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COUNTY: Conejos County
OBSERVED: Preface: The following is an excerpt from a true story my brother wrote several years ago for a hunting magazine. I’ve edited it down to just the relevant portion of the story where he has an encounter with…something.
….sliding on my wallet with boot heels braking, I claw to a halt beside a dense stand of willows. Parting the foliage, I see the bull is mine at last. Snapping a few quick photos, I’m hoping to slide the his sizeable mass down to a creek side flat for field dressing, but wedged in the tangle, it’s a case of too much elk and not enough me…
…Nightfall has now engulfed the landscape. Stepping aside, by Braille I grope through my pack for a flashlight. Successful, I turn its beam across the downed elk, only to be startled by the sounds of a heavy animal scrambling uphill from beside the carcass. While my adrenal glands haven’t exactly been on vacation this evening, all sensory gauges are now pegged. It appears I’m not the only one who has followed the blood trail.
Shouting threats into the darkness, I’m hoping to make it clear to this interloper exactly who this elk meat belongs to. How could an animal come so close without detecting the feared human scent? Having my share of bear-in-camp encounters, I’m confident that this creature will, as others always have, amble off in search of easier pickings. Standing in the blackness of heavy canopy, I hear the crunching leaves from circling footfalls that tell me this time might be different. Looking at my bow and one remaining arrow, I feel like I’m on safari with the proverbial switch. I briefly consider building a fire to keep the animal at bay, but as I scan the surroundings I find only fresh aspen growth upon a hillside too steep to support a fire. While I’m generally a stickler for prompt field dressing, I’m hesitant to make myself vulnerable by turning my back to the night – and whatever is out there watching me.
Sunrise is eight hours away and I know that if this continues much longer, my flashlight’s batteries will begin to fade. While pondering my dilemma, I hear footsteps and trickling beads of gravel dancing down the face of a rocky overhang directly behind me. I’m not sure what I’m up against, but something tells me it’s time to back away and leave the elk to whatever it is that’s skulking in the darkness. Scanning for eye-shine with my failing flashlight, I descend the mountain, tying surveyor’s tape to aspen limbs to help me retrace my steps in the morning, and begin following the creek back to camp. Moments into the journey I stop and cock an ear into the night. Fifteen yards into dense willows, I again detect footfalls, seemingly paralleling me. I shouting once more. I’m weary of all this, and not equipped to do anything other than continue on.
It’s a long, mentally exhausting hike back to camp. As soon as I get there I reach under a nearby log and feel the cold steel of my stashed .38. Gazing to the stars, I reflect upon my night. Unbelievably, I again hear the pacing of heavy footsteps on the wooded flat rising behind camp. The pistol is an enormous confidence builder, and wanting to get to the bottom of this, I rush the bench only to hear heavy footsteps dash off through breaking brush. Now, to have an animal come to a carcass is understandable, but why in the world would it pass up a freshly killed elk to follow me back to camp?
Sleep is not going to come easy tonight. Even in the darkest woods, I’ve always been comfortable; it’s just the same beautiful forest with the lights turned off, right? But tonight, I’m truly unnerved. Contemplating the 4-mile journey to the security of the Jeep, I realize - whatever it is - it’s still out there. After wrestling the elk, I’m sure I smell like one. Slipping into fresh clothes, I have a seat in a large clearing and scan the surroundings. As meteors race across the moonless sky all seems calm, and soon my sleeping bag beckons.
At first light I eat a quick breakfast and head out, fully expecting to find my bull the subject of somebody’s midnight snack. An hour later, I’m ascending to the site. A metallic clang of the .38-barrel striking a Sierra Cup announces my approach to any lingering scavengers. Cautiously advancing, I’m amazed to find my bull intact. Hmmm… why then, was I followed? …
…One question remains: Why was I pressed off the downed bull – then apparently followed back to camp? Having stood my ground for some time, did the animal and I experience synchronized cowardice, mutually backing away, only to cross paths enroute to camp? Maybe. Or, was I intentionally followed? And, if so, what were its motives?....
OTHER WITNESSES: No
TIME AND CONDITIONS: Encounter started at sundown (about 7:00 pm) and ended about 11:00 pm
ENVIRONMENT: Pine forest with open mountain meadows. Rough, rugged country with minimal roads.
Follow-up investigation report:
In a first discussion with the report submitter, he described his brothers’ story (which was submitted to a magazine but not published) and how he thought that it could be a possible Bigfoot encounter. He also described another experience they both shared in the same general area and, after my suggestion that it was also worth noting, submitted a report for it as well. It is added here at the end of these notes as an additional account.
