Friday, April 23, 2010

Huntin’ Spots, Champagne Peaches, and Dead Cow Camp

A few years ago, Bill and I were putting together a bow hunting trip to one of our favorite hunting spots. We decided to get together for lunch and do some trip planning. The previous fall, Bill showed me this great spot that was only an hour and a half from town. It immediately became one of my favorite spots to hunt. It was at the top of a large mountain. Most of our hunting spots are at the tops of mountains, mostly because that’s where the elk are. Most of our trips also require hiking several miles from the bottom to the tops of these mountains. The reason this new place instantly became my favorite spot is due to the fact that we could DRIVE to the top of the mountain! The road to the top of the mountain was long and slow as it switched back and forth up a steep slope. Once on top there was a 2 track almost wide enough for a vehicle. This 2 track snaked in and out of the canyon tops through thick trees and brush for another 3 or 4 miles. When I had driven it the previous year, I tore the vent off the top of the camper shell on a tree limb, cracked a head light on a rock, and scratched both sides of my truck, from front to back, on the brush. Luckily, I never had to worry about scratches, door dings, or even minor accidents again, as Bill now pronounced my truck, broken in. I also figured out why Bill always said that the best hunting rig around always belongs to somebody else.

I pulled into Bill’s office parking lot to pick him up for lunch. We were headed to an all you can eat buffet with pizza, a salad and fruit bar, fried chicken, and fried potato wedges. As I walked into his office, he was standing with a group of people and one older man was telling about his elk hunt the prior fall. Bill nodded at me and then to the speaker. I sat down to listen without a saying a word. A decent elk hunter knows not to interrupt a good hunting story. I followed the story fine as the guy talked about sitting in his hunting spot and watching the hillside across a narrow canyon. Then he made a statement that completely befuddled me, he said that “I saw an elk jog out into the open, so I got out and moved down to take a closer look”. Got out? Got out of what? How does one get out of a hunting spot? Typically your hunting spot moves around with you. If you’re sitting on a rock or under a tree, and after a while you get up and move to another rock or tree, that’s your new hunting spot. But you don’t get out of sitting on a rock or leaning on a tree. Did he get out of his clothes and do a little bare hunting? I got stuck on that statement and missed the rest of the story. I have no idea whether the guy shot an elk or fell off a cliff. My mind was stuck on the “got out of my spot“, comment.

Have you ever had those canned peaches in syrup at a salad bar? I placed a few of those between my pizza stack and fried chicken pile the first time through the buffet line. I ate 2 or 3 of them when I realized they were a little bit tangy and had a bite to them. They stung my tongue as I realized they had fermented and had probably been sitting out at the salad bar for several days. I was planning on complaining to the waitress, but by the time I saw her, I didn’t have any peaches left.

As Bill sat down with his four plates of pizza and fried chicken, I confessed to him. I said, “Bill, I thought I knew a little about elk hunting, but I don’t understand what that guy meant when he said that he ‘got out’ of his spot.” Bill broke it to me slowly and said that I missed the first part of the story. The guy was actually sitting in the CAB OF HIS TRUCK! I almost fell out of my chair. I had never heard of such a thing. My mind raced as I tried to figure out how such a thing was possible. In all my years of hunting, I had never seen an elk within 2 or 3 miles of a road during an open season. Sure, I’d seen them standing in the road the day before the season opened, or driving home the day after the season closed, but never during an open season. As I tried to wrap my mind around this new concept, Bill headed back to the buffet. The answer finally came to me. Bill was putting me on. He’s trying to make a fool out of me by telling me the guy’s hunting spot is in his truck. Well, I wasn’t going to stand for it. When Bill came back from the buffet line, I noticed he had some peaches on one of the plates on his trays. I continued eating my pizza thoughtfully.

After a bit, Bill looks up and says, “Hey, these peaches taste kinda funny.

“Really”, I replied, “Are they kinda tangy, and sting your tongue?”

“Yeah, what is that?” he says.

