Go low enough, and an elk can turn into a deer

Letter from Clay Warren

Wildlife – April 1997 – Colorado Central Magazine


After I got all over my indignation at Riff Fenton’s ploy to sucker them Insect Rights protesters into paying a winter visit to the San Luis Valley, I settled down and finished Allen Best’s article about the many misconceptions of some of our seasonal visitors.

Since he asked for it, I’m gonna pass on my personal favorite, which I have not only heard asked in person myself, but my partner in crime (a former local convenience store clerk and therefore an expert on travelers) has actually been asked several times.

I refer, of course, to the numero uno huntin’ query of all time: “At what altitude do elk become deer?” I realize that many new residents of the Colorado Central viewin’ area might think this is a straw-man type of question, designed solely as a means o’ makin’ fun o’ tourists. But, I swear on my Conservation Certificate that it gets asked all the time, and by serious, if not well informed, visitors.

Now I admit that the first time I heard this’n, I ’bout fell off the front bench myself. However, after it’s come around a dozen or so times, I got to thinkin’ ’bout where somethin’ like this might come from. It’s the same sort o’ situation like that Yale college professors listenin’ to the radio call-in show. The one where every “ignorant savage” out there in radioland was so misinformed as to actually think the Second Amendment had somethin’ to do with an individual right to bear arms, when every fool knows it refers to the State supporting the National Guard, which is why it’s so high up in the list of The Bill of Rights.

Well, the Yale guy decides to really research this so that the next day when the topic comes up again, and he’s stuck in traffic, he can get on his cell phone and shoot them crazy rednecks down, intellectually speakin’, that is. Come to find out, he just gets embarrassed all to hell, ’cause it turns out them ignoramuses are right about what was intended, despite them years of misinformation from liberals who know better. After he wrote that long article exposin’ this National Guard myth, why I had just ten times more respect for Yale, an’ I’m not sure they even play football.

Well, to get back to that elk question. I decided I’d research this matter an’ see if’n there wasn’t a speck of truth behind all them allegations. What I found was that in rare instances, like chicken teeth or gold nuggets in gizzards, Elk Do Become Deer.

It’s been reported that this occurred in Louisiana, which is of course below 4,700 feet above mean sea level where the opposite transition is rumored to happen. See, this ol’ boy was trying to get through one of them game-check stations with a load of meat and a great big ol’ set of deer antlers — they were reported to be muley horns.

But this game-check officer, being from Louisiana as he was, never seen anything like ’em before, and he accused my friend of havin’ been to Colorado and killin’ an elk, for which he didn’t have any license.

Luckily for my friend, he had post cards and photos, some of which actually showed wild game, and was finally able to convince that game warden that he just had been lucky enough to take an exceptionally large mule deer. To hear him tell it, this dang deer wasn’t just Boone & Crockett, it was Jefferson, Pike, Lewis & Clark, all rolled into one critter.

Of course, when he showed me them same pictures later on, I reckoned I’d never seen feet like that on a deer ever before, and wasn’t that some new body damage to his pickup truck?

Y’all got to realize that in all them years I hunted with this jeeter, I don’t reckon he ever actually seen a live bull elk, less’n it was down at the Howard zoo on his way here.

Now this is one real good ol’ boy and I don’t mean to impugn his honesty in any fashion, ‘specially dealin’ with an out-o’-state game warden like he was, but the truth of this matter seems self-evident.

I mean to say that an elk did turn into a deer below 4,700 feet above mean sea level, and if’n that can happen, it seems likely that it could work the other way, too. ‘Ceptin’ I can’t see for the life o’ me why in tarnation anyone would want it to, ’cause you’d lose all that venison.

Clay Warren

Pseudonymous in Poncha Springs