Codgers in Our Midst

Boondocks Royalty

Story and Photos by J. David Erickson

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Nelson Blewett

Tenmile Creek, Nez Perce National Forest. Nearing midnight, six of us hovered around our smoky base camp fire. Our ten-day elk hunt was essentially over. Tomorrow we’d ride ten miles up the trail into the Gospel-Hump Wilderness to pack out an elk and our sheepherder’s stove.

Drawn by soothing warmth, we stooped over the fire like darkened herons. Neither rain nor snow but a hybrid of icy drool incessantly splattered and trickled, pooling on hat brims, invading collars, cuffs, and zippers, stealing heat from bone and muscle. We toasted only our front sides. Turning your back on the fire was to chance missing nuggets of wisdom tossed across the fire ring.

Thinking back on the occasion, I know we were a comic bunch—and young too, in our early thirties in the early ‘80s, “full of pee and vinegar,” and determined to celebrate the end of our tenth elk hunt out of the Saddle Camp, so named for its location in a saddle on the flank of Tenmile Ridge.

Our agreement to erect the wall tent and stay the night at base camp was unanimous: we needed one more campfire to relive the ten days, its totality labeled “The Hunt.” We toasted, clinking tin cups filled with bourbon coffees—the annual ritual—“To the elk.” Always the same at the end of a hunt and always heartfelt: predators with a residue of remorse.

Crappy wet weather and soggy forests had given us a rough time over the last few days. Earlier that day we packed out a quartered elk, a whitetail deer, and our wall tent. While traversing a rock slide, our borrowed packhorse stumbled and ruptured an Achilles tendon, had to be put down, left for the bears, wolves, and crows.

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