GUNNISON, Colo. — Hunting trips are always focused on a single animal, species, or trophy but there are often more wild critters, some small, some big, if one looks beyond the prey. Some are welcome side dishes to the main dish. Others are not.
Like the uninvited guest that decided to check into our waiting wall tent high in the mountains of southwestern Colorado.
Our four-man party was tuned into elk, the most majestic and most coveted of all North American deer.
We had booked our drop camp well over a year prior and we had shared a severe case of elk brain for months. 1,600 miles of highway, 17 miles of a very poor excuse for a road, a barely passable mountain two track, and four hours on horseback in a soaking rain were all behind us as we topped the mountain trail leading to our camp.
We looked forward to changing into dry clothes and warming saddle-sore behinds next to a sizzling wood stove. But our guest had been to camp before our arrival and it left us with an air conditioned tent and a serious mess.
Bears seem to lack appreciation for a tidy camp. This one had ignored the tent flap and gained entry by ripping one corner of the outfitter tent then exited via another ripped corner.
A curious sort, the bruin had spent the afternoon making sure it had left puncture wounds on anything that would be expected to hold water, gear, anything else. Cooking gear was strewn from here to there and nearly everything was bent, broken, and/or soaked.
But this wasn’t our first rodeo and we went right to work with a heavy duty needle, tough thread, and nylon wire ties. But even as our camp was rebuilt, we each had an eye out for the bear that stole our dish pan. In fact, the bear that now had a dish pan became a weeklong joke.
Laughable that is until we ran into the bear, a huge brown phase black bear. Indeed, he fit the huge tracks that we found everywhere.
Then there was the mouse that had returned to the tent a few days later. It not unusual to have mice in an established wall tent so we were not at all surprised when a chubby little pest woke us one night as he toured the tent looking for paper to chew on.
Funny thing is that these widerness mice, unlike household mice, don’t recognize things like peanut butter, crackers, and cheese as food sources. Instead, they seem totally satisfied with cardboard and toilet paper. The mouse gave us a laugh when he popped out of a duffle bag one morning looking annoyed that we had disturbed his nap.
My favorite mountain critters are camp jays, robin-sized wilderness song birds that seem to be more than willing to play games to earn a snack.
Two years ago, it took me a couple warm afternoons to entice a few camp jays to take bits of crackers from my hand. This year, the birds seemed more willing to play games and soon tamed to the idea of landing on my hat, shoulder, and knee.
As our week of elk hunting spend by, we also discovered cougar tracks, more bear tracks of various sizes, and lots of coyote sign. One evening we were serenaded by a pack of coyotes as they howled in response to the lonely bugle of a love sick bull elk.
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