CRAZY MOUNTAINS – Part 5

From: Meridian, ID:

(This post is the fifth in a series. If you wish to read the story in proper chronological order, start with the post for November 19, 2014.)

Jerry made the decision to go out hunting for the last time (this year) on Thursday morning and then, no matter what happened, to stay in camp for the afternoon, getting “Big Red” (his F-350 pickup), and his camper ready for travel first thing Friday morning. Erik had no choice at this point regarding his own departure…his ticket home was for Friday morning, from Belgrade, MT through Denver to Los Angeles International. Had George and I decided to stick around one more day, he would have hitched a ride with Jerry as far as Belgrade.

(Jerry, taking it easy in his favorite living room chair.)

(Jerry, taking it easy in his favorite living room chair.)

George rode along with Jerry and me, and we found ourselves in the stubble field once again. There were a couple small bunches of deer feeding in the volunteer winter wheat field to the north, and Jer thought his best chance was to make a sneak down through Chicken Creek Coulee and up the other side, hoping that a nice buck hanging with one of the bunches could be surprised when Jerry made his way to the crest of the north rim of the coulee.

The plan worked, too, inasmuch as the buck (and his female companions) never got spooked during the time Jer made his way down the southern slope. They did, however, keep working their way slowly to the north, getting farther and farther away from the north rim. When Geo and I saw Jerry finally ease up to where he could see the deer, we could see that they had moved quite a distance. Jerry told us later that he lasered it at 330 yards. When he spotted the buck from his vantage point, he was still breathing a bit hard from his long walk, especially with the last fifty yards being uphill. Nevertheless, the deer were still moving away. Grazing as they went, not spooked…but still getting further away with every step.

“Boom!” we heard the report from Jer’s rifle; a few seconds later, as the buck is loping away at a much faster clip, we hear Jerry send a second shot downrange. Another miss. At this point, we all knew that the game was up…that buck had made his escape.

(This photo doesn't fit in this part of the narrative, but it's too nice to leave out. Photo credit: Jason W.)

(This photo doesn’t fit in this part of the narrative, but it’s too nice to leave out. Photo credit: Jason W.)

George and I drove through the stubble to reach a point where Jerry could simply walk straight back across the coulee. (Not as easy as I made it sound…it was still mostly uphill for him.) We were all a bit discouraged…but Jer stayed pretty upbeat about it. He had had a nice sneak, gotten off a couple of shots, either one of which might have connected, although both were somewhat beyond his “comfort zone,” which stretches out to around 250 yards, and even 300 if the animal would accommodate by standing still. Besides, as he reminded us more than once, he already had a Washington state deer in the freezer at home. Home much venison does a guy need, anyhow?

So after checking out a couple additional spots – rather half-heartedly, truth be known – we wound up back at the cabin. Jerry made good on his plans to get his rig(s) ready for departure in the morning, George began preparations for another barbecued steak dinner in the evening, with Deanna’s cousin, Sam, being invited to join us again.

(Cousin Sam and Roper, the dog.)

(Cousin Sam and Roper, the dog.)

Some of you may remember that Sam is one of Deanna’s many cousins in Montana, and in this case, a property-owning neighbor. His half-section borders hers on the north, and he has always graciously allowed us to hunt his forests, and also to use his land to access some of the National Forest sections to the north and west. He has worked in the forests for many years, and he has a bag full of stories and tales that could entertain an audience for that many more years to come. We all look forward to his “drop ins” at the cabin!

After dinner, our group settled in to the living room to hear – and to tell – some stories of hunting, fishing, and forest adventures. Sam had brought his companion, Roper the dog, this evening and Roper was happiest to stick pretty dang close to the guy what brung him. Later in the evening, though, without anyone taking much note of his absence, Roper disappeared from the group. Evidently, the shyness that had kept him on Sam’s lap had been overcome by some scents wafting in from the kitchen and dining room. Shortly, he reappeared in the living room, carrying the remains of a steak that had once been nearly as big as he, himself. The steak didn’t last long, and no one was particularly interested in trying to save it. A few minutes later, Roper disappeared again and returned with a second helping. It was a pretty rich meal for a comparatively small dog…I wonder if he had any abdominal distress on the bumpy ride up to Sam’s cabin. Or, possibly, the next day.

Erik and I awoke about 5:30 AM Friday morning. I had loaded my bags of meat and the buck’s head on Thursday afternoon, along with whatever else I could load early, so we didn’t have a whole lot of stuff to pack in the morning. George, too, aside from all the foodstuffs he had brought along, traveled fairly light. We had been aiming for a 7:00 AM departure, and we made that easily.

(Caught George on one of the rare moments when he sat down.)

(Caught George on one of the rare moments when he sat down.)

