Editor’s Note: Wayne Carlton of Montrose, Colorado, the creator of Carlton’s Calls, part of Hunter’s Specialties fine call line, has been known as an expert elk hunter-turkey hunter for many years. This week we’ll learn some of Carlton’s elk tactics.
Question: Once you take the elk, how will you get the head off, Wayne?
Carlton: You can get the head off in two ways - with a handsaw, like a Gerber pull saw, or a folding blade saw. Get next to the head. If you’re going to save the cape, you’ll want to split that down the back of the neck - the very back of the neck, and get about 2 or 3 inches from the antlers. Next, make a “Y”, one to each antler. Pull all the skin off, and get as close to the head as you can. Cut the meat first. Take the saw and saw the neck bone right next to the head. Or, if you don’t have a saw, get as close as you can to the head where the joint for the skull is attached to the spine and neck. It’s just like a ball joint, and you can take that off without using a saw at all.
Question: Are you bringing the head out with the cape on the face, or do you skin it all the way out?
Carlton: If I have my mules, I put the head on the pack saddle and bring the whole thing out. But if I’m hiking, and only have a daypack, there’s no need to carry the heavy skull out. So, be sure to carry a saw with you so you can take the antlers off. Then just bring the antlers out, and leave that heavy skull there.
Question: Wayne, tell us why you hunt with mules?
Carlton: When you’re hunting and get to where you want to be, you’re usually tired — particularly in elk hunting. I use the mules because it keeps me fresh and enables me to go further into the country, a lot quicker. If the elk are bugling, and they’re not in the nearest canyon, they must be in the next one. The mules allow me to get there quickly. You still have to saddle and ride them and go through some of the problems you go through with any animal you ride. But the mules will keep you fresh and let you cover a lot of country in a short period of time without becoming overly tired.
Question: Why do you choose mules over horses?
Carlton: People use both horses and mules out West when they’re hunting elk. Mules are more sure-footed than horses because of their donkey ancestry. Too, mules have a self-preservation instinct that some horses don’t possess. A horse will explode in a panic situation, and a mule will just stand there while you sort yourself out and regain your composure from a catastrophe. I’ ve had horses run down a trail like a monster was after them, then fall and go off a cliff, but a mule won’t do that.
Question: What about the pulling power of a mule versus a horse?
Carlton: Between a big horse and a big mule, the big horse may out-pull the big mule on face value, but longevity-wise, the mule’s endurance is higher than a horse. This is one reason the mules helped to settle the West. Pioneers had mules to chase the Indians because of their endurance. On the other hand, horses died. They couldn’t survive on little bits of food and long hours, but the mule could endure. The endurance of a mule over longer periods of time is better than horses.
Question: You’ve talked about using mules and knotted ropes to pull hunters out of canyons. Tell us about that.
Carlton: When I first started using mules, all I could afford was one mule. Once, I was hunting with three or four guys, going up a trail out of a canyon. To make life easier for those guys, we made knots in a long rope, tied it to the saddle horn, and I rode and let the rope trail behind me. They grabbed hold of the knots and let the mule pull them up out of the canyon.
Question: You would come up much more quickly that way, wouldn’t you?
Question: How much weight can a mule carry, Wayne?
Carlton: Most people will pack an average size mule with 200 pounds of dead weight. The right mule can carry a 350-pound person. You have to put people on the right mule. If you have a small guy and small mule, then they go together. If you have a great big guy that’s heavyset or just big in stature, then you want to put him on a big animal, but mules are unbelievably tough. They will carry much-heavier loads than most people ever will imagine.
Question: Can you pull a whole elk out with one mule?
Carlton: I’ve carried many elk out on one mule — not pulling, but packing.