Terry Thomas

Alpine Arizona

Alpine Elk Hunt One of Many


Well it all started with the good news that we had been drawn for Elk. Like all other good news stories each of us spent the next few weeks bragging about the tags, talking about when the hunt was and formulating a plan. This would fall mostly on Mike and I as Pete and Hanky would bring what they needed as always and the rest was left to Mike and I.


Alpine Arizona has always reminded me of some picture I seen of someplace in Switzerland. It is truly that beautiful and the majestic mountains that surround the little community are picture perfect.


Now we have hunted that country many times sometimes with success and sometimes with failure. That never seemed to matter though as it was always a great time and it always seemed to turn into an adventure and this was no exception.


Having the Elk hunt late into the fall at a camp site that was 8,000 feet above sea level was not always the perfect choice. This was especially true when it came to the weather. So as the hunt neared we watch the weather report and based on that information we loaded up and started up the mountain roads to Alpine.


I have concluded that weather forecasting is kind of like foreplay, it means maybe and nothing else. Since I have never believed any thing the weather men have said over the years I still packed a full set of snow chains. One never knows as it is one of those better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it things.


We arrived two days in advance and set up our camp. There was my F-450 with a cab over and an eighteen foot enclosed trailer that Ruby my Jeep Rubicon was transported in. There was one large military tent that we would use for the kitchen. Mike Chevy 2500 with his twenty foot enclosed trailer that we had turned into a mobile bunk house. Both his trailer and mine had been stripped down and the walls and floors insulation, folding beds where installed and in Mikes trailer he housed a portable potty. Now that I would not do and since my cab over had a restroom I seen no reason to. Plus I could close the door on mine his you just sat in there and looked at it. I don’t think so.


Pete’s truck was there a lifted F-350 4 X 4 along with Hankies 4 X 4 Diesel F-250 trailers and quads.


The next day was beautiful with lots of cool wind and sunshine. With chain saw, quads and trucks we loaded up on down and dead fire wood, mostly oak and spent the evening fine tuning our muzzle loader rifles.


Though we had New Mexico permits we were camped about 300 yards from the Arizona State line just outside of Alpine. Opening morning we awoke full of vim and vinegar to find a few inches of snow on the ground and a cloudy sky.


We all talked about how perfect this would be as it would allow us to find the Elk tracks and by breakfast we would done with the hunting. When we met back at camp around midday starving and cold we now had about eight inches of snow and it was still falling. Most of the wood we had cut was now getting wet so we spent a few hours making the camp weather proof if there is such a thing and planned out the evening hunt.


Elk are so much smarter than we are. They know when a storm is going to last a few hours and they know when a storm is going to last a week. Don’t ask me how they know but they know. We spent the rest of the evening checking all the hot spots that we knew held Elk and could not find any tracks or sign that they had been moving around.


So we returned to camp for T-Bone steaks, Pinto Beans, Hot freshly cooked Tortillas and for desert a little Jim Beam and Scotch. So there we set in our wet lounge chairs in full snow gear watching; what was at one time a beautiful fire pit struggle to stay ahead of the falling snow. With our bellies full and the chill of the weather being held at bay by mister Beam it had been a long day and it was time for lights out.


We all retired to our bunk houses, I remember hearing the soft roar of the generators we were using to power the electric heaters. It was about 4:30 AM the next morning when I started to wake everyone up, it was cold; the generators were silent as they had run out of gas and the snow was over a foot thick.


With some what of a queasy stomach I started coffee and broke out the breakfast rolls for those who might have an appetite. As we gathered in the kitchen we had our coffee, some made a sandwich to carry them through until dinner as we figured if we did not hunt all day today with the way this weather was acting we may not get another chance.


I have to tell you Ruby performed like a true champing, I put a set of chains on that jeep and as Mike and I began our journey there was nowhere we elected to go that we could not go.


Now being the well seasoned hunters that we were as we drove along the edge of a meadow and we came across some sort of ravine. This ditch dropped about twelve feet and had about a four foot wide flat bottom and then rose back up twelve feet to what looked like the rest of the road all sides and the bottom of the ditch had heavy snow. It was hard to tell about the road ahead as the snow was deep and most signs that would indicate a road of some type were gone.


Still after conversing on the possibilities of getting stuck in the bottom we decided to give it a try. So down the thirty degree angle went Ruby and back up the other side as if there was no ditch there at all.


The road along the meadow eased into the timber with the rising mountain on our South side. The road cut through the timber at the basin and looked to be headed for a saddle when it stopped. Since we needed to turn around we took a few minutes to stretch our legs and enjoy the little creek that was flowing back down into the meadow from which we had just come.


Once we started back out and the open meadow came into view we had to stop. The view was spell bounding as we gazed at the lightly scattered timber, the running water of the creek and the snow falling on the windshield every so softly.


It was a moving picture show. It was then that I made that comment to Mike about how picture perfect this was and the only thing missing was Elk. As we started back I heard Mike shout stop, right there. With brakes applied, vehicle in park in less than a second I was out of the jeep asking Mike where, where are they.


