Saturday, November 20, 2010

Brad's & Flip's Hunting Adventure...Written By Flip Flippen

Good morning! Brad sent me this wonderfully written essay by Flip about their Colorado hunting adventure. Brad said it was the most intense thing he has ever been a part of and an awesome adventure. I am thankful that they got out alive. There were multiple rescues of hunters on that mountain that weekend. The pictures are a little dark because they were taken with his phone but they still show how much snow they were caught in and the beauty of it. This is a VERY long blog entry. If you love hunting and adventure, take the time to read it. You will enjoy. I especially loved Flip's sense of humor and description of the beauty that God put before them. If you don't like long hunting stories... come back tomorrow! :) Blessings on your weekend!! Amy




Winterhawk Outfitters

We had done our research and really gone over the alternatives when
we picked our outfitter. Our group works together and is great friends
so we were ready to go from the day we thought of the trip. We are also
avid hunters having hunted in various parts of the world in some pretty
intense situations. We were ready.
At least that is what we thought.

Winterhawk Outfitters sits in the Flat Tops in Colorado in one of the
most spectacular parts of the world imaginable. They are great at what
they do…which is give people a first class wilderness experience
whether hunting or fishing or simply traversing beautiful country. We
were after Elk and…did I say, we were ready.
Base camp sits at 9,500 ft with our hunting camp site at 10,800 ft. We
arrived and packed our gear on mules (guides and wranglers did the
packing, thank goodness), got on our horses and took off for the top of
Flat Tops. The ride was spectacular even though half of our six man
group had only been on “live” horses less than 30 minutes in their entire
life time. Actually, that is where the real fun started.
200 yards out of base camp, we began a 40 degree decline into a basin
that then took off back up the mountain after crossing a small stream.
How do you tell someone to lean back and stand up in the stirrups when
they are totally focused on the bottom of the basin that is ½ mile below
you? It was best to just be quiet and let them follow the guides. We did
the up and down thing about 300 more times before we broke out onto a
beautiful flat with 2 cow elk and a small rag horn bull running away
from us.

Then, back into the forest and snow covered ground that smelled as
pure as, well, “wind driven snow”….really good smells. After about 2 ½
hours of good riding (depending on who you ask) we arrived at camp.
Our wall tents were up and good food smells were coming out of
“Doree’s” kitchen tent. Again, we were ready. This time it was for
dinner.

By the way, there is no air at 10,800 ft for those of you who are
wondering. You can actually strike a match and watch while it tries to
catch fire…which it eventually does but by then you have tried to light
another one.

Our group consisted of 3 guides (Bob, Joel and Kyle) one cook, Doree,
and our wrangler, Jeff, who never came inside unless he was completely
frozen. We had 6 guys in our group of hunters…Brad McCoy, Duncan
Dodds, Curt Mackey, Jim Christensen, Jason Torczynski and I. We
were ready.

The next morning we were up well before daybreak eating a great
breakfast and preparing to meet the mountain. The snow had started
falling during the night and as we mounted up and rode through the
pines it was as magical as you could imagine. Occasionally a slight
breeze would break through the woods and shake some snow loose and
as it drifted, it looked like diamonds falling thru the green firs.
Late that night as we rode back in…the snow was still falling…only
heavier. During the day we had forded streams, crossed open flats,
ridden up and down and across all kinds of terrain and not seen a thing.
Hmmm, I wondered; where are the elk?

The next morning, we did the same thing only this time we had to ride
through much more snow. In fact, a lot more snow. And, the
temperature was falling into the teens as well. As we rode out in
different directions, the snow that fell off the trees no longer looked like
diamonds. Maybe a little more like glistening bombs that landed on you
and exploded as they piled up on your shoulders, pack, gun scabbard,
horse, coat, head, gloves, legs and any other part of you body that
happened to be outside of the tents. And, it was getting colder. But, we
were ready.

We hunted all day that day as well. Hummm, still no elk!
That night a full blown blizzard hit the mountain. If you are interested
in reading about it in the papers you can look up the week of Oct 21-30
in the news.
The next morning, we got up and sure enough, waited for someone else
to try to get to the outhouse tent. No one was going. In fact, I think I
learned a great lesson that morning about bladder, etc., control. If it’s
cold enough….no one ever goes to the out house. But, men are men and
boys are boys and there were some things we could take care of without
sitting down or hiking through 3 feet of snow. Yes, we wrote our names
if you must know. Or maybe that was just shivering. I don’t
remember.

Then we had a discussion about what body parts froze first. Dr. Jim led
the discussion.
Actually one of the guys did hike out to the out house tent…the zipper
was frozen shut. Hah, I thought…serves him right for being such a
wimp and needing to go. He hiked back and somehow forgot about why
he went out there in the first place.
We saddled up and went hunting.

