By Bruster Beaty
As participants of the tremendous offerings afforded by the great outdoors, we are constantly seeking new adventures. I must admit, however, the most heartfelt nimrodial memories are those nurtured during my excursions to the lakes, woods, and streams within shooting distance of home. Be that as it may, there have often been times I’ve dreamed of venturing into the far corners of Mother Nature’s kingdom.
These dreams have taken the form of hunting and fishing trips throughout North America. Many of you have, as well, found yourselves traveling to such exotic locales as the far North, our mountainous West, the arid lands of the Southwest, or possibly just a booked trip here in Iowa.
Each of these highly anticipated trips come through many hours of planning and, even more importantly, lots of hard earned cash. It is with this in mind, that I share a dream hunt of mine, which truly became a nightmare.
Having experienced hunts, and fishing trips, to the following locales: Missouri, Wisconsin, Arkansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming, Illinois, South Dakota, Oklahoma, Florida, Ontario, and Quebec. I feel I’ve got a good start on getting “around the block”, when it pertains to booking and experiencing dream outdoor adventures.
With this in mind, February 2007 brought to surface a desire to book a “spot and stalk” black bear hunt. My hunting partner, Scott “Lucky” Simmons and I had yet to try our hand at such an outing, and the thought of it tweaked our curiosity. Following what we felt was a lengthy amount of time spent researching possibilities, we settled with an outfitter offering what we were looking for in New Mexico. The hunt would not be with said outfitter, but with a guide for whom he books hunts. Lucky and I sent our deposits and anxiously awaited our August adventure to arrive.
Through the remainder of winter and spring, we honed our skills with the weapons of choice; me with my .06 and Lucky with his trusty stick and string. I also undertook the task of getting my legs “under me”. The guide had shared that we would be in situations requiring ½ to 5 miles on foot each day…at altitude! Being from the flat lands of Iowa, I wanted to do what I could to make the best of the situation. Still, it took about a day and a half for my lungs to become acclimated to the change. Lucky, on the other hand works for a living and is twenty year my junior…no worries of such trivial things as altitude!
We made phone contact with our guide, and shared that we would be flying into Albuquerque on August 19 and was asked to give him a call before starting the four rental car drive to the small town in which we would meet.
Upon our arrival, we did as informed. This is when the “dream” began shifting to a “nightmare”! After several attempts, we finally reached our guide who informed us he had expected us the day before! We sifted through that lump of flour and arranged for the rendezvous. Following a wonderful four hour ride through some breathtaking scenery, we cruised into the prearranged “burg” and saw the guide’s struck coming down the street. We flagged him over and stepped out for introductions. Lucky and I noticed a distinct horrifying odor similar to one of what an individual’s body shares with those in the vicinity after not experiencing a shower for a number of days! Yep, it was our guide and it wasn’t good!
Upon returning to the rental car to follow him to our guaranteed wilderness camp, we decided he probably had been busy readying the camp for our hunt and would take care of personal hygiene matters in short order…a mistaken leap of judgment on our part. The man didn’t address that situation throughout our week with him!
Following the guide to camp was again and enjoyable experience. The mountains of Gila National Forest are truly impressive. The next head-turner took place when we arrived at our “wilderness camp” which was two tents and an old camper. Pretty good “digs” except there were also two high dollar motor homes and a top of the line 5th wheel camper sharing not only the site, but the fire ring as well. Nice folks, but not any part of what we were informed would be included in the package.
Lucky and I made the camper our “home” and unpacked. Following a supper of hamburgers, we were off to bed with visions of New Mexico black bears leading to the pillows.
The next morning, the guide sent Lucky with a helper to a “tank”, which is what they call watering holes in New Mexico. He was to sit there all day and wait for a bear to come for water. Meanwhile, the guide and I climbed in his truck to “road hunt” for the day. Not what I expected, but who was I to question the tactic. During the drive, we were fortunate to see lots of mule deer and elk, but no bears. At one point, we spotted a coyote and the guide hit the brakes and told me to stick my rifle out the window and “whack him”. I declined and down the road we went.
After five or six hours, he pulled onto a dead-end road, stopped, got out and laid down for a 30 minute nap. The whole time I sat on the tailgate taking in the sights! When we finally returned to camp 13 hours after departure, I learned Lucky had been left at the “tank” to find his own way out (which he needed to attempt twice before doing so). I had also ingested about as much of the guide’s personal stench as humanly possible!
That evening, we dined once again on burgers and headed for bed knowing that day two had to be an improvement.
Day two found my guide dropping Lucky above a different tank, with directions to walk down the slope about 100 yards and you’ll find a trail that will lead directly to the tank. He then loaded me, along with the increasing stench, on his four wheeler for a twelve mile trip to a tank of my own. Again the ride was gorgeous, the odor on the other hand was not so divine!
