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Of mice and elk

1/17/2005

After many years of seeking elk steaks and antler decorations, it's only natural that I've become quite an expert.

Just recently I returned from Colorado's Black Mountains with more elk hunting information. By adding my most recent elk experience with my other unsuccessful forays, I now have a comprehensive list of reasons why ordinary people are such dismal elk hunters.

What's more, I'm willing to share this highly confidential information as a public service.

Once I realized that not shooting a bull elk was actually a contribution to the science of elk hunting, my temper tantrums over the decades have become less frequent. Now I also can straighten the arrows I've bent over my knees.

Obviously, I plan to listen to my own advice.

First, if you're an inexperienced elk hunter, you should know the mountain peaks in Colorado are much higher now compared to the early days of elk hunting. I can tell this by listening to my lungs beg for air. They never used to.

Obviously, the peaks have moved up into thinner air and my lungs have detected this change. Why are the peaks so much higher? I wouldn't even guess. Global warming? Terrorists? Both, maybe.

Geologists will pooh-pooh these theories, I'm sure. But show me a rock hound who knows anything about running up mountainsides after spooked elk? Geologists know geology. If they knew elk, they'd be called elklogists.

The biggest mistake an elk hunter can make — besides not knowing a brown elk from a brown horse — is not staying awake while glassing mountainsides or riding said horse.

Sleep deprivation is one of the worse ailments to strike an elk hunter. It's even worse than diarrhea. Most hunters don't know this because they usually don't sleep through diarrhea while they do sleep through deprivation.

The main cause of sleep deprivation is the mountain mouse. If it's a bad case, the cause is mountain mice, two or more.

For most of the year, a mountain mouse is content to live amid rocks and stumps and stuff like that. But during elk season, the same mouse wants to live where you live. A mountain tent, perhaps. Or a cute cabin. They act lonely, these mountain mice. Hungry, too.

One morning on an elk hunt long ago, I awoke feeling tired, body aching. Then I realized I hadn't slept much because a mouse had been making all kinds of racket running up and down my pillow.

I didn't mind that so much, but this mouse didn't have the decency to pick up little black spheres left behind. Some people call them droppings. I never slept much after that, and, of course, didn't get an elk. If it's not one mouse, it's another.

One time a family of mountain pack rats wanted my cabin bedroom. They also wanted my dinner fork, my knife and anything shiny, because that's what pack rats do: pack stuff away.

During my recent Colorado trip, I probably could have shot a trophy bull elk if the mice hadn't interfered. My guide, Jim McCoy, wanted to concentrate on elk but the mice wouldn't let him. Now he's known as Trapper Jim:

"The Legend of Trapper Jim"
By Ron Schara

At Elkhorn Outfitters,
There's a hunting guide,
With a full face beard,
And a horse to ride.

He isn't short,
And he isn't slim.
But today he's known
As Trapper Jim.

It happened one night
In a hunting shack
High in the mountains,
A range known as Black.

We were tired and worn
With no elk hunting tale,
So Jim cooked dinner
And poured water in a pail.

What's that, I said,
To my Elkhorn guide,
All the horses been watered,
We're done with our ride.

But there's mice in our cabin,
He answered with a grin —
So began the legend
Of Trapper Jim.

'Twas an ol' water bucket
Not filled to the brim,
With a beer can on an axle
So the danged thing would spin.

A stick made a trail
For the mice to climb.
Jim said they'd follow each other
And die every time.

Good food's hard to find
For the white-footed mouse,
So they smelled the cheese
And rushed to our house.

Yet, nobody had a clue
About what was to begin.
Twas a mouse catchin' record
By my guide, Trapper Jim.

First, one mouse, than two
And soon there were four.
Five, six and seven,
Who'd a thunk there'd be more?

But the trap kept on trapping,
Oh my, what a scene.
When we woke the next morning,
Trapper Jim had 13.

When my elk hunt was over,
Only Jim had a story.
He'd set a mouse trapping record,
And got all the glory.

So, that's the end of my tale
Of huntin' and such,
Of following Jim
And not shooting much.

But, he's a mighty fine fella,
Not short and not slim.
So if it's trophy mice you're seekin'
Your top guide is Trapper Jim.


Ron Schara may be reached at ron@mnbound.com.

Schara's 250-page book, "Ron Schara's Minnesota Fishing Guide" (Tristan Outdoors; $19.95) is available by clicking here or by calling 888-755-3155.