GUNNISON, Colo. — A group of four friends are here to live a dream — to hunt Rocky Mountain elk, the most coveted of all lower 48 big game. But given that, there are more critters involved in this play than elk.
Take the golden eagle that winged up from a nearby kill to create panic among our horses and mules, our pack train on its way to our high country drop camp. The big, majestic bird rose from the weeds, setting in motion an unplanned and unwelcome rodeo.
On a trail, no wider than a flat shovel, horses and mules spun and bucked, riders did our best to stay locked to saddles and for the most part, all recovered with no injuries or lost gear. A close call indeed.
A few miles later and now re-composed, the string reached our camp only to find that a black bear had decided to check out the tent prior to our arrival. The bear apparently didn’t see a need to use the zippered flap, choosing instead to rip a few extra entrances and exits for his explorations. Inside he had upset everything and more. The rest of that day was spent repairing the tent and rebuilding other camp equipment.
No, the bear never showed itself but he left piles of scat and bragging size pawprints nearby each day.
We camped for seven nights, each night an annoying play acted out by countless mice entertaining from dusk to daylight. The mice pranced around, under and over our cots as well as in and out of every square inch of tent. It quickly became apparent the mice were in charge of this campsite, as they shredded toilet paper rolls and left telltale deposits everywhere.
Whiskey Jacks became our friends as soon as they found out we controlled a box of crackers. Call them Whiskey Jacks, robber birds, or grey jays, these smallish gray and dirty-white birds are easily tamed and overly friendly. Their official name is claimed by birders to be Canada jays and I’ve always known them as camp jays so just pick a name you like and enjoy these woodland beggars.
Easily trained. In an hour, one can train a Whisky Jack to swoop down and take a bit of bread or cracker from a hand. In two hours one can hold court with a bevy of the fine-boned opportunists.
Jays learn quickly that humans equal treats so they approach every new camp with enthusiasm, gathering morsels of anything they can store under tree bark and in other secret hides. They’ll use that stored grub later in the winter.
In all, there’s more than elk in the mountains.