daylight hours. The problem with hunting Yellowstone? It’s essentially an island in the middle of the valley. There isn’t a real good way into or out of Yellowstone without being spotted by the herd.

It was frustrating, to be honest. Seeing Elk all day, but not being able to do a thing about it. It’s sorta like being able to see fish, but not being able to hook them. And those are the kind of things I lose sleep over. But we had a few tags left, we knew where the Elk were, and it was the end of the season. Time to make some moves.

The Push for Yellowstone

By the last day of the season, the guide’s bunk room was looking a little rough. Filthy, mud and blood  covered clothes lay strewn about. Spent brass rolled around on the floor, fluorescent orange apparel was scattered about, and wet boots sat near the door, complete with their wet socks. The guides themselves didn’t look much better actually. Nick looked like he’d had “that 2:30 feeling” for the past 3 days. Cody would occasionally zone out and give the 1000 yard stare mid sentence.  Aaron had developed a weird tic a few days ago and would occasionally mutter something Elk related in his sleep. I had actually begun to devolve as a person, slowly becoming more and more Elk like. My speech had begun to slowly turn more and more into grunts and clicks. My clothes smelled just like them. Hell, -I- smelled just like them.  And if you’ve never smelled an Elk before…It’s not exactly great. We were in rough shape.

But we awoke the morning of the last day with a refreshed, caffeinated energy and were excited to finish out the season. Before leaving the lodge, we all got the run down of the day ahead. The lead guide explained to us what was going to happen. We were pushing them off of Yellowstone around noon. Aaron, Nick, and some of the other guides would help get the hunters in position. Cody and I would do a walking drive and push them toward everyone else. Once all the hunters were in position, the guide spotting on The Kitchen would give Cody and I the signal to start pushing.

Excited to see how this all played out, we got dressed, geared up, and ready to go.

I should note my hatred of snow. I despise being cold and it’s just a giant white nightmare. But since Elk like it, and by this point I’m practically half-Elk, I suppose it isn’t that bad. In the mornings, however,  I can never tell if I’m shaking from the cold, or the Monster Energy that I just chugged. Regardless, Cody, Nick, Aaron and I loaded into the freezing cold Can Am, and hauled ass to The Kitchen to wait on the sunrise.

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One Elk was shot that morning before the push. The other hunters held tight. They’d been briefed on what was going to take place, so they patiently waited until mid-day for the show to begin. A little bit before noon, Cody and I hopped back in the Can Am, and drove around to the far side of the valley. From there we parked and began to hike up the backside of Yellowstone. This is where we had to be careful. We needed to split up, but still be in contact so Cody handed me a radio. Once we were in position and got the signal, we’d make our move. But first we had to actually -get- into position. Quietly we weaved our way through the Junipers and got closer to our destination.

It wasn’t exactly hard to tell Elk had been nearby.

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It’s a good thing I smelled like an Elk, because the whole backside of the hill reeked of them. There were obvious spots where they’d been feeding, bedding, everything. The place must’ve been crawling with them. As accustomed to the high-altitude as my Elk-Lungs had become, I was still at least a quarter human. So I stopped to take a drink of water. I also realized that I was drenched in sweat. Amazingly enough, the only thing I was wearing was a long jon top and some camo pants. But even with all the snow on the ground, I was about to keel over. So I took off my shirt and stuffed it into my pack, then wore my fluorescent orange mesh vest haphazardly over my shirtless body. It looked odd, but no one aside my Elk brothers would see me. My looks didn’t matter.

I Am The Elk

Fast forward 30 minutes and I’m now standing face to face with a spike elk, calmly staring at me and chewing his food.

This isn’t what’s supposed to happen. They’re supposed to run.

I took another step, then it happened. My cell phone started ringing.

God forbid Verizon give me -any- signal around the ranch. Seriously. Close to 200,000 acres and I can’t get a damn bar of signal on any of it.

Well…99% of it. Apparently Yellowstone gets great reception. Maybe that’s why the Elk all congregate there. They’ve got 4G.

I winced and fumbled around in my pocket for the phone. Max volume, and the highest pitched, most obnoxious ringtone echoed through Yellowstone. I look at the name on the phone: Roscoe.

Roscoe’s the senior guide who was sitting a couple miles away spotting for me on The Kitchen. He’d apparently lost sight of me and decided to give me a call. My spike friend had now stopped chewing his food, and was simply staring at me with that look you give someone in a movie theater when they forget to put their phone on vibrate. Calmly I answered the phone.

“Hey Roscoe”, I whispered.

“DIDJA STORT POOSHIN’ YIT”, he replied with an incredibly thick South Carolina accent.

