Monday, November 30, 2020
The evening of December 27th, 2019, in a restaurant with my family in Ft. Collins, CO. Walked in, sat down, got sick. Flew home to TN on 12/29, sick. New Years Eve, sick. Watched zero bowl games on January 1, sick. My year started off, you guessed it, sick. Not a clue what the sickness was but it had every salient feature of being a coronavirus. A flu bug. Thank goodness no one else in my family got sick from being exposed. In January the markets started rolling higher. At 66 years young and having been retired 6 months, things were becoming clear. Unfortunately, the older I get the quicker life seems to go. The markets were off to a strong start and I paid little attention to David Tepper, CEO of Apaloosa Management. Mr. Tepper is a fairly recluse hedge fund manager, a billionaire many times over, and was holding court on CNBC giving his views on a virus in China. I took it all in, respected his views and and thought about my retirement portfolio. I had built it over years. It was near fire-proof. What could happen to put a hurt on the 140 different investments I owned across the world? I was ready to ride things out through thick and thin. Holdings I had owned for years, cost-basis so low i couldn't imagine cutting a check to pay the taxes if I sold. Income coming in (and rising) to weather any storm in any asset class. And just as the sun rises in the east, low and behold, as the portfolio went to ATH's, (all time high's) reality hit and the virus struck. I did get to go goose hunting once in January. On the last day of the season, at the last hour, at the last few minutes, and yes, on the third shot, I dropped a beautiful Canada goose. Without a doubt, one of the more enjoyable geese I have had the pleasure to eat!
One day we happened onto a large pile of fecal matter.
There were many days of 6 figure declines. It was too hard to trade on the short side. The volatility was painful but I thought this too shall pass. It's a virus. It will be gone in two years and the quality investments I hold will rise in value. Don't sell into the fear Dean. Stop the worry, this too shall pass. Dark sunsets are followed by the rising sun!
In the market, who you are, your race, your gender, your age, where you went to school, your color, who your daddy was, what you think, what you feel mean nothing. I repeat: nothing. The market will do whatever it's going to do with you or without you. In the market as in life, you can have results or excuses but not both. Never forget, the stocks don't know you own them and won't behave any different if they did!
My application to hunt big game in Montana had to be mailed by March 15. In 2019 I'd been unsuccessful to draw tags to hunt elk or deer in Montana and I sure didn't want to sit out another year of not being in the game! April rolled around, spring was in the air and I got lucky. I was drawn for an elk/deer big-game combination non-resident license in Montana. I did not draw a non-resident antelope or sheep tag.
My oldest son, Hunter, a Captain in the United States Air Force wasn't so lucky. He didn't draw a tag and unfortunately in Montana, tags are not transferable or I would have given him my tags! I was told 10,000 applicants didn't draw in Montana and though I haven't checked the validity of that statement as told to me by a FWP (MT Fish Wildlife Parks) employee I have no reason to doubt it.
The life we have is fleeting. As the summer wore on I wanted some normalcy back. You probably did too. Around the 1st of August I again took sick. How lucky can a guy get? Sick twice in 6 months? Are you kidding me? Not only did I ruin the long-planned family vacation but ran a low grade fever for 8 days and was tired of being sick. I just wanted to be unsick!
In late August my son and a great friend from South Georgia headed out on a DIY MT archery antelope expedition for about a week. They had to contend with hot weather, cactus, brilliant antelope with ESP and the occasional serpent.
They didn't score on bagging an antelope but scored on the experience of hunting speed goats with stick n string. Eyes and ears on antelope are truly spectacular. It was a memorable week and so many blown stalks they lost count. I think they are still pulling cactus out.
Health-wise after getting better in August I did something I had never tried before. I wanted to lose weight just by cutting back on calories and not working out. Usually, when I want to cut weight I go all out in exercise and then wind up eating more, probably what you do too! So this time I cut food and drink. I didn't touch beer for a couple of months. What happened you ask? You guessed right. Shedding 20 pounds just felt good. More water, no beer. Worked for me. Clothes were loose and spirits were high. I have continued to shy away from adult beverages and sleep and feel better. It works for me.
As summer turned to fall after the antelope hunt my son had gotten great news about his job offer. Due to Covid they wanted him to start later rather than sooner and that gave him more time to focus on what kind of deer he wanted to hunt with his bow. He went all out with trail camera's, patterning, stand positioning and it paid off with an 18 yard shot on a wonderful whitetail. Montana only allows the harvest of one buck per hunter per year and he was tagged out on deer! He called that buck PINCH because of the crab claw on the front left beam!
