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Hunting in the snow in Colorado

I'm sitting here on this beautiful three degree March, after the snow morning, thinking back over some of the snowy hunts that I have been involved in, in time past. Many of them were uneventful so that I don't remember any of them. However, one that I do remember was a hunt in Colorado with my hunting buddies that go with me almost every year. We were camped at Freeman Reservoir, which is located about forty to fifty miles north of Craig, Colorado.

We left Berkeley Springs about 6:30 on a Monday morning to travel the 32 hours to Craig. We arrived just about dark so we got a motel to spend the night, get a needed bath, go to a restaurant for a good meal, and rest up for the night. The next morning we picked up supplies and headed to the camp site. When we get there, there is already 8 inches of snow on the ground, which has to be removed (this picture is actually when we were leaving and camp torn down) to put up the 16'x 32' army tent. The rest of that day (Thursday) is consumed in getting the tent up, cots installed, gas hooked up for cooking and heat, and needed personal items brought into the tent, for each person. The next day is devoted to the finishing of details around camp, visiting with neighbor camping hunters, and talking over the hunt that begins tomorrow morning. Late in the day it began to snow and was still at it the next morning as we were eating breakfast. There was probably another eight inches on top of the previous 8 inches and it was still snowing.

We were now reviewing the plans made yesterday as to where and how we would hunt in this new circumstance. My own conclusion was not changed, in that I was determined to scout until I found the prey or located where they might be holed up. In past years I had gone out into these mountains with just plain luck on my shoulders in hope of one of those ole moss horns coming by my location. That hadn't worked out so very well. In other words, no luck. I made an opinion that there isn't any use hunting that large of an area unless the percentages of seeing game is increased by a large margin and the only way to do that is to immediately upon starting the hunt, go and find them. I had hunted this area several times so I had a plan as to where to start.

I left camp at the beginning of daylight on Saturday morning to start the trip to the top of the mountain. It is roughly 4 miles from camp to the top and it is pretty steep. My plan was to leave the "Bear's Ear's Trail", which is one mile from camp, make a straight line up the left side of a ravine that went up the side of the mountain and see if there were any fresh trail cut in the snow. It was noon when I reached the top and I hadn't cut one foot print of anything. The snow was 38 inches on top. I was exhausted, from the ordeal of treading the deep stuff, and decided to rest up a bit beside the whiskey bottle, "a land mark", we all knew about. Somebody, I hope not a hunter, had put a whiskey bottle on a dead branch of an old snag, that had once been a tree, that had tried to grow from the rocks. What made it so difficult for me to get through the snow was that the previous snow had melted some and then froze to make a crust. The new snow, that was still coming down, was piled upon the top of that and as I put my weight on the crust, it began to hold but just about the time I was ready to lift my other foot, it would break through sinking me up past my waist. Try that for awhile. You'll think your thighs have caught fire. Finally I started back down taking the other side of the ravine, probably 1000 yards from where I came up. The trees are pretty thin on top but the black timber (big trees) starts about a mile from the top. I just got inside the timber and hit a very fresh elk herd trail going off to my left. Right away the wheels started to turn in my head, trying to figure what their moves were and how to capitalize on it. Let's see: I just came up the other side and didn't see any trail, but that was awhile ago and they may have came through afterwards.

Now, the place I am in right now is in the shade and under the black timber so there is no light coming from the sun to melt anything. The snow is now up to my chest and I'm in deep stuff. Really! I'm too tired to turn around and go back the way I came, which would be a lot farther then it would be to go straight ahead. I feel that if I can get through this part of the trip a little farther it will get better. But it will get worse before it gets better. Just a little bit more into the woods finds me in a predicament that ingulfs me over my head. Even though I didn't know it I had traveled upon a blow down. (downed trees that overlap) Apparently, there was a cavity underneath that my weight caved in and I fell down through the whole mess. It was over my head. I had taught myself not to panic in these situations but let me tell you, there are still pucker marks in my A-frame. Fortunately, I held my rifle above my head ( always save your rifle) and it was this life savior that got me out of that mess. With it at a cross wised position above me I pulled down on it which would lift me up a couple inches. Then I would kick with my feet until I had enough structure under me to raise me a couple inches by pushing down on my legs. A repeat of this a few times and my head was clear and finally I made it up and over the problem area. I found it better to belly craw, that way I could pack the snow in front of me to give better stability as I maneuvered across it. I was correct in thinking it would be better if I could only get through the bad area. It soon got back to three feet and then less as I went on.

It was still snowing and I intentionally let it pile upon my hat and coat as a camouflage. I knew this particular piece of real estate pretty well, which helped to make a decision on how to continue. The elk pattern in this area seemed to be a winding around type movement. Sort of like when a road goes up or down a steep hill, with switch-backs. If they are going to my left then maybe they will be switching back and I can intercept them if I go straight on down and watch for then to come into my view below. I had only gone maybe a hundred yards when all at once something in my mind clicked, to be aware, the distinct smell of elk. Immediately, I started sniffing the air and as the thermal current was on the uplift it would be coming up the side of the mountain directly in my face. It was only another few yards that I caught a whiff of elk. I could not see anything from where I was because right in front of me was a drop off which made me want to get there quickly to see what was over the edge. I readied my rifle and proceeded to the edge. Sure enough there were two 6x6 bulls walking to my right just under the edge, about 30 yards away. The problem was they were just about to disappear behind a large tree, that was loaded with snow from top to the ground, and I could not wait for them to come out on the other side because there was another tree, on my right side, blocking that. I quickly decided to charge back up and around that tree, land in whatever shooting position could be managed, on the other side, and get me one of those big bruisers. Good plan If I do say so myself. Only problem with that is, I didn't reckon on running head on into a big old cow elk on the other side of the tree. She raised that big long neck and looked at me as if to say. " Where in thunderation did you come from"?. I already had the rifle up in front of my face, both being ready and to keep the flying snow off it. I held it there for as long as it took that cow to get out of my line of sight and when she moved I was ready to get that bull. Only, old Murphy done it again. I could not see one blasted thing through the scope because I had breathed some heavy breath on the lens and it was fogged completely over.

That morning as I was preparing to leave the tent, trying to think of everything I might need during the day, I thought of some paper towels to wipe the scope, if needed. When the fog appeared on the scope lens all I could think of were those paper towels in my left hunting shirt pocket, under my coveralls, under my sweat shirt, under my coat. I was in the kneeling position which meant that I had to unzip my coat, my sweat shirt and my coveralls, in the wrinkled condition, to get to those paper towels, taking precious time. Finally the lens was wiped off some and I could now set a sight on them. As I leveled the rifle only their rear rumps were in view for an instant as they moved out of sight forever.

A few days later we went to town for supplies, a steak and to take showers. Myself and Don Sharp had finished showering first and were sitting in the pickups front seat, him under the wheel and me on the passenger side, when I suddenly exclaimed! "Oh no"! Well, I used another word for "no" but for this writing I won't. Don looked at me with great surprise and said. What? You know the other day when I breathed on my scope up on the mountain. All I had to do was, And I made a wiping motion with my right thumb. I will never forget Don's look of, "What an idiot"

Some months later I was in the power saw shop, that I had then, when my neighbor, Sammy Swaim came in. He walked in without saying a word and when I turned to greet him all I saw was his right thumb making the wiping motion. Now there is only one way that anybody could know about that. Somebody had to tell on me and I don't have to throw the hatchet far from the woodpile. Hu?

See me coming off the mountain that day.