My Forty Years Scribblin's
Outfitting
Just Plain Doc

Another outfitting story, written in 1996 and published in the February-April, 1997 issue of The Rocky Mountain Elk foundation's magazine, Bugle. One of the regular packing guest enjoyed all aspects of camp life.


Doc was one of the regulars, the main stem of a group of hunters that filled our camp for the opening season in the big country affectionately referred to as "The Bob." I know he had a proper name out in the "real world," but he had long since become just plain "Doc" in our camp. Besides being an experienced elk hunter, Doc was an expert fly fisherman. And anyone who stooped so low as to use bait was apt to feel the sting of his tongue. He even scolded me, with some diplomacy, for resorting to grasshoppers to provide the camp with fish. Although the guys were pretty careful about how they tampered with the cook!

My domain provided a perfect spot for listening in on the day's happenings when the hunters gathered for supper, or for cookies and coffee in late afternoon. And I had a husband to fill me in with the particulars, which was my main source of entertainment for two or three months every fall.

Six miles to Trail Creek base camp from here.One year, with everything ready for the arrival of the pack string and hunters, I trotted myself down to Young's Creek for a couple hours. I wouldn't have such a luxury again for a while, with a camp full of men to cook for and everything done the hard way. Hearing splashing up the creek, I turned to see Doc on his saddle horse standing in the middle of the water. I waved a greeting and yelled, "Where are all the others?"

 

"Oh, they were detained," he answered. "They won't be along for a couple hours, maybe three."

With supper over and the guests bedded down after an 18-mile ride, my husband told me why the men were "detained." Doc had saddled up and ridden out, taking their whiskey bottles. Hiding them here and there in the trees, he left the men trying to read his tracks.

Doc was past his prime and he knew it. But he didn't want the rest of his party to know. He loved the backcountry, the bugle of a bull elk, the group of friends that banded together every fall and their tall tales. Loved the outrageous pranks they played on him and gave back as good as he got. There were no dull moments when Doc was in camp. Never one to complain, he loved the rainy days when they played cards in the bunk tents, even though the others grumbled about not getting out to beat the bushes, worrying that they might be wasting time and a possible chance to shoot an elk. He even loved the little brown mare he chose for his saddle horse, partly because she was slim and easy riding (almost as old in horse years as he was), and partly because she argued with him. He called her "Mommy."

When Doc tightened her cinch, Mommy was apt to swing around and take a bite of his sleeve, sometimes nipping a bit deep, to which he responded, "Now Mommy, you quit that!" Mommy was allowed to stop for a bite of grass or to cool her feet in the creek if she felt so inclined. And when he nudged her on, she would reach around to the stirrup and nibble on his boot.

Doc spent so many opening seasons with us that he knew the country and the trails almost as well as my husband, Allen, who will be known henceforth as the "The Boss."

Doc would put on a show of enthusiasm when the group started out in the mornings, but before long he'd forsake the bunch and wander around on his own, just he and Mommy. He seemed to spend a lot of time just sitting—scanning the area around him and probably thinking up some new devilment to plague his comrades. Doc and Tom, our packer and guide, had been buddies forever and a day, even before they came to us. Tom had hunted with us since the end of World War II. So after about 16 years, he knew the elk and the country so well we hired him.

Usually about the time Doc's stay was winding down, he'd get around to some serious hunting. That's when The Boss would send Tom out with him to help scout out a bull. Over the years Doc and Tom had done a lot of hunting together.

A favorite haunt for both men and animals was Babcock Canyon in the Young's Creek drainage, where the trails stretched from daylight to dark and untold acres of habitat harbored big game, little game and anything in between—but especially elk.

Allen Chaffin, One time Tom and The Boss had made an all day reconnoitering trip, getting back to camp at nightfall. Tom, the lucky one, had shot his elk, but the two conspired to make a pact.

"We won't tell Doc that we got one. Let him sweat," Tom said. Doc came out to the hitching rack as they put their horses away. "Get anything?" he queried The Boss.

"Didn't see a thing."

In those bygone days regulations weren't so stringent. Hunters could pair off or go out by themselves without a guide if they so desired. Our men often did.

Come morning Tom and The Boss saddled up, taking two pack horses with them, and headed up Babcock Canyon with Doc tagging along behind.

"Whatcha gonna do with them?" Doc scrutinized the pack horses.

"Oh, we're gonna get ourselves a bull today," The Boss said. "I heard one blowin' his horn up there yesterday. It's a long ways up, so we're saving ourselves having to go back in for it tomorrow."

"I'll bet you a dollar and twenty-five cents you won't get anything today," Doc said. "And you, Tom, I'll bet you a dollar and thirty-seven cents you won't get anything!"

"All that? My, my." Tom shook his head. "Well, I'll take your bet anyway."

"Let's tie the horses here, Tom, and hunt on up the canyon on foot," The Boss said. He untied an ax from a pack saddle, the same ax he used to split an elk or chop out a trail. No little hatchet-size implement for him.

"Whatcha gonna do with that?" Doc asked.

"Oh, I'll need it to open up that bull when we get him."

"Ha. You can leave that thing here. You won't need it today," Doc ridiculed. He sat on his horse observing their actions, each of them grinning like monkeys with a bushel of bananas.

"You take your rifle, Tom. I'll just handle the ax today," The Boss said.

"Take your gun, you idiot!" Doc shot back, purely disgusted.

"Want to come with us?" The Boss invited.

"Hell, no! You guys are both crazy. I don't want anything to do with you."

Doc took his departure, grumbling his disgust and bemoaning the mentality of any grown man who would go hunting and leave his gun on the saddle.

Doc nudged Mommy on up the trail to where she could graze while he warmed a small place on the hillside. He recounted afterward that he told himself, "Those two yahoos were acting mighty funny." So he decided to head back down the mountain and see what they were up to.

Doc came ambling down the trail on Mommy just as the two conspirators came out of the brush with two pack horses loaded with elk. Here was cause for an explosion.

"Of all the such and such and so and so's and several kinds of liars!" he bellowed.

His two friends laughed uproariously while the epithets kept coming. Doc brought up the rear of the procession on the homeward trip, grumbling all the way, and, incidentally, having his share of the fun. Occasionally one of them would turn in their saddles and grin at him.

"Turn around there!" he would order. "I don't want to look at you. Cheatin' an old man out of his money."

Doc paid off his bets in nickels and dimes, his poker money.

"That's O.K." he told me, nodding mysteriously. "I've got something planned for them. I'll fix those guys." I knew better than to ask for particulars, but the most oft heard expression around camp for the rest of their duration was, "Cheatin' an old man out of his money!"

There came a year when Doc didn't show up with the rest of the gang. He had reached the point where the mountains were too much for him. Not long after, he died. We all missed him, his humor and his gentleness, and remembered with pleasure the time he spent with us.