The diamonds that had turned to bombs were now becoming a full out
aerial assault. Each rider forged through the snow behind Bob who was
riding a huge mule. The snow was actually rising and pushing ahead of
“Doc” as his chest pushed it forward like water off of a ships bow. And
then, we descended into another basin and crossed another stream only
now it was frozen. The horses broke through the ice and got a drink
while we sat and wondered how they could possibly drink that much ice
water at one time. Then back up the other side only to repeat it again,
253 more times (not really).

Finally, we broke out of the woods into a flat area with snow drifts that
were filling the low spots to over 5 ft. The stream was frozen but we
broke through and moved ahead. That’s when the wind came up.
Actually it was more like a gale. The horses whirled around with their
heads lowered and their butts facing the wind as 60 mile an hour winds
hit us. We were in a white out. I was talking to Brad as we sat there
(actually talking very loudly) when I looked over and realized that he
was only a few feet away…and I couldn’t see him.

Occasionally you would get a glimpse of someone else but he would
quickly fade away as the winds picked up again. By “picked up” I actually mean that it picked up every piece of snow on the mountain
and moved it around us at high speed. That’s what “picked up” really
means.
We headed back into the woods where the winds were much less and
continued hunting. Did I forget to say….hadn’t seen any elk yet? Later
that night the rest of the group came in…I had headed back to “help”
the cook with dinner.

That’s the night that Curt got sick…or something. He came in and was
shaking. He was really shaking. In fact, I didn’t know that a person
could shake that violently. He shook for 2 hours….non-stop. We were
pouring hot fluids in him and Jason and I were sitting with him when
one of the guys realized that we couldn’t get him off the mountain if we
needed to.
That’s when it dawned on us that we would need to find a large pine
laying near camp. One of the other guys asked what we needed a large
pine tree for and one of the other guys (notice there are no names here)
commented that if he died we would need to bend him over the tree so
that when he froze we could lay him over the horse without having to
thaw him out. That way we could easily pack him out….when we were
through hunting which was 5 more days. We were just trying to be
planful.
The other thing that crossed my mind was that if he didn’t improve
soon, two of us would have to strip to our shorts (did I mention that we
hadn’t changed), get in the bag and use our body heat to help him stop
shaking. Personally, I wanted to keep my body heat to myself. I gave
him some more aspirin.

I think Curt may have understood some of what we were saying because
he started to improve before we hauled him outside.
The next morning….we went hunting. Curt went too. He is one tough
son of a gun…especially for a CFO. By now, the snow was really piling
up. In fact, sometime during the night the snow had reached the top of
the side of the tents. We had to continually push the top of the tents up
so that we could slide the snow off or the tents would collapse.

Today had to be the day. This was the day that we would get the elk.
The winds had died to something under 50 miles an hour and
occasionally you could see more than 50 feet. Today was the day. As we
rode in late that night, we knew, it wasn’t the day. However, not to be
outdone, we had in fact seen elk. At least, that is what someone in the
group said. I, personally, had not seen any elk nor did I believe any of
my good friends had really seen any elk but one or two of them said
they had so I let them believe whatever they wanted to believe. It didn’t
matter, we couldn’t see very far anyway.

I strongly suspect that our guides carried around a little stick with elk
shaped footprints on it and they stamped out “footprints” in the snow
wherever they went. It’s true. How else can you explain elk prints
going to the out house? Alright, I made that part up.

Did I tell you…we were ready? We really were.
The next day, we went hunting. The wind was howling and the snow
was falling and the world was clearly visible within 2-3 feet of anyplace
we looked.
If I am entirely honest at this point my dear reader, I was actually
having the time of my life. The world was incredible and I was so alive
in the experience of it all. You can’t get closer to life than being with
great friends who have to help each other get dressed each morning as
we prepare to go outside. I was on a good horse eating good food and
riding in the most extreme conditions I had ever been in. Life was good
and I was blessed to be in the middle of it.
We didn’t get any elk that day either. Bummer!!!!

That night we got a radio call that we had better come down to base
camp. They were getting some pretty heavy snows and were starting to
worry.
Worry????? They were at a 1,300 feet lower elevation than we were
and they had real places (big tents) to stay…what they heck were they
worried about? Wimps!!! I think they were really worried that they
would have to come get us and haul us back over the tops of our horses.
Curt shook real badly that night too but he didn’t die on us. This was
good because we were going hunting that morning. In fact, he was the
first one up. I think he was worried we might have to eat whoever died
first.
We didn’t go down to base camp that day. We hunted!

I hope you understand that when I say “we hunted” that’s really what
we did. We didn’t see anything or shoot anything but we “hunted” for
something to see and shoot. I saw nothing alive at all other than us and
seeing each other was getting old. The country was beautiful; covered
in several feet of snow and buried under a heavy blanket that seemed to
soften everything in sight.
The next day we hunted. I really mean “hunted” like I described above.
No shooting, just hunting.