Deer hunting this year was special. Truly special. November 5th, my first morning in the hills started with Jordan at my side, at first light, looking for a buck or a bull, I had a tag for both, Jordan had his elk tag. We had a large drainage to glass for a couple miles headed to the north and we worked along the rim in the timber (staying off the rim) and kept finding little to see except an eagle or two. Not even a coyote or lonely doe were in our glass. As the morning wore on we were perched on a high rim, glassing, watching for any movement near or far, just sitting it out, waiting to spot a bachelor group or early roamer buck doing his thing. We had been sitting for 10, maybe 15 minutes and as I glanced over to Jordan to whisper what the noise was, as come to find out he had tossed a rock down into the canyon below to stir the pot in case anything was bedded below. Jordan was about 7 yards away and as I looked over at him he was pointing down into the bottom of the drainage. I turned to see a deer moving in the bottom of the canyon. From here, instinct and 50 years of hunting mule deer took over. I threw up my binocs and could see the wide palmation on the deer's left antler beam. It was enough for me and and decided in that instant to shoot. I did not ever have a frontal view, had no idea of his rack, only the wide palmation on his left antler gave me the impetus to settle in. In warm weather I like to shoot a semi-automatic rifle. Okay, I agree, they don't shoot tight groupings but I can get them to group to the size of a deer's heart and I love the ability to stay in the scope and get an animal down. That day I was shooting a Browing BAR short-trac .243. It was going to be a long shot and I whispered to Jordan as I swung around on my butt to shoot, "how far?" He replied, "332". The deer was walking sideways to me and at that distance I felt I couldn't make a solid shot with the rifle over my knee. I dislike shooting laying down and felt I had to change my position. I am very good at coming up with things to give me better shooting odds in a short amount of time, try split-seconds. It has helped so much over the years to have that steady rest and to improve the odds of an accurate shot. In a nanosecond I saw a rock ledge about 8 steps away and as slow and quietly as I could, as fast as I could, shuffled over there. I got my back up against the rock ledge and my rifle resting on a small outcropping. The deer was still walking and I was on him. Still no idea of his antlers. When he stopped, I fired. I could see he was hit and he started to run uphill going sideways to me offering a good shot. I missed the second shot on the run and he then headed higher on the hill at a slowing pace and stopped. Jordan yelled , "355" . I am good at not looking at bone when an animal needs to be put on the ground and at the third shot he dropped like a hammer and tumbled down, his head sliding downhill toward me and giving me the look in my scope that got me pumped. Wow, what a bomber! He had slid into a patch of tall sagebrush and I couldn't see the body nor horns at that point. We waited a bit to make sure there wasn't any movement, talked it over and took a good look to see where we needed to go to get to him and headed down off the rim. This was a special moment to have my son there and walk up to such a magnificent deer. I had been after one like this for decades. Jordan started counting the points on his right horn which were sticking out of the sage and got to 8. I don't "score" any animals, never have, never will. Each to their own. I don't need to clutter the magnificence of a great animal with an attached score. Makes no sense to me but hey, each to their own. This one the taxidermist wanted to know the width and when he grabbed a tape measure he first said "31" and then he said "29". It didn't matter, this was truly a mature buck for eastern Montana. I was so happy to get an encounter with such a great deer and make the most of it. Remember, luck is where preparation meets opportunity! I was lucky.
