My reverse manscaping is done. The beard is rich. My gear is packed. I've been sent off with a pile of hugs, kisses and home-made cookies. The whine of the truck tires combined with the rotation of the Earth bring the mountains closer.
I can not believe how good it feels. I wish that I could bottle it.
I hope you are all experiencing the same right now, or in the near future. And if for some reason circumstances have conspired to force you to miss this season, know that you have my heartfelt sympathy, brother. I was there last year. I will do my best to comport myself well and bring back a story or two.
Have a great season! Best of luck to you all. Short bloodtrails.
Oh, and by the way... In line with the events of the past month of my life, if my truck blows up and one of you guys see me hiking West on 90 with my backpack and bow case, crying like a little girl with my thumb out, please give me a ride.
I'm on my way! Wooooohooooooooooooooo!!!!!!!!!!
Just don't drag it out for 5-6 days!!
Best of Luck, Jeff
Last week I was mildly distracted at work....this week I'm officially worthless.
Good luck, I've got one week. Meet up with a buddy in KC and we're headed to Colorado.
When I finally get off the dang pavement and arrive, I swear I am going to drop to the ground and roll on the mountain like a dog on a dead fish!
Good luck to all of you guys.
Jake - I'll try to post something up, but there is a high bar level that's been set here. Standards may require an attempt at quality that utilizes an extended time frame.
Midwest - I'm bleary from driving, but when I look in the mirror, I see my nearly demented grin that's big enough that I almost look like a dog sticking his head out the window on the highway.
Spirits are high boys!
Turns out, having a five year old fragment your sleep every night with commando raids to "snuggle" might just be perfect training for driving solo cross country.
Grabbing a few z's....the sun will be coming up soon.
Seems like the level of surly has increased around here. Maybe a relatively controversy free hunting story will be welcomed.
After I get unpacked and straightened away, I'll dump my pics on the computer and try to get something posted up over the next day or two. I think that I may have a story that some will find entertaining.
It was a great trip with some great guys.
I'll try to get my chit done efficiently and not drag things out Jake.
There will be specific details that are left out regarding my friends and their hunting area. I would protect their privacy and their hunting area had I not given my word. And I gave my word. So, many of my pics can’t be used, or will need to be redacted. Please be understanding and bear with me.
My last post before the hunt, I was still rocketing Westward. The windows were rolled down on the truck regardless of the temperature. My rationalization was that the fresh air and bracing wind would help to keep me alert. In reality, I think that I was just fed up with having glass between me and the world.
The music of John Lee Hooker, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Pinetop Perkins, Santana, Allman Brothers, Little Feat, The Stones, The Who, Koko Taylor, Shemekia Copeland and many others poured from the open windows accompanied by me practicing my diaphragm calls.
I had toyed with the idea of amusing myself by taking a few practice shots with my bow in each state along my route. That whim was jettisoned for speed.
Gas stops were a model of efficiency. If I hadn’t filled up, taken a leak, purchased coffee and gotten back on the highway in less than twelve minutes, I felt as though I was betraying my mission.
I ate a left-over pork chop once I crossed into MN. The bone sailed into the median to be bait for a coyote or crow. In WY, a sandwich was slapped together from the supplies in my cooler. I eschewed the condiments in the cooler as time-sucking frivolity.
When I found myself flagging, I’d gas up, park the truck and flip into the back to grab some sleep. Invariably, I’d wake in forty five minutes or so, chomping at the bit to be rolling. It just felt too good. Almost as though the recent aggravations, worries and angst were roiling out in the wake of the truck like the dust on a dirt road.
In my somewhat sleep deprived state the next morning, I apparently cocked my head slightly to the side like a dog and made a puzzled face when his wife declared that in spite of not feeling well, she was heading out “because it was yoga day”. I thought everyone knew it was “go to the mountains day”.
Little did we realize that during the exchange of heartfelt handshakes, hugs and pleasantries of my arrival the night before, some microbes were swapped as well. My buddy’s wife had spent some time with some infected kids and we’d both just been dosed.
We are still here!!!
"No problem. I'll just make some phone calls or something."
