Saturday, November 1, 2014

Colorado Deer Hunt, October 2014

            During the last week of October I joined Mark Simpkins, Rob and Jan Graner, and Kyle and Martha Trimmer  for an eastern plains hunt with Jack Cassidy Outfitters.  We hunted the Painted Canyon Ranch, which is located between the practically abandoned towns of Kim and Pritchett at the southeast corner of Colorado.  Mark and I flew, while Kyle, Rob, Martha and Jan drove, which proved far faster and more efficient than flying US Air.
      Rob and Manny

            Mark and I arrived at the LAX three hours before our scheduled departure, since we were traveling with guns.  After a relatively tedious but uneventful check-in, we experienced what is apparently a standard 45 minute delay for US Air.  We landed at the creepiest and most poorly designed airport in America, Denver International.

            We rented a Nissan four wheel drive truck and headed to Trinidad, where we joined the other members of our group at the friendly and clean La Quinta Inn.  Trinidad, which now has a bustling mineral extraction economy, was previously known as the sex-change capital of the US.  On January 1, Trinidad will join some of the other counties in Colorado that have legalized marijuana dispensaries and this town of 9,000 will have 14 of them.  I did not realize that much of the state does not have legalized weed commerce, as I expected a region filled with Rastafarian lotus–eaters and the agricultural product of their politics.  We were in the rural/agricultural part of the state for all of our activities.  I never saw any trace of dope-culture, or anyone smoking, selling or otherwise interacting with this weed.

            We had lunch in the town of Kim, which features this charming outpost café and little else.  The food was good and the people were nice.  Not a lot going on to get the mostly old folks we saw there excited.

            We left Trinidad and drove east along the depressing flat lands leading out through hollowed out farmland towns with mostly boarded-up businesses and abandoned homes.

       After winding our way to the Everett ranch and checking in with our guide Chris, we found a very remote and wasp-infested shooting range outside of Springfield where we dialed in our rifles and got a flat tire on a dirt road about 25 miles from anything, including cell service.

            Our bunkhouse accommodations at the Everett cattle ranch were much nicer than I expected.  Although there was no cell phone service for Verizon, there was satellite TV and we were able to watch all of the World Series games after a day in the field.  Congratulations to the Giants.
            Rob’s wife Jan is a Navajo medicine woman whose real name is Cooking Chicken.  Although she has a very nice custom-made Cooper 30/06 rifle with a Swarovski scope, she prefers archery hunting for bear at close range.  Because of her ursine prejudice, she declined to fill her deer tag on this trip, leaving Rob to fill their freezer with his permit.  For the past two seasons, Cooking Chicken has taken a large black bear with a handmade Navajo bow and arrow rig.  Both times the bear was dispatched with an arrow through the right eye at virtually the same location off a trail in the Blue Mesa area near Montrose, Colorado.  She had beautiful head-attached rugs made from the skins and says that the eye shots keep the skins pristine and make for a clean kill.  She always shoots for the right eye, rather than the left, because in her culture, that is the eye which confronts the truth.

            Kyle is a drummer for the Katrina Waves, which is a Storyland Jazz combo out of New Orleans.  He has hunted extensively in most of the western states, often while traveling on tours with the Waves.

Kyle’s wife Martha is part Comanche and her own tribe once controlled the land we were hunting. Her Indian name is Washington Redskin, as the Comanche are huge football fans.  She is a recently retired major in the army and does not hunt, although she is a specialist in mountain survival tactics.  She can also skin-out and butcher any land animal because she worked as a furrier/hide tanner when she lived on a reservation in Oklahoma before joining the armed forces.  She had a beautiful set of beaded, deerskin pajamas and  matching moccasins that she crafted herself and in which she lounged about the bunkhouse when each day’s hunt ended.

Our second guide Manuel arrived that night.  Manny lives in Trinidad. In addition to working as an outfitter, Manny has a water and power engineering position with the city of Trinidad.  He was recently given the task of designing an enormous pneumatic grid throughout the city in anticipation of the establishment of so many pot dispensaries in three months.  These systems, which have been installed in a few sections already, are like stupendous hamster habi-trails. They are like those you see in old black and white movies about office high rises and sexual intrigue in the workplace. There can be no 90 degree turns as the air driven vessels speed through tubes that are both underground and sweep overhead in some parts of town, like the “T Line” in Boston.  The calculation for maintaining air-pressure and cycling the airlock and direction deflectors are extremely complex.  They must also be completely re-calibrated as each new dispensary comes on line.  Right now, all of these space age little day-glo plexi-glass torpedoes  are empty, or else jokingly filled with burritos used to test the system’s tolerances, as these burritos (called "test piglets") are so heavy as to build in structural redundancy.  For now, legal weed has not yet hit the beach in this town, but it will really be something come January 1st when the law takes effect and these delivery systems whistle about.