Pausing to look at the Spike right next to me, I answered

“I’m uhh…I’m workin’ on it”.

“AIGHT WAIL YOO N’ CODY STORT. WEIR REDDY”

And with that I hung up the phone with Roscoe, turned my phone on silent, and put it back in my pocket. The Elk was still just standing there, glaring at me. Actually, upon looking around, all of them were. They were all just listening to my conversation with Roscoe.

Why aren’t they running? It’s like…It’s like….No. It can’t be…Can it?

The transformation was complete. With the last shred of my sanity gone, it was apparent. I’d been accepted as one of their own. I was in the herd.

I am the Elk.

Last Call

Try as I did, the Elk never full broke me. I remembered what I’d come there to do. It was go time. But there was one slight issue:

They wouldn’t move.

I tried hitting a Juniper to make noise. All they did was watch me. I jogged forward. Still nothing.

What the hell?

Up ahead I could see more of the herd. They were swarming inside Yellowstone. And amongst them all, I saw him. An absolute monster Bull. The biggest I’ve ever seen by far. I got just a quick glance before he ducked behind some trees ahead. But still, the majority of the herd was just watching me. I, however, had finally seen enough. It was long past time. I’d lost contact with Cody a while ago. It was time to really start pushing. So I did the only thing I could think of…

I sprinted straight at the nearest cow and calf. To add to the display I began screaming jibberish and waving my hand above the air like a madman.

“LAST CALL $%&#ER’S!!! EVERYBODY OUT!! GET! BE GONE!! WOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!” followed by a series of hollers and a colorful line of profanity as I tripped down the hill.

It was like roaches scattering after turning on the light. Elk practically exploded. They were coming out of the woodwork. From behind boulders, underneath trees, everywhere. The herd was MUCH bigger than I originally thought. Getting back to my feet, I kept sprinting down the hill toward them. Limbs snapped of Junipers as the Elk scattered. Rocks skittered down the hill face as they tried to get traction in the muddy snow. And amidst my heavy breathing and violent cussing, the steady rumble of trampling hooves could be heard.

Just a few yards away a cow and calf darted out in front of me. Suddenly from my right, another spike broke through a Juniper, nearly crashing into me. The Elk was so close I seriously could have slapped him on the ass as he went by. I watched the bulk of the herd disappear over the next hill, and head straight for my hunters. But there was a small problem. About 1/6th of the herd broke left, and were going the wrong direction toward a slightly smaller hill to the south called “Little Yellowstone” (creative, I know).

I couldn’t let that happen, so I gave chase. Jumping over rocks and logs, slipping through the snow and mud, I raced to cut off the rest of them before they reached Little Yellowstone. Fun fact about Elk: They’re stupid fast. Ridiculously quick, in fact. I had no chance in hell to catch them. But for whatever reason, the herd actually turned. Maybe it was because they shirtless, screaming maniac was still running right where they were planning to go. Maybe it was because of the rifle shots I could now hear echoing through the valley. Who knows? But the important part was that they were well on their way to the hunters, and the crack of rifles in the distance meant that my journey to become full Elk had not been in vain.  I got a quick picture of the herd just after they turned. Sadly I wasn’t wearing my GoPro for the moments just prior.

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Lee’s Monster

I eventually gathered myself and worked my way back to the Can Am to meet with Cody. We drove back to The Kitchen and caught up with what was happening on that side of the valley.

Elk were down, and from the sounds of it, almost everyone had filled their tag. All the guides split up and began running around recovering animals. One hunter actually joined Cody and I in the Can Am and while driving to track someone else’s Bull, we spotted out a legal bull and our hunter was able to fill his tag.

The next few hours were a blur as hunters continued to fill out tags, and I lost count how many animals I field dressed. As the sun was beginning to dip low on the western horizon, I ran into Aaron and Nick again.

“Everybody good?” I asked as we pulled up next to them.

“Oh yeah. Dude…Lee shot a monster”, replied Aaron.

“Really? Like, how big?”

Nick’s eyes got all wide and he just shook his head. “Big…We’re going to go get it in a minute”

Eventually we got all of our hunters loaded up, Elk ready to roll back to the skinning shed, and our gear put away. It was about that time that the other truck came rolling up with Lee’s bull.

“Holy shit…”, was pretty much everyone’s response. It was massive. And to make it even sweeter? That was the bull I’d  gotten a glimpse of on Yellowstone. Lee was grinning from ear to ear and everyone took the time to congratulate him on the bull of a lifetime. Hero pictures all around, and by far, the best way to end a season that I can think of.

