The Elk Perch

Steve Johnson

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Written by: Old Pole

It's day one. We woke up from our little nap after the four of us were driving nearly two complete revolutions of the hour hand on the clock. Camp is at nearly 7000 feet. We are going to be hunting a lot higher than that for the next four days. There are six of us in camp that are trying to bag an elk. We have a guide, and his hired hand. They assure us a good season. I hear the wood stove getting stoked about an hour before we were supposed to start moving. The creaking of the stove door opens the way to the furnace within. The popple and spruce logs bounce off the back of the stove, sounding like a small gong. Ain't no going back to sleep now.

It's time to get ready to hunt, even though we won't be leaving camp for over two hours. I jump out of the top bunk in our six-person bedroom. I try to sneak out to the kitchen, but stub my pinky toe on a .50 cal ammo can that holds somebody's hunting supplies. Ow. Ole, the guide offers me a cup of the worst coffee I’ve had in years. In elk camp, it's as sweet as honey. We talk quietly about the day ahead, trying not to wake the others. As tired as I am from the long drive to western Colorado, I’m ready to get going. I can't wait for the sunrise in the Rockies. I help Ole with breakfast. Bacon, toast, hash browns, and eggs any way you like them; as long as you like them scrambled. The rest of the guys, two of my brothers, my father, and two guys we never met before, are tripping over hunting boots, moving each others gear bags, and frantically looking for whatever it is that they are looking for.

Soon we are all organized, fed, and coffee’d and we strike out up the mountain. I almost know where I’m going. Ole showed me the area on a map. We drive vehicles part of the way. Then we offload some borrowed snowmobiles to make the last ten miles or so. The hunting area is only three miles from camp. Uphill. We need to spiral around the mountain to get to the top. The borrowed sled I’m on runs like a champ. That is until it pukes out at about 8000 feet. Somebody forgot to re-jet the carbs for high altitude. I need to make about 8500. That last 500 vertical feet is tough on us flat-landers. I followed the snowmobile trail for another quarter-mile. From here, Ole said to take the “cut” road. Where's that from where I am? Hmmmm… I cut down through a steep bank of popples about 250 yards and find the road, and I hang a right and start a steady climb. After I clear the popples, the scrub-oaks take over. Thousands of acres of the gnarliest ten-foot oak brush I’ve ever seen. I continue the cut road path. I see elk below me in the valley, but they are out of range, and the wind is blowing toward them in the cold morning air. The eldest brother Paul should be on a stand around here somewhere…there. Up on top of the ridge I see a tiny orange dot. The orange dot waves. I wave back and continue on. The road finally hits the top of the ridge nearly a mile later. I can see where I am supposed to be. It's only another half mile from here and my lungs would be yelling at me if they could, but they are out of breath.

I finally reach “The Perch.” The Perch is sort of like the North Pole. Every direction is south from the North Pole. Every direction is down from The Perch. Over-looking the scrub-oaks in all directions, the popples cover the valley floors. If I get a close shot here, it’ll be between the scrub-oaks. Either that or I get
a really long poke to the bottom of the valley into the popples. The wind comes from all directions at The Perch as well. If your hat blows off to the north, or south, it's about a four hundred yard walk straight down to go get it. I pull my hat a little farther down on my head. I got sweated up on the walk in here, now I’m getting chilly.

It's late November, and I see all sorts of things. Gray Jays, Blue Jays, Magpies, Coyotes, Chipmunks, and even an elk or seventy. There is even a whole flock of Robins hanging around, even though I’m pretty sure spring hasn't arrived yet. I eat a candy bar and try to wash it down, but my water bottles are frozen solid. Didn't think of that little problem when I left camp in the morning.

I continue to sit on The Perch for the rest of the day and have all sorts of good ideas. Like how I’ll get off the mountain with a dead snowmobile. I can see the ranch house from The Perch. It's only a two and a half mile walk. Good thing it's downhill and the snow is only thigh-deep. On two different occasions I hear shots in the distance. They sounded like they hit their mark, but bullets make a pretty good WHOP when they hit popples, too.

I touch my cheeks. I can still feel them, so they aren't frozen, but they hurt. The alternating winds over the ridge have sure dosed out a nasty case of windburn. My skin feels like KFC extra crispy. The sun starts to set. I strike out on a path for the ranch house. We’ll get the snowmobile off the mountain later. I cover a mile or so, when I hear an ATV. Ole picks me up and we go help Paul drag an elk.

When we get back to camp, the fire is stoked. Snow-packed pants and soaked hunting gloves hang on the dry line over the stove. I add my things to the line. The 2 freshest of elk hunting stories are now told, everyone tuning in so we can maybe learn a little before tomorrows hunt. Cocktails are made, and the most delicious of appetizers, fried elk heart, is passed. The heartiest beef stew I’ve ever seen is served by the shovel onto everyone's plate. I’m tired. It's early, but I’m going to bed. I’m a flat-lander in the hills. I walked farther and higher than anyone else did today, and I’m done. I try to sneak into the six-person bedroom, and stub my other pinky toe on a .50 cal ammo can. Ow. Can't wait for day two.

Posted by Steve Johnson under Field Journals on January 15, 09 11:42 AM | Permalink

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