"Chuck" looked at me out of the corner of his eye and smiled, catching me in my white lie.
On the way, snow on some of the mountains amped me up a little more. Once his final official work task was completed, my excitement may have fueled his own. He began to drive with a sense of urgency. We may have peeled some paint off the hoods of our trucks.
In spite of our velocity, the comparatively short distance to my travels and the varying terrain, it felt like the drive took forever.
As we drove past different mountain ranges, I was afraid that I might develop some sort of facial tic.
"For Pete's sake, those mountains look like they'd be full of elk!"
"What about those over there?"
"How many mountains are we going to drive past?"
I stuffed a diaphragm call in my mouth to pacify myself and shut myself up. And I pressed down on the accelerator a little more firmly to try to keep pace.
We made it to our base camp site and set to work.
Clothes flew. Boots flew. The carefully honed broadheads replaced the practice broadheads.
Closing the hatch on my truck, I looked in the back at my pad, my quilt, water bladder, scattered stuff sacks, camo, base layers, socks, bow case, Nalgene bottles...an explosion of gear.
I shook my head, turned away to find "Chuck" and coughed.
I found a pocket of pines that I felt gave me good cover, checked my release, nocked an arrow and shivered.
I pulled my jacket from my pack and quietly put it on. I took in the view, checked the distance on several trees, dialed up my ears and settled in to become a hole in the timber.
A white breasted nuthatch was fairly intertested in me though. He kept flitting from tree to tree around me. He'd fly off for a minute or two and then return, landing on a branch 14-24" from my head. I'd roll my eyes to whichever side he was on and confirm that, yes, it was the same bird.
He had been pecked on the head by another bird or something. He had a tuft of feather that stuck up like an off-kilter mohawk. I kept still, waiting for him to be bold enough to land on my shoulder or hat, but it never happened.
Then I realized that I heard something behind me. I slowly and quietly turned to see a mule deer buck about seventy five yards away coming towards me through the timber. He was pretty much perfectly downwind. A little fork-horned two pointer in velvet.
I smiled, thinking of backstraps. Surprised that he continued coming in spite of the wind, I drew my bow as he passsed behind the pines that I was next to. When he stepped out from behind the pines, he was within eleven yards and my top pin was a little low on his vitals.
I winked behind my mask, held my draw and let down as he continued his way behind another pine that blocked his view.
I don't know why I didn't take advantage of that opportunity. I had a deer tag. I was thinking of using that tag for the freezer moreso than looking for a trophy.
I suppose that I was happy collecting the experience and thought I'd chase one down later. But as with many things in life, I got busy. Later didn't come.
"Chuck" and I quietly worked our way back down in the dark and in hushed tones he commented about how cold it got. I agreed and knew something was wrong. I just don't get cold easily.
We got back to our base camp and squared a few more things away and I told him, "I'm thrashed. I'm not even throwing up my tent. I'm just climbing in the truck."
He offered his space, but I could feel the congestion in my chest and clambered into the chaos of the back of my truck. I was like some hoarder sleeping in a pile of laundry and stuff, with a nice quilt on top of me.
It was the right decision. For at least two and a half continuous hours that night, I hacked and coughed until I almost puked. I would've kept "Chuck" up for half the night and everyone would've been miserable.
I finally passed out hard around 3:00 or so. "Chuck's" headlamp hit the window of my truck at 4:15 and he laughed when I moaned. A large cockroach of an idea to remain laying still crawled across my mind. I quickly stomped it to jelly and roused myself from the laundry and gear pile, kicking off the quilt.
I'm not sure, but you just might be the first guy to ever use the term "eschewed'' on here in the history of Bowsite!
Maybe TBM on accident once;>)
We met up with "UpChuck" another friend. A garrulous guy with a handshake firm enough to be bordering on a challenge. He has a smooth slightly crooked gait matched by his slightly crooked smile. The tilt of his grin dependant upon the position of his dip.
He had been up a few days earlier in the snow and reported that the bulls had really been heated up. We were heading to the timber bordering a serpentine park where he'd seen quite a few active bulls. "UpChuck" wasn't going to hunt with us for more than a few days because of work.
