Tuesday, December 5, 2017

It's The Freakin' Weekend

The obnoxious ring tone of your alarm jerks you awake. For a moment, you simply lay there before realizing how strange it is that at some moment in the past, you purposefully chose an alarm style. You tried different tones and jingles, wondering whether or not it actually had the 'umph' to get you out of bed. But after a few minute of searching, you finally found it.
This is the one. This is the alarm tone I will grow to hate. Time to ruin this jingle forever.
It's 6:00am on a Monday morning and it's time to go do that thing. That thing that so many of us do every week: Work.
Whether you enjoy your job or not, very rarely is anyone super stoked to be woken from a nice slumber, only to realize it's not the weekend anymore. Alas, you've got five more days of this and another four rude awakenings before you can cut loose again. But at that moment, you merely stare at the ceiling and mentally prepare for what's going to be another long work week.
Though you may work in an office, you're an outdoorsman at heart. The only thing that makes your coworker, Janet's insufferable stories around the water cooler even somewhat tolerable is the anticipation of hitting the woods on the weekend. It's archery season, and chasing that big buck has been on your mind for almost a year now. The national forest you grew up hunting is just an hour outside of town, and the only thing standing between you and that tree stand you've picked out are five days of conference calls, emails, and TPS reports. The woods are calling.
By Friday afternoon you're completely exhausted. It's been a hell of a work week, but the one thing that's gotten you by is the thought of Saturday morning. The crisp, cool Autumn air, the smell of the trees, and the anticipation of seeing deer has been on your mind since Monday morning. And so when you finally clock out for the week, you can barely contain your excitement. Tomorrow's the big day and you race home to make sure everything's ready.
It's odd that the alarm that you absolutely loathed on Monday morning is now a welcomed friend Saturday morning at 4:00am. With a groggy mixture of excitement and anticipation, you get dressed and head out to the woods. The drive is actually kind of nice. Unlike the commute to work every morning, the roads are fairly empty at this ungodly hour. Who in their right mind would be up this early on the weekend anyway?
Soon you reach the cut off road for the national forest and turn down an old, bumpy dirt road. A few moments later a pair of headlights turn onto the same dirt road a few hundred yards behind you.
Hmm...Must be another hunter
With the excitement of getting to your stand beginning to creep up, you speed up a little bit as you head down the road. Soon, your headlights begin to pick up clouds of dust, and it isn't long before taillights appear in front. The wire cable of a tree stand can clearly be seen poking up from behind the tailgate of the truck in front, and it's obvious this hunter is on the way to his spot as well.
Eventually you turn off the road onto another and lose sight of the other two trucks. Not far up ahead is where you'll park and walk in. It's an area that you -thought- was relatively secluded. So it comes as a surprise when you round the corner only to find a truck parked where you were planning. Your headlights shine on the hunter as he's getting everything ready to walk into the woods.
Damn it
You get out and greet the other hunter. To your relief, he describes where he'll be and it's no where near where you were planning. So with that, you ready yourself, slap the climber on your back and grab your bow before walking down the trail you marked during scouting season.
Once up the tree, you quietly wait as the woods slowly begin to wake up. It's the magic hour. This is what you were waiting for all week. A chance to escape the office. To spend some time in peaceful tranquility, uninterrupted by the hustle and bustle of every day life. With twilight quickly turning into day, you begin to scan the woods for deer. It doesn't take long before you catch a glimpse of a tail flick, and the body of a doe materializes about eighty yards away. It's a good sign, and in that moment, work and all your weekly troubles have vanished. This is why you're here.
Suddenly you hear the sound of a truck door slamming in the distance. The deer, thankfully, seems to have paid no attention to it. But for a brief second you're reminded that you aren't alone in the woods. About a half hour goes by and the doe you've been watching hasn't moved a whole lot. Out of nowhere, however, she spooks. Tail up, she blows several times before bounding away into the distance.
What the hell?
Then you hear it. The all too familiar crunch crunch of boots. You turn to see another hunter strolling in late to his stand, right down the trail you took to come in. The immediate reaction is surprise. Then anger. Then simply frustration. You wait until he's about sixty yards away before whistling at him. Stopped mid stride, the late hunter looks up at you and raises a hand apologetically before turning around and slinking off the other direction. With a heavy sigh, you lean back in your stand. You're beyond annoyed. The doe you were watching is long gone, and the morning hunt might as well be ruined. You slugged through a brutal work week, and the one thing you were looking forward to beyond everything was to be here in this tree. Away from people, and to have time to yourself. But now? Now it's ruined.
Welcome to the weekend.
Over the years, the above scenario has happened to me far too many times. Of course, I don't usually have office jobs, but it's the same  concept: I have off on the weekends, I love to hunt/fish, so I go hunting/fishing on the weekends. The problem? EVERYONE ELSE DOES TOO.
I've been a weekend warrior before, so please don't think I'm hating on them. Unfortunately many people have no other options than working that Monday-Friday 9-5. So that means they've no choice but hit the woods or the water on Saturday and Sunday. Weekends end up becoming insane. Hunting and fishing pressure go through the roof as everything is inundated with people trying to get their outdoor fix. But eventually there's a point where it becomes unappealing. We all seek the outdoors for some reason, and often that experience becomes tainted with -far- too much human pressure.
"Why bother going fishing this weekend? There's going to be 8 billion people at the boat launch Saturday morning. I probably won't find a place to park the trailer"
"I guess we can go to the springs, but we're gonna have to wait in line half an hour since it's a pretty day"
"I'd rather not go to the trouble of getting to the tree stand. Someone will assuredly walk in on me"
It applies to almost any outdoor activity you can think of. Too many people end up ruining an good thing. And they don't have to be destroying anything, or trashing it, or being loud, etc. Simply too many people being there end up taking away the experience that many look for.
Hell, I might as well have just stayed at the office. I'd see less people"
For almost two years now, I've been lucky enough to be a guide. Whether it be taking people out in the Everglades to look at Alligators, kayaking to look at Dolphin in St. Augustine, or chasing down Elk in Colorado. I've gotten to see people use our natural resources that have been set aside for just that: Use. And since I've been guiding, I rarely get a weekend off. Ever. It makes sense though, when you think about it. People primarily have off on the weekends. They want a guide and they hire me on their days off. So I'm thrust into these outdoor settings every weekend with everybody and their brother.
What it's done is change me. At least as to how I enjoy the outdoors. On the off chance that I actually get a weekend off, you won't catch me dead outside. I'll be inside on the couch. I've had too many days practically ruined during the weekend rush. Be it a jet-ski buzzing by the kayak at 30 yards and scaring all the fish, or a hunter walking right up to my tree stand. It happens all the time and I've grown tired of it. Friends might ask:
"Alex! Can we go kayaking Sunday morning?"
"Absolutely not".
I simply won't do it. I can't do it. There's too much pressure and it's lost its appeal for me. So I question; How many others are like me? How many hunters, or fishermen, or hikers, or whatever, have altered the way they use the outdoors? How many have all but just given up? Think about the most popular outdoor spot near you. Now imagine it on a holiday weekend. It's going to be an absolute zoo. There are so many people that it might as well be Wal-Mart, and lord knows no one ENJOYS going to Wal-Mart.
Luckily for me, since I work the weekends, I often have weekdays off. I can go kayaking on a Tuesday morning and not see a soul on the water. I can hike after lunch on a Thursday afternoon and not see the faintest sign of another hiker. It's fantastic. But I realize not everyone has the same luxury of doing things on the weekdays like I do. I'll never claim to be any more or less avid than any of my fellow outdoorsmen. So I ask the question: How do you get around the weekend crowds when you're stuck to the weekend schedule?

