Elkism by: Dewitt Day
When GOD created this celestial ball and placed all his critters on it, HE really took HIS time with some of them; the wild turkey and the majestic royal bull elk. In this bird and animal HE placed all the dignity, elegance, splendor and magnificence HE could into one body. The bull elk makes every hunter “drool’ with envy. If he doesn’t have one…..he wants one…..if he has one…..he wants a better one. He dreams about hearing them bugle and hunting them. It’s an obsession. It’s a disease……a bad disease. If you have ever hunted them, as I have, and taken one…….you’re hooked. All one can hope for is when fall comes he has been able to book a good hunt into the high country so he can go and treat the disease. There is no cure. All a person can do, once he has been afflicted, is go to the high country during elk season and treat his illness.
If you have never heard the Royal elk bugle, well, there are two movies you should check out and see. One is “Jeremiah Johnson” with Robert Redford and the other is “Last of the Dogmen” with Tom Berenger. These films have some excellent sound track of elk bugling. It will make the hair on one’s backbone stand up just like when the wild turkey gobbles down in the bottom on a cool spring morning before daylight. Man!
Gary Hathorn (my business partner and hunting buddy) and I had the elk disease bad. We called it “ELKISM.” Gary is a brilliant guy, he’s an architect, a civil engineer, a structural engineer, a pilot and an all-around great guy. He can shoot too. He can eat the heart out of a target at a hundred yards but, when it comes to real live game in front of him, like a wild turkey or a good bull elk, the man comes unglued. He fall apart with “buck fever.” He can’t help it. I feel sorry for him but that is something a person has to solve for themself. Gary had fallen in love with the idea of taking a bull elk many years ago but had never hunted the high country. He was badly afflicted with elkism……eaten up with it. My case was just as severe if not worse. I had taken an elk from Colorado many years ago but no big herd bull. Sucks, we were just two ole Mississippi boys with a disorder that we had to take care of forthwith.
When October the 6th came, we loaded Gary’s Jeep Wagon with stuff we had bought, borrowed and ordered from all over this country and headed for Chama, New Mexico. That’s a small place 17 miles south of the Colorado state line. We were to meet Dirk Neal, our outfitter, at the Elk Horn Café at high noon. Dirk was a native of New Mexico as was his father, his grandfather, and his great grandfather. A small man in statue but built like a roll of barbed wire and twice as tough…….you know the type……..not an ounce of fat on him anywhere.
Dirk told us he had two camps, a lower camp and a high camp. I asked how high was his low camp. “8,500”, he said. “Dang, how high is your high camp? “10,300”, he stated. Coming from Jackson, Mississippi’s 336’ above sea level to where we were sitting there in that Café now above one mile high, Gary and I were having a hard time breathing now. So we told Dirk that we wanted the low camp. Dirk quietly stated, “I figured that.”
Dirk had ten hunters, four younger men would be hunting out of the high camp and six of us older dudes would hunt out of the lower camp all on 25,000 acres, (or 39 square miles) of private land. That’s right at four square miles per hunter or 2,560 acres per man.
Hunting out of the lower camp with us was Don Kirk, a free-lance writer from Morristown, Tennessee, a real nice guy. Jim Craig, a gunsmith and a Factory Representative for Leupold Scopes from Bloomfleld, Indiana, he had hunted elk for twenty years and still loved it. Then we had this fellow and his girlfriend from Minneapolis, Minnesota. He would laugh in the same manner as Joseph Stalin just after he enslaved Eastern Europe. This guy is the type of person who if he doesn’t have enough problems, he’ll have fresh ones flown in daily. And his girlfriend, where this woman walked all the grass died and a cold wind blows.
With Gary and Yours Truly this made for six hunters and five Mexican guides plus a great Cook whose name was Steven Braunlich from Cerro, New Mexico. Now, this guy could flat put the vittles on the table. Steven was fabulous with “Fresh Tex-Mex,” specialties from the Rio Bravo country like; three-cheese chile, Margarita Scallops, Lemon-Herbed Roasted Chicken, Mesquite Grilled Steaks and, above all, the best Mountain Lion that ever crossed your lips.