Now since I was more agile than Mike and it took him a little longer to get out of Ruby and having known him for many years and how ornery he was he would not answer. For he knew sure as shooting if he gave me what I needed I would be filling the air with the smell of Sulfur.


He came limping around the front of Ruby and took position several feet off the road and when I saw his rifle go up I was able to spot the Elk. There was probably ten to twelve Elk that had seen us first and knew hanging around was not in their best interest.


Mike had first bead but as the Elk began there elusive timber dance we could never find the moment that was right and like many times in the past we had to watch as they disappeared into the timber.


Cussing and complaining was all that I had to look forward to as we returned to camp. The complaining quieted down later that evening as after I fired my rifle off as I did every night so I would always have a fresh load for the next day. Mike was commenting on how you don’t really need to do that. And with that the argument began. After several hours of preaching at him on how to properly hunt with a Muzzle Loader he finally gave in and fired his rifle to discharge the two day old load. Well I guess you could say he attempted to fire as the only sound that one could hear was the sound of the hammer striking the firing cap which did not ignite. It took three more caps before Mike’s rifle finally fired. I would have loved to have seen the look on his face if he had shot at those Elk and the only sound he heard was Click. That would have definitely made the ride back a lot more fun at least for me.


As we were returning to camp we notice another person who we thought was a hunter camped only a few hundred yards from us. This one was hard to figure out. This guy only had a pup tent, no vehicle a camp fire and twenty four inches of snow around him.


Later that evening he came by the camp and after several drinks we found out he was basically homeless. He had been working for some guy in the town of Luna, he lived in the woods and each day this mystery guy would drive up the mountain road and pick him up, take him to Luna to work and then bring him back every night. They were doing construction work on someone’s place in Luna.


With the snow still falling, a campfire that would not stay lit we gathered in the kitchen and began to discuss trying to get out of here before we found out we could not. So it was decided we would wait one more day and if the storm which was never suppose to be did not let up we would break camp and head for home.


The next morning Pete borrowed my Lyman Mustang Muzzle loader as he was having a tough time with powder ignition on his traditional muzzle loader due to the dampness, he started his Ranger and off he went. Hanky went with Pete and Mike and I left in Ruby. Mike and I decided to drop down lower into the town of Luna to see how that was and it was there we found out where everybody else was hunting. There were a lot of hunters down there and they were forced to stay on the main roads due to the heavy snow. As we drove into the timber as well as when we left it we watched as vehicle after vehicle came rolling by hoping for their chance at an Elk, or at least at a chance to see one.


After several hours and since Mike was not really fond of people we headed back up the mountain to our camp. Snow was easily thirty plus inches deep. As we set in the kitchen Pete pulled in with his Elk and Hanky. Pete’s cow was small, but it was an Elk and so we would end the hunt with one out of four of the tags filled. And as always the results would be engraved on my flask.


As we discussed our departure I thought it would be nice to leave the kitchen tent, stove and propane with the old Boy that was homeless. When he stopped by we discussed this with him with the understanding I would come back up in few weeks and pick up my property. He was to say the least excited and I didn’t blame him for he had to have been freezing to death in that pup tent.


With the plan set in place and engines warming we decided to depart. It was then the trouble really began. No one could move there vehicles with their trailers hooked to them. Them big ole powerful four by fours with their big diesel engines just made a lot of noise and spun their tires.


By the time everyone was starting to panic I had put my chains on my Dooley, backed into my trailer and was ready to move out. Once everyone seen what a set of snow chains could do they now understood the reason to own them.


I went out first and once I reached the asphalt I unhooked my trailer and spent the next few hours pulling the vehicles and trailers out to the highway. Hankies truck was the only one that made it out under its own power, probably due this tire tread type, but he made it out by himself.


The last thing to come out was Ruby who needed no assistance what so ever. I drove Pete into camp and he drove Ruby out and we loaded it into the bunk house.


So there we stood on the highway around midday and it was still snowing. Since Phoenix was only about five to six hours away we figured we would be home for supper. We were wrong big time on that one. Due to the road conditions, the scared travelers and the blow snow and fog we made it to Payson around eight o’clock that evening.


As we gassed and talked we knew we were close as Phoenix was only an hour or so away, Payson had a few snow flurries but nothing else. So we climbed into our vehicles and started down the mountain.


It seemed like smooth sailing and then the rains came. Just South of Payson it started to rain and I do mean rain. It rained so hard and since we were traveling at night it made seeing more that a few feet in front of you almost impossible. It took three hours to complete that little stretch of highway. And when I pulled up in front of my house that night it was eleven thirty. But we were home, and we were home safely.


Now I would like to think that all these blessings that brought us home safely came from the fact that we had helped someone who we had never met. Gave them food and shelter and for that the Lord had blessed us and maybe he did.


My question is if he did bless us then why did it cost me five hundred dollars to get my tent out of hock at the local gas station in Luna, go figure.


In Memory of Walter Michael Johns, or Mikey to those who knew him best.


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