I'm avid enough that should I ever find myself stuck with that schedule, I'd still try. But I can't say I'd enjoy it nearly as much as I should. It would wear on me, and eventually might break me. I'd find myself skipping weekends and just watching football and drinking beer instead of being outside. Anything to avoid a tainted experience with something I love.  All because everyone wants to do the same thing at the same time with their days off.
Are there ways around this? Yes. Well...Sort of. Take hunting for example. Don't hunt public land like national forests, right? Okay, so you fork over the cash to join a hunting club, and you'll get to avoid the crowds. But what's that end up doing? Driving the cost of hunting through the roof. If you weren't already aware, hunting is becoming a rich man's sport. Yes people pay big bucks to hunt...well...big bucks. But they also pay up to avoid the crowds of people who flock to public areas when they can't afford a private hunting lease.
I honestly don't have a solution when it comes to dealing with the weekends. I've figured out how to deal with it personally, but I question everyone else. Do you simply grin and bear it? Do you wake up -extra- early to beat the crowd? Or do you hike those extra ten miles into the wilderness JUST to dodge everyone else?
Personally, I don't see the issue getting any better. Hell, if it's even an issue at all. For all I know maybe there are people out there who love fishing around the crowds or watching the chaos that is the county boat ramp in the morning (ok, that's admittedly fun to watch). But for me, it's a problem. And I can only hope that we can find some sort of solution before more people want to simply give up.

