Another wet, heavy snowfall that will turn to mud in only a day or so fell last night in the high country. It was actually almost a good rain but the flakes told the story of what was to come. Every few years, around this time, we’ll get a snowstorm with thunder and lightning. If I live to be a hundred I’ll never get used to that.
It’s October and the first season for elk and mule deer is in full swing. I’m hunting for elk in the HD mountains just outside of Bayfield, Colorado. With the storm that came last night everyone was hoping for tracking snow in the valleys, but all the storm did was cause the water to rise in the rivers making travel somewhat treacherous for anyone who dare.
We got into camp last night and as the sun set to the west, the bulls were bugling so our interest was peaked. There were four of us in camp, plus the guides and wranglers, so we were pretty cozy in our walled tents. Everyone was pretty tired so we turned in early except for the guys from east Texas. They knew how to party and at 8000 feet their bourbon was taking its toll.
The wrangler came in about 4 am announcing breakfast would be ready in about a half an hour. Everyone seemed to move pretty quickly with the anticipation of the day ahead. I got to my horse and for an hour we rode to where we were going to spend the day. It seemed the plan was to hunt a well established trail that came up a valley from a now rain-swollen river, hoping the pressure from down below would force the critters over the top as they say.
About 7:30 am the sun wasn’t yet up over the mountains to fill the valleys with it’s warmth, so the temperature hung in there at about 18 degrees. Down 500 yards from my position I saw a herd of about eight elk heading my way. A good 5 x 5 was in the mix and I was thinking, “he’s mine,” when a shot rang out. The herd scattered and the 5 x 5 stumbled and fell. He was shot by one of our hunters across the creek. After that shot the hunt was pretty much over so I headed down to see the elk and congratulate the hunter.
The hunter was on our side of the river, and the elk was on the other side. Normally that would not be a problem, except the river was high and that made crossing difficult. Ralph was a deer hunter from Texas and had his idea of how things needed to progress in order to get the elk back to our side of the river. He wanted to take the elk in whole and not quarter it. Again, that would not have been a problem if we were close to a road, if it wasn’t on the other side of the river and if Ralph wasn’t so unlikable!
What started off as a bad plan only got worse. Ralph waded across the river with a rope and got wet up to his navel. Once across, he put the rope on the antlers and threw the it to a couple of wranglers who were going to pull the elk across the river. Not a bad plan if you don’t mind being wet up to your… What do you know, it got worse. He decided on the pull back that he was going to hold the antlers up so that they wouldn’t get damaged in the process. The horses took off pulling the elk slowly at first, and as the elk hit the water so did Ralph. He fell in and the last time I saw his hat it was 100 yards downstream and heading for parts unknown.
18 degrees is cold enough when you’re dry, but when wet it gives a whole new meaning to hypothermia. Standing there shivering, we had him strip off as much of the wet clothing and each of us gave him something out of our packs to warm him. He then decided to field dress the elk and said that he had field dressed many deer and, “this was just a big deer, right?”
As he plunged the knife into the elk, the stomach exploded and the green contents covered Ralph. The stench was unbearable! I could tell by his masterful techniques he hadn’t done it before on anything. When it got to the part where he needed to do the necessary work on the anal area he looked me squarely in the eye and asked, “Why do I have to put my finger in his butthole?” I lost it.
By the time Ralph was done, he was grabbing pieces of intestine and cutting it off and throwing it away. The heart and lungs were the last to go, and in the end he looked like a serial killer with blood all over him from head to foot intermingled with stomach contents on my new Cabela’s jacket.
Ralph wasn’t one to take suggestions. I tried to tell him that bigger is not better when it comes to knives. I’ve skinned animals with my Havalon knives and love them because I can change the blade as often as I need to and they’re always sharp. Most people will split the animal from tail to sternum, but I don’t. You can make an incision about 14 inches long and take the stomach, intestines and liver out in one fell swoop. Just before you pull all of it out, make the incision around the anus and tie a string on it so nothing comes out inside. Now all of that is on the ground. Cut around the diaphragm and reach up and cut the windpipe from there you can pull all of that out of the original 14” opening. I like to save the liver and heart so that goes into a plastic bag I pull out of my pack.
Ralph decided he wanted to take the elk out whole, not a good idea! He did and it was quite a chore. He took it to a temporary processing plant and let it cool down. Two days later he loaded it in the back of his truck and drove in 80-degree weather to east Texas! Needless to say the meat was probably spoiled, but he got what he wanted, his picture in the paper labeled as a successful hunter.
I’ve given you the readers digest version of what happened that day. I never got my Cabela’s jacket back, although I don’t think I really wanted it after that and Ralph’s hat was never seen again, nor Ralph!. Thank God!