The Poaching Pastor

The Poaching Pastor
By Michael Brooks

The roar of the rifle and the splat of the connecting bullet is a sound every elk hunter loves to hear. The day started out sunny and slightly breezy. I was at 9,800 feet on the side of a mountain and sitting in a very nice draw and taking in the sights and sounds of fall. Time seemed to pass by quickly when suddenly I was startled to see two nice elk move into a sloped aspen meadow about 150 yards down into the draw. I scoped my .338 Winchester Mag on the good-sized bull and squeezed the trigger and after hearing the splat, down he went. The crashing followed and then the silence; my hunt was over for this season. I watched and waited for any movement that never happened. I walked down to the big 5 x 6 bull and thanked the Lord for this gift.

My pastor took the cow that I saw with the bull and our work was just about to begin. The field dressing and hauling down the elk was a lot of hard work. As we worked on my bull, I was trying to teach Jack how to field dress an elk, with his elbows deep into the chest cavity in the chest of the bull, "Hey, Mike, I feel my knees getting weak and I have to sit down" as he kept turning his head side to side to avoid the smells! I chuckled to myself as I have seen many first timers struggle with their hands in blood and entails. Sure, go ahead I insisted. I finished cleaning the bull and then proceeded on to the cow while Jack tagged his prize cow elk and went to get help in getting the bull and cow to the truck 3 miles away. Thank God for ATV's. I watched Jack as he proudly filled out the required paperwork that goes with taking an elk in Colorado and off he went on the ATV to get others in our hunting group to help get our animals off the side of the mountain and to the awaiting truck for processing.

As we hauled the animals down to the boulders on our ATV's, Jack was proud as any hunter could be. He had several folks looking at him as we passed and continued down the trail and finally to the Ford F-150. We unloaded the elk into the bed of the truck and headed down to Ridgeway to a meat packing plant. We were bloody, messy, and smelled awful from the hard work of getting the two elk down, but smiling all the way down!

We pulled up to the meat locker office and saw several elk getting hung and processed, as we waited for our turn to get everything checked in.

The butcher came over and asked who got the bull. We started the paperwork and after he was done checking my carcass tag, he asked what kind of cuts I wanted; typical questions they ask at the processing plant. Then he proceeded on to Jack and asked the very same questions. As he looked at Jack's carcass tag, he started asking all kinds of questions: Where are you fellows camped at? The exact location? How long where we going to be hunting? When did we plan to go home, and pick up the meat? I was thinking... boy, that's a lot of personal questions for the butcher to be asking, and off we went excited about our trophies. The ride back to camp was reminiscing about the day and being thankful for the hunt.

We arrived back to camp about 6:30 in the evening and decided to cook the evening meal for everyone, which included tenderloins from the two elk and fried tators, what a treat! The rest of the group eventually drifted back to camp to a nice meal and fellowship around the camp table.

We were all talking about the day in the field and experiences in the woods. Jack and I shared about the way the elk came into the meadow and how fun it was to finally score a double kill in the same area. As Jack was talking to our group, a DOW truck with three occupants drove into our campsite around 8:30 p.m. We all stared at the late evening intruders, this happens in the high country - visitors come in and want to see the animals that you have taken - word spreads fast in the hunting community. I was eating my dinner when I heard the voices...did anyone get elk, the woman's voice asked. Quickly Jack said that he has a cow and his friend got a bull. "Great," she said, "Can I talk to the successful hunters?" Jack called me and said the DOW - Division of Wildlife wants to talk to me. I was asked to produce my hunting license and the filled out carcass tag and show my set of horns that was in the back of the pickup truck. I was cleared and then the three game wardens walked over to Jack and asked to see his hunting license. Jack proudly produced his license and his cow tag permit. The woman who talked to me and now to Jack said, "We have a problem here." Then another warden walked over and asked Jack what unit he was hunting in. "Hey Mike, what unit are we in?" Suddenly, things went from bad to worse. They pulled him aside and asked him what unit are you hunting in? Jack had no clue; he filled out his tags with George and myself back in April, and copied our license applications to a tee. This was a limited cow license, and Jack has hunted this unit only once, five years earlier.

The warden promptly told Jack, "You're in the wrong unit and wrong season." I heard Jack say "WHAT?" Yes, you're in the wrong season and wrong unit. Jack tried explaining why he messed up. The warden was not ready to deal and told him that the cow was to be confiscated. He looked down at his feet and was really shaken up. They told Jack that they would be back the following day to give him his ticket. The problem was they never told him how much the fine would be and he worried a great deal about that for the rest of the evening and the following day!

After the three wardens left, the nervousness that was in the wall tent among the men could be cut with a knife. Then, out of nowhere, the laughter began to appear. Jack found everything to be funny. Then the laughter turned into hysterical laughter. I said out loud, "Hey, we have the poaching our midst!" Then, Jack shook with jovial laughter; we all laughed hard. I can't recall what the hoopla was about, but let me tell you that anyone that happened on our camp that night would have thought drinking was the theme and everyone was blasted. The knee slapping was funny, and the punching in the arm was hilarious. Then, out of the blue, the ribbing was so funny that Jack and the rest of us had tears in our eyes. This lasted the rest of the evening.

The following day, everyone was out hunting except Jack and I. I saw him come out of his tent. He was wearing his glasses and his hair looked like he didn't sleep all that well. I could tell he was visibly upset about the upcoming fine, as he should be. But, I will tell you that he was worried about the reaction from his wife and what would the church think about their pastor who was cited for poaching, or at least he thought. Jack has never had any speeding tickets and to have this on his record was a big burden. We fixed some tea and talked in the cooking tent. Jack was doing okay, but not happy about the impending fine. He was worried that it would be over a thousand dollars, and frankly, so was I!