The Wrath of Rod #2

My excitement grew as we weaved our way down the dusty gravel road into the mountains. Window's down, the cool breeze was a welcomed relief from the oppressive Florida heat that I'd become accustomed to. I was back in Montana and thrilled to be going to the same place I caught my last Montana trout. Long gone were the warm summer days that I got to experience the year prior. Instead, I was greeted with a breath of crisp, autumn air, and the multicolored sight of leaves changing before the onslaught of winter.
This time I'd come prepared. Last year I'd shown up with minimal gear, knowledge, experience with freshwater stream fly fishing. Being from Florida, my entire fly fishing experience had been saltwater. Redfish, trout, snook, tarpon, etc. Not Browns, Rainbows, Cutty's and the like. It's an entirely different animal and to me, and it came as a puzzle. An extra challenge, if you will. It was something to solve, and ever since catching my last Montana trout, it'd been an obstacle I'd been chomping at the bit to overcome. I wanted to get better at it. So this year I arrived with brand new waders, boots, landing net, and even a new 6wt rod to tackle the Montanan streams and rivers.
My first day in Montana last year consisted of tumbling down a cliff and snapping my fly rod in the process. Despite being mildly perturbed, I set about immediately replacing it. That new rod served me the rest of my stay out west, made it down to Utah where I caught several Browns with it, then did quite a bit of work down in South Florida chasing invasives in their myriad of canal systems. It was a good 3wt.
About an hour outside of town, we finally pulled up to the creek and I excitedly began getting everything ready. I threw my new waders on, laced up my boots, and grabbed my box of flies. With my rod still disassembled in its four pieces, my friend and I weaved our way down to the rocky creek bank.
It had been over a year, I had flown over half way across the country, and here I finally was. With the anticipation of landing another trout, I began assembling my rod. In front of us, fish were already rising, and each splash made me even more excited to begin slinging flies. Once I finally rigged up, I walked to the water's edge, stripped out some line, back-cast and....
Something was wrong. My rod felt weird. It wasn't loading right.
What in the...?
To my dismay I looked up to see my rod broken, just below the last connection point.
Contrary to what most might expect, I actually didn't throw a fit. I didn't go on a wild cussing rampage, or throw my rod into the water, or anything like that. I merely looked up at my poor rod as the last foot of it dangled in the breeze like a limp noodle, and I let out a heavy sigh.
Of course I wasn't pleased. But what could I do? It was the only rod we brought that day, and I'd have to simply grin and bear dealing with the return policy and replacing the rod once I got back to town. So rather than get upset, I calmly put the rod down, sat next to the creek, and cracked open a cold beer. Over the next hour we watched as numerous fish rose and fed, and I was forced to simply watch. Unable to do anything about it but enjoy the scenery and the pleasant day. Luckily the fish weren't going anywhere, I had another month left in Montana, and I swore right then and there that the Montana streams and rivers would soon feel the wrath of rod #2.

The looming mountains slowly passed by as we bounced our way down the Bitterroot Valley to the south. It was another perfect day outside, and with the windows down, I occasionally checked on the bright blue raft that was being towed behind the truck. I'm not exactly sure what it is about towing that makes me paranoid, but I constantly check to make sure the boat/raft/kayak/whatever is still secure. For some reason I'm just constantly worried, and today was no different.
My buddy Jeb and I were on our way to float and fish a river. This was especially exciting for me because the previous year I'd visited, Jeb didn't have a boat which meant we were stuck to just wade fishing. Now we had access to -much- more water and I was excited to redeem myself after my last failed attempt to fish. My new 6wt was ready to sling some flies.
With the raft in the water, Jeb, his dog Sage, and I loaded up and took off down the river. This would be my first time fishing from a raft and it took a little getting used to. Fly line has the incredible ability to become impossibly tangled on any item that's laying around in the boat. A net, water bottle, fly case, shoe lace, etc. You name it, fly line will -always- get tangled on it, and this day was no exception to the rule. But I fished as Jeb rowed, and Sage sat quietly waiting with almost as much anticipation of landing a fish as I had.

