1997 found me in an awkward situation when hunting season rolled around. The opening day was moved to mid week and like most of us, I had to work. Now to me opening day is a religious holiday. You can take away my whole hunt but just give me opening day. My work schedule was 8-5 most days but quite often the opportunity to work overtime to make a delivery deadline came around. I was in luck today. Around 4:30 in the afternoon we had a delivery come in that had to be made that night. The customer was 4 hours away, so I struck a deal with the boss. I'll make the delivery if I can have opening day of the Elk hunt, tomorrow, off.
At 6:00 I was on my way after working a 9 hour shift in the warehouse. The trip was uneventful other than the time I spent trying to gather my hunting gear together in my head and making some quick phone calls to confirm the camping spot I was going to have to find in the early morning. I made my delivery and headed home. At 2:30 am I arrived at my house, grabbed my gear and headed for the mountains. Camp was easy to find and by 4:15 I was pulling in. Just enough time to catch some shut eye after working the longest day of my life, but I was in Elk camp on opening morning. It seemed like only seconds before the knocking started on my truck window. It was 5:00 and I was not ready to climb out into the cold fresh snow. Those 45 minutes were going to have to do for a couple of hours.
We headed out on foot from camp to beat the sun to the top and I didn't think I was going to make it. My hunting partners had decided that since I wasn't going to be 100% that we would start the hunt off by hunting the valley just over the ridge behind camp. I have never hunted this area so I stayed close to them until I had my bearings straight. We were on the Elk just after daylight and one of my partners connected with a 200 yard shot at the only spike we had seen in a herd of about 20. I wasn't ready for the work ahead of us and cursed him for shooting his Elk so far down in the canyon. We weren't hunting for a trophy bull but this bull managed to make it into the darkest stand of pines I have ever walked into. The trees seemed to have placed themselves in the most precarious positions that was going to make packing this beast out a real chore.
My hunting partners that year were some of the best friends I have ever had. They could see in my eyes that I wasn't going to be much help if I didn't get some sleep so they offered me a sunny spot about 200 yards away to take a nap while they field dressed the Elk. I wasn't going to turn them down. We were only about a mile from camp so I knew that some sleep would give me the energy that I needed to help everyone get the bull back to camp. I was asleep before they even started dressing the bull. The sun felt great but the 5 inches of fresh snow on the ground made it pretty restless. 4 hours later my partners nudged me awake and I was so cold I could barely move. I felt cold steel against my cheek and it took me a moment to relaize that I had laid my gun on my chest with the barrel resting on my cheek. As I managed to get up with a helping hand and readied myself for the pack back to camp my partners were laughing under their frosted breath at me and try as I might they would not let me in on the joke. While I was sleeping they had decided in their humerous fashion to let me sleep and try an experiment on me and they had packed the first load out to camp themselves, ate some breakfast and came back for me and the last pack of meat. Now I just spent 4 hours lying in the snow with the barrel of my gun resting on my cheek in the morning sun. The experiment that they had plotted proved a success. I was sunburned. My face felt like it had taken a beating from Mike Tyson, all except for one 1/2" line from my jaw to my forehead that was as white as the snow they left me in.
I wasn't succesful in filling my tag that year but due to great friends and practical jokes it was one of the most memorable times I had with them.