When last I saw Dreadlocks Dave he was heading up the mountainside behind me in mid-September chasing bull elk, pausing once to pick his path and then disappearing into dusk’s gray light.
If you read my column last month, you might recall I liked the man. I judged him to be a smart, courteous bowhunter who’s probably happier than another elk hunter I encountered during that trip, a stranger I dubbed “our man.”
After Dreadlocks Dave chanced into my setup on my hunt’s sixth evening, we exchanged embarrassed smiles and briefly shared our plans for the next week. He said he would avoid “my” area until I headed home the following Saturday.
Ironically, if not for Dreadlocks Dave’s good nature, I probably wouldn’t have written about my later encounters with “our man.” That’s the bowhunter who parked beside our boats and walked through our campsite the next morning, and the four days that followed, and continually bumped into me or my buddy Chris White as we bowhunted aspen meadows and elk wallows 1.5 miles above.
“Our man” broke no laws, and I can’t claim he ruined our hunts. We were camping and bowhunting public lands, and his right to be there matched ours. Even so, most hunters would not beach their boats on another group’s landing, walk through their campsite, and hunt five days among them after encountering them on day one.
Still, “our man” didn’t warrant me writing an entire column about another man’s rude indifference. In contrast, Dreadlocks Dave handled our random encounter so respectfully that he inspired a compare-and-contrast “Goofus and Gallant” column that praised his approach. I wished him well via the universe, and ended that column with these thoughts:
“I like to think the hunting gods helped Dreadlocks Dave arrow a bull the next day. … (I) think fate rewards folks like (him).”
I never expected to see or hear from DD again. Yes, the internet gives my column wide circulation, but Dreadlocks Dave and I had exchanged nothing except first names. He had no idea some random bald guy would return home to write about him and the dreadlocks he ties atop his camo cap.
Or so I thought. Imagine my confusion when I opened a Facebook message in early October and saw a vaguely familiar face posing with a monster bull elk. Minutes later another message arrived. It read, in part:
“This is Dreadlocks Dave. When I bumbled into your setup, your voice, and the small part of your face I could see, seemed strangely familiar. But I wasn’t surprised when you said your name was Pat. Somehow that just seemed right. … It took a couple-hundred yards uphill before I realized you sounded like the writer Pat Durkin, who I first heard on the MeatEater Podcast, and whose work I’ve followed since. I didn’t want to further disrupt your hunt, so I didn’t turn around to verify. When I got out of the woods later, I read your article.”
DD went on to report that he didn’t arrow a big bull the next day, as I had wished. That wish came true 10 days later when he dropped a brute of an elk not all that far from where our paths crossed. In fact, it’s likely the same bull I spotted my first morning atop the mountain 15 days before.
DD and I got on the phone in October. As it turns out, he was likely chasing that bull while I watched from the next ridge that first morning. Also, his friends and family don’t call him “Dreadlocks Dave.” He’s David Burgess, 34, an artist, writer and musician who grew up in northwestern Montana. He went to college in Idaho, where he met his wife.
And talk about coincidences: His wife grew up in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, where my daughter Karsyn lives, and he and his wife live in Raritan, New Jersey, 2 miles from where I married my Jersey-born wife 38 years ago.
Anyway, back to DD’s hunt. The bulls fell silent my final week in Idaho as temperatures reached the high 70s daily. As planned, my buddies and I broke camp and headed home the weekend of Sept. 22-23. DD kept hunting. He said temperatures fell the afternoon of Sept. 23, and he heard the old bull’s distinctive bugles above his spike camp at dusk.
He sprinted up the mountainside to within 40 yards of the bull, but it grew too dark to see his bow-sight’s pins. DD sneaked out and returned to camp to sleep. The bull was still there the next morning, bugling like crazy when DD returned at dawn. The air temperature had plunged overnight. He could see his breath while stalking the bull and lone cow it was chaperoning.
“The cow wasn’t interested in him, and that seemed to (tick) him off,” DD said. “Every time he’d bugle I’d charge forward a few steps. I could hear him huffing and puffing as he walked. I was at full draw when he walked into an opening, so I cow-called to stop him. But when he stopped, his ‘boiler room’ was just behind a tree. I leaned out as far as I could to get a clear lane, and shot. He fell within 100 yards.”
Dreadlocks Dave described the elk in his Facebook message: “He was an old bull. His ears were all torn up and his teeth were ground down to the gums. He had almost no fat under his scarred-up hide. He had a massive body, and his heavy antlers measured 47 inches across. Every point on his antlers was chipped or broken.”
Of course, I want to believe that bull took Dreadlock Dave’s arrow partly as the universe’s reward for his generosity 10 days before. He wasn’t so certain.
“I’m incredibly lucky to have all these public lands, and to be able to run into people who think like I do,” he said. “Things eventually come together if you just keep hunting hard.”
Well said. I knew I liked that guy.