Sure is Dark



Published in the R.M.E.F "Bugle"




Ron Gayer


When you work as a guide or outfitter each week of the season brings changes. Last weeks hunters have packed up and gone home. A new batch of wide-eyed hunters has arrived. Having waited months or years for the chance to hunt big game, some are giddy with the excitement of being in camp. It shows with the non-stop stream of words, some in the form of questions others detail their past success as hunters.

The mix of personalities depends purely on the luck of the draw. Some camps are a dream where life long friendships can be made.

On the other hand, some camps can be tense as hunters use words and body language to spar for dominance and days seem to last for weeks. [The cave man in some has not wandered far from the cave]

The first night in camp is always educational. What quirks or odd habits did guys bring with them? Sometimes you get surprised. Some guys will show up at dinner in full camo looking tree stand ready. Some appear in pressed shirt and shined shoes. Others are adorned in gold chains and aftershave strong enough you could smell them in the next county

This story happened one year in New Mexico during the archery elk season. This particular group of elk hunters arrived a day early so I had more time to try and figure out how to work with them. Who had more hunting experience? Which guys could shoot and actually hit a target? You would be surprised to find out how many hunters can’t put an arrow into a paper plate at thirty yards.

All things considered this group looked real good. Most were from California two were from Tennessee. Although the experience levels varied they all wore smiles and were excited about tomorrows opening day. An added plus, they all were superior plate perforators at thirty yards!

Around the camp fire that night I learned the two boys from Tennessee were big time turkey hunters and had taken their share of whitetail with a bow. Although neither had been elk hunting before, they were confident in their skills and were hoping to fill their tags early. One from the California contingent was a big barrel chested guy. A full beard gave him the appearance of a seasoned mountain man.

Quick to smile and to conversation he soon became a friend to all. Sporting goods store owner and avid hunter he had talked several friends into this archery elk hunt. [Now he may have also sold them all their gear, bows, arrows, broad heads….] Short on experience, his friends had read all about elk hunting and had loaded up on gear. Everyone turned in early that night.

The bacon sizzled, its aroma engulfing the camp. The coffeepots song was increasing in tempo. Biscuits stood tall and a slight veil of steam rose above the pan.

Drawn by the smell of an opening day breakfast the cook tent soon filled with camo-clad archers.

During breakfast I went over our plan. We would hunt from tree stands for the first few days of the hunt. We had a much better chance of getting good shot opportunities from the stands than we would having hunters crisscrossing the ranch stepping on each others toes. We would drop off hunters near their stand and pick them up after the morning hunt and again for the evening hunt. We had some proven stand locations and felt sure they would pay off early.

After my third cup of coffee and with breakfast now a memory it was time to load up and head out.

In the moonless early morning, the light from the cook tent illuminated the smoke rising from the flameless campfire ring. The California mountain man was riding shotgun and I had three other hunters in the back seat. We left the lights of camp and started up the trail to our stands.

I had only driven about four hundred yards when the mountain man asked “ Do you mind if I just stay in camp this morning I’ll hunt this afternoon instead” I stopped the truck and asked if he was feeling o.k. After all this was opening morning and I had never, ever, had a hunter ask to stay in camp before. He assured me he felt great but would rather hunt in the afternoon. We were burning time and needed to get up the mountain to the stands. Curious as to his reasons, I would have to wait to solve this one. I dropped him off and headed up the road with the remaining hunters who were not about to give up their opening morning shot at a big bull.

Returning to camp for lunch each of the hunters had his story to tell. One had taken a shot at a nice bull but accidentally hit his release early and the arrow flew wildly by the bull. Another said he had been standing in his stand when the biggest bull he had ever seen came into the water hole. He said, “I stood there and tried to wait for him to get closer but my legs started to shake. I was shaking so much I thought I might fall out of the stand so I sat down. When I did the seat made a squeaking noise and the bull turned and ran.”

The mountain man listened eagerly to each of the tales. The unrestrained enthusiasm expressed by each hunter was contagious. “I’m ready to go”, he professed, still insisting he felt great. He was the first to load up after lunch.

Having dropped the other hunters off I parked and walked the bearded big man toward his stand.

I pointed over to the large tree by the water hole and told him how to approach the stand and what direction he might expect the elk to approach from. I said “if you have elk on or near the stand at dark wait till they move off before leaving the stand. Don’t want to spook them or alert them to the presence of our stand.”

I returned a little early to start picking up the hunters. I had a position high up on a ridge and with my spotting scope I could get a good view of area around the mountain mans stand. I settled down in hopes of seeing some good bulls come in to this water hole. Maybe I could see the mountain man take this seasons, first bull.

The sun was just setting. This was prime time for the elk to move to the water holes on the ranch. The shadows had now all merged to the gray of evening before the dark of night. Thirty minutes more and shooting time would be over. Down around the water I saw movement. I strained to see through my scope. It was a man, my hunter! He was leaving the stand during prime time. I knew he must be sick or something. Maybe his bow has a problem?

I waited for dark and drove to the pick up point for the mountain man. As I pulled up I saw a light waving. He hustled over to the truck and hopped in. In his hand was the biggest flashlight I had ever seen. Must have been an eight cell “super macho magnum laser beam” or something close to it! I said, “ No wonder your carrying a backpack that torch you’re packing would never fit in a fanny pack.”

Just as I was about to explain the pitfalls of leaving his tree stand so early the big guy spoke up. “ I know I should have stayed in the stand until dark but, ya see, the dark and I don’t get along very good.” “That’s why I carry this big light and why I wanted to stay in camp this morning. Might seem funny to you but I am deathly afraid of the dark. The idea of you dropping me off in the dark at some tree stand, no way that’s going to happen!”

I guess the look on my face must have been a little strange. After all here is this guy big enough to run a bear off with a switch telling me he is afraid of the dark. As I tried to come up with something meaningful to say he spoke up again. “ I sure don’t want any of the guys to find out.”

Don’t you think I could hunt during the day when its light?

You know” I said “My sister has always said my brother in-law and I are crazy for getting up at the crack of dawn to go hunting.” She had analyzed our past successes and revealed that most of our game had been taken late morning or well before dark in the afternoon. Not to mention the times she would sleep in and when we would drag ourselves back to the ranch she would have a nice buck hanging. There she would be, grinning at us like some cat that swallowed a canary.


Heck, if you want to sleep in and hunt the mid day that’s fine with me.” “ I’ll get back to camp after I drop off the other guys and we’ll get you to your stand after sun up.”

The big guy’s face just beamed. In the dark cab of the pick up I could see he had a big white smile in the middle of his rusty beard.

We drove on to the next pick up spot to wait for the next hunter. I turned off the motor and we sat in the dark waiting. After a few silent minutes I heard the mountain man say “SURE IS DARK” I nodded and looked his way. He flipped on his flashlight. I said, “ I hope no airplanes ‘home in’ on that thing!”

The rest of the hunt I took one guy out after the others. Ya know I only had so much room in that truck so someone would just have to wait till I could make it back. {Worked real good} By the end of the hunt everyone came to the conclusion our mountain man was no fan of the dark.

The best part of the story is the part where the mountain man filled his tag with a dandy bull, a 6X7 with a fifty-five inch spread. Oh ya, and it was two o’clock in the afternoon. He slept in every morning.

Darn, that means my sister was right again.




Ron Gayer

Guide & Outfitter











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