A way with words… (part 2)

As I mentioned in part 1, my father is also an amazing orator. He has a way with words that make people want to listen to him. It isn’t that he has a volumnous vocabulary or public speaking credentials. Like my grandfather before him, he has led a straightforward hardworking life. I think perhaps the reason people respond to my father so well isn’t because of the words he uses, but rather due to the sincerity behind those words. He knows how to make a person feel.

Not only is he sincere, he is easy to talk too as well. Mom and dad still live in the relatively small town (population approximately 3500) that I grew up in, and yet I can not tell you how many times a trip to the grocery store (3 blocks from home) for a gallon of milk has ended up taking hours out of his day. Maybe it isn’t only that be knows how to talk, maybe it’s also that he knows how to listen.

Listening to most of my dads stories is like reading a chapter of one of Patrick McManus’ books (I suggest The Grasshopper Trap). Kind of like a male wilderness Erma Bombeck.

As with my grandfather, I can not tell you how many times my father’s stories have ended up having me holding my sides with the tears of laughter streaming away.

One of the ones that always had me as hysterical as any madman is the tale of the yearly elk hunt that ended up a tree.

When I was young, my father would make a yearly trip to Jackson Hole with my grandfather, my uncle and various other area friends. As well as a week out with the boys, this was the only way my dad was able to provide meat for the family. Hunting and fishing were a very vital part of my family’s food supply.

Every October, my mother would help supply them by baking a large batch of cinnamon rolls and, if we were lucky, there would be enough left over ingredients to make a batch of cinnamon twists for us boys. Dad would load up our little camper and set it on the back of the pickup. Clean his 30.06, sharpen his belt knife and generally just get ready to be a mountain man.

Well this particular year, I don’t remember any details leading up to the hunt, but I’m sure it was pretty much the regular routine. A friend of my father, Delmer, was bringing horses this year in order to help drag out any elk that might be shot. I don’t remember why, but for one reason or another, grandpa wasn’t able to go that  year.

For those of you that might read this and are unacquainted with elk in the Rocky Mountains, suffice it to say, they are quite large and a bull of the species will provide a substantial quantity of meat, often ranging into the several hundreds of pounds.

I remember that in that particular year dad also had gotten a license for a bull moose. Moose are even larger than elk and can be quite aggressive.

Well, bright and early on a crisp Wyoming morning, the group caravanned up and left for the great northwestern corner of Wyoming.

When dad returned a week later, he had the best ever hunting story for us.

“Well, you see we’d been hunting all week and hadn’t had much luck. Delmer and I, well we just weren’t in the right spots at the right time. We’d go up, the elk and moose would go down. We’d be at the water whole at 6:00, signs would say they had been there at 5:00. Seemed to go on like this all week. It was pretty cold up in the those mountains and every day it was threatening to snow. It would make it easier to find the elk, so we were kind of hopin’ it would. But even that just didn’t seem to be goin’ our way.”

“Well, by Thursday we were considering going ahead and packing it up, but we knew that wasn’t really an option, so we decided to get up early and walk up to the water where we knew they had been drinking every morning and see if we could find them. Unfortunately, they weren’t there that morning. We took off and walked over the mountain to hunt an area that we hadn’t been to previously that week.”

“Good thing we did too. As we crested the ridge and looked down the other side, we noticed that there was a good sized stream at the bottom with quite a bit of timber. Was more a small river, really. Prime elk and moose day grounds. And we could hear something was in there. Something big.”

“We decided that Delmer would set himself up on the side of the ravine, and I would go back and try to circle in from the other side and try to push whatever was in there towards him. If it was elk or a bull moose, hopefully at least one of us would get off a shot. If we only got one, we’d share the meat and at least the week wouldn’t have been for nothing.”

“It took me a while to get around the edge of the ravine, it must have been a couple of miles, but I finally got there and I could still hear a movement so I knew something was in there. As I walked up I spooked a couple of elk out of the timber. Two cows. I was in position to get a shot off and got the slower one through the neck. I jogged behind the other one in case Delmer needed any help. He didn’t, he got her with his first shot too.”

“Just like that we went from no luck to pretty good luck. We had our elk, and although we had seen signs of moose, we hadn’t seen any. We went ahead and field dressed both elk out. By that time it was getting pretty late, and wouldn’t you know it, the snow finally had started to fall.”

