More than just elk live in the Rocky Mountains


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.

Wild ride

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.

Black bear

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.

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Mike Tontimonia has been writing weekly columns and magazine features about the outdoors for over 25 years, a career that continues to hold the same excitement for him as it did at the beginning. Mike is a retired educator, a licensed auctioneer and marketing consultant. He lives in Ravenna, Ohio and enjoys spending time at his Carroll County cabin. Mike has hunted and fished in several states and Canada from the Carolinas to Alaska and from Idaho to Delaware. His readers have often commented that the stories about his adventures are about as close to being there as possible. He is past president of the Outdoor Writers of Ohio and a member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America. Mike is also very involved in his community as a school board member and a Rotarian.



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