The first day of the hunt only one elk was taken. The guy I referred to as Joseph Stalin killed it. He wasn’t happy at all. It was just a small 2×3. His girlfriend was trying to calm him down by hanging all over him. He acted like a spoiled child. I told him, “Hell Man you’re the one who pulled the trigger.” He was trying to blame the guide so Dirk asked his guide did he tell him it was a nice 6×6? The guide said yes, but Joseph Stalin got in a hurry and shot the wrong animal. His 6×6 just walked off. This guy was trying to blame someone else for his mistake. I feel he is about three sandwiches short of a picnic or his mother’s milk was bad when he was a baby. Anyway, this didn’t help Gary’s or my Elkism. We both had seen cows that day……..just cows.
The morning of the second day of our hunt Gary’s four-leaf clover worked. His guide got him within a hundred and fifty yards of a nice 5×5 bull. Here in the South we call that a ten point. They told us we were only suppose to count one side and Gary and I informed them that the animal grew both sides and we counted everything you could hang a ring on. Gary made a shot but NO elk. He and Benny, his guide, could never get their stories straight. Gary said he must have hit a limb Benny said Mr. Hathorn was shaking all over and just plain missed. All I know is I pleaded the greatest case I ever tried to keep that group from cutting Gary’s new L. L. Bean wool shirt off. Gary still owes me a shirt.
On that same morning me and my guide Ray Martinez, (he was from Taos, New Mexico) found all kind of signs, tracks, droppings, and trails leading to this green mountain. I told Ray that all the evidence showed that was where the elk were.
Ray said, “Mr. De, I don’t believe that mountain is on Mr. Monday’s Ranch?”
“Ray,” I said. “Have you ever been lost?”
Before I could say anything else, he said, “Yes Sir, I got lost one time over near Taos.”
“Well,” looking him in the eye. “You and I are going to get lost because this is your first time to guide for Mr. Neal here on Mr. Mundy’s Ranch and I don’t know where the Hell I am?
We headed for that green mountain, although Ray was as nerves as a house cat with a sore tail in a full elevator. Within an hour we had, as best we could count, 42 elk in front of us down in a draw. There were cows, spikes, four points, a 5×3 and lots of young ones but, NO herd bull.
All of a sudden, the air was pierced by the high pitched, shrill unmistakable sound of a bull elk bugling. Ray and I looked at each other as if we had just been given credit cards to the Best Little Whore House in Texas. Then the bull hit it again. He was across this ravine about halfway up the other side in what they refer to as black timber, (that’ real thick big timber).
I knew no one can go into black timber on an elk without him seeing you first, but Ray being a young man, use to the altitude could go to the head of this green ravine, cross the little stream, up the other side, over the top of this foothill and flush the bull to me. It sounded reasonable to us. Now, remember we have not even set eyes on this animal yet. But, in watching the young bull when this man bugled made them react like Drill Instructor yelling to a squad of Recruits. He just had to be the man.
I instructed Ray to go flush the ole man. Twenty minutes later I could see Ray crossing the little creek and start his climb, then out of sight. Time passed! Then I could hear big limbs breaking in front of me across the ravine. It sounded like a front-end loader coming. Out in the sun came a wide set of white tipped antlers running to my left but, NO clear view of an elk. So, I didn’t fire. Later when Ray got back to me he was pretty well put-out with this old man. I asked him to sit down. I explained that I didn’t have a shot. I told him that this bull was not “spooked.” His food was here, his water was here, his cows were here, why would he want of go anywhere? It does not make sense. It’s just not logical. We won’t hunt him this afternoon. We will go some place else and real early in the morning before daylight we can come in here and he will be full of vinegar and spit and we can take him. That’s the plan!
That afternoon Ray took a horse and I took a mule (a mule in high country is way more sure footed than a horse and twice as strong) and we hunted up to timber line. 10,000 feet and better! We saw some of the most beautiful country that Mrs. Day’s youngest son has ever seen. From a plateau we could see half ofNew Mexico and a good deal of Colorado. For a fellow coming from 300 feet in Mississippi to above 10,500 feet makes for real thin air. I was glad I had that mule under me. Breathing, I felt like a high school fat boy out for the first day of football practice. We saw a blond bear (that’s another story), wild turkey, magpies, eagles a skunk (they have skunks that can weight up toforty pounds) , but no bull elk.