“Well, with the snow falling and it getting dark, we decided to leave the dressed elk there and come back in the morning with the horses. With the snow and cold, we knew the meat would be fine. We walked back to camp and along the way realized we had walked out quite a bit further than we had realized. We decided to get up early, load up the vehicles, then take the horses and go quarter the elk and pack them out.”

“In the morning we got up and there was beautiful powder everywhere. Everything coated in white in the mountains, it’s just beautiful. We got everything loaded up. We had a fairly light camp anyway, so we only really had to cleanup the campsite, load up the cooking utensils and pack the rifles.”

“It was a beautiful morning for a ride in the mountains. It still took a good couple of hours, but eventually we got there. We ground reined the horses and took the meat saw over to start on quartering the elk up. With the cold night, the meat had gotten pretty hard so it was some slow going, but we were making decent progress. The horses had been kind of nervous for awhile, so we were looking around a bit, but when that big bull moose came charging out of the timber we were both still pretty startled.”

“All I can say is that it was probably a pretty good thing that he charged the horses first, because by the time he chased them off we had had time to recover ourselves a bit. At least we had straightened up and were looking at each other when he gave up on the horses and decided to come at us. Well we looked at each other realized, that neither of us had any idea how to make that moose change his mind and decided to scamper up that tree as quickly as any two scared squirrels.”

“That moose came barreling in and for a moment I was worried that he was going to try to knock that tree down. As big as he was, I’m not sure that tree would have held. Thankfully, I guess, instead of hitting it, he came to a stop underneath it and looked up at us like we were the strangest thing he’d ever seen. And he stayed there. For a long time. So here we are, two hunters, one of us with a moose permit, sitting in a tree with a BIG bull moose underneath us…. and not a gun in 5 miles.”

“I swear that moose must have been sent to test our patience. Because test it he did. We sat there for several hours with that moose trotting around and stopping to look up at us. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m sure thankful for that tree branch, but at the time, it sure felt like I was sitting on a whole nest of pine cones.”

“Finally that ol’ boy decided he’d had enough of those two strange squirrels and trotted off. I looked at Delmer and asked him if he wanted to go first, he looked at me and told me he’d give me the honor.”

“We decided sitting there for another 1/2 hour wouldn’t hurt anything.”

“When we finally crawled, or fell, out of that tree, it took what seemed like forever to get the blood flowing back into all of my limbs. From the way Delmer was moving, he wasn’t fairing much better. Thankfully we had almost finished with the meet before our big friend had arrived. I left Delmer to finish that chore while I went to gather up the horses. Thankfully, they’d only gone about a mile before they found some sweet grass and they had been content there while we had been watching the birds from their level.”

“Well, the rest of the trip was pretty uneventful, but if effort makes the food taste better, that was the best tasting elk I’ve ever had.”

I swear to you, this is a true story in the details. Not long after that, Delmer had a birthday and his wife wanted to through a party for him. My dad went down to a local artist and described the event and had a caricature drawn up with two hunters in a tree with a moose underneath. Although I must have been about six at the time, I still remember Delmer’s face when he opened that present. He looked at my dad, muttered an explicative and then they both started laughing until they were red faced and out of breath.

As time went by, my older brother was included in my dad’s and grandfather’s elk hunts. I remember hardly being able to stand the anticipation when it would be my turn. But somehow, it never ended up being my turn. Oh, I was invited, but I always had an important test or something else going on. Then I moved 1500 miles away. I always thought that someday I’d get back there to hunt elk with my dad and granddad. They’re yearly hunting trips were just an indication that fall was really here. Then came the year when my grandpa gave away his rifle. I never had gotten to go elk hunting with him, and that still bothers me. A right of passage I’ll never know. I had determined at that point not to let the same thing happen to me with my dad.

This last November, my wife and I packed up and took the boy back home for Thanksgiving. This was the first time I had been back in the winter since I left in 1990. When wehunting-20131had planned the trip, I had intended it to be just a relaxed time with my parents and a chance to see my grandparents as much as possible. But a couple of weeks before, when my dad called up and asked if I wanted to try to go get an elk while I was there, I jumped at the chance.

Wyoming Mule DeerWe had the opportunity to hunt two of those days, and I had the time of my life. Saw a few deer. Some elk tracks. Some coyote (pronounced ky-oat, thank you very much, lol) and not asingle elk. Never fired a shot. And you know, I couldn’t have been happier. The prospect of shooting an elk had never been high on my list of priorities, but going on the hunt with my dad had. And if I get the chance, I will jump at it again.

No. Let me restate that, I will make sure that I do go again. Today, I’m happy to be remembering my dad.

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