352 pages

Learning About Elk

In the beginning there was heaven and earth; and the earth was without form and void and little tow-headed boys wandered around barefoot, with hands in their pockets because there was nothing upon the land to catch their imagination. And God looked upon His work and saw it was not yet good that no thing existed to challenge those boys. And so an autumn came to pass when eerie whistling drifted into the valleys from distant mountainsides and the by then lanky teenage boys threw away their toys and accepted the wapiti challenge that would make them men! And God and girls saw that it was good.

If you've heard a different version of this story, that's your problem. I heard it but once -- this way. And so I became an elk hunter. Then I became infatuated with all God's creatures, and eventually a believer that God's handiwork is composed of such intracacies that a quest to understand has taken the rest of my life. The Phantom Ghost of Harriet Lou is about that quest.


what people are saying:


The Phantom Ghost of Harriet Lou is the best book I've ever read. -Colorado hunting guide Bill Tidwell

Roland Cheek is a born storyteller. - The Register Herald / Eaton,

I have just finished The Phantom Ghost of Harriet Lou. Wow! It was wonderful! I was transported from my stateroom aboard a destroyer to the wilderness I traveled as a teenager. Your tales were well told, enlightening and dead on the money. - Joel Stewart / USS Fife Dd99I

Great Falls Tribune

Roland Cheek probably has forgotten more about elk hunting than many of us ever will know.

But what the veteran outfitter, guide and outdoor writer remembers and packs into his new book makes it worthwhile for anybody who pursues the elk.

The new book is "The Phantom Ghost of Harriet Lou and other Elk Stories."

The cover of the book also advises it is "driven by the wild wapiti" and is a graduate course in what makes elk tick."

Cheek, whose column regularly appears in the Tribune, writes from his home in Columbia Falls where he retired after more than two decades of trips into the Bob Marshall Wilderness.


Cheek lays claim to being in on the formulation of the 80/20 rule: That is 20 percent of all elk hunters take 80 percent of the elk.

He also pioneered the concept that elk are a lot like white-tailed deer and an eastern deer hunter likely will be a better elk hunter than most people.

Cheek's engaging style is conversational--I think you'd hear these stories around a campfire at about 7,000 feet after two fingers or so in the bottom of the cup.

I particularly enjoy the several chapters that deal with youngsters--generally Cheek's grandson--learning to hunt.

We ride along as the youth grows into a world populated by wise old hunters who long ago gave up the need to kill.


The boy remains mystified by those who don't need to kill to have a successful hunt and yet yell at the tops of their lungs when they return to their favorite spot in the high country.

This is not a nuts-and-bolts how-to guide to hunting elk. But the information is there, along with the recollections of a lifetime of guiding others into elk country.

Cheek's book will help its readers learn about the kinds of places elk use each season of the year and provide insight into the habits of the elk.

There also is guidance on being better prepared for traveling in elk country and some practical advice on equipment selection.

Cheek also is the author of "Learning to Talk Bear."

More Reviews

I am so impressed I want a copy sent to Lisa Brown, with my compliments, She will take my place as Hunter Education Instructor. After 35 years, I think some new vigor is in order - Don Smith / Hot Springs, MT

Tammy Meck writes in the Glenwood Post (Glenwood Springs, Colorado): "The Phantom Ghost of Harriet Lou isn't just about the hunt. It encompasses many aspects of elk, from 'how-to' tips for finding, watching or hunting elk to preserving their habitat"

"My wife tells me it is the first book she has seen me read and not put down until I am exhausted." - Asa Asaturian, Carbondale, IL

"To simply say that Roland Cheek's new book, The Phantom Ghost of Harriet Lou, is a deeper read than one expects to find in a work about animals is an understatement." - The Shelby Promoter

"The heart of Phantom Ghost lies in several 'old man and the boy' stories that bond a grandpa and his grandson during a series of up-and-down hunting adventures. The question is which was the novice and which the journeyman?" - Lewistown News-Argus

"The Phantom Ghost of Harriet Lou is the stuff of stories and dreams!" - Lakeshore Country Journal

"I would use this book as a reference after a failed hunting season." - Cheri Johnson, Watsonville, CA

Explore! Magazine says: "Roland Cheek is an extraordinary teller of outdoor tales." Explore! goes on to say: "Hot on the tail of his successful bear book, The Phantom Ghost of Harriet Lou is a full-life tale about one of North America's most mesmerizing creatures, the wild wapiti. It's a book for those who care about wildlife of all kind, to understand grazers and carnivores, mosquitoes and hop toads."

Show & Tell Magazine calls Roland a ". . . humorist, and says he's clawing his way to success because he's becoming 'bearish' on writing." Show & Tell goes on to say: "The Phantom Ghost of Harriet Lou delves into the wapiti's habits, haunts and history."

"I just finished reading The Phantom Ghost of Harriet Lou, the usual superlatives seem to fall far short when I try to describe the book. It is indeed a superb and excellent work that I am recommending to family and friends." - The Honorable Judge Larry Cole / Haines, OR

"The Phantom Ghost of Harriet Lou is an endearing collection of coming-of-age stories." - Leanne Smith / Shelby MT

even MORE reviews!


enjoyment of the total experience becomes increasingly stronger.

He revels in the enthusiasm of kids and grandkids as they begin hunting. He describes his own continued enthusiasm even though filling his own tag becomes relatively unimportant.

Few writers have ever done so masterful a job in explaining why hunters hunt while also providing an enjoyable text on how to hunt.

Jack McNeel is the former regional wildlife educator for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. He is a regular contributor to the Sunday Perspective section to The Press.

Chapter One

Echoes From The Wrong Gun

Even over the clack of the ancient printer, the door's slam vibrated through the house. I shifted so I could see as the boy skipped through the living room. He saw me and slowed. "Hi, grandpa!"

"Uh-huh. Howdy, boy. You animated over anything special?" A broad grin swallowed the freckled face of the twelve-year-old, so I added, "Careful your ears don't topple in."

"See!" he said, shoving a paper forward.

"What is it?" I asked, knowing all along what it was.

"Read it, why don't you?"

I smoothed the paper against a window pane and pretended to pore over it. "Hmm. This says you're trained to handle a gun without shooting yourself or somebody else. And it says you can go hunting if some old duffer tramps along."

"Will you?"

"This is just April," I said. "It's still several months until hunting season."

"But will you? Will you take me with you when it comes?"

I handed the boy his Hunter Safety Certificate while settling into my swivel chair. His eyes drifted to the big mule deer head hanging above the clacking printer, then returned. "You will, won't you?"

I stroked my chin, making as if it was a big decision. The boy's lips pursed; he frowned. "Grandpa?"

I'd been funning him long enough, so I nodded and said, "Yep." He near exploded. But an awakening maturity kept him from climbing into my lap like he would have done a few months before.

"Will I get one like that?" he asked, looking up at the huge elk rack dominating the inside office wall.

"Search me."

"But you know how to hunt elk." He started to lay a hand on my arm, but brought it up short. "You'll teach me how to get one like that, won't you, grandpa?"

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