Because of the wind, we had to take a more circuitous route...and we had to hustle.
We moved quickly through the timber with our green and red headlamps cupped in our hands to limit the light escaping. We hopped over to the other side of a ridge and followed it down.
As a primarily whitetail hunting guy, I am accustomed to moving stealthily, but I was amazed at the speed at which they could move through the timber quietly.
In the predawn, we surveyed one tail end of the park where "UpChuck" had been recently. The decision was made to set up a bit further up and across the drainage in the timber near the curve of the park or in an adjoining finger of timber.
We set off quietly only to realize a few minutes later that a guy was standing in the park about thirty yards from the opposite edge of the timber. He was looking at his gps and turning on one leg as though to use it as a compass.
He and another guy had hiked in paying no attention to the wind.
We spun on our heels and bailed out of the drainage after speaking with him briefly. "Chuck" and "UpChuck" engaged in a hissed conversation about non residents, their acumen and ancestry. As a non resident FNG, I moved along silently, working to stifle any coughs from my increasingly congested lungs.
We checked some wallows and springs on the way out. A half hearted set up proved fruitless.
We returned to camp to grab something to eat for lunch and met up with "Little Chuck" a wiry, compact guy who listened raptly to the story of the guy standing in the park and testified to the number of non resident vehicles that seemed to be driving back and forth, back and forth. Their pocket of untrammeled ground had obviously been found.
"Chuck", beginning to suffer from the same ailment that had been gifted to the two of us, wanted to talk to "UpChuck" about the guy that he'd brought up hunting the week before without prior discussion.
"UpChuck" pointed out that he wasn't the only one to bring someone up. An accusatory finger drifted towards me.
We decided to break out the mountain bikes to move farther faster and get beyond the traffic.
We used the bikes for the next few days. We went down, across and up, searching for more active bulls. The weather was warming up and hunting was difficult.
We'd heard some bulls, moved on them and got them to move toward us, but not commit. They'd hang up, just out of sight, just over the fence...just not cooperating.
In spite of taking cold and sinus medication, my chest was just gooey. I'd make a slit mouth grimmace behind my mask with every elevation change. I was hoping to breath in a way that would get oxygen into my lungs without roiling the phleghm in a way to make me hack.
I hadn't packed my uninsulated boots. I was making do with what I had and had developped an aggravating hot spot on my right big toe.
We were up earlier, back later and going farther. I was having a blast, but I was running out of gas. Pedalling up the last slight rise, coming out on the fifth night, I had to dismount and push the bike. As much as I tried, I just couldn't dig any deeper.
A friend had seen a nice bull headed up early and said it looked like it was going way up to escape the traffic. We thought, "What the heck? Why not?"
We grabbed the bikes and hit a logging road going up. And up. And up.
We actually went higher than "Chuck" had ever been before.
We found a nice park up there with water, good grass, several beds and two to three day old sign, just no elk. It still felt good to discover something in the area that "Chuck" had hunted for years.
The view was incredible. I'm sure that those pictures would be identifiable though.
Bombing down that logging road by headlamp in the dark was a blast! The disc brakes were sizzling hot by the time we got down.
We had a bull come in and hang up maybe sixty to seventy five yards out in some thick stuff.
"Little Chuck" had spent some time with another friend, but was hunting with us that night.
The decision was made to "go down". The idea was to hit an area near some private land where "Little Chuck" had spotted some elk while travelling.
We got down to where a smaller ridge was tapering off and had a park to our nine o'clock. We heard a couple of active bulls nearby to our eleven and one o'clock.
We set up quickly with "Chuck" calling from the four o'clock position and "Little Chuck" moving toward eleven o'clock, hugging the edge of the ridge with a small opening to his right and a small timbered bench to his left before the edge of a park about forty five yards away.
"Chuck" motioned for me to move up to where "Little Chuck" was.
"Little Chuck" had moved a little further forward. I started sliding toward him, but his body language became focussed and he knelt behind a downed tree next to some small pines. He pulled his binoculars up. I hesitated and tucked into a gap in some small pines near me.