We passed fishy looking spot after fishy looking spot, and with the exception of one little dink trout, nothing I threw seemed to work. I tried streamers, various types of dry flies, droppers with nymphs. Nothing. I began to get a little frustrated. This was almost exactly like my last experience in Montana. Fish everywhere, but I can only seem to land tiny little baitfish sized trout. Annoyed, I decided to pass the rod off to Jeb. After all, I actually wanted to try my hand at rowing.
For the last 6 months, paddling has been my job. After a recent move to Saint Augustine, Florida, I quickly landed a job as a kayak guide leading eco-tours. This put me paddling around for a few hours a day at least five days a week over the summer. And on days that I wasn't working, I spent them fishing out of the kayak as well. So I actually consider myself pretty damn good at paddling. But rowing?
Never done it.
One would think that rowing and paddling go hand in hand. And that kind of do. But rowing is, for lack of a better term, opposite of paddling. It literally is opposite. Backwards, even. So it took a little bumping, scraping, and spinning uselessly in circles for a while before I finally began to get the hang of it. But since more technical parts of the river were quickly coming up, and I'm sure Jeb didn't want me to pop a hole in his brand new raft, we opted to switch again.
Around midday we stopped to eat some lunch. A grocery store in town made us a few sandwiches that I'd been dreaming about ever since we bought them in the morning. But, as my luck holds true, we opened the cooler to discover that the melted ice had soaked almost every inch of bread for my sandwich. Each bite squirted water and the soggy Italian sandwich was anything but satisfying. To add to our troubles for the day, we'd forgotten an important item to bring along: Water. In our rush to get out on the water, we grabbed everything we could think of. Oars, life jackets, fly rod, flies, sandwiches, chips, beer, ice, everything. Except water. So rather than go thirsty, we simply opted to drink all the beer we brought along.
Back on the river, the day began to wane. Low clouds rolled off the mountains to the west and occasionally shaded us from the sun as it dipped lower in the sky. While passing through a relatively slow moving, shallow part of the river, Jeb finally piped up.
“Fish just rose, 11 o'clock”, he said as he made a small adjustment with the oars.
I could clearly see where the fish had made rings on the still surface of the water.
“Got it...”, I whispered as I began to cast.
My caddis fly landed just upcurrent from where the fish had risen, and it took only about two seconds before the same fish came up and swallowed the fly.
“There he is!” I exclaimed as I confidently set the hook and felt it sink in. The hook set had been one of my biggest problems last year, and I feel as though I finally figured it out. I used to think freshwater trout are these dainty, fragile fish. A saltwater hook set on one would surely catapult the poor fish into orbit if I really put my heart into it. And so I kept under-setting the hook. I'd gingerly raise my rod in anticipation of actually hooking the fish, but to no avail. But eventually I got the hang of it. They certainly aren't saltwater fish, but they aren't all that dainty either. You can set the hook like you mean it. Just don't do it like professional Bass fishermen and you'll be good to go.
After a brief fight, the fish found its way into the net, and I landed my first Montana Brown trout. The fish also proved to be relatively camera shy.

A little while later and I soon found myself hooked up again with a nice Rainbow trout that actually put up quite a fight. It was at that moment I wished I'd had my 3wt with me, but I couldn't complain. I was finally catching fish, and this was what I'd ventured all the way across Florida to find. The rainbow was soon netted, unhooked, and sent on its way before I even thought to get a picture.
The sun was beginning to set as we approached our get-out point. The last hundred yard stretch of the river was ahead of us and we could already see fish rising everywhere. This would be my last chance for the day, so I needed to make it count. A large boulder jutted out from the bank and around it swirled a deep eddy where the fish were rising. I took aim, cast, and watched as a trout gulped at my fly. Excitedly I set the hook and...
Nothing. Swing and a miss.
Guess my hook set isn't -quite- right yet.
I stripped in some line as we got closer and prepared to make another cast. Focused on where I wanted the fly to land, I quickly began casting, only to suddenly feel a tug mid-back cast.
“Aww shit..”, I muttered as I turned around to see my fly stuck in the bushes of the river bank. I'd managed to make it an entire day without losing a fly, and on my last cast, with fish rising , I successfully sacrificed my caddis to the bush God's.
It'd been an awesome day and a huge learning experience for me. We couldn't ask for better weather, I got to row my first boat, and we managed to survive solely off of beer for the entire day. I really feel as though I'm beginning to figure these fish out a little more, and landing fish (even small ones) is satisfying enough to keep my interest. I received word today that my 3wt is repaired and on its way back this week. With any luck I can break it in soon. Well...Maybe not break. Maybe...Well...You know what I mean.