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For information on hunting on the ranch or with me, please visit their website at http://www.rrranchco.com/

Note: My apologies for taking such a hiatus in my writing the past couple of months. I was absurdly busy in the Everglades and just couldn’t find the time to write during 70+ hour work weeks. Good news is that I’ve now moved and am in prime fishing habitat in a new part of the state. Looking forward to the coming stories. Thanks for reading!!

 

 

 

 

Partly Cloudy With a Chance of Elk

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Slowly but surely, the sun was beginning to work its way lower and lower toward the western horizon. Its evening rays lit the frozen, snow covered landscape in a pinkish orange glow, interrupted only by the dark green branches of scattered Junipers. Each boot step across this frozen terrain gave a satisfying crunch and on occasion a slip as hurried steps found the sticky, slick mud beneath the snow. The footsteps, however, came to an abrupt end at the edge of a 150ft cliff. And that’s where I stood with another guide, both of us looking down to the bottom in the dying Colorado light.

“Well…Shit..”, I muttered, peering down the incline.

“He’s right down there at the bottom!”, yelled one of my hunters from the truck. “I hung my hat right where he’s at!”

Far below, I could see a  bright fluorescent orange sock hat hanging gingerly in a patch of  junipers. And I knew somewhere underneath those trees was my hunter’s dead Elk. Getting down there by foot wasn’t the problem. Nor was getting back up, for that matter. The issue? Getting back up with the Elk in tow.

“Shit…”

———

“…said that Elk had a really long tail. And he goes That’s because it was my horse!”

Laughter erupted around the long dinner table at the punchline of one of many horribly inappropriate jokes for the evening. Silverware clanked while the mix of 25 hunters and guides told bad jokes, tall tales, and BS stories around the table. I, however, happily sat in silence, chewing my food and trying to listen to just one story or joke amongst the clamor of the dining room. I practically live for dumb stories. And whether it’s telling stories around the campfire with friends, at a bar over a beer, or with guests down in the Everglades, at the end of the day it’s always ME telling the stories. And I’ve heard my tales once or twice. So I enjoy listening.

It’d been a fairly long day. I’d woken up around 11am after a full night of driving through a blizzard. I made my way out to do a little spotting in the afternoon but to no real avail. Hunter’s that were out all day (not the ones I drove with the night before) had seen some Elk, but all too far away to make moves on. Good news? They were at least -seeing- Elk. The poor weather we’d had at R R Ranch last year meant that almost no Elk were moving at all. And by poor weather, I mean great weather. 65 and sunny is fantastic for us. But Elk?

Elk are horrible creatures. Originally from the ice planet Hoth, Elk are unsatisfied with any weather above -60 degrees. Comfortable weather for us means that Elk sit high up in the mountains in a vain attempt to get as close as they can to their home planet and stay cool. When horrible weather rolls in (blizzards), Elk get confused as to where they are and venture down from the mountains in search of Tauntauns to prey on. Naturally they use their canine teeth (seriously, google “Elk Canines”) to pull an unsuspecting Tauntaun to the ground where they will trample and later gorge themselves on these Snow Lizards in an order to get enough nutrients to survive the eternal winter. Varying reports say that a mature bull will sometimes use his antlers to actually fight Wampa’s off their kills. They are, indeed, the terror of the snow plains.

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At least back home they are. Here they just eat grass and stuff.

But the good news for us this year was that the lovely blizzard had coated the entire landscape with about 8 inches of that white nightmare you northerners call “snow”. This is exactly what the Elk need to get them to move, and the forecast remained cold for the rest of the week, so spirits were high around the dinner table that we may have a very successful hunt this year.

The next morning started around 4 am. I groggily put on almost every article of clothing I brought with me, and got ready to hunt. There was, of course, a minor problem with me hunting this day: My rifle was still in Denver. Since the planes weren’t flying thanks to the blizzard, my checked bag (rifle) was still sitting somewhere in Denver Airport. It felt a little odd going hunting without a gun, but at the end of the day, the hunt really isn’t for me. It’s for my hunters. So with that in mind, I stepped out into the cold to see what the day had in store for us.

Mornings for the guides are generally controlled chaos. We try and gather our hunters, make sure everything good to go, and with all our T’s dotted and i’s crossed, we head out in the ranch trucks. Where we planned to hunt this year was about a 40 minute drive across the ranch in a pickup. So with the trucks filled to the brim with hunters and gear, they took off. Myself, however, along with three other guides, Nick, Aaron, and Cody, couldn’t fit into the available trucks. So we got the next best thing; The Can Am.

