A Whopper of a Packout
The worst pack out I have dealt with was a real doozy! First of all, I was helping pack a wapiti; and a bull at that. It was at night and in uncharted territory to beat. It was the only year that we had hunted this unfamiliar game management unit and things were not going to be easy in any way. The hunter, who has since not been invited to hunt with us again, did not have game bags, a knife, a flashlight, a packframe or any idea of how to navigate the area that he had killed the animal in.
We had instructed this novice to put a push pin in the map in base camp. This would serve to inform us of where he was hunting; especially because he could not come up with a game plan around the fire the night before the hunt. He decided that this was not worth it. So when he didn't show up in camp the next evening by an hour after nightfall, we started to formulate search plans. We had left a two-way radio on in case we could pick him up. I started to gear up for the unknown when the radio crackled and his voice peeked through the static. I grabbed the radio and ran to the top of the hill behind camp in order to get better reception. I answered his call and he informed me that he was alright and that he had shot a small raghorn bull. I filled the boys in camp in on the situation. The overall feeling in camp was a mixture of excitement and anger. Regardless, the greenhorn needed help; and we were on our way.
Things got more complicated when he couldn't give us succinct directions to his location. All we knew was that he was describing a 3 mile bushwhack in the dark. Yippee! If it wasn't for the fact that we had three guys who have serious backcountry and navigation experience, maps, multiple GPS's, all the essentials for a night in the Rockies and the fact that one of us had actually a very basic knowledge of the area, we probably wouldn't have gone in that night. The packout would have waited till morning. But the weather had been unseasonably warm and no one wanted the precious meat from this young bull to go bad; especially this hunter's first animal.
We set out into the darkness. We had a full moon which helped us even though we all had head lamps and flashlights. It took about an an hour and a half to navigate into the general area that he had gotten his bull. We raised him on the radio again and tried to zero in on the exact site of the kill. He described a place where a natural spring bubbled up only a hundred yards from a chain of ponds. He was describing a very steep ridge rising from the west side of the ponds with a distinctive double saddle to the north of it. We were able to navigate nearly straight to him after he relayed these valuable landmarks.
Right before I got ready to step over a fallen spruce I heard the radio crackle to life. He said that he saw our headlamps and that we just needed to continue on our current course. Within minutes we were standing over a two and a half year old bull. The guy had gut shot the bull and had taken a really nasty stab (no pun intended) at gutting the poor raghorn. There was digestive tract material everywhere. Obviously the smell was not what I would describe as pleasant. My dad commandeered the knife and instructed the newbie to watch and learn. He salvaged what he could. We had brought in three packframes which didn't prove to be quite enough since our comrade had not hiked in with much more than his rifle.
"Looks like one of us is carrying a front quarter out in his arms boys!", I exclaimed. None of us were happy about the current position we were in. We ended up taking turns with this quarter. I have never wished I was packing out a hind quarter more than when it was my turn to carry that elk leg. It was literally... HELL!
Once we were all packed up and ready to roll, our jubilated novice insisted that we take his way out. We told him that the majority of the people present had taken our way in and that we had made the trek the most recently. He insisted that he had an easier way back to the trucks. The decision to follow this guy was the worst we could have made. He was turned around within a half mile of the kill site and I had to take over navigation. It was another two hours till we got back to the truck. Luckily it was only a 20 minute drive back to camp.
I went to bed without eating dinner that night. I was beyond done... I felt depleted. Getting up the next morning was rough but I made it. Two of the other pack mules didn't though. They slept in and just hunted straight out of camp. The hunter who put us in this situation has since come and gone but our group as a whole weathered the pack out nicely. It was a horrible and sketchy situation at the time but looking back on it... it's just one of those stories that gets better with every telling it gets around the campfire.