The rites of fall
Name a way to hunt, and some local does it. Some pack gear into wilderness areas for rifle season. Others move quietly through the brush with bows and arrows or black-powder rifles. Some head to the hills with everything, including the kitchen sink.
All, though, share a love of the outdoors and savor their encounters with wildlife. Here are stories from a handful of local hunters.
Livin’ large in the woods
John Boyd of Eagle has hunted since his boyhood days in Pennsylvania. He’s slept on the ground, and in his early years in Eagle in the early 1980s would simply drive from Eagle to the Hardscrabble Mountain area on day trips during hunting season.
A few years ago, though, Boyd and his hunting buddies decided to stay in the hills during hunting season. They also decided that after a hard day in the woods they weren’t going to suffer after dark.
A fairly modest start has turned into hunting-camp nirvana. Once Boyd and his friends scout out a campsite, they haul in a pair of walled tents and an awning, a pair of wood stoves, kitchen gear – even a portable latrine.
These days, the camp compound is a structure 10 feet wide by 40 feet long. There are cots, chairs, lanterns, a cooking station and a stove for heat at each end. To keep the structure warm at night, the hunters haul up some coal.
Everyone in the hunting party brings a meal, and the menu includes turkey, a shepherd’s pie made from last year’s game meat, as well as steaks, burgers and other hearty fare. Those who choose to enjoy cigars and cocktails at camp. All this equipment fits in a pair of small trailers. Boyd says he can have his share of the compound set up in an hour or so, which leaves more time for hunting.
The guys in Boyd’s party earn their comfort. At least one member will bag an animal in a typical year, and getting that animal back to camp can be a lot of work.
A few years ago, Boyd took up Jerry Stevenson, a friend from Pennsylvania. Stevenson shot his first elk in a thick stand of brush and the animal promptly disappeared.
“There was no blood, no nothing,” Boyd says.
He and Stevenson started making circles around the area where the animal had been shot, to no avail.
“He shot the elk at about 7 a.m. and by 10 a.m., we still didn’t have it,” Boyd says.
So they started circling again. This time, Boyd found one faint set of tracks and a small spot of blood.
“We ended up maybe 150 yards from where he’d shot it,” he says.
Other times, Boyd and his friends have to pack out animals from ravines, or far from roads. It can take hours of hard work. One animal took the efforts of six men over five hours to pack out of a drainage.
But the rewards go beyond a freezer full of meat for the winter.
“I like to get out in the woods and enjoy the outdoors,” says Boyd. “It’s never the same two years in a row.”
It’s also a male-bonding tradition, says Boyd, whose father took him out as a boy. He can’t wait to take his own son, Eric on his first hunting expedition. That will happen when he’s 12. Eric, now 5, can’t wait, either.
“He’s always saying, “When are you going to buy me my first gun, dad?’ He’s probably a little young for that,” Boyd says.
A lifetime of hunting
Ted Archibeque picked up hunting at a young age.
The Red Cliff native said the family jokes his dad had a bottle in one back pocket and a diaper in the other the first time he took his son hunting.
That early introduction has led to a lifetime of outdoor exploration for Archibeque, now a Gypsum resident.
Starting with rifle-hunting, he has hunted with bows and black powder and has gone after just about everything there is to hunt in the Rocky Mountains, from birds to coyotes to elk to mountain lions.
“I like to go out tracking and “walk the gun,'” Archibeque says, adding that he’s never even seen a mountain lion in the wild.
He said what brings him out for as many seasons as he can manage is “the love of the mountains, and the encounters with wildlife.”
Sometimes those encounters can almost be too close. His first year bow-hunting, Archibeque says he got between a bear and her two cubs. The cubs ran up a tree and the mother ran to get between Archibeque and her offspring. Not wanting to orphan two cubs, Archibeque says, he kept his cool and left his bow at the ready. The mother signaled to her cubs, who scurried down the tree and off into the woods. The mother then turned and followed.