Rain coming over the Bitterroots
**You may have noticed a major lack in posts the past few months. That comes from a combination of a heavy work load, as well as other projects I've been working on. Details to come soon though, and I've plenty more to write about in the coming months. Stay tuned!**

How to Elk

They should be right up ahead.... Just over this rise. I hope Cody's in position...
Ducking and weaving, I made my way through the low Junipers on the hillside. It was midday, and the snow clumps that had settled in the branches from the previous storm were just beginning to melt. The occasional "thwump" from a falling clump of snow would send me into high alert each time, convinced that it was an Elk. The terrain was difficult to say the least. Mud  caked boots provided little to no traction on the melting hill face and each step threatened to send me tumbling down the hill. That couldn't happen. For this to work, we needed to be quiet. Surprise was the only way we'd pull this off.
With my radio in hand, I tried Cody again.
"Cody..." I whispered, "You ready man?"
I was answered with nothing but the crackle of radio silence.
"Piece of shit radio", I muttered to myself as I shoved it back into the ALICE pack. Quietly, I got back to my feet and stared down the hill. Somewhere, in the Juniper thicket below were Elk. How many, I hadn't a clue. But there was no where else for them to go. They HAD to be here. "...Showtime"
Silently I worked my way down the hill and into the thicket. With my head on a swivel, I kept my eyes peeled for any movement. I made it about fifty yards in and suddenly....
Elk! Two of them, in fact. A cow and calf about 60 yards away on a small rise. They hadn't noticed me yet, so I took a step further. A twig snapped up the hill in front of me and I spotted another about 80 yards away. Another step and I hear snow crunch to my left. A spike. This one just 5 yards away, casually chewing cud and staring at me. The whole situation was odd. Save for the strong breeze and the spike chewing his food, it was pretty silent. Serene, even. Nature at its finest.
Then my phone went off. On loud.
Elk on Elk on Elk
It had been an insane Elk season so far. By the final day, most of our hunters had already tagged out and were busy drinking whiskey and telling tales around the lodge. The other guides and I, however, were functioning on very little sleep and energy drinks to make sure our last few hunters filled their tags. For the past 4 days we'd been going balls to the wall. Elk down all over the place. Spotting, tracking, recovering elk. All day. Every day. But there were still a few tags to be filled, and we'd be damned if we didn't give those hunters the best chance.
We were hunting a slightly different area than last year. And since we were blessed with snow a few days prior, the Elk had been all over the place. Snow equals Elk, and this was obvious by the hundreds that were being seen every day. That ridge a few miles away? Elk. The ravine leading up that mountain? Elk. Crossing the road in front of us? Elk. Elk in the ditch. Elk in the bed of the truck. Elk riding shotgun. Bumping into Elk. Elk watching you pee. Tripping over Elk. Elk...Everywhere.

