The Characters in a Elk Camp, which are you?

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The Characters in a Elk Camp, which are you?

Postby Mike Brooks » Fri Nov 06, 2015 5:34 am

The characters in a Elk camp: Which are you?

Clean freak, teller of tall tales, epic snorer? This year, many elk hunting camps nationwide will host a cast of characters.

An American tradition that predates white settlement, Elk camps today unite strangers as much in celebration as necessity. And what strangers they are — often to each other, and maybe even to themselves. This year with the opening of firearms elk hunting, elk camps — in Colorado to Montana, New Mexico to Wyoming — will once again host casts of characters rivaling those of the bar in “Star Wars.” Gatherings that at any other time of year might be, well, unwise or at least unsettling. For a peek at who’s who in elk camp, from epic snorers to clean freaks and elk whisperers, keep reading.

Clean freak

Elk camp ain’t your momma’s white-carpeted living room, an obvious point, except to this fastidiously anal shackmate who each year insists everyone pull off their boots before entry, hang their blaze orange bibs from a numerically designated nail and, most egregiously, clean their bloody gutting knives outside, rather than in the kitchen sink. Forever accompanied by a holstered spray jug of disinfectant, swaggering with it like Gary Cooper in “High Noon,” The Freak also is a laugh-a-minute at dinner hour when he warns that even factory-packaged red Solo cups aren’t soda-ready until sterilized at 340 degrees Fahrenheit. Want to be invited back to elk camp year after year? Don’t be this person. It’s elk camp. If anything, tidy up your shooting. Leave the rest a mess.

Elk whisperer

Encyclopedic in his superficial knowledge of elk and their behaviors, this hunting partner is forever ascribing to droppings, rubs and trails the exact dimensions of bulls whose comings and goings these markings may or may not indicate. “A 5X5 headed west,’’ the elk Whisperer will offer one day, having fallen to his knees to hover a hand, priest-like, over otherwise indecipherable, hoofed indentations. Then, betting the farm that his hunting partners are too naive or too polite to dispute a follow-up whopper, he doubles-down: “Trailing a cow. Just a yearling. No sign of estrus.’’

Routinely, the elk Whisperer also seeks to one-up his hunting partners in his understanding of the elks olfactory capabilities, dousing himself in fragrances he believes will transform him into a bull magnet. Typically on Day 1 in camp his bouquet of choice is “cow in Heat.” The next day, “Wanton elk.”

Dude. Give it up. It’s hunting. Not online dating.

Epic snorer

Tents. campers. elk hunting shacks.

Each is a festival of snoring (elk tents being the worst), with grown men cramped inside large tents not much bigger than outhouses and smelling no better. From the time the last gas light is doused until reveille a few hours later, it’s Wheeze City, alternately punctuated by leg-cramp screamers and dreamland oddballs who in their nighttime stupors apologize to Mommy over and over: “I ate the cookies. I’m sorry. So very, very sorry.” Widespread use of CPAP machines powered by outside generators has in some camps quieted the rhythmic heeing and hawing. Yet, a dark tent filled with a half-dozen heavyweights wearing Hannibal Lecter-like masks is no walk in the park for the sleepless guy on the top bunk, Remington at the ready. “Never Come Morning,” the title of the great Nelson Algren novel, also describes exactly the fear of many elk season tent-dwellers.

Their quest is elk. They’ll settle for survival.


Much as some Colorado elk hunters fantasize about “stalking” their quarry through the state’s black timber, tiptoeing perhaps in moccasins, blaze orange coonskin caps on their heads, the truth is that very, very few elk are leveled in this manner. Which is good. Safety-wise, mass movement of Colorado's approximately 100,000 elk hunters would seem a risky notion indeed. Better that “stand hunting” be the elk slaying method de rigueur, as it is in Colorado.

Still, in every camp there’s a Hiker, the man who can’t sit still and who an hour after sunup each morning descends from the ground stand and takes a walk. A long, long walk — first to one hunting partner’s stand, then to another and another. “Seen anything?” the Hiker will bark to his campmates, indifferent to the cone of silence elk seekers try to enforce in their hunting areas. “Me, either! They don’t seem to be moving today!”

But the Hiker moves.

Forever clueless. Forever elkless.

Naive newbie

Periodic additions to elk camps are necessary not only to sustain long-term survival but to freshen the jokes. A camp’s old-timers are particularly given to repeating the same stories year after year, changing only the sizes of bulls referenced and the number of points their antlers allegedly featured (both grow).

Enter, then, the need for camp Newbies and their stories.

“Two elk hunters were standing on a ridge near a highway in the mountains of Wyoming on opening day,” one Newbie recently told his hunting camp partners. “They both spotted a large bull nearby. As the one hunter raised his gun to shoot, a funeral procession rolled slowly by. Immediately, the hunter lowered his gun, removed his hat and stood with head bowed until the motorcade had passed. The bull elk by then was long gone.

“ ‘Man!’ the other hunter enthused, ‘that was the most sportsmanlike act I’ve ever seen! You are a shining example to hunters worldwide!’

“ ‘Thank you,’ the first hunter said. ‘But out of respect, we were married for 42 years.’ ”

Teller of tall tales

Unlike fishermen, elk hunters are not natural-born liars. An exception is Tall Tale Teddy, who returns to camp each day locked and loaded with Stories of Unbelievable Things That Happened to Him While in His Stand.

Jump-started by Octobers cold winds and by the heft of an .06 in one hand, Teddy’s mind is a high-capacity magazine of hyperbole, an untreatable condition resulting not so much in fabrications as exaggerations. Teddy’s yarns speak to the hunt’s lore and legend, arriving rapid fire and exciting his campmates.

“Walking to my stand this morning by moonlight,” Teddy began after everyone had returned to camp that first night, “I followed the tracks of a lone wolf, a brute of an animal whose lifeblood is the hunt, as it is mine. ‘My competition,’ I thought, and I wondered whether the big canine might drag down Ghost Bull before I got a crack at him.

“You remember the elk from last season, Ghost Bull, the monster 8X8, thick as a bull. I would like to tell you he’s out in my pickup. And he almost was. Here’s what happened …”
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not into your own understanding, Proverbs 3:5
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