This day was to be not only an exciting one, but serious as well. After Jack and I had our tea, we cleaned up the camp, kitchen, sleeping area and area where the trailers were, refilled the tent heaters with kerosene, and were all set. George came back to camp and had to make some business calls so the three of us headed to Ridgeway to make some calls on Jack's behalf to the DOW. After making the calls, we all headed back. With no results but to wait and see how the warden would handle this situation. She will decide the amount of the fine, they told us.

Jack was not feeling well after hearing this. We made it back to camp after a 40-minute drive. I wanted to go back and hunt for awhile; I still had a deer tag. The snow started to fall and the animals would be starting to move. I asked Jack to come along and help me tape some segments for some of the upcoming shows we were doing. He agreed reluctantly, and off we went. You know when things get bad, they can go from bad to worse. We rode the ATV into the valley and the rain and snow began to cover the valley as we rode into it. We sat at various places and scoped out possible runways for deer. We decided to head back to camp. Enough was enough, I thought, and Jack was done hunting. I was tired, so we rode back down to the boulders, where the truck was parked. We took our time; you can't go very fast on ATV trails in the mountains. I followed the curves and looked for deer in the steep mountain slopes in the thick stands of fir that were above and below the trail. We passed an area that reeked with the most awful smell that I have ever encountered. It was so bad, as I drove past this spot that I wondered if Jack needed a shower and I am sure he thought the same thing about me.

"Jack, did you smell that?" I asked him. "Yes, what is that?" he responded. It smelled like someone died. As that was our conclusion, we had to make sure it was that bad of a smell. We headed back to the spot again and yes, folks it was even worse than the original smell. We marked the spot and concluded that a call to the sheriff's department was in order. This all happened at 2:30 that afternoon. The trip back to the truck seemed quick and Jack had forgotten about his meeting with the DOW... this precedence took over in importance to Jack's ticket. We made it to the boulder field and quickly got into the truck and took off searching for help. Jack was getting somewhat uptight, and who could blame him, considering there might be a decaying hunters' body on the steep mountainside. On the way down, we stopped by two campsites that didn't have a single hunter in camp. We were nearing our camp and that's when I decided to break the tension of this situation. "Hey, Jack. Let's stop at camp. Let's cook up two hamburgers. I am so hungry. Aren't you hungry, Jack, with all this excitement?" He quickly looked at me and said, "Are you kidding? There is a dead guy up there. We better get some help." I looked at him and smiled and said yes, I was kidding. We found a camp where someone would go and call the sheriff. Jack never gave it a thought about the impending ticket he was to receive. We had our civic duty to help with! Just before we headed back up to the ATV's at the boulders, I mentioned to the people going to talk to the sheriff that we would meet the sheriff at the cul-de-sac with the boulders and just let them know that's where we would be waiting for them. It seemed like hours, and yes, it was hours. The wait for a sheriff and others to help locate this person was stressful indeed.

Finally, someone showed up and took our statements; it was well after dark when we were done with the sheriff. She informed us that others were about to show up and help us search for the body and that Jack and I were to help a recovery team go in and look. We both looked at each other in the dark and soon the excitement turned into serious business. Then Jack realized that he had to meet with the DOW and get his ticket. How were we going to do this? The sheriff said to Jack that she could let the DOW know where Jack was located and meet him at the boulders. She came back and that was fine with the warden. They showed up as we waited for the rest of the recovery team. I saw Jack sitting in the cab, illuminated by the light in the truck. I'm sure he was hearing the fine amount as his head kept nodding yes in agreement and then was handed his ticket. I could tell he was relieved when he got out of the truck; he walked over and said that his ticket was not the amount that they scared him with and it was considerably lower.

The sheriff was ready and we all loaded up on the ATV's and rode the tough trail, through steep and dusty trails. The trail lead through the stream that was rough and bumpy and uncomfortable, especially if you were a passenger!

We all continued up the side of the mountain as the long line of ATV's followed Jack and I to the spot where Jack put the logs for a reference point. We all parked the ATV's on the dark side of the mountain, the sliver of the moon danced with the clouds and snow that started to fall. The group assembled and could smell the awful decaying flesh; we had called in more assistance with flashlights and radio and waited. The group talked about many things that night. We were all nervous, and made small talk to distract us from the difficult task at hand. No one wanted to be there looking for a dead hunter. We all would have preferred to be back at camp sleeping in our tents and dreaming about hunting elk or deer, not hunting for a dead hunter. The seriousness that was apparent made the search more frightening and uncertain. Most of us have never been on such a detail before this particular evening. Jack and I were ready for the recovery of this person and so were the others. As I look back, having Jack there was a good for our group. He was the one who could have comforted the recovery team and the possibility of the family who lost their loved one. He was where the Lord wanted him, and unbeknownst to Jack, he was an encouragement to all of us. I felt better that Jack was there as the entire group did. The boys from Texas, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Colorado all participated in a grim task.

The walk down the 50 degree slope was a tough job. The black timber, the scrub oak mixed in with the blow downs and aspen made it just about impossible to find anything. We quit at 1:30 a.m. Did we find the body? No, we didn't. The sheriff took a team with cadaver dogs the following day, and still couldn't find the lost body. The group faded down the ATV trail and we all headed back to our campsites. Sleep didn't come easy that night, so much to think about as I laid on my cot...

How does God use us believers to help those in need?

What kind of encouragement can we be to the hurting, scared, and hopeless people of the world?

Do believers make a difference in the outdoor world?

How can you impact the people that you hunt or fish with?

Post made: Thu, Oct 4 2007 - 07:16 AM

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