In the brief periods of time where I wasn't helping recover Elk, I spent it on a hill called "The Kitchen". From this hill, most of the valley could be seen. To the east was a long ridge line that followed a flat valley, and that ridge line is where we placed most of our hunters. We'd see Elk every day down in the valley, and it was around this area where most of our kills had been. A few unlucky Elk were the ones who'd ventured just a tad too close to the western ridge of the valley.
The rest of the herd? Oh, we watched them. Trust me. All day long, all the way across the valley on a Juniper covered hill called "Yellowstone". It was on this hill that the Elk felt safe. They rarely left during the daylight hours. The problem with hunting Yellowstone? It's essentially an island in the middle of the valley. There isn't a real good way into or out of Yellowstone without being spotted by the herd.
It was frustrating, to be honest. Seeing Elk all day, but not being able to do a thing about it. It's sorta like being able to see fish, but not being able to hook them. And those are the kind of things I lose sleep over. But we had a few tags left, we knew where the Elk were, and it was the end of the season. Time to make some moves.
The Push for Yellowstone
By the last day of the season, the guide's bunk room was looking a little rough. Filthy, mud and blood  covered clothes lay strewn about. Spent brass rolled around on the floor, fluorescent orange apparel was scattered about, and wet boots sat near the door, complete with their wet socks. The guides themselves didn't look much better actually. Nick looked like he'd had "that 2:30 feeling" for the past 3 days. Cody would occasionally zone out and give the 1000 yard stare mid sentence.  Aaron had developed a weird tic a few days ago and would occasionally mutter something Elk related in his sleep. I had actually begun to devolve as a person, slowly becoming more and more Elk like. My speech had begun to slowly turn more and more into grunts and clicks. My clothes smelled just like them. Hell, -I- smelled just like them.  And if you've never smelled an Elk before...It's not exactly great. We were in rough shape.
But we awoke the morning of the last day with a refreshed, caffeinated energy and were excited to finish out the season. Before leaving the lodge, we all got the run down of the day ahead. The lead guide explained to us what was going to happen. We were pushing them off of Yellowstone around noon. Aaron, Nick, and some of the other guides would help get the hunters in position. Cody and I would do a walking drive and push them toward everyone else. Once all the hunters were in position, the guide spotting on The Kitchen would give Cody and I the signal to start pushing.
Excited to see how this all played out, we got dressed, geared up, and ready to go.
I should note my hatred of snow. I despise being cold and it's just a giant white nightmare. But since Elk like it, and by this point I'm practically half-Elk, I suppose it isn't that bad. In the mornings, however,  I can never tell if I'm shaking from the cold, or the Monster Energy that I just chugged. Regardless, Cody, Nick, Aaron and I loaded into the freezing cold Can Am, and hauled ass to The Kitchen to wait on the sunrise.

One Elk was shot that morning before the push. The other hunters held tight. They'd been briefed on what was going to take place, so they patiently waited until mid-day for the show to begin. A little bit before noon, Cody and I hopped back in the Can Am, and drove around to the far side of the valley. From there we parked and began to hike up the backside of Yellowstone. This is where we had to be careful. We needed to split up, but still be in contact so Cody handed me a radio. Once we were in position and got the signal, we'd make our move. But first we had to actually -get- into position. Quietly we weaved our way through the Junipers and got closer to our destination.
It wasn't exactly hard to tell Elk had been nearby.

