Pennsylvania hunter has an outstanding experience hunting elk, deer near Meeker
I have heard many times that if a hunter goes into the woods one time in spring turkey season that he will be “hooked” on turkey hunting for the rest of his hunting life. I have hunted turkeys in the spring season in my home state of Pennsylvania and I have not been “hooked.”
However, I can not say the same for elk hunting. The first time I hunted elk was on West Miller Creek, just a few miles east of Meeker, in 1990. My cousin had hunted that area for a few seasons and he had a pretty good idea how the elk moved once the hunters started shooting. He directed me to a spot that, once I left camp, required a vertical climb of about 1,500 feet. I was instructed to watch very closely because the elk would likely sneak through the oak brush on the basin above me. When the first elk “sneaked” through, I was shocked. Those critters looked like minivans going through that oak brush. I saw a couple of spike bulls and some cows that day, but no legal bulls. Over the course of the next four days, I walked countless miles through Hay Flats and Middle Mountain and saw a lot of elk but was unable to get close enough to shoot a bull. I did manage to sneak up on a real nice 5×5 mule deer on the fourth day. The mount of that animal hangs on my living room wall and is a constant reminder of the sheer enjoyment I experienced on that hunt in 1990.
Since that time, my hunting experiences have spanned several states: mule deer in Texas, elk and mule deer in Montana, mule deer and antelope in Wyoming and a cow elk hunt in New Mexico. Many of those hunts have been spent with good friends and some of those hunts were outstanding in their own way. But for the past 20 years, I have found myself returning to the Meeker area any time I am looking for a surefire enjoyable hunt.
In August 2009, Lew Cramer of Somerset, Penn., called me and said that he was interested in going on a do-it-yourself hunt in Meeker. Lew had hunted that area several times in the past and was familiar with the area and the demands of a hunt. He asked me to shop around and see if I could find some lodging in that area and we would then go out and hunt on our own, probably in the White River National Forest.
I typed “Lodging in Meeker Colorado” into Google and it somehow produced a result for “Private Hunting on the Cherry Ranch.” I opened that site simply to see what kind of lodging they had to offer. The Web page indicated that they had private land vouchers available for deer for the second and third rifle seasons. Just for the fun of it, I sent an e-mail requesting more information on their hunts. I was both impressed and surprised when within an hour I received a telephone call from Curtis Cherry. I talked with him for some time and he piqued my interest enough that I asked for, and got from him, a list of references. I called Lew back and told him to check out Curtis’s Web site and also told him that I would be calling some of the references. Both Lew and I were apprehensive because we had both heard stories in the past from various outfitters on how their hunt was a surefire adventure only to spend several days in camp being told that the previous week had been pretty good hunting and they were expecting next week to be super, but the week they were there was probably the worst week, due to weather or herd migration or perhaps even the evil plans of the Department of Wildlife, and they ended up either coming back home empty handed or with an animal they weren’t entirely happy with.
Every reference I called raved about the wonderful experiences they had at the Cherry Ranch. Almost to the point that it sounded too good to be true. Lew and I kicked around the idea of taking a chance on this hunt and eventually we decided to send in the deposit. Curtis called a few days later and verified that he had received our money and again guaranteed that we would have success and that we would enjoy ourselves.
The roundtrip from my home in Pennsylvania to Meeker is right around 3,600 miles. We spent three days on the road laying over in Illinois and eastern Colorado on the way out. When we arrived in camp on Thursday, Oct. 15, we met Ralph Craven and Bill Childers. As we would later find out, these were two of the guides we would be hunting with. They had the shooting bench set up and both Lew and I took a couple of shots to make sure the guns were still on. Bill then led us up through a ravine about a mile from the ranch buildings and showed us our living quarters for the week. Nothing fancy about that 100-plus-year-old cabin with the antique wood cook stove, gas lights and propane refrigerator. The running water consisted of a garden hose running through a hole in the wall of the camp to a water buffalo sitting in a rusty trailer out back. An old fashioned two-seater outhouse rounded out the amenities of our accommodations. There is a modern shower house near the main house and, all in all, the cabin was warm and dry and served our purposes quite nicely. We took a quick inventory, made a grocery and equipment list, and headed to town for dinner and to make a supply run.
As I have mentioned before, I have spent several hunting seasons in the Meeker area. I believe this was my seventh hunt in that general area. Some things have changed dramatically while others have not changed at all. The town grocery is pretty much the same. The old feed store is a must stop and if anyone is traveling through Meeker, the Blue Spruce Motel is a very nice addition. But the biggest difference I noticed this time was that there just did not seem to be as many hunters in town. And it showed in the faces of the local merchants and also was a topic of discussion at several of the stops we made during our stay in Meeker. Business was being conducted as usual, but there simply were not as many people as I had seen in previous trips to Meeker.
Lew and I had an excellent meal at the local Bistro Restaurant, collected our supplies and headed back to the ranch. We spent Friday arranging gear in the cabin and meeting the other hunters. Two from Michigan, two from Oregon and one each from Wyoming and Virginia. After all the guns were checked and sleeping arrangements decided Harold Cherry invited all of his hunters and guides to join he and his wife for dinner at the Meeker Hotel. We were all in awe of the mounts displayed there and the prime rib was exceptional.