On day one, Manny took Rob, Kyle, Washington and Cooking Chicken into the canyon area while Chris got stuck with Mark and me on a long, binocular-intensive drive through flatlands that seemed to extend forever, as we searched through the barely cold early morning sunrise into the heat of a very hot day.  The first two days were, in fact, record-setting high temperature days for the area this time of year.  The net result of that was that the deer completed their activities after nightfall and before sunrise and were mostly undetectable for us.  We passed many properties that seemed from the long distance of an arrow-straight dirt road to be little residential outposts with lines of trees and a windmill set among multiple buildings.  When you got closer, you would usually find the windows out and the abandoned buildings in varying states of decay.  Young people tend to leave this part of the country as soon as they can flee or enlist and the parents move out when they get old.  There is nobody left to take up that yoke when they are gone.

Nobody in either hunting party saw much in the morning.  The evening hunt started in hot weather and generated a hike to set an ambush at a likely confluence of evening deer that decided to stay put in the heat.  We got back and the others were still out, which we took as a good sign for them.   When they pulled in well after dark, Rob had scored a nice buck he shot right at sundown. It was a bedded buck that Manny spotted at about a mile.  Rob got to about 400 yards out from that spot in the vanishing light before he began lobbing shells at the antlers in the scrub.  The deer got up to look around at the dirt kicking up around it and Rob put one through its curious neck, which caused it to more permanently commit to the nap that Rob’s gunfire had interrupted.

 Rob was shooting a custom Dakota rifle, chambered in 30/06 with a scope that was a scale model of the one they have in the Mount Palomar Observatory.  The recoil and irresistible momentum created by the retreating scope caused Rob to pitch back into an impressive colony of cactus and he was impaled from the back of his knee through the back of his shoulder. Manny located the buck in the dark below a crescent moon and dragged it back to the truck for field dressing as night set in.    It took Cooking Chicken three hours of pliers and tweezers work, followed by the application of an ancient Navajo medicinal poultice made from cactus fruit to set him straight.  It is really handy that the herbal antidote for the irritant in the cactus spines is found within its own fruit, and it is a basic element in the catalogue of cures possessed by Navajo medicine women.

The next day was hotter.  Mark and Chris dropped me off to climb to a high point on a little mesa, where I could glass the draws below within my theoretical field of fire.  Mark and Chris went further and then dismounted to hunt one of the canyons on foot.  As I hiked up the rocky incline and got near the top, I found a bleached skull from a buck and was reminded to become paranoid about the abundance of local mountain lions.  I found a spot that afforded the right combination of concealment and vantage point, arranged myself within it and began scanning for several hours.  I  grew bleary-eyed  from scanning  and constantly fingering the focus knob of my binoculars as I examined every irregular object until  I could completely rule it out as being an animal.  As one does in this kind of motionless waiting, I began using my rangefinder to calculate the distance to various objects of reference that were within 500 yards, so if a target was acquired near any one of these spots, I would know what rate of bullet drop to calculate into my cross-hair elevation in the event I had to reach out to the wildlife.  These mathematical calisthenics served only to kill time, rather than deer, as none of them appeared at any of my points of interception.

When we got back to the bunkhouse, Manny’s truck was already back and the rest of our group was relaxing to the tune of a nice 3x4 buck that Kyle brought down with less than half a box of ammunition.  It was virtually field dressed for them when they got to stand over it. 

The parts of Rob and Kyles deer not for eating

 The successful members of our group went to a local butcher to have their harvest processed, while Mark, Manny and I went into Springfield to get the tire fixed and eat at Pappy’s BBQ on Main street, which could also be called Only street.  The food here is absolutely great, and they have fantastic serve yourself bean station, complete with onions, jalapenos and a loaf of white bread.

