At the end of August of 1997, a 17 year old girl and her dad loaded up a little red Ford Ranger with hunting equipment and camping gear. Pulling a trailer with a motorcycle and a 4-wheeler, they set off nine hundred miles to the Colorado Mountains. Specifically, Narraguinnep Mountain and Glade Mountain, north of Dolores, Colorado, in Lone Mesa State Park. That is the mountain range my family has traveled to for nearly 20 years to hunt big game. My grandpa, dad, and uncles have killed bear, mule deer, and elk off this mountain and made lasting memories.
This particular trip is my graduation gift from my parents: a 10 day hunt for elk and mule deer. Now it’s my turn to make some memories with my dad!
The Camp Site: We did not have the luxury of a travel trailer for this. Instead we had a nice big tent with cots and a small heater and (thankfully) tons of heavy quilts made by my mom. Thanks mom insisting we take heavy bedding! My family had used this same tent in the past for camping at various lakes, but it had sat in the shop for a few years. One thing my dad and I still joke about is what *great shape* it was in, sarcastically of course. Unfortunately, a rat or mouse had found it and decided to do a little chewing, leaving a few pretty good sized holes in the top. Being handy, we used duct tape and sealed the holes the best we could, but it wasn’t uncommon to wake up with a few snowflakes on our bedding. Dad threaten to throw the tent out on the side of the road on the way home but we decided it would be a cruel thing if someone stopped to pick it up, thinking they were getting something nice. We ate mostly canned foods, granola bars, and cereals. At the time neither dad nor I were great cooks, so we kept it on the simple side. We mostly washed up with a rag and bucket of water but I remember once getting to use a camp shower, which was nothing more than a black bag filled with water which was then laid on a pickup hood to warm up. We also went to town one day, a 30 mile, 1.5 hour trek, and found a place that you could pay to shower. I think it was $10 per person and worth every penny, especially since it had a real bathroom, and I hadn’t had that luxury for over 5 days! Enough about that, let’s go hunting!
I don't really remember doing much homework while I was there.
The Hunting: We were bow hunting. That means you have to get a lot closer to the animal than with a rifle, which can be a challenge. The first couple days we did quite a bit of scouting from the ATVs and hiking the beautiful mountains. One afternoon we happened upon a fire tower that was occupied and they invited us to come up and take a look. There was a three hundred sixty degree view and you could see for miles and miles. It was truly breath taking, and using their spotting scope we could see elk grazing on the next mountain.
The first large animals I remember seeing was a herd of mule deer. Doing most of my hunting in central Oklahoma, I had only witnessed whitetail deer in the wild. Mule deer are definitely different! These guys were on the run and I could not believe how big they were, not just the antlers but the bodies. I would have guessed them to be at least twice as big as a whitetail, body wise, darker in color, and the antlers seemed taller and fuller. I had to whisper to my dad to make sure they were deer and not small elk. Dad still laughs at my reaction to seeing them!
Most of my hunting was on the ground, but I do remember dad putting me up in a tree stand once. It was a giant aspen tree on the edge of a pond. Dad had seen elk and mule deer from this stand and wanted to give me a chance at one. I did see some cow elk from this stand, but they were across the pond and never close enough to get a shot at. My ground hunting spots changed often. Dad would set me up in a spot he thought was good and he’d go find another spot to hunt, and if it turned out to be a good looking spot or he saw something worth shooting, he’d put me there the next day. Yep, I have a pretty good dad.
We also did some stalking. Dad would put me in a spot and he would walk a big circle trying to run something over me. I have one very vivid memory of such occurrence, that is, to this day, Dad’s absolute favorite hunting story from our trip to tell. First we rode our ATVs up to a gate and parked. I grabbed my bow off the rack and went to the gate, about 20 yards away. Back in the day there was no such thing as a whisker biscuit or drop away arrow rest. I had a stick on rest that the arrow sat on, super simple and about as good as it got for hunting way back then. For some reason dad looked at my bow and noticed that my rest had fallen off, big problem! It’s really hard to hunt with no arrow rest. So, we started looking between the gate and the 4-wheeler to see if hopefully it was there and I hadn’t lost it on the road. Amazingly we found it right next to the 4-wheeler, and I was back in the game. So, we crossed the gate and dad found a place for me to sit under some brush. He took off in a circle to see if he could stir up some game. Well, let’s just say he did! I don’t remember how long I had sat under that bush but I finally heard something running through the trees. I sat real still with my arrow nocked on my string in a position I could, hopefully, get a quick shot off if something was close. Close is an understatement. I remember there being 3 giant cow elk, if there was more I can’t remember because I was traumatized from my near death experience. These girls literally jumped over my head! I was ducking while they were going over. There was no way to even get a shot off because I would have had to lie on my back and shoot straight up! I didn’t even need that arrow rest I had lost and found earlier, I could have just held my arrow up and stuck one in the belly as it was flying over my head! At first, I think dad was worried that I had gotten a hoof to the head but after he saw I was okay he couldn’t quit laughing at the ordeal. If you remember above I said he would sit me down and walk in a circle to try and “run something over me”, well, those big cow elk were definitely “running over me”.
The trip home we drove half way and spent the night in a hotel. I remember turning on the TV and seeing the funeral procession for Princess Dianna, who died on August 31, 1997. We were headed home on September 6, 1997, the day of her funeral, and we had no idea at all that anything had happened. I know that is an odd thing to remember and tell about but it is amazing how the trip seemed so quick but we had been away from any news for so many days. It was great to be able to get out in nature and not have a worry in the world. The first night on the trip home, I got to eat my first tasty hot meal in 10 days, I got to shower in a real bathroom, and I got to sleep in a real bed! So many things we take for granted.
While neither my dad nor I got to shoot anything, one of the other guys in our group killed a nice bull elk. Unfortunately I did not get to see the whole animal because he killed it high in the mountains and quartered it and packed it down. I did get to see the antlers and pose with them for a picture. I am to this day amazed at how big they are. It was an amazingly created animal that was put on earth for our enjoyment, whether for hunting and eating or just watching.
Although neither one got to put a kill shot on a majestic animal, I am thankful I got to spend several days with my dad creating memories that will last forever.
That was more than worth the trip.