Home from the hills
By Luke Clayton
Sep 11, 2017
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I’ve been a bit “out of pocket” the past three weeks, on our annual archery elk and bear hunt up in northern Colorado. This year wraps up my seventh season to spend a few weeks in Colorado’s high country. For the past six seasons, I’ve guided hunters with L&L Outfitters, owned by my friend Larry Large, but earlier this year, I came to the conclusion that at age 67, it’s time to pass guiding duties on to the younger fellows. I am still healthy for an old guy. I think it’s time to concentrate on hunting solo.  Guiding a hunter on a high country hunt requires a good bit of endurance and down-right hard work after the harvest, a job best suited to younger men.

Actually “hunting” elk is the easy part, but getting the animal quartered and packed off the mountain is where the real work begins. Even though I didn’t serve as a guide on this hunt, I did manage to stay busy. Through the years, I’ve learned every road on the ranch we hunt north of Steamboat Springs. During the morning and afternoon hunts, I stuck close to camp with cell phone close by. When a guide/hunter had an elk down, they would text me with their location and I would load the meat packs, ramps for pulling an elk into the truck, sharp knives and meat saw and head out to retrieve the animal.

On a couple of occasions, the elk would go down in an area where we could drive the truck up and make loading easier, using the ramps on the tailgate. But on many occasions, we would have to traverse some pretty rough country, usually straight up a mountainside, dodging downed logs and brush to get to the downed elk.

Backpacks with meat sacks makes packing quartered elk out of the thick stuff much easier. We would usually re-group after an elk was killed and the younger guys would bear the brunt of the work, loading their packs with quartered sections of the elk. My job was to help with the quartering and caping but we had plenty of manpower and nobody was really overworked.

David Hanson, our camp manager and cook, is a full-time fishing catfish guide on Lake Tawakoni. David, as the old saying goes, can catch fish in a wash tub! After a day of scouting, he found a very accessible little lake that was chock full of hungry rainbow trout. We used ultralight spinning rigs and power baits to catch easy limits of trout, most in the 12- to 14-inch range. Wrapped in foil with a little butter, garlic powder and lemon juice, they made great snacks around camp.

There's more to do on an elk hunt than just hunt elk. Eric You (left) and his son Jeremy show off a big stringer of trout caught during a mid-day fishing trip. photo by Luke Clayton

Food is always a big deal at hunting camp and David kept us well fed. Our meals were varied and tasty. We enjoyed a fish fry of fresh Tawakoni catfish each week, thanks to Hanson. Each year, he devotes some time to catching catfish just before our hunt (he wants them very fresh, caught no longer than a couple weeks before the hunt). One of our hunters graciously provided the main course for an evening meal, very fresh elk tenderloin from an elk he harvested early in the hunt! David sliced the tenderloin into medallions and used a meat tenderizer to make the steaks even more tender, and then marinated them in beer for a few hours before lightly dusting the steaks with seasoned flour and frying until crispy brown. It’s mighty hard to beat fried elk steak and gravy. Golden brown homemade biscuits were also served, thanks to David’s little Camp Chef oven.

Seasoned green beans were on the menu and I learned a “new” favorite way to prepare them. David fried a few slices of bacon until it was crispy and crumbled it into a skillet of frozen green beans. He then added some fresh garlic and a little chopped onion; an easy and tasty addition to a chicken fried steak meal!
Bears are always in good supply in the mountains north of Steamboat Springs and this year there was a good acorn and wild berry crop. Bears were feeding heavily and putting on weight for their upcoming hibernation. One of our hunters harvested a fine bull elk that went down in some heavy cover. He followed the trail to his downed animal and discovered a big (estimated 300 pounds) boar bear had claimed his elk. Upon his approach, the bear stood up and growled. The bruin didn’t give up its meal easily. I wasn’t present for the show but I’m told things got a bit western on that mountainside. Our hunter came away with all the elk meat and no cuts or scrapes, so all ended well!

CLOSER TO HOME -- As soon as I got settled in after the hunt, I did some scouting around the house for the upcoming bow season. I’ve had a trail camera set in a grove of oaks on the little place I hunt and was pleased to see that the deer and hogs were already hitting the fallen acorns. The camera captured the image of a couple of small bucks that were completely out of velvet and several doe. Live is good in the outdoors, as an old outdoors writer once said, “My health is always better in the Fall”.  I think many of us can relate!

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