“Well, they soak ‘em in champagne. It makes them last longer and it gives them a little kick.” I tell him.

Bill looks at me and asks, “Really?” “Yeah” I say nodding at him with an earnest look.

“I don’t think I’ve had these before” he says.

“Oh, there’s a few places around that have them” I respond as if I were the expert on champagne peaches.

There, now we’re both a bit befuddled as he finishes his plate of peaches and moves on to the next course.

We turn to the bow hunt and decide to drive up late Friday evening, get there well after dark, and sleep in the back of my truck. We’ll get up and going just before daylight and walk the 2 miles to our hunting spot. Bow hunting requires getting pretty close to an animal to get a good shot off, so Bill reminds me to not wash my camo clothes with soap, don’t wear any deodorant, and to bring elk urine or skunk scent to cover our smell. Yes, you can buy elk urine in a bottle. How they get elk to pee in a bottle is something else I haven’t got my mind wrapped around, and don’t get me started thinking about the skunk scent.

The day of the hunt finally rolled around. I got off work, got my stuff ready to go, and headed over to Bill’s house. I noticed his shiny truck in the driveway and asked if he wanted to drive. He said his truck had a slow leak in a tire and we probably shouldn’t trust it that far from home. We took off in my truck and drove the hour and a half to our mountain top. I added a few more scratches and dents to the sides of my truck on the last few miles in. It was dark when we arrived but we had a nice flat camping spot in mind. We’d been there the prior fall and I pulled up and backed right in and shut off the lights. We jumped in the back of the truck, rolled our pads and sleeping bags out and were ready to get some sleep. We’d been lying in bed just a few minutes when I began to smell something pretty strong. I figured Bill didn’t want to smell artificial for the elk hunt and hadn’t worn any deodorant or washed his clothes for several days. But this was over doing it. I politely mentioned how bad he smelled and that he would have to wear a fair amount of elk pee tomorrow to cover his stench. Bill got all offended and started telling me that I smelled worse than he ever did. Rather than start an argument with him, I stuck to facts and reminded him that I had taken a shower during the week and that he smelled like something crawled up inside of him and died. For some reason he took offense to my factual explanation and started rambling on about some of my hygiene practices and various body parts and smells emitted. I finally fell asleep in spite of his hideous stench and inability to smell himself. I decided that my hunting spot was going to be a long way away from his in the morning.

We awakened before day break, got our sleeping bags out of the way, and began getting ready to go. I was never so happy to get out of the truck and away from Stinky Pete. We got our flashlights and began organizing things on the tailgate, however, I could still smell him, and it seemed to be getting worse. We looked at each other and almost simultaneously turned around and shined our flashlights on an unusual hump on the ground behind us. There, about 10 feet from the back of the truck, was a large range cow that had died a few days previous. Its guts had been drug around by coyotes and there was blood and gore everywhere. We could see the maggots festering around. As we moved closer, the stench was almost unbearable. I gathered my bow and gear, squirted some elk pee up each nostril, and headed down the trail as quickly as possible. I can’t remember how that particular hunt went , but from that day on, the place we parked and blamed each other for the hideous smell was henceforth referred to as “Dead Cow Camp”. Bill and I often hunt in different directions and always plan to meet at some peak, trail, or obvious landmark. We rarely see each other again, and usually end up lost and alone. However, if we ever agree to meet at Dead Cow Camp, we know exactly where it is and can always find our way there.

Not many years after this hunt there was a fire in the mountains near our spot. The fire fighters brought in bulldozers, widened all the roads, created some new ones, and cleared off an acre or so of flat land as a helicopter pad. The fire never reached the mountain. The roads were graveled and culverts added. These roads are now maintained by the county. Access is much easier and the traffic has greatly increased. Bill went up there a year ago and said that the helicopter pad now looks like a parking lot, and that he was looking into putting in a McDonald’s or Starbuck’s franchise as it appears that business would be pretty good. However, the hunting has dropped off. Dead Cow Camp remains the same with a few bones left bleaching in the sun.