At this point I need to acknowledge that the reason we could get ready to go in quite a short time span, was that Greg, Carl, and Jason had already volunteered to be the cabin “cleanup crew.” (They have done it every year, as far as I can recall.) So you can see that it would be a sad and slovenly hunting camp, indeed, if those guys didn’t do such a huge percentage of the work. They hunt hard; they process virtually all the animals taken (I suspect the exception might have been Jerry’s deer, had he gotten one. Jerry has higher principles than I do when it comes to doing his own chores.); they clean up the place before they depart; and they make sure the woodpile on the porch is replenished. Sure makes it easy for the rest of us, eh? Thank you, guys! I hope you know how much I appreciate you all! Come to think of it, it just dawned on me that everyone in camp really does more than his share of the work…except me! Oh, I’ve had good excuses over the years: a worrisome ticker; a bad cold; a really pesky hangnail. But I think I had better start concentrating on being a more contributing member of the team on future trips, eh?

The “boys” left the cabin shortly before 7:00 AM, with Erik and I following a few minutes later, and Jerry and George behind us. As we reached the section where we had all seen the most elk during the week, we saw that Greg, Jason, and Carl were hunting it. We passed up Greg’s pickup and turned west down the road to Clyde Park. As soon as we did, Erik and I realized there was a small bunch (8, as it turned out) of cow elk in the road a couple hundred yards ahead. Of course they saw the pickup right away, and immediately became like a gaggle of chickens, not sure of whether to run, or in what direction. Usually there is a mature cow “in charge” of such groups, but I don’t think that was the case, in this instance.

I stopped for a moment or two, hoping to keep from throwing the girls into a panic…and it seemed to work. Unfortunately, it looked like they were prepared to just stand there in the road for as long as I remained stopped. (They obviously could not have cared less about the airplane Erik had to catch in Belgrade.) So I began to ease forward, down the road. Accordingly, the elk began to trot down the road in the same direction. Would they be content to let me herd them all the way into Clyde Park? I doubted that, of course, but they certainly didn’t indicate anything otherwise. Finally, I began to speed up…I had to force them to make a decision. They eventually decided to cross the fence to the north, running at top speed.

Well, you should know that elk are not nearly as graceful as deer when it comes to jumping fences. In fact, sometimes they barely make an effort to jump, preferring to simply bull their way through until posts break or are pulled from the ground. One of the girls did a complete somersault as we passed the group. But, hallelujah, all eight of them finally wound up on the north side of the fence, headed for parts unknown. And we were on our way.

There is a rest area at one of the major exits to Bozeman from Interstate 90, and that’s where Erik and I rendezvoused with Jerry and George. After we all used the facilities, George climbed in with Erik and me, and we all said, “So Long” to Jerry, who would go on to stay overnight at a campground in Spokane before completing the last leg of his trip on Saturday. After I took the exit to the airport a few miles down the road, we hit McDonald’s for a bit of breakfast, and within a few minutes, Erik was checking in for his day-long journey by air.

Geo and I made good time to Meridian, arriving at around 5:00 PM…a drive of 10 hours. The route we used was the same as that we had traveled in the opposite direction. Which is to say, mostly Interstate highways. (In years past, we have often gone through the town of West Yellowstone, the westerly entrance to Yellowstone Park. The Interstate route is definitely easier and faster.)

(Carl with his cow elk.)

(Carl with his cow elk.)

We got word from Greg and the boys the next day that Carl had bagged a cow elk in the morning, so they had one more animal to take care of before “cleaning house” and hitting the road. They got home in the wee hours of Sunday morning.

As I mentioned earlier, we had pretty good weather during our week in the Crazy Mountains. As it happened, some sort of “Polar Vortex” swept down from the north shortly after we left and blanketed the area with lots of snow and sub-zero temperatures! We had made it out just in time.

It was a BLAST! Erik says he had a great time, and may well plan on coming along again, should the opportunity come along. Jerry and I talked about planning more trips, but without buying deer/elk tags…just coming along for spending time at the cabin. I am at the age, for sure, when it’s questionable how much tramping around I’ll be able to handle down the road…and the truth is, I don’t “tramp around” much, as it is. But will I ever be able to tell myself, “That was the last time…I won’t go on these hunts anymore.” I don’t think so; never by choice, I can tell you that for sure! So until next we meet in Big Sky Country, Thank You, Guys…and see you next November!

Bud

Before I forget, I must acknowledge Jason’s photography. I’ve used quite a few of his pictures throughout this series…he has a great “eye” for the shot. I should have given him credit on each one I used, but it’s too late, now. You can just figure that he took most of the really good ones, and you won’t go far wrong. Thanks, Jay!

 

3 Responses

  1. Ron Boy says:

    Great story telling and pictures. Thank you for sharing and letting me feel like a part of your hunting group. As long as a guy can take part in just the comradery and fun involved, you will never be too old to participate. I am sure your boys and the other guys love your presence and just hanging with you. You are so very fun Bud and your wit and humor would surely be missed if you didn’t go with them. Love you Bud. Thanks again for sharing. Ron boy.

  2. Jerry Howard says:

    Thank you for being the camp scribe. You do an outstanding job telling the story of our adventure. I felt like I was there all over again. A great time with great men.

    • Bud Larson says:

      You guys are both too kind to the “camp scribe.” But I agree, Jer…it really is a special time! I probably focus too much on how great it is to “hang out” with my sons, but in truth it is just as great to hang out with all my brothers!

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