But this day was different. We were hunting our way down to base
camp and we figured it would take us late into the night to get there so
we took our time and hunted hard….whatever that means.
We had to come into camp from the lower pass because we couldn’t get
through the upper pass. This meant that we would ride along a
ridge/cliff that dropped away 300 feet to the bottom where a freezing
river fought its way to the bottom of the valley. The trail was
approximately 14 inches wide and covered in snow and ice under which
lay loose gravel and rocks of all sizes. A perfect trail…if you are heavily
insured. I had suggested that Duncan keep his toe lightly in the stirrups
on the downhill side of the trail. “Why”? he asked. Well, that’s so that
when the horse goes over the cliff you can step out of the stirrup and
still be on the upside of the horse rather than being on the downside
which will get you hurt. Actually, if you’re down side foot gets stuck in
the stirrup and you go over the edge…you are stuck and every time the
horse rolls over, you get slammed on the ground which means that
packing you out is a mess.

Duncan, is a lot smarter than me and quickly pointed out that it didn’t
make any difference because he was still going to go over the cliff. Of
course, you will, I replied but you have a much higher chance of landing
on the horse if he goes over first.
Some of us were riding ahead and it was only later than night that I
found out that indeed, Duncan had taken his foot out of the stirrup.
But, he had also leaned way over to the uphill side. This, of course,
caused the horse to have to lean far to the other side to offset his
oversize body (6’6” and 230lbs). This meant that the horse was leaning
out over the cliff edge. It also meant that when Duncan looked down, he
was actually looking under the horses belly and still seeing straight
down the cliff edge. He later said that he hated that horse but it didn’t
look like he hated his horse. I have never seen a man hold onto a horse
with his arms around the horse’s neck and his legs wrapped around his
horses belly and his face buried in his horses mane…while he prayed
and cried all at the same time. You need to hear him tell the story.
One of the other guys was getting suspicious of our guides. They were
great to be with but one of the guys thought that perhaps one of the
guides…his guide actually, didn’t like him.

Truth is, he thought his guide was trying to kill him.
I asked him how in the world he could come to that conclusion and
that’s when he talked about how much his guide had hiked him up and
down the mountain all day knowing that he couldn’t breath. Well, that
may have been true but our guides did that to all of us so that wasn’t
unusual.
Then, my friend (who is also unnamed) said, “Yes, but I saw him sitting
at the top of the last mountain carving a cross…. for me”. okay, that
changes things.

Jim Christensen moves like a mountain goat and he really made the
guides take notice when he would come in from hunting and then go for
a walk or run up the trail that was covered in snow. I personally just
wanted to shoot him and get it over with. The problem was that he
moved so fast going up and down that I couldn’t have hit him anyway.
Why watch someone run up and down a mountain when everyone else is
tired. That’s when we decided that we could put that energy to good
use.
How about you carry a red flag and run through the woods and scare
the elk towards us?
Things changed once we were in base camp. We had to share with
other hunters. They had guns too so we all acted like preschoolers…
AND SHARED. We only had two more days of hunting
and that’s when we heard shots being fired. It was the first day that we
were in base camp and we had ridden out onto a high ridge to hunt.
That’s when we heard it. Gun shots. Someone was shooting something.
Maybe there were elk in Colorado.

That night we rode in late under a full moon through the aspens with
snow carpeting the ground listening to our horses labored breathing
and the fall of their hooves on frozen ground. Again, it was God’s
greatest gift to me for that night.
Sure enough…shots had been fired and missed. 7 shots had been fired
and missed. We had fallen in with a bunch of meadow muffins that
couldn’t shoot. its one thing to NOT SEE any elk…..it’s another thing
to actually miss one when you are shooting at it. How do you miss
something as big as a small car? What is wrong with these guys?
Then we noticed: one of the guys in our tent was actually using oxygen.
He was 73 years old and elk hunting. I hate to admit it but when he
went to sleep…I actually thought about stealing his oxygen. Well,
maybe just borrowing some of it. One other tent had 5 brothers in it.
Why would you go hunting with 5 brothers when you can go with
friends? Wow…

The next day the weather was incredibly beautiful. There is sunshine in
Colorado…it just hides during the blizzards. We split into our pairs
and took off way before sunrise…it was 5 degrees and beautiful. Did I
mention that is was really beautiful?
The trails were frozen and covered in ice. Curt and I went down a ridge
with Brad and our guide, Bob. We crossed a spot where the trail drops
about 5 ft in less than 3 ft and then turns and does a switchback and
then crosses a stream and then goes up the other side at a 45 degreepray. He was probably riding the second most blessed animal on the
mountain. Duncan’s was first by a long shot. Jason rode quietly in the
back.

