Driving up to his mobile home, the 77-year-old worries for a second. It doesn’t look like the reception committee is around.
Then his pickup rounds a corner, and the road ahead parts like a velvet curtain. “See!” says Lloyd Babin, pointing ahead.
The Babin place is crawling with elk - about 25 of them. A mob of cows, six calves, and one five-point bull. “He’s a friendly ol’ booger,” Babin waxes.
They visit him every day, in the hope of getting their daily dose of alfalfa.
“They’re kind of pets,” Babin says. “I go out and call them, and they come running. They sure like to gobble up a little hay.”
He parks the pickup, they turn around and stare blankly back. “C’mon, elk!” Babin calls. “Good elk.”
Soon, they’re snatching green clumps off the yard’s hardened snowpiles - heads bobbing, chocolate beards wagging.
Babin goes through about a bale a day. They cost about $13.50 each.
But Babin doesn’t mind. “I like ‘em,” he says. “They’re just friends, y’know.”
Last year, about a dozen elk wintered near his home. This year, there’s twice as many - heavy snowfalls drove game out of the hills early. A contractor, Babin even had an employee bulldoze a path around his home for the elk.
“I talk to ‘em and stuff.”
As he swings open the front door, the furry heads pop up. “Them are good elks,” Babin praises. “You’re all right. Yeah, them are good elks. Come and eat your hay.”
Each day at lunchtime, the brown giants lumber out of the woods. It’s the talk of the town.
“They definitely know Lloyd’s rig, too,” adds Sandy Schlepp, who works for Babin.
“When he pulls in with the pickup, they’ll follow him,” says his daughter, Claudia Childress.
Babin says he can walk right up to the elk with no problem. One knocked him over once, but Babin says it was an accident. The cow was chasing Jake, Babin’s German shepherd. Usually, it’s the other way around.
To help animals driven from mountains, the Idaho Fish and Game Department has been supplying folks with feed in areas like Bonners Ferry. There are about 10 feeding sites for game up there, says conservation officer Steve Agte.
South of Bonners Ferry, though, Agte doesn’t see as much need.
These days, Babin’s elk look pretty insulated. “They’re in good shape,” Babin says. “Roly-poly.”
Agte discourages most people from feeding game unless they contact the department first, though it’s not illegal. “We just ask people to use common sense,” he says. “Sometimes people just throw them some hay, and if they do that, they’ll be doing it all winter.”
Babin doesn’t mind. “They’re no bother to me,” the gray-haired man says. He’s sad if they don’t show. One of his favorites, a cow he named Nanny, didn’t return this year. Babin thinks she was bagged by a hunter.
Babin hunted elk in the ‘50s, but says he couldn’t do it now. He’s not against elk hunting, though. “They make good meat,” Babin says.
Without the threat of catching buckshot in the rear, other varmints have moved in with Babin, too. He feeds squirrels, and one winter, a motherless bear cub holed up beneath his house.
“Everything’s got their problems,” Babin explains. “Not just us.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Color photos
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