“BB” finally gave me a call about a week ago and I agreed to meet with him on the outskirts of Show Low. The meeting took place just before daylight in one of the areas where we had met before. I arrived in the dark and worked my way up over a small hillside that was covered with junipers and all kinds of thick scrub trees and Manzanita. After hacking my way to the top of the hill, I moved down to a natural bench that was perfectly positioned halfway down the back side. I looked for “BB”, but there was no sign of my long-time friend. As the gray light began to filter through the trees, I heard the light tread of something working up from the drainage below. In the half light I made out the unmistakable body of “BB”. He had obviously lost his antlers some time ago because his new growth had already started. He grunted a greeting and said, “Damn boy, I could smell you a long way off this morning; glad to see I haven’t lost my touch. There is no way that you could sneak up on me today.” I tried to give the impression that I could care less, but I had to get in a few digs. “BB” I said, “if I wanted to sneak up on you, I would have come around the other side and worked my way upwind of you. Besides, this is not even close to a hunting season, and you my friend hardly qualify as a bull based on that salad on top of your head.” “BB” tried to look offended for a moment and then started that darn chuckle of his. “Yep, I lost those bad boys about a month ago and I doubt any shed hunter will find them this year. I tossed both of them off on a steep hillside coming up from a nasty canyon. Each one landed in a clump of Manzanita trees and even I could hardly see them after they fell off. I do think that this year will be my best ever for antler growth though. Look how many different nubs I have already.” I was a bit impressed. His tops were coming in just fine and the mass was certainly incredible. I had seen a few bulls the previous week in the Payson area and they still had on last years’ headgear. They were of course, smaller than “BB” by far, but still, he was so far ahead of them that I had to agree. This could be his year for record growth.
I sat on an old stump and started asking some pertinent questions. “Okay “BB”, what will make this a good year for growth?” “BB” thought for a moment and then turned serious. “Well” he said, “If the water supplies hold out and if there is a decent amount of feed that will grow in, I’ve got a little hidey hole that is way out of the way and I won’t be pushed around by campers and hikers. This whole winter was a little on the weak side and those rains last monsoon season sure pushed up a lot of green that I munched on all through the winter. I hardly had to travel at all to get a good feed on and that makes all the difference. I think I’m just healthier this spring than I have been in many a season.” I thought about the dire warnings for fire that had already pushed across the weather forecasts and I asked “BB” about the long term drought conditions. “Hell son, I’ve lived almost my whole life in this so called drought. That fire last year, while doing a lot of damage to humans’ buildings, did a heck of a lot of good for wildlife. The burn turned out to be big enough to clear out a lot of areas that had no growth potential, and it was wild enough to jump over some areas so we still have some cover to hide out in. The deadfalls will keep a lot of folks away from some of the areas that could prove to be dangerous.” I thought about what had happened just 10 years earlier after the Rodeo Chedeski fire and I had to nod in agreement. The Forest Service has closed a lot of roads, eliminated overnight camping in most of the areas and wildlife had absolutely thrived year after year. Once the roads were re-opened, the campers had come back en masse and the results were predictable. Bulls like “BB” had taken off for safer pastures, some on the reservation and some had traveled long and far to get where there was more protection. “BB”, I asked “How have the rest of the herds done so far this winter?” “BB” gave me that sly grin of his and said “Well, let’s just say that we didn’t have to charge down into Springerville or Eager for a decent meal, and almost all of the herds I have seen look to be in great shape. I passed over 10 different bachelor bull groups to get to this meeting and almost all of them were doing just fine. The only factor that we have to worry about is snow or rain. It has been dryer than normal, but I can tell in these old bones that we will be having at least one more blast of winter before this is through.” I wondered about the ability to forecast based on his body. My knee was absolutely killing me and I too thought that maybe we were in for one more blast of winter. I wished “BB” well and got a promise to meet again in 3 months. We decided this time to set the date while we were still together. He had his tInephone and I had my iPhone. We set the dates, gave a 1-day alert and he meandered back into the impenetrable hillside as I hiked back up and over to my vehicle.
As I was driving back from our get together, the radio broadcast a weather bulletin. A large weather front was going to be coming in on Saturday night with snow at higher elevations and rain throughout the state. The weather was expected to bring heavy snows and would last at least 2-3 days. With “BB” having such a big ego, I figured the next meeting would have him sending a resume down to the valley for a weatherelk job.