As we arrived at the tank, everything looked favorable. Very remote, plenty of shooting lanes, and great cover. That all took a turn for the worse when we got off the quad and the guide walked me to where he suggested I set up. At that moment, he decided he needed to take this opportunity to urinate. We had just ridden twelve miles and he decides to wet the earth right where I was to hunt! Now, I may look like and onion, but didn’t just fall off the truck. You just don’t do that where you are trying to fill your tag. He then followed up by walking completely around the tank looking for bear tracks and spitting tobacco as he went! At that point, I just wanted him to leave so I could give this a try.
As he rode off, I noticed movement to my right…cows! I’m as far away from civilization as I’ve been in 12 months and a herd of cows come to visit! Can it get any worse? Oh sure it can! When the guide comes back to pick me up he informs me that he had ridden down the trail about a mile and spent the day scouting for sign. He shared that he had walked completely around my location, never getting closer than a quarter to a half mile. Isn’t that grand! I’m trying to deal with cattle, human urine, and tobacco juice and this guy is strolling through the woods in the exact vicinity in which I was hoping to grass a bear!
Getting back to camp was the best part of my day. I was anxious to learn how Lucky had fared. What a grand disappointment that news would be. Lucky was not a happy individual, as the trail he was to follow did not exist. He spent the entire day looking for the tank, which he finally located after six hours of hiking and saw nothing but elk. To top it off, he developed unbelievable blisters from the hours of rough terrain. That evening, we had pan fried steak, out of a 1 ½ old bull. Being from Iowa, this was not what we considered fine cuisine, but we got it down and headed for the pillows.
The next day was more of the same, except the guide suggested that Lucky stay in camp due to the blister situation. Lucky did not buy into this scenario and headed out with one of the motor home owners to yet a third tank that was said to be a sure winner. I, on the other hand headed back to my tank and spent the day conversing with Nature and the cattle.
That evening was the same-old-same-old! Good old 1 ½ year old bull steak, pan fried and tough as shoe leather and no sightings of bear. Lucky’s feet did hold up and he was feeling fine.
Day four it was decided to put Lucky at a tank a mile from my location and were to hunt until dark, then would he would pick me up and we’d rid the quad back to camp. Seemed like a plan to us. At least we could ride together…we’d showered!
As the afternoon grew towards evening a huge thunderstorm move in. I was in a pop-up blind and simply closed things up and waited for Lucky to show at dark. The cattle found refuge under trees and we were fine. Lucky, on the other hand, had no blind and was trying to stay dry while dodging bolts of lightning! At one point, I thought I heard something and unzipped one of the windows to see Lucky scampering to my blind! We shred the shelter for about two hours, had a nice visit and waited for the storm to ease before making our way back down the twelve miles of mountain paths. It was the most enjoyable time we spent in the confines of this outdoor experience.
The ride back to camp was one we still detail while sharing with our deer hunting camp back in Iowa. The trail was constantly lit by flashes of lightning and the claps of thunder rang throughout the canyons and ridge-tops.
The next day, our final day at camp, I decided to throw in the towel. I informed the guide I was going to take a “camp day” and spent the time visiting with the resident campers and writing. Lucky decided to take the guide up on the offer to do a bit of road hunting. Not the best decision, but he did get to see quite a bit of territory.
The following morning we loaded up the old rental car, said our goodbyes in as professional a manner as we could and headed the four hours back to Albuquerque. Besides the aforementioned trials and tribulations I would like to add that the guide also neglected to send a sack lunch and of my days afield, had informed us that there would be dogs available to pursue the bears if need be (legal in New Mexico) which were never mentioned during our week with him, only one day was used to spot and stalk over Prickly Pear patches and that for only an hour or two.
One may read this and cipher that the trip was a complete failure. The hunt was considered a complete failure, but the trip was extremely valuable. We learned a few things:
• Don’t take anything for granted! The cost of the hunt was $2,500 each, $4000 when we added airfare, rental car, food and hotels, which was to include a wilderness camp, quality food provisions, spot and stalk style of hunting, and a professional hard working guide. None of that took place!
• We should have asked more questions, specifically pertaining to alternate hunting techniques that may come to surface, their definition of a wilderness camp, and menu items – this food was poor at best!
• If at all possible, book the hunt with an outfitter/guide. Using an outfitter as a booking agent did not work well for us. As a matter of fact, he doesn’t even live in New Mexico. He got his cut of money from the guide and really didn’t share much concern with the experience we had. I have contacted the outfitter several time with our concerns and have not received favorable responses.
Will Lucky and I venture into lands unknown in the future? You can bet on it! I have a turkey hunt lined up for Western Nebraska in April. Then Lucky and I are off to Manitoba next September on a bear hunt. Believe me, we took our time booking this adventure and asked many more questions. The last thing we want is for another of our dreams to become a nightmare!