The “E” ticket Tree Stand

THE “E” TICKET TREE STAND

By Ron Gayer

 

The mid-day monsoon was in full flower as it had been every day this week. Lightning bolts flashed across the blackened New Mexico sky as the rain pounded a staccato drumbeat on the canvas of my tent. The rain brought with it a wonderful fresh mix of sage pinion pine and juniper aromas.

I lay on my bunk for some time watching the light show and thinking how lucky I was. This little afternoon siesta was my first break in four days. I had been setting up an elk camp in Catron Co. New Mexico. Elk camp was set on a private ranch with thirty sections of land most of it prime elk habitat. After setting up a cook tent, three sleeping tents, digging three latrines and stockpiling enough wood to last three bow and two muzzleloader seasons, I needed a little rest and relaxation.

Monster bulls and Catron Co. go hand in hand. It was an exciting time to be here. Each preseason-scouting trip was better than the last. Elk rubs and wallows were all over the ranch. I had placed seven tree stands around the most promising water holes and tanks

Each scouting trip I would identify new rubs. Some of the five and six foot trees didn’t stand a chance against the focussed attacks of the big bulls. They were stripped of all branches and bark.

I had been spending each evening in a different tree stand hoping to get a close look at some of the nasty bulls that had been reducing the tree population on the ranch. With the future of the Pinion pine in such obvious peril, I was amazed that I had yet to see a single bull. Only a small herd of cows and calves had been my payoff for three afternoons sitting in a stand till dark.

I decided to pick one tree stand and park myself in it until I got a chance to see the bulls. All seven of the tree stand locations held promise. All were located on water, some had a lot of cover, some had less, and all had ample sign that elk had been watering there. One of the smaller water holes had even produced a shed antler, a nice five point with a base as thick as my wrist, and half submerged but well preserved.

I decided to spend the next three nights on a stand located on a tank that was in an open area. The stand was in a lone tree that stood guard on the east side of the twenty-five yard square tank.

Behind my perched position lay the remains of an old sawmill. A clutter of old beams and lumber debris made it difficult for elk to approach from this direction. My view to the west was an unobstructed 280 degrees. I looked across a sage covered flat one hundred yards wide and two hundred yards long. The tree line at the edge of the flat was sparse for fifty yards then closed in with heavy cover. On my right, the sage flat sloped off slightly then disappeared into the juniper and pinion pine.

My view to the left was an incline that ended at the ridge top almost two hundred yards away.

An archer from this stand would have an excellent shot at any bull in or around the tank. My reward for the first night in the stand was one coyote and a solitary young doe, not much for three hours of quiet attention. Day two I decided to show up an hour earlier. As I settled in I tightened my safety strap… four hours plus in the seat. I don’t want to fall asleep and end up face first in the tank.

Staying focussed after hours in a stand can be difficult. You end up watching a chipmunk, contemplating his daily routine in life. He announces your position to the world. You watch the colors on a bird’s wing and the distant movement of the trees in the wind.

You smell the scents in the air and marvel at the colors in another sunset.

Sunset on day two and no elk, no cows, no calves and for sure no bull. It was dark as I made my way back to camp. Around the campfire that evening I briefly contemplate giving up on the stand and even moving it to another location. Heck from that stand I could see at least three rub trees that are only bark free spires, with a little velvet hanging on them. I know the location is too good to give up on. One more night, if I don’t see a good showing of elk the stand comes down and I find a new “hot spot”.

 

The rain had stopped and the light show was over for the day. I loaded some water and jerky into my daypack and head out for the stand.

It’s about a thirty-minute walk through rolling hills of J.P. forest.

As I approached the open area near the stand I moved slowly, hoping to suprise anything, something. I made my way into the stand eager with a frustrated anticipation. Two hours drag by and it’s more of the same. I scanned the open field of view side to side each time expecting to see a monster bull step out.

Then it started, as I scanned back to the right, just short of the tree line stood a small 4X4 bull, just appearing like a ghost in the area I had scoured for elk just two minutes ago. He took several steps toward the stand then stopped and looked to the west. Six cows broke the tree line about one hundred and fifty yards from the bull’s location. They were heading for the tank at a crisp gate weaving through the sagebrush coming to an abrupt halt twenty yards short of the tanks west berm. As if on command all of the cows looked to the north.

Just clearing the ridge top to the north was a huge bull. My hands found my binoculars and snapped them to my forehead. 6X6… no he was a 7X6 at eighty yards and closing.

My total attention to the big bull was interrupted by the sound of antler crashing against antler.

Directly west past the cows, still hidden in the trees, was the unmistakable sound of two bulls engaged in an early season sparing match. This was too much too fast! I glanced to my right and found the young bull was now only thirty yards away nearing the edge of the tank. He seemed to be thinking things were getting too crowded and started drifting back into the tree line.

A dust cloud was now drifting above the treetops near the sound of the dueling bulls. Occasionally the sound would stop only to start up fifteen or twenty seconds later. This treat was only for the ears as the thick cover of the trees left all the action to my imagination.

My eyes raced back to the big bull. He was now out in the open moving toward the cows. I could see streamers of velvet hanging from his massive rack. The base of each side was easily larger than my forearms. The main beams were heavy all the way out to the end. I knew I was looking at my first 400-class bull, on the hoof.

The seasoned old bull moved the cows over the berm and into the tank. He stood as sentry on top of the berm. The cows drank and pawed at the cool water. The bull shared his gaze between the sounds of battle and the cows below.

The setting sun changed the elks golden colors to gray as the shadows merged. Two more bulls practiced a bugle in the distance.

Cows began mewing on the hillside behind my stand.

My big bull pressed forward into the tank and with a shake of his impressive antlers he moved the cows out of the tank then quickly into the trees. He made it look easy, the kind of easy that comes from years of practice.

At least twenty-five more elk came to the water that night. I know because I had to sit there until the coast was clear. Finally, about two hours after dark I was able to slip down out of the stand and back to camp.

I figured that night was like an elk hunter Disneyland. When I was a kid the best rides at Disneyland took an “E” ticket. On that day, at that time, that stand was an “E” ticket ride for me.

The stand proved to be one of the seasons best. We took three bulls there. One archer did have a shot at my big bull but excitement got the better of him. The bull made a clean get away. The archer sustained some major ego trauma. However the next day the trauma eased as he took the big bulls little brother a nice six by six.

 

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