I could hear the twelve o'clock bull moving closer.
Suddenly, "Chuck" flashed across the small opening between us. He jabbed his finger emphaticly toward where "Little Chuck" was and disappeared into the small pines.
Torn between what I was seeing of "Little Chuck's" body language and "Chuck's" frantic direction, I rolled my feet towards "Little Chuck" with my eyes trying to burn holes in the brush.
And again, "Chuck" reappeared. "Move up here!" He hissed quietly, pointing to a spot that was in the other direction, on the edge of the small opening and, to my eyes, totally exposed to the direction the bull was coming from. "Chuck" flew to the other side again and called some more.
When he moved, figuring that the bull that was coming in from one o'clock to twelve o'clock would follow the left side of the small ridge, moving up the bench along the park, Chuck saw a decent five pointer silently bee-lining across the middle of the park behind us at about our seven o'clock. He was heading our way.
Unfortunately, those elk must've seen the bulls that were below us. They moved down, right through the middle of the park, staying eighty five to one hundred yards away.
I stepped on an unseen stick and was rewarded with a crack that seemed deafening. Elk started barking around us. I cringed.
"Chuck" "mooed" like we were some cattle and the elk calmed down.
The three of us filed uphill in the dark and headed back to camp.
I'd been set up in the primary "shooter" position repeatedly and things weren't coming together. We needed to stop that. We needed to change things up.
"Chuck" commented about my being his friend and guest...and went on about how much more time he had to hunt...and listed numerous instances where he as a caller had opportunities at bulls...
I took off my RMEF hat that "Chuck" had gifted me and reached into my truck. I pulled out a pink headband that a friend's daughter had left in the map pocket and put it on. I told them that "the princess" has been getting an awful lot of undeserving special treatment and it needed to stop. I was putting the hat back on in the morning. If I was cracking sticks or half a step behind or anything, I'd hunt by myself and not blow their hunt.
"Little Chuck" said he had to deal with work the next day and didn't care what was on my head. He smiled. "Did you really just refer to yourself in the third person as 'the princess'? That's a problematic image."
"Chuck" decided we were making a change. We were going to plan B.
Stories that went with those trailheads followed forth. The day felt very different. We were both feeling much better. It was easy to see that "Chuck" was excited.
No signs of any vehicles around where he wanted to go in.
"We should've come over here sooner."
I was excited. I had a feeling. I woke up early and spent some meditative time with my diamond hone and broadheads. My head was clearer. It was my oldest's birthday.
What sounded like a good bull was working his way up the opposite ridge from the bottom. We quietly bounced across a few small creeks and carefully rock hopped a couple of slides.
We came up to a smaller finger ridge before the main ridge. It sounded like the bull was going to be moving up the other side.
"Chuck" and I set up and tried calling, but the bull didn't seem to want to leave his cows. We slowly and quietly eased our way up the side of the small ridge.
But then "Chuck" who was to my left, upslope, could hear the soft mewing of the cows. He pointed to his ear and pointed in an up and over kind of motion.
The wind was perfect, so we held tight for a bit.
"Chuck" turned his head downslope, cupped his hands over his call and called softly.
We could hear something moving around, coming our way, slowly.
Arrows had already been nocked. We froze.
A cow peeked up at the crest of the ridge and then she ambled back down a bit.
"Chuck" figured that the bull had bedded down and his cows were bedding between us and him. He thought we should back out and come back, rather than risk blowing them out.
We slid away carefully.
Once away from the small ridge, our pace picked up. Boots rose and fell as we gained elevation without speaking.
We'd been covering a lot of ground and the hot spot on my right big toe was getting hotter, but spirits were high and climbing with us.
Returning to camp, I ducked into my tent and attempted to reconfigure the tape on my toe to make it more comfortable. I was somewhat perplexed because the blood streaked blister was underneath a respectable callus. I decided that it must have been caused by the movement of my boot while side-hilling. In spite of the temperature, I threw on some liner socks as well.
Then I set about to re-hone my already well honed broadheads.
In spite of what my wife says, I do have feelings. And I was getting one. Just not her kind.
