This past Saturday, as Pipi ate hay in the pasture next to my cottage office, I was thinking about the fall time of year when I was a kid growing up on the ranch on Morapos Creek.
I remember the season for three things- gathering cattle, shipping calves and hunting season.
In September the cattle were gathered from summer pasture, and about October the calves were sorted off. My dad, his brothers and at least one neighbor had their calves trucked to Craig where they were loaded onto train cars and “shipped” to the Denver Stockyards to be sold. Usually Dad and one of the other ranchers went with to Denver, too, so they could take care of the calves and see them sold.
Meanwhile, the men who stayed home got ready for hunting season.
There are two differences between hunting season then and now. First of all, the ranchers had not started “taking in hunters” as a side business to supplement the ranch income.
Secondly, in those days the elk stayed up in the high country. We did not see them on the ranch as we do now.
It was a treat for my siblings and me to go riding with cows in the summer and be able to hear an elk bugle. (We did not see coyotes, bears or mountain lions on the ranch when I was growing up, either.)
So to hunt elk the ranchers had to go up to the national forest where the cattle had grazed all summer. The cow camp became the hunting camp.
To get ready for the hunt, the men had to plan meals and order groceries from the Hamilton Store. The women prepared some of the food, too.
The men also gathered up bedding, ammunition, knives, meat sacks, and other equipment, probably pretty much as hunters do today.
The morning that the ranchers were ready to leave for the high country was possibly pretty much like last Saturday. Most of the leaves were off the trees, it was cool, and there may have been a little snow in shady areas, left from an earlier storm.
The men saddled the horses they’d ride to the forest and loaded other pack horses with all of the supplies. I remember the orange cloth on the men’s hats, and they probably wore other orange, too. (In later years the men may have hauled the horses to the forest line in pickup trailers—no stock trailers in those days.)
The women and kids stayed home to do chores and go to school. All this time we wondered how the hunt was going — there was no way to know until they came home because there were no cell phones.
The venison and elk meat harvested during the hunt was needed to supplement ranch animal meat. So we looked forward to Dad’s return home.
We were eager to hear the stories about the hunt, the big bull elk and buck deer that the men saw—even, sometimes, the bear. And if Dad was lucky to return with meat, Mom had to put it away for winter.
In the days before we had a freezer, even after, Mom canned a lot of the meat. She even made soup and canned it.
I also remember hunting season for the excitement it sometimes brought to the ranch. Even though elk didn’t come down to the ranch level, there were plenty of deer that grazed in the pasture where the cows also grazed.
So we had to keep eyes peeled for trespassers, those hunters who drove up and down the county broad, guns ready. If these “roadrunners” spotted a deer in the pasture, they would shoot from the vehicle.
If Dad was off hunting it was Mom who made a dash for the car; otherwise it was probably Dad, and we kids always went along. I can still feel that excitement as we took off to try to find the vehicle and get the license number. The number was given to the game warden who investigated and issued tickets.
The time I remember most was when I was a teenager. The county road ran next to our corral.
One morning I was out at the barn feeding my 4-H steer. The rest of the family was eating breakfast, and when Dad heard a shot, he made a dash for the corral.
He found a hunter sitting in a vehicle on the county road where he had just taken a shot at a deer—right next to the barn.
It was the only time I heard Dad use swear words.
It was hunting season back then.
Copyright Diane Prather, 2012