Other close encounters – including being kicked – have come during elk season.
One year, Archibeque says, while bow-hunting, was bugling back and forth with several bulls when one came crashing through the brush in full charge. Archibeque darted behind a tree, he says, and the elk stopped just a few yards away.
“He was looking right at me, but through me,” he says.
When he stepped out from behind the tree, the big bull turned and bolted.
These days, Archibeque says, he takes a video camera into the field while he’s hunting.
“I wanted to share this with other people,” he says. “I want other people to see what we see.”
Archibeque’s desire to share his experience led him a few years ago to take out people who had never hunted before. He’d find an anti-hunter if possible.
“(Hunting) is not only a sport, it’s game management,” says Archibeque. “We have an ethical responsibility to keep our herds in check.”
From suburban jungle to wilderness
Daniel Witt of Gypsum works in the Denver area. During hunting season, he and his friends head for the Holy Cross Wilderness in search of deer and elk.
Witt started out with his father in his native Iowa, where the family hunted game birds, as well as small mammals. Witt’s first big-game hunts came in New Mexico, where the family moved in the 1970s.
It took some time for Witt to get his first big animal, a three-point buck deer in 1988. He bagged his first elk in 1992. Since then, he and his friends come back with an animal most years.
Witt, too, started hunting with high-powered rifles, then switched to bow hunting.
“Archery taught me to be a better hunter,” says Witt. “You learn so much that you take for granted rifle hunting, like camouflage and stealth.”
Witt, his friends and, sometimes, his father, have a couple of horses to help pack in their gear, but a lot is taken in on their backs. Therein lies the challenge, and the fun.
“The fun is in the preparation,” he says. “You’ve got to prepare for every possibility. That’s the challenge, to take in everything I need, and nothing I don’t, for a week.”
Witt says he got his trophy buck last year, a “five-by-five beauty” he’s had mounted.
“It was opening morning,” he says, “and I told my dad I was going to shoot the first buck I saw, as long as it had some meat on it. This one was the first buck I saw.”
While Witt knows he’s going to have a hard time matching last year’s buck, he says, there’s a big reason he’s reluctant to talk about his favorite hunting spot.
“There’s a monster out there,” he says. “We call him Moby.”
Brothers in camouflage
Scott Thurston of Gypsum is a Massachusetts native. In his youth, his father and two brothers would head to the woods of New Hampshire, looking for deer.
That family tradition continues. Thurston, his brother Glenn of Eagle, and oldest brother Kevin, who still lives in Massachusetts, get together every year for a week of black-powder hunting. Most years, the brothers will bring back at least one animal and split the meat among their families.
As the others, the Thurstons go hunting as a way to commune with nature. “It’s all about getting out into the animals’ zone,” says Thurston. “It’s about hearing the elk bugle, seeing God’s country and getting so close to an animal you can hear them eat.”
With no horses in the family, the Thurstons put their camp on their backs, going in and coming back out.
“I’ll do that “til I can’t walk any more,” he says. “We try to get as far back as possible.”
Getting back into the forests allowed Thurston this year to hide in cover near a watering hole. A group of animals came through, had a drink, then moved on.
“When they left, they were like 15 feet from me; they didn’t know I was there,” Thurston says. “Experiences like that are pretty awesome.”
Of course, being able to help feed the family is big plus, too. Over the years, the Thurston brothers have become adept at cooking game meat.
Thurston is renowned among friends and family for his skills on the grill. He says he believes in long marinades, and his philosophy with a fire is “low and slow.”
“A lot of it is feel,” he says. “You just kind of know.”
Time to hunt
For last-minute types, over-the-counter hunting licenses are available for both elk and deer. The rifle seasons run from now through Friday, Nov. 2 through 8, and Nov. 9 through 13.
Licenses, which must be purchased no later than the day before a season begins, are available at the Eagle Pharmacy, City Market, Columbine Market and other locations throughout the Eagle River Valley.
This story first appeared in the Eagle Valley Enterprise.