The Best Laid Plans

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Joined: 06/03/2010

The Best Laid Plans           
            It was sometime in the early spring of ‘87’ when Sam Pike said we should apply for an elk tag for the early fall hunt in October. I hadn’t even given any thought to going elk hunting that spring but it was always my dream to shoot an impressive bull elk. I was accustomed to not getting one since I had gone to Idaho several years earlier and didn’t fill out. New Mexico hunting was spectacular and I was enjoying the variety of game I could hunt at a moment’s notice, quail, antelope, pheasant, deer, and an odd assortment of exotics at some of the more remote parts of the state, but I had not gone elk hunting in New Mexico yet.
            My son Nate was about eleven years old and hadn’t gotten his Hunter Safety certificate but I thought it would make for a great experience to take him along, even if he wasn’t shooting, and maybe have fun camping and hunting together. The tags were applied for and then we waited. I was always amazed that the western states had such long application periods for these hunts whereas my home state of Michigan allowed licenses to be purchased pretty much at a moment’s notice prior to or even during a season such as deer or small game. I had experienced an agonizing wait from Idaho for that tag and New Mexico was not much better.
            My rifle would be my trusty Springfield 35 Brown-Whelen and Sam was going to bring along an extra “06” and his 338 so we were definitely well heeled for the game. Over the next few months we did quite a lot of range shooting to keep us up to par since there can never be enough pre-hunt practice and besides, it’s fun. Sam would be driving his camper truck and pulling a small trailer for our “extra” stuff like the tent as a backup just in case. Over the following months we lined up our supplies and gear and stockpiled enough food to feed an army for weeks and our hunt was only to be a week.
            Finally about the end of August we received our tags! Sam and I each had a bull tag. I had actually applied for an either /or bull or cow tag and was surprised when I got a bull tag. I secretly harbored no great expectations for this venture since we had never hunted the territory before and were going in blind and nothing is a certainty on a free range hunt but I wanted to make it as successful as possible by displaying a good attitude through the whole adventure. Our hunting area was to be the San Antonio Mountain area near the Colorado border in northern New Mexico where we had fished and camped one summer but never hunted. Our plan was to drive up the day before the opener and set up our camp so we could get an early start the next morning.
            The drive up was uneventful and of course the scenery was spectacular as always. I was anticipating the next several days of walking and spotting for a trophy bull and even though I was a bit hesitant to predict an outcome I had become a bit more positive about our chances for success over the past few weeks. We set up camp in a site that had been used before by others and got our campfire going so we could have our evening meal and get to sleep so we could get up early and hunt. The next day dawned with a partly cloudy sky and a change in the breeze suggested that our weather was rapidly changing. I had checked the local weather over the past few days and hadn’t really paid much attention to what the weather patterns were predicted for the mountain area we were camped in.
            We finished our breakfast of eggs and bacon along with bread toasted in the bacon grease and washed down with strong hot coffee and geared up for the morning hunting. Nate and I hunted along a ridge that ran down into a huge basin while Sam headed out to hunt around a small pond that resembled a cattle tank but was truly natural. The weather continued to cloud over and by noon when we rendezvoused back at camp it started getting downright nasty. Sam tuned in a local radio station on his truck radio and the forecast was for snow, lots of snow in the mountains, possibly several feet. We considered our options and decided we would hunt for a bit more that afternoon and then if the weather got worse we would pack up and leave. We were not too concerned since Sam’s old Ford was a four wheel drive and had gotten him out of many situations which seemed worse than what we were seeing.
            We were wrong of course, because the snow started shortly after one P.M. and got so heavy so fast we barely had time to pack up our equipment and get out on the road down the mountains before getting snowed in. The sky turned dark, almost like night and the snow was blowing hard causing drifts that looked like they could stop a Ford “FWD” in a hurry. I snapped a quick picture of our camp before we packed and there was already a foot of new snow on the ground.
Hunting Snowstorm
            We drove hard down the winding trail road and encountered a hunter with a horse trailer who had gotten bogged down in a drift. After some hard, sweaty pulling and shoveling we managed to get him going and he followed us down until we dropped below the snow line and hit some rain. What a change from heavy blizzard to fall rain! When we finally got home we learned that quite a few other hunters had been stranded and had to be evacuated by the rescue teams in helicopters, leaving vehicles and gear to spend a winter before they could be retrieved.
            The lesson of this story is simple, check the weather before you go hunting in a strange area and know what can happen in the mountains. If I had been a little more concerned about what we were up against we could have changed our plans and hunted a better place where the weather wouldn’t have been a problem, so “The Best Laid Plans” prevail.