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Thread: CALL OF THE HIGH COUNTRY
07-09-2012, 08:55 AM #1
CALL OF THE HIGH COUNTRYCALL OF THE HIGH COUNTRY
by Luke Clayton
I was in my early thirties when I first discovered the Rocky Mountains. Since a youngster, I’d dreamed of hunting elk, deer and bear in the mountains. A young father with a growing family and tight budget, I scrimped and saved a few hundred dollars and made an arrangement with an outfitter to set up a tent drop camp for a couple of friends and myself. I’d explained to this veteran of mountain hunting that we were flatlanders and experienced hunters but, we knew little about the habits of game in the high country.
I’ll never forget following the outfitter through a winding ranch road to the camp we rounded a bend in the road and situated at the head of an aspen grove was a 20 X 20 foot tent with a sheepherder stove inside. A big stack of dry aspen fire wood was stacked neatly between two trees nearby. A big aspen had bear claw marks as high as I could reach. We were in what at the time I considered to be really wild country! The outfitter took us on a hike through the area and showed us some of the country we would be hunting. “Take a bearing on the peak of Buck Mountain over there, if you get turned around, use the mountain to orient yourself. It’s the highest peak in the area and you can see it from just about anywhere.”
Our camp was situated at about 6,500 feet but the air was much thinner than back in Texas. We were hunting the early rifle season for mule deer and on our hike, we spotted several does and smaller bucks. The outfitter said his guides would be taking clients up to the higher elevations the next morning when the season opened. This is where the big ‘timber line’ bucks hung out. On this first hunt, my buddies and I were not interested in harvesting the biggest bucks on the mountain. Any legal buck with branched antlers would suffice! The doe and smaller bucks we spotted seemed half again as big as the whitetail we were accustomed to hunting back in Texas.
The morning of the first hunt, we headed out in different directions. My plan was to climb to the top of a nearby mountain and glass the area below. I remember the side of the mountain seemed to turn into deer at first light. A little clearing or ‘park’ as clearings are referred to in the mountains, had a thick growth of scrub oak and mountain mahogany. Deer were feeding along the edge of the black timber on the brush and I counted about 20, all does and immature bucks. The rut had not kicked in and the mature bucks were still up high. I sighted my first black bear across the clearing. At this point, my hunter’s blood was pumping. My lifelong goal of finally hunting the high country was actually taking place.
My friends and I met back at camp around mid morning for a big breakfast. No game was harvested but spirits were extremely high. Everyone had seen plenty of game and Joe even watched a bull elk with his harem of cows jump a fence about 50 yards from where he was hunting.
As we set down to enjoy a big breakfast of flapjacks, sausage and hot coffee, we saw movement coming off a nearby hill. It was a herd of 12 cow elk with a couple of year old spike bulls working their way down to the lower meadows. The herd came trotting by our camp. As memory serves me, they were no more than 60 yards away! Needless to say, my buddies and I almost choked on the pancakes as the elk passed our camp.
The young but legal mule deer bucks harvested on this hunt seemed huge to us. This hunt will always be special to me and through the years, I’ve returned to the Silverton area to hunt on several occasions. As my outdoor writing career developed, I had the opportunity to do a lot more hunting in the high country and was fortunate to begin hunting elk with veteran guide Larry Large who has guided for bass on Lake Fork for the past quarter century. Larry grew up in the Pacific Northwest hunting the mountains and I learned a great deal from him about mountain hunting. Each fall, Larry would park his bass boat and head to New Mexico or Colorado to guide elk hunters.
A few years ago, Larry called and asked me if I’d like to help him with his new outfitting business. “I’ve leased a big ranch up north of Steam Boat Springs, Colorado that is crawling with elk, deer and bear.’ Said Large, “ I can use you up there to help with the hunters.” I found myself adjusting my writing and radio recording schedule to become an elk guide! At first I had reservations about actually being in charge of taking others hunting but on my first hunt I discovered that I had been trained well! I’d hunted solo for years and discovered that I thoroughly enjoyed exposing others to hunting the high country that I have grown to love.
Photo by Luke Clayton
Billy Kilpatrick not only does a great job running the elk camp and cooking. He is expert at catching the makings of dinner from a nearby trout stream!
L & L Outfitters is not a big operation, groups of 4 hunters are in camp for 5 day archery only hunts. Billy Kilpatrick who guides for crappie at Lake Lavon is our camp manager/cook. He also has learned how to catch the plentiful rainbow and brown trout in nearby Elk River which winds its serpentine course through Elk Valley, about 5 minutes down the road from where we hunt. Fly fishing is for the purists; Billy has discovered red wigglers near bottom provide much better catching! Many of the hunters enjoy spending a few hours fishing with Billy during mid day. I can still taste some of the fresh grilled trout we prepared for lunch last year.
A call from Large a couple hours ago sparked this week’s column! Larry was setting on a rock on a saddle of Sleeping Giant Mountain which overlooks the cabin we hunt from. “Luke, I am watching a huge heard of elk up in the black timber. There must be around 100 head here within a half mile of me. A black bear is feeding on berries down by Bear Pond. Sure wish you were here.” Well, old buddy, give me one month! I’ll be there with bells on, once again ready to expose a group of ‘flatlanders’ to the grandeur and solitude of the Rocky Mountains. Archery season opens August 25 this year. I am ready!
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07-09-2012, 09:27 AM #2
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great read luke makes me wish i was able to make a trip.
07-16-2012, 06:47 PM #3