These things are a redneck’s dream come true. They’re essentially a four wheel drive golf cart on steroids. Topping out at 60mph in 4×4 high, it even comes with built in Oh-Shit handles for all passengers that look like joysticks in the center of the vehicle. Bottom line, the thing just looks like too much fun. Especially now that the roads were becoming muddy nightmares. The only problem? It was horribly cold outside and there certainly isn’t any heat in the Can Am. Thank god for windshields.

No one really stepped up and said they wanted to drive the thing, so I took advantage of their reluctancy and hopped into the driver’s seat.

Now, a wise old man that I used to work with named Stoney once told me “If it ain’t yers…Drive it like you stole it”. And I’ve taken that advice to heart over the years.

Ripping down the muddy back roads in the Can Am was exciting to say the least. Since the trucks had already made massive ruts, and the Can Am is about 1/2 as wide as a truck, that meant we spent 90% of the time tilted at a 45 degree angle as we tore down the road. But eventually, and after several moments that made the other guides grab their handles, we arrived on top of a barren hill called The Kitchen. It’s called that because apparently when Roosavelt came out for a mountain lion hunt, the camp’s kitchen was on this hill. At least that’s what I’m told. But today, it would be our observation post to glass over everything (including our hunters). It was still horribly cold, but we were at least greeted with an awesome sunrise.

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As the fog cleared, we began spotting out Elk. Some looked like they were getting close to a few hunters, others going the wrong direction. We’d occasionally radio in to the trucks, and try to coordinate who’s where and what’s going on. But eventually we all heard it…

A far off rifle shot echoed through the valley, immediately followed by a second, and then third. Moments later another from a different location. Then another. Soon more from other directions. Elk were moving, and lead was getting slung by our hunters before we even had a chance to do anything. The morning progressed and things gradually got more and more chaotic. Elk were down, several of them. And we had to coordinate the logistics of getting them gutted, dragged, loaded, tracked, etc. Meanwhile keeping our eyes on other groups that were making their way toward other hunters. It wasn’t long before Cody, Aaron, Nick and I all got split up and were running around like chickens with our heads cut off. By mid afternoon we’d switched between trucks and the Can Am so many times that we all had bits and pieces of gear in every vehicle out there. Hunters continued to shoot and down Elk over the course of the day and by one point I found myself back on the kitchen in a truck with two hunters. We sat there glassing and listening to radio chatter while other guides and hunters picked up downed animals. Suddenly I looked to my right and saw them. Elk. Within range.

I bailed out of the truck and grabbed one of my hunters (who was half asleep). With my binoculars I could see the group. 8 of them, running right toward us. One spike…six cows…And right in the middle was a shooter Bull. Definitely not the biggest bull in the world, but nice enough and pretty tall antler wise. The problem was that they were moving in on us fast. Like…REALLY fast. We had only moments to react. I positioned my hunter with his shooting sticks, and got ready. Unfortunately the Elk turned just before getting to the base of The Kitchen. Only about 80 yards down the hill the herd turned to skirt around the Junipers at the base. There was an opening in the trees though, and I could see them jogging through in a line. I knelt down in the mud and whispered to my hunter as I watched through my binoculars.

“The first three are cows…The fourth one…That’s the Bull we want…Just wait for it”, I quietly told him. He was lined up, rifle shouldered, and waiting.

“There’s one…two”, I whispered as they crossed our only opening for a clear shot. “…Three…This next one…this is him…”

Four.

And nothing. No shot rang out next to my head. Nothing.

I quickly stood back up and tried to reposition my hunter, but it was no use. The small group had managed to skirt around the backside of The Kitchen through the junipers and were already on their way off the property. We’d missed that chance.

In my hunter’s defense, he never saw the Bull. Plus the opening he had for a shot was very narrow and the animal was jogging. I certainly don’t blame him for not taking the shot. With how many Elk we’d been seeing, I was sure he’d be getting another chance.

Later on in the afternoon we’d heard that one of our hunters had downed a bull in a “difficult” spot. Just how difficult wasn’t exactly clear, so another hunter and I drove down to where the bull had been shot. Once there I met with the hunter who’d shot the bull and he described to me where it was. It was here that I walked to the edge of a giant cliff only to look down and see his fluorescent orange hat hanging in a tree.

I know many of you reading this are saying “Well…Just quarter up the animal like everyone else does”. And that thought definitely went through our head. The only issue is that the ranch prefers we get all animals back whole. In fact, over the years the ranch has been running, they’ve only had to quarter up one animal. So we weren’t going to do that. But we couldn’t exactly get a truck down to this bull. So we came up with a game plan. Commence Operation Tug of War.