We had snow and wet conditions hit and we were unable to get back for a a couple days to look for elk. When we showed up again one morning there was a few inches of snow, a strong wind out of the northwest and clear skies. Wind chill was probably 10 degrees. We were about 5 miles from the pickup in the Polaris Ranger, parked it and took off on foot for the rough stuff. Right at the crack of daylight, about a mile or two away we spotted elk still up and feeding. We saw maybe 10 or 11 and it looked like there were 5 bulls in the group. With the wind going to blow all day and never having hunted that section ( a section being 640 acres, one square mile)which happened to belong to the State of Montana we knew other hunters could come in at anytime and blow them out. From our vantage point we had to backtrack a good while to get around to work into the wind and it took close to an hour to get up to where we had first spotted them. Experience in elk hunting is a big plus and knowing for what and where to look is a huge advantage. My son had it going on, he had Dad along! We took our time, step by step figuring we could find that pod bedded and somehow locate a bull without blowing them out. Two things in elk hunting are a big help. One, a strong steady non-swirling wind and two, a bright sun midday. It was cold and we had them both. We were poking along, very slow, step by step, a few yards apart when I just happened to spot a cow deep in the bottom of the canyon. I froze, she wasn't looking up and didn't see me. I started to glass down into the bowel of that canyon and all I could see were cows and calves, about 5 or 6 of them. No bulls. Somehow with Jordan still moving next to me a small ways I got him stopped and on his knees in the snow to glass. One of the things I genetically must have passed on to both my sons is tremendous vision. Their eyes are better than mine and God has blessed me with excellent vision. Jordan picked up on those dark silhouettes bedded and we had to make a decision. Either move up and chance getting blown out or back out and go back around a mile and come out on the other side of the canyon to look for the bulls. We elected to back out. It took longer than we had anticipated to get back around and by this time we thought they might be up and feeding mid-day with the cold and snow. We were step by step now, glassing, looking for a glint of horn tucked into that canyon. We came up a small rim and at the very same instant we both saw horns ahead with a bull up and feeding. The bull was about 80 yards away. We ducked down, Jordan was shooting a Browning BAR in .270 caliber and we got the Primo's shooting sticks up and it was going to be on! Show time! There were a couple of elk feeding out and in his sights and he didn't hesitate to pull the trigger when he counted 6 points on an antler. At the crack I knew the bull was hit and then all hell breaks loose with the bunch scrambling to hightail it out of that canyon. Interestingly it was a unique situation with how the bull died. Thank goodness the bull ran up out of the bottom of the canyon to a sidehill! This is how the bull landed when he went down, impaling his antlers in the ground!
With Jordan tagged out I had time to figure out how to get a good bull. Finding them is tough enough, killing a good one is no walk in the park. So come along, let me take you on my elk hunt. There was luck involved. It's hunting. Who hasn't had luck in their hunting career? It was an overcast day, wind again out of the northwest, cold at daylight with very crunchy snow. Loud and crunchy, remember that. We had just left the pickup and 4-wheeler trailer and were driving the Polaris Ranger on a ranch road. It was near first light and things were still shadowy. We were going to pull up to a point and glass when I saw some mulies down in a sage brush flat. We both enjoy looking and admiring big deer so I turned off the key, coasted to a stop and we pulled up the glass to see if there might be a huge buck to admire in the group. Zero bucks. None. At that instant Jordan says, "elk". I say "where". He says about a mile beyond those deer. I focus my Swaro's and see a few elk, feeding out, no shooter bulls. At this point I wanted to try to get a bull with antlers bigger than my son's bull. We had plenty of elk meat to eat which in my family we all love but I have never killed a really good bull. Killed plenty of elk but never a good bull. I take that back. Every elk I have killed was a terrific elk. I don't take killing any elk lightly. It is a privilege to sink a knife into elk meat at the dinner table. It always will be. Any elk is a trophy. There, fixed that for the truth that it is.
We sat in the 4 wheeler glassing for about 38 minutes. Never moved and were getting cold. There was a 5 point bull (5x5 bull or 10 pointer) coming our way thru the timber that had broken off from the herd and was out and about doing his thing. He kept looking at us and not able to quite figure out what we were. He probably got within 600 or 700 yards and disappeared into the timber looking to come out on top of us. We saw elk laying on a far ridge and by looking at the topography we figured they would be bedding in that canyon. We spotted one good bull in the bunch and I put that rack in my memory bank. They were a good mile away, maybe further as my Leica range finder only works to 1200 yards.
So, lets get back to the weather. Cold with warming temps midday expected. Snow was crunchy. Did I mention the snow was crunchy? We stepped out of the 4-wheeler and backtracked down the trail, back over the hill in single file, doing our best imitation of a black angus cow walking away. We knew we had no chance with the snow conditions to get close to bedded elk and the midday sun was a long ways off. We did our best to take our time and get a bit closer but we were rudely interrupted by some elk. About 500 yards into the stalk we could hear the "mewing" of a cow elk or two. We heard a bull thrashing some brush. There was no way we could move up without them hearing us and we couldn't see any movement. We sat and sat and sat. I finally got tired of waiting for warmer temps and took a nap. It was a good nap.