We returned to the small finger ridge that evening. The wind was good. "Chuck" set up the decoy at the end of the finger where it dove down to a small creek.
A narrow ravine ran up drainage between the finger ridge and the large ridge defining the drainage. It was thick, relatively green with a small trickle stream flowing down the center. A trail ran along the near side of the small trickle stream.
I quietly headed up about eighty yards to where there was a bit of an opening in the small ravine and headed up the side of the finger ridge. I hesitated where I had good cover and good shooting lanes into the ravine, but then moved around a wide juniper to be a little higher and be able to better cover the top of the finger ridge as well.
I gently swept the small sticks and pine cones from where my feet would be, shed my pack, nocked an arrow and checked the distance on some trees.
I had a fleeting thought of grabbing a sip of water, but it was 6:57. "Chuck" was going to start calling soon. I could hear a raven croaking above the bigger ridge.
I set my feet and clipped my release onto the loop, mentally running a few scenarios through my head.
"Chuck" blew a cow call of moderate volume. Before the pitch dropped down, I could hear an elk charging down the small ravine. He was maybe one hundred yards away at the call and closing fast.
Thirty five to maybe forty yards up from me, behind some thick brush, he button hooked up the finger ridge and charged down the spine.
I spun 180 degrees and saw that it was a spike bull flashing through the small pines. I made the decision that, given the opportunity, I would kill him. I'd be more than happy and "Chuck" and "Little Chuck" could focus on their own hunts.
I was at full draw and rock solid when he burst into the small opening on the ridge. He was at thirty three to thirty four yards, facing me, when he came to a sudden stop because he'd seen me against the pine next to me.
I upgraded my bow in early February for this hunt. For the last seven months, I tried to shoot at least half a dozen arrows every morning before work and after work. The distance that I could shoot inside where I had light...thirty four yards.
It was a frontal shot, but I felt confident. He ground to a halt with my pins on him. I was calm, somewhat detached in the moment. My muscle memory flowed. I released the arrow, focusing on my follow through.
It seemed as though time slowed down, as it always does with me when I loose an arrow at an animal. Nothing else exists. While I am aware of sounds and scents and tactile sensation and find them calming leading up to a shot, when an arrow is in flight, that all falls away.
Because I lightly touch the tip of my middle finger to the backside of my grip, my bow doesn't tip forward after a shot. And though I was focused on my follow through, not the arrow, I remember seeing the circle of my sight frame the elongated helical flight path of my white cock vane. It disappeared into the chest of the bull.
I heard "Chuck" call to the bull and then heard it charge off heading towards the opposite ridge of the drainage, where we had hiked in.
Like I said, I have been fortunate to have always been calm "in the moment" with things slowing down and have never struggled with target panic or any kind of "fever", but after the shot, I seem to feel as if time is compressed to equalize things. Kind of Newton's Third Law of Archery Motion. Elation washes over me, followed by waves of doubt, concern, happiness and curiosity.
I stood there for a few minutes allowing the emotions and sensations to wash over me, living the "rush". It took a bit for me to notice the birds and the smell of the pines again.
I returned my second arrow to the quiver, quietly slipped my pack onto one shoulder and slowly ghosted over to where the bull had stopped. I could see his churned up tracks where he took off after the shot.
Still somewhat jangled in my post shot frame of mind, a momentary wave of panic washed over me when I saw no blood amongst the churned up initial tracks. I looked to my left, downslope. There it was! Gouts of arterial blood left in a stretched coil pattern on the ground as the elk's heart pumped and contracted. Excitement washed over me.
When I slowly eased my way toward him, he realized that I'd shot that spike. Once I was in a clear sightline, I pantomimed shooting an arrow to reinforce that understanding. He immediately put his hands up in a "Stop!" signal.
I was moving slowly and quietly on a ridiculous bloodtrail only with the intention of making contact with him, but I shrugged and stopped, pointing at the ground.
After a bit, I crooked a finger at him and moved a little closer as he moved toward me. I pointed again at the wide, dashed loops of the blood trail.
I whispered, "Look at this! He's dead!"
