Come on now, Chilton, you can fool the readers of Chronicles who have never cut the scent pads off a mule deer buck or pried the “ivories” out of an elk’s jaw, but for those of us who have, your hyperbole, especially in your February column (“Hunters and Gatherers“), sometimes reaches the point where a response is required.

I have killed several dozen elk in places ranging from the Bitterroots in Montana to the Uintas and Sunshine Basin in Wyoming and never, ever, did I see or hear of a 700-pound spike bull elk. You didn’t have him in your corral for a year and force feed him, did you? Or maybe there was a little Jack Daniels consumed over the carcass. Then there is the little matter of the “gastric juices and contents of the maw.” Ain’t no such things in the abdominal cavity of an eviscerated animal unless it has been gut shot. Are you telling us in a roundabout way that your marksmanship that day warn’t so hot? Or maybe it truly was a case of the Jack Daniels shakes.

Of all the critters I have been lucky enough to kill and dress out, I can’t think of an instance where I was “covered in blood, hair, and tissue almost to the shoulders.” My hunting partners and I always took pride in not looking like workers in some abattoir after either the gutting out or boning process. But then we saved the Jack Daniels for a bragging session at Zampedries in Fort Bridger. There are a couple of other parts of your account that deserve scrutiny, but we’ll forgive you this time on the grounds of artistic license. Just remember that you ain’t the only one living or who has lived in the West who can read an erudite publication like Chronicles and understand it.

        —Alton Windsor
Appleton, WI

Chilton Williamson Replies:

Of course there are no gastric juices in the abdominal cavity of an elk, though there may be bile in Alton Windsor’s. After removing the stomach from the very distended paunch, I opened it in an attempt to learn how recently the animal had been feeding.

As for weight, since I do not carry a scales with me into the mountains, my estimates are based on, one, the acknowledged maximum weight of a mature bull (a six-year-old typically exceeds 1,000 pounds); two, a visual comparison with my small Arab mare, whose weight I do know; and three, the opinion of whatever partner I happen to be hunting with. Some years ago, when writing about an elk kill, I took the trouble to consult my copy of Elk of North America: Ecology and Management, compiled and edited by Jack Ward Thomas and Dale E. Toweill, for typical weights of elk of both sexes and progressive stages of physical development, without success.

By writing that I was covered in blood and hair to the shoulders, I did not of course mean from boots to shoulders, but from the hands up to the shoulders—an unavoidable result of reaching into the body cavity, grappling with the carcass to shift it on extremely steep and precarious terrain, and carrying the meat to the pack horse. Mangas Coloradas would have understood.

Finally, contrary to Alton Windsor’s speculations, I rarely take a drink before sundown, and never before handling either guns or horses. Certainly I don’t drink when I have a job of writing to do—a rule that Mr. Windsor, to judge from his strangely excited letter, may or may not follow.