After obtaining his brothers’ permission and providing his contact information, I interviewed him by telephone, during which he vividly recounted his unusual experience. This witness is a 49 year-old lifelong hunter and outdoorsman who had previously been on six or seven hunts in this same location but has not been back since this incident. He was initially hesitant to talk about this experience and was, throughout our discussion, never willing to ascribe it to a sasquatch, although he frequently repeated that he could not assign the behaviors that he observed to any animal that he was aware of or experienced with previously.
The location of this incident is approximately three-quarters of a mile up along Hansen Creek, a tributary of the South Fork of the Conejos River in the South San Juan Wilderness Area of the South San Juan Mountains.
As he approached his downed elk, intent on quickly cleaning the carcass, he immediately heard something large and heavy moving just away through the thick brush but presumed that it was likely to be a bear. However, whatever this was, after retreating twenty yards back or so, remained uncomfortably nearby, pacing back and forth with shuffling footfalls, moving around continuously but not moving further away, even after he had shouted several times to drive off the assumed bear. He has seen bears many times, both in the field and in camp, and was convinced that this was not typical bear behavior. He found this all “too odd” and “started to get creeped-out and scared.” Although not at any point overtly threatening, it was certainly intimidating and discomforting. Apart from one remaining arrow, he was unarmed and therefore decided to pull away. “I hated to surrender my elk,“ he said.
As he started his half-hour hike back downstream to his campsite, he was astonished to find that whatever it was was now apparently following him. In the first several minutes of his return, at least two or three times, he thought he heard the sound of footsteps following and would stop. “When I would stop, it would stop.” Each time he heard one or two additional steps from it before it also stopped, always remaining 15-20 yards away out of sight and in cover behind something. He yelled again, hoping to scare it off, but wasted no time with further delays and returned directly to his campsite.
Shortly after arriving and grabbing the security of his handgun, he was amazed to again hear footfalls approximately fifty yards away. He was curious as to what this could be but also growing irritated and angry about this continuing situation. With the added confidence of the gun, he ran toward it only to then hear the sounds of it crashing away for several seconds. He heard nothing else that night and, upon returning the following morning, was surprised to find his elk seemingly untouched.
The following account is the other story as submitted by the original report submitter after our discussion. It is from the same general area in September 1992.
"My brother and I had backpacked deep into the South San Juan Wilderness area for a week long archery elk hunt. On our third day of hunting we returned to camp very late, probably two hours after sunset. We were very tired so we just made a quick dinner on our small camp stove (we didn’t bother with a campfire) before crawling into our respective tents (we each had our own tent, pitched about 30 ft from each other). I had only been in my tent 5 -10 minutes, and had just settled into my sleeping bag and closed my eyes, when I heard heavy, rhythmic footsteps walk past my tent. I was confused as to why my brother was out walking around camp after I thought he’d already gone to bed for the evening. I called out “Jim, I thought you went to bed already!” He responded “I am in bed! I thought that was YOU walking around out there!” Then one of us (I don’t remember which) said “There must be a damned bear in camp!” We both unzipped our tents and shinned our flashlights around but didn’t see anything. Whatever it was fled before we could spot it.
Bears in camp are not all that uncommon, but something about this incident struck both my brother and me and very unusual:
• The footsteps were very heavy, and definitely had a bipedal “cadence” to them. It sounded like they were made by a large man wearing heavy boots (which is why my brother and I each thought it was the other out walking around).
• While it’s quite common for “park bears” to raid campsites, this behavior is uncommon among wilderness bears, who’s normal reaction is to flee at the first sign of humans (especially during hunting season!). If a bear had entered our camp I would have expected it would have done so during the day while it was vacant, not at night when it was occupied.
• My brother and I had gone to special pains to “bear proof” our camp. All food was stored outside of camp in bags high off the ground. The only things we kept in camp were our sleeping gear and spare clothing. In other words, there was nothing to draw a bear into our camp.
• The animal entered our camp only a few minutes after we retired to our tents. This indicates the animal was probably there all along, waiting just outside the light of our camp until we turned off the lights and made it safe for the animal to approach. If this was an actual Bigfoot encounter, it’s likely we may have crossed paths with it as we returned to camp in the dark, and for whatever reason it had decided to follow us for some distance back to our camp.
• Neither of us ever had any sense that we were being “followed” or “watched” prior to this encounter. We didn’t have any further incidents during the remaining five days of our hunt. The only other thing of note is that the area we were hunting in usually has an abundance of both deer and elk, yet we saw very few of either even though we hunted dusk-to-dawn for eight straight days. They seemed to have left the area."