Jason was the youngest and we were taking care of him. We needed
someone to carry us out if we got hurt…so we were all being nice to
him. He is very fit for a guy with all his hair. No grey…nothing but
hair.
We hunted hard that day too. We also heard shots. Lots of shots. We
really were with a bunch of pilgrims. They really couldn’t shoot. It
sounded like a small war had broken out. We wanted to go back up the
mountain. At least some of us wanted to go back up the mountain.
We didn’t get any elk that day either. The next morning everyone was
leaving but Jason and me. They had to go to work…who could possibly
expect someone to cut an elk hunt short for work? Actually it wasn’t
short…we just hadn’t shot anything…or seen anything.
We rode in late that night too. When we got to the cook tent….there it
lay in all its glory. It was magnificent as it lay there with its ivory
tipped antlers spread to the sky. That’s when we realized that it had to
be an IMPORTED elk. That elk didn’t come from Colorado. You
know why…because there aren’t any elk in Colorado. They had fled
the state due to the blizzard. We knew it was true because we had
searched every square foot of the 250,000 acres flat top wilderness that
we were hunting. No elk…it’s a fact.

The next morning the two of us remaining were up and out early. Jason
and I were hunting for the last time that season and the mountains were
calling to us to come and play. It was different without the other guys
going out at the same time. Everyone else was gone and so was much of
the teasing and fun you get with a group of your best friends. The other
hunters had left with their fake import elk and we were hunting as a
single team. Again, Jason and I headed down the trail in snow and a
full moon that light the night sky like a crystal chandelier. It was
beautiful. In fact, it was one of the most peaceful rides I have had in my
lifetime. If life had offered me only that moment in my hunting career I
would have been more than full. Jason felt the same way as we rode out
together.

We split and went with our separate guides into the areas we had
chosen for the last hunt. There I saw a group of mule deer as the sun
rose behind them. They were over 800 yards away standing on the
mountainside with the sunrise shining behind them. That makes for a
great picture but not a great shot. Too far and too much sun. maybe
they will come closer.
They did. 3 hours later they made their way to within 550 yards. Still
too far but just right for looking at. Bob and I discussed the shot as I
was resting my 300wsm Weatherby on a rock that served as the perfect
bench rest. I was steady and pretty sure I could hit the big muley buck
at 500 yds. Then the muley turned and walked into the woods. What a
sight.

You know, it’s hard to decide whether to take a shot and risk a poor hit
or pass on the shot and go home empty handed. That’s what hunting is
about….ethics and decisions.
Jason watched some elk cows that morning as well. He was as full of
Colorado beauty as I was.
We saddled up and headed to camp. Someone shot a big elk bull just
outside of camp that day. Bummer….someone killed another imported
elk.

We packed up and said our goodbyes to some of the finest hunting
guides and outfitters I have ever met. Larry and Laura Amos and their
daughter Lauren and his guides, Bob, Joel and Kyle and their cook
Doree are among the best to be with. That’s with our without elk.
Did I tell you there were no elk in Colorado.
It’s hard to explain to someone who doesn’t hunt that there is so much
more to hunting than shooting something. The fellowship with friends
and God make those times something you never forget. The smells and
sounds, the horses, the guys who know where to go and when to be
there, the sunrises and sunsets, the snow in all it’s forms and the love for
the land make hunting what it is….a joy.

Two days after we got back, Brad McCoy left for a quick elk trip to
Ruidoso New Mexico. He shot an elk. At least he sent pictures of a
dead elk strapped to his back. We know it was a Colorado elk because
all the elk in Colorado had fled to New Mexico. We think it had been
wounded in Colorado too.

Reflections:
I love the fellowship of good men. I was with some of the finest men I
know. It’s good that in this stage of life a man can find himself
surrounded by good friends who share many of the same loves…a good
wife, good children, the mountains and a good horse. I am
blessed…truly blessed.

Comments for Larry and Laura Amos:
Larry and Laura are incredibly good at what they do. Not only do they
run one of the largest outfitter services in The Rockies but they do so
with some of the best staff you could put together. We had an
incredible time even though we were caught in one of the worst
blizzards in many years. Having horse packed up to 10,800 feet and
settled into our wall tents and routines, we were fortunate enough to
watch as the landscape changed from light snow to well over 3 feet in a
matter of hours. The hunting was challenging and the food rewarding.
If you are looking for a hunt of a lifetime, this is the group to put it
together for you. We were challenged in ways that were unbelievable
and rewarded with the most amazing experiences. From dealing with
gale force winds and white outs to trying to gather in the panorama of
the Rockies while looking for game; we were challenged.
Larry and Laura, you guys were great and we genuinely enjoyed our
time with you both. Best to you and Lauren in the coming years.

flip

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