We came back down the mountain that night, in the dark, with my mule leading the way for Ray’s horse. Chef Braunlich had out done himself with a great meal, with a couple of shots of Mr. Jack Daniel’s I retired early but couldn’t sleep for thinking of that bull on Green Mountain. It was a long night but morning finally came and I wished my legs belonged to someone else. I now had shin splints added to elkism.
Ray and I were up, had our breakfast and coffee and were gone when most of the others were getting the sleepy out of their eyes. We knew what we had. When Ray stopped the truck for us to get over the fence we could hear that bull bugling. It was just breaking day and cold. We begin to move closer. Ray stopped and went to one knee over a wet place in the trail pointed to it and whispered. “Cow Piss.” The foam was still on it……fresh stuff. He begun to put that wet mud all on his clothes and told me to do the same. I did and man it like to have took my breath away. I smelled like a bad toilet. I was gasping for fresh air anywhere I could get it.
It must have worked because we were sneaking through the underbrush like a pair of Indians. We came within 20 yards of some cows and they payed us no mind…….Hell, we smelled just like them I guess. All this time we could hear that ole bull elk bugling and raising sand. My heart was going a 100 MPH and all the while I’m telling myself; You’ve got to stay come in order to place your shot. I could hear elk, I could taste elk, I could feel elk, and I could definitely smell elk. At that moment, Ray dropped to one knee again, about ten yards in front of me, and my first thought was Lord I hope the guy hasn’t found some more elk pee. Because if he has……….I just can’t do that again – No way. As I came up beside him he said, “There he is, a nice 6×6.” Breathing hard I scoped this magnificent bull only 125 yards away in some low scrub oaks. I could see the tips of his tines all white in the early morning light and his outline looked like a small tank. He was beating and threshing his antlers all in the underbrush. It sounded like a bunch of young boys playing with wooden swords. But, I could only count five points at that distance.
“He’s a 5×5,” I stated.
“No,” came a whispered. “He’s a 6×6.”
“A five by five.” I replied but what I didn’t tell Ray was this was the largest 5×5 I had ever seen and I was going to take him if I could. All this time I was getting my breath back.
“I’ll bet you a hundred dollars,” said Ray.
“Your on,” I answered and we shook hands. Understand, the hunter is to tip his guide anyway but the guide should know his animals well and be able to call a good animal……Besides his young eyes could be right at 125 yards.
The 30-06 broke the morning silence with a thunder, the ole boy bow-up and begin to shake all over, “Hit him again,” yelled Ray. With the second shot he crumpled like a dynamited building. All right,” yelled Ray. When we got to him we found that the first shot had split his heart in half and the second shot had broken his front shoulder, which brought him to the ground. We were both half right. He was a nice 5×6 and Ray estimated his weight at 1,100 pounds.
I had cured my elkism and lost fifty bucks. But I could tell Ray was real nervous because we were off Mr. Mondy’s Ranch. So I told Ray to take my backpack off and I had two cokes in there and get us something to drink. He said he didn’t want a drink. Then pore them out because I need the cans and I also have a zip-top bag in there and I need it also. He looked at me sort of strange but complied. I also put one of the empty 30-06 hulls in his shirt pocket and asked him to fill both cans and the zip-top full of blood. He again looked at me as if I were going to save the stuff:
“After you field dress this bull what I want you to do is lay a good blood trail back to the truck. Once there throw that hull where you say l made the first shot. You and I had to come in here after a wounded animal and I am going to throw this hull here. Then go to Mr. Sanchaze’s house and ask him for a key to his gate so you can bring your truck in here and get my elk, savvy,”
That happy Mexican went walking off singing a little song and laying a blood trail back to the truck because I had my elk, I also had saved his ass and he was fifty dollars richer. I sit down on top of my bull and waited.
Poor old Gary hunted the rest of the week from daylight til dark and never got another chance at a good bull. He still has elkism, but now it’s a lot worse. I love the guy.