Good Morning Brothers…
We arrive at camp on Sunday night and start the foggy experience of setting up camp. I say foggy, because the altitude coupled with the dehydration makes this a recipe for altitude sickness. We all have headaches and my friend Wes is suffering from cramps. We soon discover that, two out of the three sleeping bags are locked in the trailer safely at the trailhead three hours away. Mine, was tucked safely in the bottom of my pack. They were supposed to be thrown over the saddle horn at the trailhead, which was determined 2 weekends prior at the preload. Somehow, between the excitement of going hunting and the mountain that we had to hike they were left in a tub. We all agreed that there was nothing that could be done that night, so we scouted as much as we dared to walk after our hike in. My two friends, which are blood brothers, covered up with 2 emergency blankets and split a tarp in their tent for the night.
Monday was a nice, crisp morning and after our morning meeting, brothers, Wes and Richard decided that one of them would head down and get the sleeping bags. Richard volunteered because he wanted his brother to have the first opportunity to take an elk. Wes had been elk hunting three times before and had not punched his tag yet. We all help saddle the pack horse and get ready to send Richard on his way. I help Richard up into the saddle and he gives the horse a very gentle nudge to move the horse to the right and start walking, when the unthinkable happens. The horse, Shorty, looks like Zoro’s steed for a split second as it launches its front legs into the air, eventually falling head over heal backwards right onto my great friend of 10 plus years. The horror and dread I felt at that moment was indescribable. I had visions of the old western movies, were the rider breaks a leg or the horse has to be put down, running through my head. I am not fond of horses and found myself always leery around them. Shorty did nothing that day to ease my trepidations. God had this situation the whole time, but in the moment, you can easily forget.
Shorty lands on Richard right between the two tents, but Richard is able to roll free and to Shorty’s credit, he just lays there. The question did arise, whether the horse was dead or not, but only after Richard was safely up and hobbling around. Shorty gets up and is promptly unsaddled. Richard has a severely bruised knee and ankle. With Richard’s injury, Wes heads down the mountain on foot. I grab my pack and make for a 4 hour hike/hunt into some pretty unforgiving country. Roughly at about nine thousand feet elevation, still well below me, I hear so many elk bugles that I lost count. I optimistically hiked back to camp. Richard wants to walk around a little and scout, so we take off for a quick three mile hike. We see some very promising elk signs and head back to camp. Wes makes it back and we break bread for the evening. About two a.m. we are roused from our slumber to encounter driving rain and at least forty mile per hour winds ripping through camp. Wes and Richard’s tent was damaged in the storm and they battled water pouring into the tent all night and into the next day.
Tuesday morning’s storm was still ‘alive and well’ when we emerged from our tents. Richard has decided to stay out of the hunt for the day, and rest his knee, and if the rain stops, plans to dry out their equipment. His knee is swollen at least double. With rain gear on and Wes nursing a nasty blistered heal, we decide to hunt. An hour or so into the hunt, we hear a response to a cow call. This bugle is big and close. We estimate the range at one hundred to one hundred fifty yards. With the thermals in our favor, we quickly quietly move into position for our attack. Another cow call is fired off and we here the bull respond, but he is further away. We quickly try to put ourselves into a position that the terrain will allow and still have the wind in our favor, but to no avail. The bull and his cows are now a long way off and you just won’t catch elk on the move. The terrain dictates that we stay in the area we already occupy and try and glass down the mountain for the elk. Between the cold rain coming down and no visual sign of our query, Wes decides to head back to camp. I stay in the area for another hour or so and move up the mountain and back towards camp.
Besides elk, grouse are the other desired game animal. Grouse are an upland hunter’s dream query, because they live above ten thousand feet and are hard to hunt. I jumped a pair of grouse, having one fly halfway down the mountain and the other getting up and back down, landing about ten feet away. I loaded an arrow in my bow, it just sat there. I clipped on my release, it just sat there. I drew my bow back, it just sat there. This is was my ‘quail in the desert’ from God. With the release of the arrow, I had my grouse. It was still raining as I reached the camp. I unzipped Wes and Richard’s tent and presented the grouse as a gift from God, and felt the sun for the first time that day.
Wednesday morning found our water supply frozen, but we were all ready to hunt. Richard made for a hunt by himself, because he did not want to slow the group down. Wes and I made our way towards the hillside we attacked the day before. Found lots of elk sign but no elk or elk bugles. We hike up towards the peak to check the other side. The view is amazing and we stop for photos, and then we hear him. A big bull elk bugling about three thousand feet below us. We decide to try a side hill approach to get into a better position. Three hours later we watch the same bull push his harem of cows up the same mountain we just came from (that’s elk hunting). I ranged the whole herd of elk at two hundred and seventy yards. All we could do is sit in awe and watch. We moved back up the mountain toward camp, where Wes downed his first grouse. We had a great meal of grouse and Mountain House meals over a roaring fire that night.
Thursday brings the three of us together for a do or die hunt. This is really the last conceivable day to bag and drag an elk off of the mountain and still retain our jobs. We all move together and cover some serious ground. We hear bugles, but we would need a week to recover any elk shot down in that black hole below us. We gave it one last great push and were not successful. We enjoy our last roaring fire and have a buffet style meal with the food we did not want to carry back down.
Compared to Wes and Richard I felt coddled up there on the mountain. I had no physical ailments and was warm and protected in my tent. Was I somehow better than these two men? Of course not! This hunt represents life to me and how as a community of believers we are able to hold each other up, through thick and thin. When life throws a horse on you and everything you worked so hard for is suddenly taken away from you, you can rely on your brothers and sisters in Christ to help carry you. When you cramp all afternoon long, you can rely on a fellow Christian to be there to fetch you a chair, water, and Gatorade powder. When the blister on the back of your foot is bloody and oozing, I would happily dress the wound. As a community we need to serve our fellow man as Christ would have. This hunt showed me that a community strengthened by a common bond can be stronger than any attack the individual would receive. Working together, with eyes fixed on the Lord, there is no mountain that can’t be moved.