It's a good thing I smelled like an Elk, because the whole backside of the hill reeked of them. There were obvious spots where they'd been feeding, bedding, everything. The place must've been crawling with them. As accustomed to the high-altitude as my Elk-Lungs had become, I was still at least a quarter human. So I stopped to take a drink of water. I also realized that I was drenched in sweat. Amazingly enough, the only thing I was wearing was a long jon top and some camo pants. But even with all the snow on the ground, I was about to keel over. So I took off my shirt and stuffed it into my pack, then wore my fluorescent orange mesh vest haphazardly over my shirtless body. It looked odd, but no one aside my Elk brothers would see me. My looks didn't matter.
I Am The Elk
Fast forward 30 minutes and I'm now standing face to face with a spike elk, calmly staring at me and chewing his food.
This isn't what's supposed to happen. They're supposed to run.
I took another step, then it happened. My cell phone started ringing.
God forbid Verizon give me -any- signal around the ranch. Seriously. Close to 200,000 acres and I can't get a damn bar of signal on any of it.
Well...99% of it. Apparently Yellowstone gets great reception. Maybe that's why the Elk all congregate there. They've got 4G.
I winced and fumbled around in my pocket for the phone. Max volume, and the highest pitched, most obnoxious ringtone echoed through Yellowstone. I look at the name on the phone: Roscoe.
Roscoe's the senior guide who was sitting a couple miles away spotting for me on The Kitchen. He'd apparently lost sight of me and decided to give me a call. My spike friend had now stopped chewing his food, and was simply staring at me with that look you give someone in a movie theater when they forget to put their phone on vibrate. Calmly I answered the phone.
"Hey Roscoe", I whispered.
"DIDJA STORT POOSHIN' YIT", he replied with an incredibly thick South Carolina accent.
Pausing to look at the Spike right next to me, I answered
"I'm uhh...I'm workin' on it".
And with that I hung up the phone with Roscoe, turned my phone on silent, and put it back in my pocket. The Elk was still just standing there, glaring at me. Actually, upon looking around, all of them were. They were all just listening to my conversation with Roscoe.
Why aren't they running? It's like...It's like....No. It can't be...Can it?
The transformation was complete. With the last shred of my sanity gone, it was apparent. I'd been accepted as one of their own. I was in the herd.
I am the Elk.
Last Call
Try as I did, the Elk never full broke me. I remembered what I'd come there to do. It was go time. But there was one slight issue:
They wouldn't move.
I tried hitting a Juniper to make noise. All they did was watch me. I jogged forward. Still nothing.
What the hell?
Up ahead I could see more of the herd. They were swarming inside Yellowstone. And amongst them all, I saw him. An absolute monster Bull. The biggest I've ever seen by far. I got just a quick glance before he ducked behind some trees ahead. But still, the majority of the herd was just watching me. I, however, had finally seen enough. It was long past time. I'd lost contact with Cody a while ago. It was time to really start pushing. So I did the only thing I could think of...
I sprinted straight at the nearest cow and calf. To add to the display I began screaming jibberish and waving my hand above the air like a madman.
"LAST CALL $%&#ER'S!!! EVERYBODY OUT!! GET! BE GONE!! WOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!" followed by a series of hollers and a colorful line of profanity as I tripped down the hill.
It was like roaches scattering after turning on the light. Elk practically exploded. They were coming out of the woodwork. From behind boulders, underneath trees, everywhere. The herd was MUCH bigger than I originally thought. Getting back to my feet, I kept sprinting down the hill toward them. Limbs snapped of Junipers as the Elk scattered. Rocks skittered down the hill face as they tried to get traction in the muddy snow. And amidst my heavy breathing and violent cussing, the steady rumble of trampling hooves could be heard.
Just a few yards away a cow and calf darted out in front of me. Suddenly from my right, another spike broke through a Juniper, nearly crashing into me. The Elk was so close I seriously could have slapped him on the ass as he went by. I watched the bulk of the herd disappear over the next hill, and head straight for my hunters. But there was a small problem. About 1/6th of the herd broke left, and were going the wrong direction toward a slightly smaller hill to the south called "Little Yellowstone" (creative, I know).
I couldn't let that happen, so I gave chase. Jumping over rocks and logs, slipping through the snow and mud, I raced to cut off the rest of them before they reached Little Yellowstone. Fun fact about Elk: They're stupid fast. Ridiculously quick, in fact. I had no chance in hell to catch them. But for whatever reason, the herd actually turned. Maybe it was because they shirtless, screaming maniac was still running right where they were planning to go. Maybe it was because of the rifle shots I could now hear echoing through the valley. Who knows? But the important part was that they were well on their way to the hunters, and the crack of rifles in the distance meant that my journey to become full Elk had not been in vain.  I got a quick picture of the herd just after they turned. Sadly I wasn't wearing my GoPro for the moments just prior.

Lee's Monster
I eventually gathered myself and worked my way back to the Can Am to meet with Cody. We drove back to The Kitchen and caught up with what was happening on that side of the valley.
Elk were down, and from the sounds of it, almost everyone had filled their tag. All the guides split up and began running around recovering animals. One hunter actually joined Cody and I in the Can Am and while driving to track someone else's Bull, we spotted out a legal bull and our hunter was able to fill his tag.
The next few hours were a blur as hunters continued to fill out tags, and I lost count how many animals I field dressed. As the sun was beginning to dip low on the western horizon, I ran into Aaron and Nick again.
"Everybody good?" I asked as we pulled up next to them.
"Oh yeah. Dude...Lee shot a monster", replied Aaron.
"Really? Like, how big?"
Nick's eyes got all wide and he just shook his head. "Big...We're going to go get it in a minute"
Eventually we got all of our hunters loaded up, Elk ready to roll back to the skinning shed, and our gear put away. It was about that time that the other truck came rolling up with Lee's bull.
"Holy shit...", was pretty much everyone's response. It was massive. And to make it even sweeter? That was the bull I'd  gotten a glimpse of on Yellowstone. Lee was grinning from ear to ear and everyone took the time to congratulate him on the bull of a lifetime. Hero pictures all around, and by far, the best way to end a season that I can think of.

For information on hunting on the ranch or with me, please visit their website at http://www.rrranchco.com/
Note: My apologies for taking such a hiatus in my writing the past couple of months. I was absurdly busy in the Everglades and just couldn't find the time to write during 70+ hour work weeks. Good news is that I've now moved and am in prime fishing habitat in a new part of the state. Looking forward to the coming stories. Thanks for reading!!