The particular outhouse where this story begins sits just north of Forest Road 233 where it crosses Lake Creek before climbing up to HumpTown and Jumbo Camp, the site of an 1800's gold rush. If you perchance have a map of Central Idaho, you'll find where I'm talking about in the Buffalo Hump Wilderness Area. The date was September 15, the traditional opening date for Idaho's back country deer and elk seasons. Though considered a holiday by hunters, for a game warden it was just another workday for my partner and me. At the time Dave Saindon, now a Sr. Conservation Officer, was an Enforcement Technician and between us we'd worked twenty-three big game opening days. For Dave, however, it was just his third big game season. Nancy, Alice, and Slim, my two mules and saddle horse, completed the group.
We'd pulled in a few days earlier and spent the intervening time riding Slim and Alice around locating hunter camps and making sure no one opened the season a little early. The nights were crisp and cool with the afternoons being t-shirt weather. With folks still pulling in and setting up camps, we just made the rounds and let folks know we were in the area. Dave helped pass the time by practicing with his new elk bugle. He damn near got us both bucked off once when he tuned up while riding Alice. Being a mule she doesn't have what you'd call a melodious voice herself, but she strenuously objected to what sounded like a sick bull elk on her back.
Anyway…on opening morning we rolled out of the sack well before daylight when a pickup pulled into our camp. Wearing my red long john union suit and tennis shoes, I hustled out of the tent flashlight in hand to see who was there. It turned out to be some hunters who'd just seen a small herd of elk cross the road in front of them and our camp was the closest place to park. I showed the two guys my identification and checked their licenses and tags before they hurried down the Fish Lake Trail in an effort to catch up with this bunch of elk. While I was making sure these two hunters had the correct licenses and tags, Dave fired up the wood stove to take the chill off and started a pot of coffee. While the coffee brewed I walked across the road to where I had the stock picketed on a highline to make sure they'd made it through the night OK. About fifty feet beyond where the stock was tied sat the USFS regulation one-hole outhouse mentioned at the beginning of this story.
Typically on opening day camps are pretty much deserted until mid-afternoon when guys start straggling in out of the woods whether they've had any luck or not. So, Dave and I figured we'd hang around camp 'til about noon and then work 'til well after dark. As we waited for it to get full daylight we lounged around the tent in our long johns, mine bright red and Dave's a tan color, drinking coffee and shooting the breeze. When we finished the second pot of coffee, it was time for my 'morning constitutional' so I headed for the outhouse. Since we were the only ones camped there I propped the door open in order to enjoy the view. Lacking a morning paper I took along a copy of the big game regulations to read. Being in no particular hurry I didn't even break stride when I heard a bull elk bugle from the direction of the tent about a hundred and fifty feet away. I just grinned…thinking it was Dave, showing off, trying to stimulate me with his new elk bugle.
But...Dave's face was the picture of innocence when I strolled back into the tent. Even with twenty years of interviewing skills to draw on, I could NOT get Dave to confess to trying to get me all stirred up by tooting his new bugle knowing I was trying to enjoy the view from the outhouse. He swore he hadn't heard anything while in the tent because of the woodstove and propane stove both going. I finally accepted his vehement denial of attempting to agitate a senior officer. Then Dave grabbed his bugle and we went outside thinking there might be a bull close by. After a couple of bugles from Dave and with no response, we went back in the tent with him muttering something about first the hair turns gray then soon after the hearing goes! But it was just five minutes later when a bull bugled right outside the tent. We ran outside but didn't see anything. Dave, in his light tan long johns, jumped into the creek bottom right behind the tent and took cover at the base of a big spruce tree. I, in my bright red union suit, was caught in the open by the hitch rail when the bull walked out of the brush less then thirty-five yards away across the creek!
For the next twenty minutes this rag horn bull and Dave played the damndest duet I've ever witnessed! The bull would stretch his neck out and bugle for all he was worth. When Dave answered the bull began raking a couple of scraggly little trees in an attempt to vent his frustration. It was just cool enough we could see his breath and steam when he urinated. At one point he walked to within twelve steps of Dave with only the creek between them. Three times the bull started to walk up the hill only to whirl around and all but scream at Dave when he bugled! Non-verbal gestures were our only method of communicating as all this transpired. Though we were unable to talk, it was running through both our minds that the two hunters who had earlier driven into our camp might return or other hunters might drive up and kill this young bull. Neither of us could have really objected as the season was open, but we'd both been touched by what was happening and had got attached to this particular bull. The bull was heading up the hill for a fourth time when I called out to Dave. The bull again whirled around, but now with the look of someone who had just had a blindfold removed! One quick look and he was gone!
This unbelievable encounter occurred within fifty feet of our wall tent, in full view of the truck, the stock, and us standing outside in our underwear. Twice, in the course of contacting unsuccessful hunters that day, we told the story of the incredible events. In both instances, the hunters looked at us like we had three heads! So, we just chuckled to ourselves and rode on. After all, had it not happened to us, we wouldn't have believed this story either!
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