Any hunter knows that the night before the first day is one spent with nervous anticipation, doubts about the weather, unanswered questions about the quality of the herd along with about a million more concerns regarding equipment and physical skills and conditioning. I believe I heard every tick of the alarm clock that night. A hot pot of tea, a cold breakfast of cereal and muffins and lunch packed with the aid of gas lights got us ready for the drive to the ranch house for the first day.
We met the other hunters and the guides an hour or so before daylight. We left camp just before daybreak and within an hour or so all my doubts had disappeared and almost all of my questions had been answered. The Cherry Ranch is truly an amazing place. There may be other ranches in the area, or for that matter in other areas, that are similar to this ranch. But the diversity of the terrain and the cover that I saw within the first hour of that hunt amazed me. If you live on one of these ranches or have had the pleasure of hunting one of these ranches, count your blessings. I later told Curtis that he certainly has a magnificent back yard. It stretches for almost six miles north of the ranch house and is about three miles wide. I saw a lot of it during this hunt and have not seen one single spot that did not look like a great place to hunt. I started seeing game as soon as it was light enough to shoot and these were not just small animals; they were quality trophy deer and elk. It just seemed logical to me that if someone would put in the time and effort during the hunt that they would certainly fill their tags on this magnificent ranch. Now all I had to do was just enjoy the hunt and wait for my opportunities.
There were eight guys in camp with elk tags and four of us also had deer tags. The first day produced two bulls and a buck. Lew tagged a 6×6 bull around noon and then a beautiful 27-inch mule deer that evening. The second day was the same, two bulls and a buck. I had the pleasure of spending the second day with guide Blake Davey. We saw a ton of elk, including a real nice 6×6 bull that stayed just far enough out of my comfortable shooting range. We watched the herd moving for about a mile or so and after they passed above us we chased that herd for several hours and got close several times, but the hunting stars never lined up and the day ended with us never seeing that big bull again. But having passed on a pretty decent mule deer as well as several small deer. During the day we did have the pleasure of having a couple of cows and calves walk within 20 yards of us. But the fondest memory I have of that day was the companionship of a fellow hunter who was dedicated to the principal of fair chase hunting. I never pulled the trigger that day, but will always consider it one of my most successful days.
On the third day, Oct. 19, my guide was Bill Childers. We walked into a herd of several elk first thing in the morning and I shot a small bull. I think everyone who goes elk hunting wants to kill a real big bull and I am no different. But I have learned that sometimes it is better to take what is available and that 4×3 looks just fine and has already provided Judy and me with some excellent meals. That evening Curtis and I glassed several good bucks before I decided on a real nice 4×4 buck just before sunset.
The following day started out with some rain showers and then it got just downright miserable. But Curtis and his guides didn’t quit for a minute. A late afternoon push produced a 5×5 bull for the hunter from Wyoming. That same hunter completed his trip by taking a real nice mule deer just before shooting hours ended that evening. There were two hunters in camp who did not kill, but they did have good opportunities on elk. Total take for our camp was six out of eight elk and four out of four on deer.
There were no world records taken on the Cherry Ranch during the second rifle season and probably most trophy hunters would have turned up their noses at some of our animals. But I had just about the most fun that I have had on any hunt in my 40 some years of hunting. Curtis and his guides did everything that they promised. When a lot of outfitters and guides would be lying down to take a couple hour nap during those 70-some-degree bluebird days, Curtis was directing his guides, as well as the hunters, to keep moving and to keep looking for those pockets of animals. And it worked. Everyone in camp was presented a good shot opportunity on all animals they had tags for. If we had all been ready and steady all tags would have been filled.
Lew and I left camp on Wednesday morning. We picked up our animals at one of the local processing plants. We grabbed a bag of wings at the Stage Stop (If you haven’t tried these you are missing a treat) and headed north. A layover in Nebraska the first night and a second night near Chicago left us with about an eight-hour ride on Friday. It was good to get home and see Judy and Kona, my faithful German Shepherd. As it has been said many times there is no place like home.
I am coming back to Meeker in 2010. And I will be hunting the Cherry Ranch. I look forward to eating some of the delicious fish that Harold Cherry caught while fishing off the Mexico coast. Or maybe Lori will entertain us by showing off her shooting skills on the local rattlesnake population. I expect to get some good-natured ribbing from Bill, Ralph and Blake. I also look forward to browsing through the feed store and will probably stop at the DOW Office and the Chamber of Commerce, just to say hello to the friendly people who work there. I will buy my groceries at the local supermarket and my camp supplies at the local hardware stores. I hope the stores are still there. I am already looking forward to this trip. I am looking forward to once again seeing what now seems like old friends and I am looking forward to chasing those elusive elk around those beautiful mountains.
But most of all I am looking forward to listening to every tick of the alarm clock during that nervous sleepless night before the first day of the elk season because no matter how hard I fight this feeling … “I am hooked.”