The rifle I had with me was a Browning A-Bolt, Swaro scope with a Texas Silencer suppressor, .243, sighted in to take out a quarter at 200 yards. I have been a huge fan of the .243 caliber my whole life. I don't like recoil, period. I have taken bulls off their feet at 300 yards with a .243 like they were hit with a .300 Weatherby Magnum. Shot placement is key. I have done alot of shooting in 66 years. I tell everyone to practice shooting your rifle. Practice makes you better. In just about everything. Try it. Know your gun, know the bullet drop.
As the temperature warmed and the sun rose higher in the sky we started our push to close the distance to the bedded elk. We just didn't know exactly where they were, having to come in from a different direction thru the timber. So, we had no idea how many elk there were or where they were bedded. Temperatures were warming and it was getting more quiet to walk in the snow. As we broached a small hill a good ways from where we thought the elk were laying I happened to catch a horn in my eye and spotted a spike bull laying broadside about 110 yards away. He hadn't seen me as he was laying down facing away from the bright sun. Remember, the sun and wind are your friend when elk hunting midday. We dropped down on our bellies and looked at one another. Jordan was packing his day pack, my shooting sticks and was my personal range-finder. Figuring the bigger bulls were well in the middle of the bunch and surrounded by smaller bulls, cows and calves we had no idea how we would be able to get close enough to spot a good one without getting busted. We crawled ahead out of sight of the spike bull and moved up a small hill directly into the wind. I saw the back of an elk ahead feeding out of the timber and we hit the deck, not moving a single muscle. Now it got good. Jordan had his eyes on what was happening, I did not. I was flat down trying not to blink. Cows were beginning to feed out of the timber and they weren't 40 yards away. They were feeding closer and closer. Two orange blobs and upright shooting sticks were in their purview. They didn't flinch and kept right on grazing. As they got closer we could hear the grinding and tearing and munching of grass in their mouths. Talk about loud! Had the wind swirled even once we would have been busted. It was surreal being so close to so many elk feeding and hearing them grind their teeth to chew and tear. Finally, an old cow had had enough and spooked. She ran 5 yards and stopped and began feeding again. We just weren't enough to spook her. We didn't move. I started to snore and Jordan tapped my ankle. I think an elk saw his eyes move and started to move away into the wind into the timber. The bunch then began to get nervous and started walking into the wind away from us. At this time I still hadn't even looked at the scene in front of us. So they picked up some speed in their walk and Jordan said they were busting out into the wind. I didn't think they were that spooked and started after them in the timber. I went about 100, maybe 125 yards and saw 3 cows, nervous and alert but not spooked. They were trying to figure out what was going on. At this point, my shooting sticks, Jordan and his range finder and his day pack were nowhere close to me. I eased up to a tree and kneeled down. A short time later, maybe 5 seconds, maybe a minute, I don't know, I see elk on a far hill out of the timber. I can see cows and calves, no bulls. There was one big tree between me and them. I then see a bull or two, then a good one. He is walking at a good clip on top of the hill surrounded by cows. I am leaning up against the tree, crosshairs on him if he stops. He keeps walking and disappears behind the big tree. I need to get my rifle on the other side of the tree I am up against. As sheer luck would have it, on the right side of the main tree trunk was a small "tit" or limb that had broke off the tree trunk long ago. It was a perfect rest for me. As the bull walked out on the hill, a long way off, he turned his head and looked back toward me. It was majestic as he was taking those long strides that bulls do. He was huge in the scope and when he stopped his walk I let the .243 bark. In all of my years, in all of the animals taken over the years I have never come close to hearing such a wallop as that bullet hitting that bull. The smack was so clear and loud and I was kneeling there when Jordan came running and asked if I had heard that big smack. At the shot the bull had bucked over the ridge and about 800 or 900 yards away I saw a good bunch of elk looking back towards the hill he had been on. I figured they were watching the final seconds of bull dead on his feet and doing his best to win his final battle. We walked to the top of the hill, we later ranged the shot at 346 yards and peered over. No bull to be seen. Dang. My heart sank. What happened? Jordan ran back to get up on a hill and glass it all. I took my time, glassing, looking, listening. I kept moving out into the flat sagebrush, my spirits dropping with every step. I looked into the wind and there was a nice elk rack laying in the sage brush looking at me. He got up slow and got into timber, he wasn't dead, he couldn't run and was awful sick when the final shot took him down.