Born in 1946. Raised on the Fox River in northern Illinois. In those days, a search for adventure only required me to paddle around one more bend in the river… and then beyond!

The Chicago Tribune published the comic strip, “Rick O’Shay”, a western. Rick was the, always fair, and always there, law man to provide and protect in the job of City Marshal of Conniption, Montana. Written by Stan Lynde and syndicated in 1958, lasting 20 years, Rick’s tales of daring exploits, of outdoor adventure and especially one of an elk hunt, captured the imagination of a wide eyed pre-adolescent youth.

My father had this psychotic mind control over anyone who might lurk near the Sunday Tribune, to snatch one section or another. He would discard some to the floor for his family to grovel over. He coveted the comics…mostly Hagar the Horrible and Thor. When he got to the comics he would kick back his recliner and light a Camel Strait and linger over the “Funnies”. Later in the morning I would hunt for the comics, hoping that O’Shay had not succumbed to fate worse than death, snatched for absorption of the cat box.

The summer of 1959, after selling $185.00 worth of All Occasion Cards and the Grit magazine paid my way to The Boy Scout National Golden Jamboree in Colorado Springs, Colorado; an event that solidified my literary passion for the adventurous tales of Rick O’Shay. My fate was sealed; I had become hooked on the West and in particular the Rocky Mountains.

It wasn’t till 10 years later that my old yellow jeep rolled back into Colorado Springs, to the base of Pikes Peak, the gateway to the Rockies.

Great adventures have come and gone since arriving in Colorado including many fine elk being taken by the gun and shared by my campfire. Hunting elk anytime should allow a story to share. This is an elk hunt I offer to you!

In the fall of 2004 friends planned an elk hunt in the very rugged and challenging San Juan mountains near the 4 corners area bordering New Mexico and the Ute Indian reservation. A pack in on horseback in a range of canyon and steep ridges. The ridges would split off left and right with ridge bottoms below choked with boulders and dead fall. Because of the rough terrain, hunting would be on foot with pack animals available to pack game out. We were using a spike camp provided by an outfitter who put up tents and hauled in stoves and cots and such…we brought our own bedding and grub. Packing in two days early allowed time to experience and scout our area.

The day before opening of season a blizzard hit hard and the snow piled deep. Deep enough to bust tree branches and collapse our two wall tents. There was no communication then, other than planned rendezvous or a white towel tied to a tree on the pack trail. One of the ranch wranglers busted his way through deep snow to see if we survived. Over hot coffee and a seat by our warm fire he said many people had been trapped in the storm. The snow fall was massive, all the way north through the Big Horns.

"There were saddled horses waking out on the highway below. Helicopters were hauling in hay for trapped horses and taking out hunters. Three men died in that Blizzard as did many horses."

As we continued to listen and contemplate our own fortune we fashioned leggings out of trash bags to keep pants dry and from freezing. Adapting to the copious amounts of snow we planned to continue our hunt. Experience and a little preparedness go a long way.

Digging out the second day of season, I walked out of camp at first light, hoping to locate a game trail with a possible crossing where I might sit and wait out elk moving through. Hiking up the ridge I located a trail, splitting five times, I thought I was keeping my directions on track. By noon I had come to a fair crossing with elk track and a good hide twenty yards down the trail. An outcrop of stone made a good hide to shoot from. No wind made no noise by flapping my trash bag leggings. Cow elk and some yearlings popped over the ridge and down the other side a few times early in the day but no bulls of any dimension. I had planned to hike and hunt from 4:30 am till 6:20 pm, end of evening shooting time and daylight. I saw no bulls all day and told myself that any legal bull would be fair game as the snow and possibly more of it would keep me in camp the next.

Suddenly, there was cracking timber and rolling rock noises from over the ridge. Seven cows came in file across the ridge line. No horns of any kind. I held off moving for a few minutes in case a bull was with the cows and moving them ahead when a medium size five point bull stepped into view a few yards closer to my position. Well, I had told myself that I would go for a head or neck shot, dropping the bull in its tracks, keeping it from going back down the ridge. My sighting was true at that very short distance except my plan to drop the elk on the ridge failed when it reared up and fell backwards tumbling down towards the dark timber with lights out less than an hour away.

New plan was to tie off the elk were it lay. Tying to what I thought was a reasonable sized pine I figured to walk the ridge back to the main trail, find my tracks and walk back into camp. A good plan till the pine pulled away from the loose rock on the ridge. Gun, gear, tree and hunter ripped down the slope, through rock and timber, dragged by one good sized dead elk. Scratched and dented I gathered what I could. With candle lantern, a box of 30.06 ammo, but no rifle I made a camp of space blanket, Clark bar, can of Spam, smashed crackers and a quart of water.

Now alone with a dead elk needing gutting 5 yards away and plenty of dark, let me tell a little more about the San Juan Mountains. As far back as Spaniards and the Spanish Silver trail the San Juan’s remain the center of history in the south-west, full of tales of murderers, all manner of stories and crimes, of lost mines and treasure maps, ghosts, vengeful spirits and yes, Grizzly bears.

About the bears; the government people say there have been no Grizzly sightings since the late 30’s. Well, facts have it that two ‘Grizz’ were killed in these very San Juan Mountains, one late 60’s and one mid 70’s. The Utes say there are plenty Great Bears left in the mountains…their spirits just as dangerous.

What do I have? I got elk guts, no rifle and a huge respect for great big bears. And who brought me here? Rick O’Shay! The sense of adventure I had as a child came back in a wave. What I had then were dreams and fantasies…now I am ass deep in a dark canyon thinking about large carnivores and a Sunday funnies character turned personal muse.

My “Pards”, as we said in those days, had all agreed that staying out over night by necessity or circumstance would not cause panic. All present are men of experience and woodcraft and would be fine left to their own devises. Stumbling around the wood at night shooting your pistol won’t accomplish much and will surely bother the elk, all conditions considered, I should be fine!

Off course I slept little or none that evening, but having Rick O’Shay to commiserate with sped up the clock. Making a promise to myself, if all ended well I would hunt down Stan Lynde and find O’Shay’s elk hunting comic strip, a copy or two to buy!

There came enough eastern light at daybreak to get around and get organized and make a plan. Packed my gear to carry. Set off on hand and knees to see if my rifle could be found. Ten yards up the slope my rifle laid none the worse. From there I heard what sounded like the beating a of dish pan with a stick and a half dozen pistol shots. I had a roll of orange marker tape to mark my walk out and walked to the noise. I went about 200 yards of flat walking to a creek.

Hitting the pack trail, that we came into camp on, I turned north followed my tracks from yesterday 500 yards to three grinning faces and an very excellent cup of cowboy coffee. We walked our one pack horse back to my dead elk and packed the horse. It took two trips to have the elk back in camp and near a frying pan. We took three elk that trip, hunted the whole season with no more snow.

It took a month to finally track down Stan Lynde. His mom ran interference but on a Sunday I got a return call from him. Turns out he got trapped in the same big snow as I did. I thanked him for Rick O’Shay and bought two reprint books and a copy of that elk hunting comic strip that started it all. It hangs over my writing desk today.

Stan Lynde died in August of 2013. The boys I hunted with are all gone now. When I was sitting in that dark canyon with the dead elk, thoughts of bears and Rick O’Shay, I realized what a lucky boy I am.

back to main menu