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A daring plan to say the least, Operation Tug of War was fairly simple at its core. The plan was to somehow get the Can Am to the bottom of this cliff, hook a strap to the Bull, and drag him out. Perfect. Sounds like a plan. First, we’ve gotta get that Can Am down there. How Jason managed to drive it down into the bottom of this canyon is classified information for Operation Tug of War. It will remain a mystery much like Machu Picchu or The Great Pyramids. But drive it down there he did and once there, we managed to hook a frozen tow strap to the back of the vehicle and the other end to the Bull. Now the tricky part.

We’re about 700lbs heavier than before, and the path taken down certainly wasn’t about to work on the way up. Our only option was the closest thing to a hill we could find. The slope was at about 75 degrees up, and about 60 yards to the top. But it as the best bet we had. After a lenghty discussion about how we wanted our funerals to be conducted, we set about performing the final stages of Operation Tug of War…

“FLOOR IT!”, I yelled as Jason put pedal to the metal and the Can Am roared toward the base of the hill, Elk in tow. Clutching onto the convenient Oh-Shit handle, I watched the speedometer as we gained speed. 25…30…35mph as we neared the base of the hill. I looked back to see Cody with a weird half-scared, half-excited grin on his face. Behind him, the Bull was acting like a snow plow while getting showered in the mud from the back tires. Then we hit the hill.

The engine began to roar even louder under the sudden strain, and we began to slow as we climbed.

For those of you who’ve ever ridden a roller coaster, and had to suffer through the painfully slow climb toward the top, it was something like that. And just like every roller coaster goer’s worst nightmare, we suddenly stopped.

We were now staring straight up into the evening sky. Completely stuck.

“Well…That’s as far as she’s gettin'”, said Jason as he practically stood on the brake. Operation Tug of War was threatening to be a complete failure. At least, until, we got another idea.

I bailed out of the vehicle and onto the near vertical slope, immediately falling into the mud and snow. On my hands and knees, I crawled/slipped my way to the top of the hill. That’s where I parked my truck. In the bed of the truck was a good 90 feet of tow strap. I unspooled it, hooked one end to the hitch, then tossed the other end down the hill. Cody was now crawling with the steel cable of the Can Am’s winch up the hill toward the truck. When he reached the end of the tow strap, he hooked the winch to it. It was then that the final stages of Operation Tug of War (AKA Pray this works) commenced. F250 in 4-low, tow strap hooked to the hitch, strap over the lip of the precipice and hooked to the winch, winch to the Can Am, Can Am in 4-Low, Can Am to the tow strap, and tow strap to the Elk, I yelled at Jason to hold on. Or at least something along those lines coupled with a string of expletives.

It was a spectacle to behold indeed, but my hunters watched as Operation Tug of War was executed flawlessly. The truck pulled the Can Am up and over the lip, followed closely by the Elk. Figures my GoPro was dead at the time.

The day had been a total blur. I lost count as to how many Elk I’d seen, gutted, dragged, whatever. We slowly drove down the muddy road and back to the lodge with Elk, hunters, and guides safely in tow while the sun dipped behind the mountains. And it was then that I realized something. I’d been working. ALL day. Since 4 am. But there hadn’t been a single moment during that day that I felt like I was AT work. Not once did I question anything I had to do, or feel the urge to complain. Or anything. It didn’t feel like work. It felt like fun. I was having fun with my hunters and other guides. I was excited to see them successful and even more excited to see THEM excited. It was an indescribable feeling and for the first time in my life I realized what work -should- be. It shouldn’t be “work”, it should be something you passionately enjoy. Of course I had to work hard. But that’s just part of it. And part of the fun. I love working with animals of course, and I love being in the field. Not in some office. But one of the main reasons I got into Wildlife to begin with (as do most others) was that I didn’t want to deal with people. Well I’ve sorta come full circle now. I actually kind of enjoy working with people, but with the right kind of people. People who are passionate about the same things I’m passionate about. People who get legitimately excited over things that you’re showing them or helping them with. That’s what made this day special and pretty eye opening. And that’s my goal for any future jobs I have. I believe it’s possible to have a job that you’re so passionate about, that it never feels like work.

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It wasn’t until we arrived at the cleaning shed that we tallied up the days harvest. We succeeded in taking thirteen Elk in a single day. A record for the ranch and definitely a sight to see. Our hunters were pleased beyond all belief and dinner that night had very few old jokes and tales. Instead it was story after story about the day everyone had just experienced. It’s days like this one that make stories. The stories that get told over and over around the campfire, over a beer, or at the lodge dinner table years down the road. I can only hope to one day get to sit silently again and listen to the jokes and stories, except the ones I helped create. And with any luck, continue to make new ones for others in years to come.

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