"Chuck" looked down again. "He's dead. But you can be surprised how far they can go sometimes."
We waited another fiteen minutes and then took up the trail to try to take advantage of the little bit of daylight remaining.
I was very confident. It was a bloodtrail that could've been followed in a thunderstorm. There was an old cow track pressed into some soft earth that was full of red blood and pink foam, like a bowl. We followed it, maybe, a hundred yards into a small grove of aspens to the confluence of several trails. At that point, the elk had hit the ground. There was a large splash/smear of blood where his chest hit the grass and a large smear of blood on a log on the ground with a fine sprayed mist of blood on a bush, grass and some sticks just on the other side of the log.
I checked the trails at 11:30, 9:30 and 8:00. I checked the trails at 2:00 and 4:00. "Chuck" checked them. We backtracked thirty yards or so to see if the elk got up and headed back down his initial path and we missed where he peeled off.
We pulled out our headlamps and rechecked logs and grass on all of the trails.
I started doing some arcs in hopes of picking up the trail.
We were out of light.
"There's no way a bloodtrail like that just stops!"
"Chuck" said, "It's cooling off nicely. We can't see enough with our headlamps. We need to come back tomorrow morning and take advantage of the daylight."
It made no sense to me. The shot played over and over in my head. I repeatedly replayed the bloodtrail in my mind too. WTF?!?! I turned another loop around where the elk hit the ground.
"Chuck" whispered, "C'mon man, let's go."
My thoughts made no sense. There was nothing that I could do and there was no way it would help, but I wanted to pull the small tarp out of my pack and bivy right there so that I could THINK! I almost started an argument with "Chuck".
"C'mon, man let's go. He's dead. We'll get him in the morning."
"That's not possible."
"It makes no sense."
The memory of a big deer that I'd killed that ran on empty for longer than was rational came to mind.
"I found him."
Getting back to camp, I crawled into my tent only to realize that along with my concerns about my elk, everything that I left on the road heading out of town, every worry, every aggravation, every doubt, they'd all found me.
I didn't sleep much that night. I was concerned about the elk. But I think that spurred on a reassessment of several larger issues in my life. It was a long night, but I came to some important conclusions about the future.
And at 4:15 in the morning, I was chomping at the bit. I was determined to find that elk. And I was determined to figure out just what happened.
I was tired, but I was much more myself. I didn't give a chit about my toe. The lingering crud in my lungs didn't matter.
"C'mon, man. Let's go. I gotta find my elk."
"Chuck" dropped down inside the edge of the timber. I moved up a bit and slipped into the shadows.
"Chuck" answered the bugle and we cow called, but we were too far outside the radius of where he'd be interested. It sounded like there were some different bugles as well.
I tried to stifle the ticking of the clock inside my head.
We broke out our binoculars and looked over every aspect of the general direction the elk had been headed. And we looked again as our vantage points changed.
I was starting to think that an alien beaming the durned elk up to some spaceship made as much sense as anything we were and weren't seeing.
I was mentally running through a plan to start grid searching.
"Got it." "Chuck" said.
He was standing in the bush. There was a fine spray of droplets.
The elk had gone over the bush and through the thick line of scrubby bushes heading off to one o'clock.
We had to crawl along for seventy five yards or so and into the park grass following the atomized blood.
And then the blood trail was back. We were on our feet, pointing and leap frogging each other, whispering to identify the next spot with blood sign.
"Dried cow pie"
"It poured out in the dirt here."
The bloodtrail made a gentle arc to the treeline, perhaps fity yards or so from where "Chuck" set up just a while earlier when we heard the bull.
My bull was at the base of three good sized Jack Pines. It felt really good to get my hands on him.
Man, that's an understatement!
My sight picture of the shot was a little off. He must've jumped the string a little. The arrow impacted right on the centerline, my aim point was about two inches to the left of that, just on his right side. And he dropped some, my aimpoint was about five inches lower than actual impact.
The entire arrow penetrated into his body.
I think that he spooked when he ran up on "Chuck" and ran into the aspens to the intersection of trails where he dished out. His bloody nose rubbed across the log next to where his chest smeared the blood that poured from his chest. He must have coughed the spray of droplets on the grass, sticks and small bush.
