Friday, October 30, 2009

Elk Season

This first image is of the sky on the first day of this year's recent Colorado elk hunt and represents the majority of our days, which set a new standard for bluebird weather. It was the warmest hunt I can recall in twenty-some years of September, October, and November elk hunts. Each morning I walked out to hunt in only shirt sleeves.

We had a bit of frost the first day, but even that went away.

My father and I got to the mountain in the afternoon and got busy turning the full pickup into the camp set up.

Cabela's tents, like this one, have really started appearing in the woods- rivaling military surplus and traditional canvas wall tents in popularity.

The next day, Chris and Chris arrived from points farther east and got arranged, easy camping marred only by a balky, annoying, and soon useless chainsaw. At least we got most of the wood needed (not much in such pleasant temps) cut to length before it gave up on me. A sale "bargain" Ryobi, it started having troubles in its first ten hours of operation. Next saw will not be the same.

The recession affected this hunt in the form of fewer hunters. About half as many camps as usual appeared to be up there and I didn't see as many other hunters or track in the woods. Not a bad thing for us, but you have to feel sorry for all the folks who've had to give up their hunt.

It's a great pinyon year in this part of western Colorado, the ground under the trees littered with fat nuts and more still clinging to the cones. Lots of birds were taking advantage of the easy food and nice weather a birder would have had a field day. Unable to identify any but the most common species, I just enjoyed hearing and seeing them all. I saw dark eyed juncos, western tanagers, crows, ravens, Clark's nutcrackers, red shafted northern flickers scrub jays, stellar jays, pinyon jays, and nuthatches and a bunch more that would have required a field guide and spending time looking more at birds than for elk.

Here's a ponderosa pine marked with a Forest Service plaque, noting the tree's historical significance. I had to do a little research on "Ute Scarred Trees" to figure out what they meant.

I've seen ponderosas with similar scars before, but never realized what I was looking at.

A couple of us hunt grouse while we're up there, not while waiting for an elk or stalking in the early morning, but making our way back to camp in the afternoon or the like. There weren't a lot of birds to be found, but we got on the right side of a few. The pistol is a High Standard "Field King" made between 1950 and 1953. Unlike the more commonly seen (at least in my case) "Sport King", the Field King features an adjustable rear sight and a medium-taper barrel. I found this one with a 6 3/4" barrel and then got a 4 1/2" barrel (not in the correct configuration for this particular model, but that fits) for carry. Heavier than my little Smith and Wesson, it has better sights and is easier to hit with. First game with this gun.

The grouse were taking advantage of pinyon nuts as well, along with rose hips, grouse whortleberry, and the usual spruce needles.

The above sequence shows that some of the grouse made it into the Dutch oven, to be joined with biscuits. My father put the grouse dish together, I made the biscuits and managed to burn the bottoms. Oak coals are harder to regulate than charcoal and seem to burn a bit hotter. The top two-thirds were pretty good, though. Clearly, more practice (on site) is called for.

One of the Chris's got his cow the first evening of the hunt, a nice big specimen that wasn't too awful far down the canyon. We got to her about seven pm and had three quarters back in camp by ten. Chris retrieved the remaining quarter the next morning. With meat on the pole and demands of work and home, we were ready to knock down camp just a couple of days later as the weather blew in.

Not any too soon, in terms of getting out before the storm. By the time Dad and I had made it to the good road, the rain was snow and sticking well. Fresh tracking for the guys staying until the end of the season.

Another good trip to the mountains. It's pretty hard to spend any time up there at all without learning at least a little something. Even if it were, time with friends and family tramping about the country would be more than worthwhile.


Andrew Campbell said...

Thanks for a great story and pictures! Must be great to be able to get out with your dad and share adventures like this in country like that.


mdmnm said...

Thanks Andrew!

Yeah, we're darned fortunate in that way.

danontherock said...

Great post and pictures. Nice pictures. My dad had a High Standard similar to that but with a longer barrel it wasn't a Field king however. How lucky you are in the US to take a handgun afield. It would get you time in a federal penitentiary here in Canada. Shame.
You show the country well both in pictures and writing thanks.

Trout Caviar said...

Very enjoyable post. You really capture the feeling of elk camp, something I haven't experienced. I learned a couple of things, too, about Ute scarred pines, and, hunting grouse with a pistol? What kind of grouse are those? Looked like they cooked up pretty tasty. I am about to roast a ruffed grouse this evening, myself.

Best~ Brett

mdmnm said...

Hey Dan,

My Dad has a High Standard Field King like this one that he has carried for nearly fifty years. I was pretty excited to get a chance to pick up the same model pistol.

That's too bad about those restrictions. Lots of rabbits or grouse make carrying a .22 a lot of fun.


mdmnm said...

Thanks, Brett!

Down here we have dusky grouse. Generally they aren't hunted too hard in elk country and so they're naive enough to flush to a limb or walk along the ground without flushing if you're moving slow and out a few yards. Limiting yourself to head shots makes for a sporting hunt and a tasty meal. I look forward to seeing what you did with that ruffed grouse!

Hunter Angler Gardener Cook said...

Mmmm... yummy spruce grouse. And great pinyons - those nuts are huge! (OK, sorry. Someone had to say it.) Would have loved to be up there -- just bought a book about edible plants of the Rocky Mountains...

mdmnm said...


It was a beautiful year on the West Slope. A double handful of pinones was no more than a few minutes picking under the right tree.

EcoRover said...

I end up killing a grouse or two most years while elk hunting--by throwing sticks or rocks at them. Shoot them with a little 22--what a concept! Probably would make less noise than chasing them across a steep mountainside pitching softball sized rocks...

You have a great camp set-up, sorry for your lack of snow. To me, the right snow is absolutely critical for the way I hunt elk (track & stalk). Our season is long and I have the good fortune of being able to get out on those perfect days.

Thanks for the pinyon pics. We have whitebarks which produce a similar, but smaller, pine nut. Sadly the warmer winters seem to be exacerbating a blight that's killing a lot of our trees. Tough on blues, grizzlies, and other dependent species.

mdmnm said...


You've got a better throwing arm than I do! The .22 is pretty quiet, particularly with subsonic ammunition.

Our pinyons down in NM suffered from bark beetles that got a foothold in the recent drought. Millions of trees on tens of thousands of acres died. Up in Western Colorado they look to have done much better.

I enjoyed reading about your elk hunt and seeing your photos. Given my druthers, I'd chase elk in big spruce escape cover with snow on the ground. The area in CO that we hunt is more oak brush, p-j, and aspen. Only short seasons down here, too. However, given the choice between any elk hunt and no elk hunt, I'll take "any" every time!