Springfield is mostly boarded up, but apparently has a local metalwork artist whose statues of whimsical western characters lurk near virtually any building of consequence, whether occupied or vacant.

The décor in the town reflects a certain high caliber style of hunting philosophy, so I had Mark take a picture of me at the town’s monument to their one-shot-one kill attitude.

The first business establishment one encounters in this burg is Pop’s liquor, which is run by a very tall, very funny and friendly proprietor by the name of Cecil Wade.  It is the only place which sells store-bought alcoholic beverages for 150 miles in any direction.  I wish it was closer to my house.

The store’s motto, emblazoned on its souvenir matchbooks, is a simple enough directive that anyone can embrace.

With the other members of our party now tagged out and avoiding the heat by hanging around the satellite TV, Mark and I now each had our own guide, like a sort of Special Olympics hunting tutor.

 With the weather finally cooling off a bit, Manny and I saw a few bucks in the evening gray.  They were marginal shooters and I passed on each one we were able to identify and size up.  Mark and Chris returned a bit after us, not having seen any bucks.  Despite my unfilled tag, I did feel like we were getting closer to what we came for as my head hit the pillow.

The following morning Mark and Chris left for the canyons while Manny and I decided to glass the mesas that lead to a canyon on another part of the ranch.  Manny spotted a couple of bucks to which we gave a "better next year" pass and we continued glassing and driving the flat lands below that mesa ridge.
  About 8:30 am, I spotted two bucks working their way up toward the top of the mesa at about 275 yards and got closer. Both were nice, but I shot the bigger one after glassing to  the right to verify the location of the lesser before swinging back on the greater to squeeze the trigger. I took the shot at 178 yards uphill at the base of a vertical rock escarpment.  The deer were walking left to right and pausing on a trail above a steep incline of about 300 feet of rocky cactus-infested ground before the slope became more gradual.  I snapped off a double lung shot with a 165 gr. Hornady SST, which generates a tad over 2900 fps at the muzzle.  The gun was my model 70 Winchester 30/06 bolt gun, equipped with a Nikon Monarch standard cross-hair scope.  The buck dropped in mid-stride, fell onto a flat rock and did not move until we climbed up and moved it down.  The recoil of a live shot is almost undetectable in the adrenaline of the moment and I saw the whole thing through my scope as though I was shooting a BB gun.  It was a crisp discharge.

Manny and I climbed up to the top and had to take a few breaks as we worked our way down to the truck, where I was afforded the opportunity to use my beautiful Anza hunting knife to field dress the bounty of my morning.
A shout out to the boys at Anza knives

  We got back to the bunkhouse by 10 am and I had commenced the process of working my way toward being somebody when Mark and Chris came back with an empty truck.  

From that point on, Manny, Chris, Mark and I hunted together, with Mark as our only armed member. The weather got much cooler – down into the low 30s. We glassed canyons and fields with determined thoroughness and spotted many creatures, including a small group of mountain sheep traversing rocky canyon below.

Out on the mesa, we saw abundant antelope 

 When we stopped to glass, I started heading out ahead to scout on foot, like I thought I was Kit Carson.  I was able to sneak up on several groups of deer, but none were  great shooters.

After seeing several marginal bucks and does that came out to walk in the coolness of shaded canyons, we popped out onto a mesa from which Manny spotted a huge bear working its way up a draw into a canyon.  Mark was itching to try a 300 yard shot with his .308, but that would almost certainly result in four guys with one gun pursuing a pissed off bear up into a canyon in diminishing daylight.   Mark decided that he did not have enough reach with that .308, which later events would prove to be more than just a hunch. I decided to stay closer to the truck after this encounter.  We had one day left and Mark expressed concerns that he was might have to lower the bar of acceptable targets before we had to drive back to Denver.  We returned to the bunkhouse in time to watch the Royals scorch the giants with the false hope of a 10 to zero ass-kicking, which proved to be their final victory. 

The final morning had me awake at 3 am, anxious to get out at the first hint of gray light for our last chance at a morning hunt for our group to tag out.  Manny woke up later than the rest of us and seemed comparatively casual about starting out after sunrise, like he had an appointment with the deer.  It turned out that he did.  We headed out and glassed a couple of promising areas.  Mark passed on a 3x3 that he probably would have taken if it had been closing time, but we were still optimistic.

