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Another Year

By Bill Bartscherer

A do it yourself public land Elk Hunters story

I rolled in my sleeping bag trying to get comfortable, the wooden Korean War era army cot creaking with my every motion. The rain started at dusk and continued all night. At times the lighting was so close it made it seem like daylight in my tent. My sleeping bag was wet from contact with the side of the tent. I was alone in a location few know of and even fewer would think of entering. I had been here before throughout the years dreaming about my pursuit of Elk in the Kaibab. This dream has kept me sane and probably prevented a mental breakdown or two. This year was very different because I had become old, so old that I could feel it. I was old enough to know the pain and disappointments that life hands out like candy to a trick or treater; is what makes the moments of joy we get so much more cherished. I had applied many times and been drawn only a few times for the Elk tag stuffed in my pack.

Many years were spent with disappointment as I watched others with four wheel drive trucks, ATVs and camping trailers pass by me going to high country while others spent thousands on a guided hunt. Finally, it was my turn to enjoy the struggles and successes of this hunt. I wondered to myself if those high fence hunters (elk shoppers) that drove home happy without ever getting their designer camouflage outfit soiled would ever realize the joy and excitement that comes with harvesting wild game.

The alarm did not go off, but I knew it was 4:30 am and I forced myself to leave the warmth of my sleeping bag and struggle into my damp faded Wal-Mart mossy oak pattern pants and jacket. I cursed my arthritic hands as I worked the pump rod of the old Coleman dual fuel stove. Having drank down the last drop of lukewarm coffee in a cold that formed ice crystals in your nose and made every breath look like cigar smoke. I put my hunting pack on; there was no need to check the contents; I knew contents better than the pages of hunting magazines I read from my youth.

I cycled the bolt of my 30-06 a habit now from being told repeatedly to do so in cold weather from guys long dead now that had been at the battle of the bulge. Not much chance of a Nazi plugging me as I struggle with a frozen bolt this morning, but the mountain ahead of me in the dark is just as dangerous. She will make you respect her as a lady or you will die.

Even when you are alone up here you have people with you, people that mean alot. Some have been gone a long time but you will not forget them or the things they taught you. Some had gear that you inherited as we all do, and the lesson I learned; was if you take care of something it will take care of you. The same fighting knife carried on Tarawa will still process an Elk today and will be just as useful for your grandkids. Another lesson I still hold close to, is to take an animal the way you would want to go. One shot perfectly placed without much time for suffering.

I guess I got lucky because by the time my eyes wore out and forced me to stop relying on the naked sights of my well-worn mil-surplus Enfield .303 and I could scrape enough cash together for a new rifle, they stopped putting sights on them. I hate rifle scopes and everything that can go wrong with them, but I realize without one I would now be out of the game. Being out of it is something that causes you concern when you get older, and I want this for me, my son and someday grandchildren.

If there is one truth to Elk hunting it’s that once you love it you are different and other men seem less than men if they dont. A guy can decide on any hobby and most of them will be fun in some way. I am not sure I could get anything out of pasting stamps in a book or riding a golf cart dressed like a mamas boy. However, Elk Hunting has many enemies named work, time, school, and money. This means you may or may not get to hunt with your son or friend. Lets not forget death as it has claimed many good hunting buddies over the years.

It is the times such as this when you are reminded why you do what you do when and how you do it. I know how I got this way, my generation got the dirty end of the stick during the 60s “Mothers of America” were so out of control that Hasbro had to change G.I. JOE to the Adventure team and toy stores stopped selling B.B. guns. As far has hunting and firearms this was discouraged and shunned on by some.

Thank God that we had John Wayne, Clint Eastwood and a healthy dose of Charles Bronson. I think had Jeremiah Johnson not shown up in theaters when it did all hope would have been lost.

This is why I love the cold mountain rain and the pain in my body as I hunt, because it was almost taken from us by people who have never experienced living.

But lets not forget the other half of the reason for being here; the bull elk in my hidden valley are eating what little grass is available this time of year. He is tired from spending September and some of October in the rut and fighting. The dominate bull may have grouped up with other bulls, about three is the norm and they survive as a security team. Some may be wounded from the rut and want to replenish their strength but most of all they need a quiet place to get through the winter. It is commonly called a pocket of solitude and the description is in the name.

I must be there waiting for him on the Mountain. He is the most challenging of all North American big game, and I am just an old man. I know that if the mountain is good to me this year; this hard rain and cold will shield my presence.  

Soon, I will eat his back strap from a fire built to warm my hands. Then process his quarters and rib meat over the course of several hours. His ivories from his upper jaw, the remnants of tusk when cave men hunted him in groups with spears will be in my pocket.

The great bull’s rack of antlers will be so heavy that mounting them to a wall of sheetrock will require a special trick.

I will journey up and down this mountain four times with a meat loaded pack frame pack the most unforgiving terrain and one miss-step could make the survival kit in my pack much more than dead weight. My 357 revolver will be close at hand like a cop in the ghetto, because being stooped over an opened carcass is inviting prey for the mountain lions that are watching me even now. Once they hit you, getting your rifle between you and the lion is impossible.
If all this happens I will have much more, much more than just a story to tell to others. I will be in a brotherhood of men that stretches back to the dawn of man.