Chris then spotted a group of six bachelor males heading up a draw toward the top of a mesa.  They were about 400 yards out and three of them were shooters, with one noticeably larger buck in the mix.  Manny thought we could work our way to the other side of the canyon and get a shot off across the canyon before they got to the top.  The race was on.

We scrambled up the rocky incline to a point of elevation and concealment about 270 yards from the deer.  There was much huffing, puffing and fumbling around as we glassed the group and Mark tried to find a good rest for the shot as they began to get away from us.  They just reached the top of the mesa as Mark’s shot crackled across the canyon.  The deer bolted and Mark jacked more shots through his gun, pausing only once to reload.  The big deer fell back from the rest and was clearly hit.  Mark moved forward and anchored him.  

We discovered that the nonleaded and expensive federal copper bullets had not done their job, as can be seen in the photo of a bullet that barely punched through the hide before stopping at the shoulder bone.  Mark decided that he was now committed to buying a .300 magnum to replace his .308, which he had cogitated about before this trip.

Mark and Chris exchanged high fives of relief and jubilation at what was the exclamation point of a successful hunt for all of us.

 Manny exclaimed that it was a dandy.  He and I went down for the truck while Chris and Mark went to the spot on foot.   We were back at the bunkhouse by 9:30am.  Manny and Chris cut up the deer and then we went back into Springfield to buy another bottle at Pops and get ready for game seven.  We had our stuff mostly packed up for an early 5 am departure.  We were then able to completely relax in the sublime pleasure of a great dinner, adult beverages and watching the Giants win another World Series.
     Manny, Mark and Chris with Mark's buck

We left in the dark and saw so many deer, including big bucks, crossing the road ahead of us that we had to slam on the brakes at several spots.  We stopped at both Cabelas and Bass pro shops and Mark picked out the gun he knew he wanted…..I mean needed….for the next hunt.

I cannot complete this report without including some experience with our return flight on US Air.  The process of checking luggage at Denver is a royal pain, especially with guns. They hit Mark up for an extra $100 for being over 50 pounds in his suitcase (after the $60 charge he had already paid).  I had to take a couple of things out of my suitcase and into my carry on to avoid the additional $100 they wanted me to fork out and in the process had to open my suitcase full of cool hunting gear for the world to see.  It was the last time I would see it, at least as of this writing.

We boarded the jet and taxied to the runway, at which point the captain announced that we would be returning to the gate to have an engineer fix a minor problem in five minutes.  The problem turned out to be the fact that the tray table for the aisle passenger in the row ahead of ours would not remain in its upright position.  After about 45 minutes, a technician (not really sure if he was an engineer) showed up with a roll of duct tape and taped it up by wrapping a band around the tray and the seat in front of it.  I was lucky enough to have a woman with a huge baby right behind me.  Within five minutes of settling in, the baby took a prodigious crap, mostly in his diaper, as his mother playfully called him “Mr. Stinky.”

As we waited nearly an hour for the tape to arrive, the mother asked the flight attendant if she had time to change her baby.  He said yes.  Instead of changing the baby, she just changed her mind and turned up his baby music to distract him.  He reflected his discomfort over the next 3 hours by kicking the back of my chair and pounding on his tray table, while his mother kept calling him “Mr. Stinky” periodically to let everyone around her know that she smelled it too.

When we finally got back to LAX, we were diverted to a spur terminal and had to be taken by bus to the main terminal.  Most people missed their connecting flights. The baggage carrousel for US Air showed a different city and flight number, but we saw people from our flight discover their luggage and begin removing it.  We found our guns, unattended, sitting in an unmanned area to the side of the terminal.  My bag never showed up.  It had my hunting ammo, boots, custom knives and all of my first line warm clothing and hunting equipment in it.  I got home, sans gear, at about 9:45 pm.  If we had driven back from Colorado, I would have made it home in about the same amount of time, saved money, and I would have my gear, some of which is not easily replaced.

But enough of the griping. This has been a great and lucky year for outdoor sports and it seems that I have recovered sight in a shooting eye that was pretty useless this time last year.  The hunting experience we had with Cassidy Outfitters was first rate, again.  I know that this week I have experienced with such great companions and teachers is a treasured addition to the memories I have been banking.  To paraphrase Pops, Get Out and Be Somebody, because, as is clear to everyone who knows…..

These are the Days