Maybe the impact helped expell the air from his lungs and atomize the blood.
And perhaps the impact caused the arrow to move, cutting more and making him go on a death run.
If the adrenaline was in his system from seeing "Chuck" and there was an extra jab when he crashed, that could explain his going over the bush and exploding through the line of scrub leaving only fine droplets for seventy five yards or so.
I don't know if he slowed down in the park, or if some membrane or fat moved releasing a temporary plug. From the bloodtrail, it was obvious that the blood just started pouring out again, though the volume was diminishing. I still can't figure it out.
And I was happy that the "warm-up band" was moving to the wings. It was time for the "headliners" to take the stage.
We had noticed something and had a plan.
Sometimes the bloodtrail starts petering out because they start to run out of it..... pressure drops.... etc. higher hit, bet he had a bunch in him too.... had lots of them start thinning out from a stream to just drops and you get that tight feeling of doubt that starts creeping into your gut.... and then there they are.
keep it comin' Hemingway.... this is good!
After the meat was in game bags and in the pack, I used the space blanket to wrap up the skull to minimize the "juice" absorbed by my pack.
I told the wife and kids about the bull and that it was a birthday bull having been killed on the eldest's birthday. The excitement, enthusiasm and pride expressed by number one really made me smile. Dad had done a good job in the eyes of the kids.
Apparently, the five year old had taken on the task of protecting my interests while I was gone. If the refrigerator was opened, number three would take up a supervisory position and speak with authority.
"You can't drink that. That's daddy's. He's going to want that when he gets home. Leave it alone."
"Chuck" shook his head and repeated that it was the oddest track he'd been on. I thanked him again for climbing into the tangle of bush where he picked up the bloodtrail again.
"It was the only damn place that we hadn't looked."
The conversation turned to what we'd noticed the past couple of days.
"Chuck" offered, "It's not like we can pattern them. There's no guarantee that conditions will be the same, but no one's been in there recently, except for us. They haven't been disturbed. I think we've got a shot."
"Every day, we've needed to be a little farther, a little lower. We've been hearing bulls and we've gotten some to move, but not commit. I think we've got to be more aggressive and take a run at 'em." said "Little Chuck".
I could feel the shift in temprament. We were done playing it cautiously for the sake of the FNG, trying to increase the odds. I swear they moved differently in camp. A little quicker. There was a "vibe" of energy.
I couldn't help but think of a bird dog at heel, muscles twitching, eyes focused.
The next day these guys were going to be unleashed. This was going to be fun.
I had a feeling.
I love the story and your writing style and was waiting for you to wrap up prior to commenting, but this line made me pi$$ my pants....
O yeah, great story. Congrats on the bull!
I washed a granola bar down with some coffee that was in a "go" cup. I think the coffee was from two days prior.
I had my pack and bow in the truck already. I was wearing my bino harness. My headlamp was in my left pocket. My mask and gloves were in my right pocket.
I slid alongside "Chuck" outside of his truck.
"Listen, man. I've got a feeling about today. I'm going to throw my bigger hauling pack in the truck unless you think that'll be bad juju."
His face was lit by the glow of the dome light filtering through the dust on the window of the truck door he'd just gently closed. Distorted gray speckled shadows floated on his cheeks like war paint. He hesitated for a moment, thinking.
"Throw my frame pack in back too."
We started looping the head of the large park, moving towards the big ridge on the other side of the finger ridge where I'd shot my spike. The sun wasn't up yet.
"Chuck" spotted some cows far below in the meadow below the trees. We picked up the pace.
As we came up the side of the big ridge and had the beginnings of some diffuse sunlight, binoculars came up again.
There was a good bull with the cows. He had dark horns and a bit of a limp. He was running off some other bulls. They were heading into the timber of the bottoms below, heading toward an intersection with our path.
Things started happening very quickly. The big ridge nose-dived down in a big grassy knob with scattered pockets of trees. It was steep enough that you could hike straight up, but going down, couldn't help but doing slight switch-backs. The grass on the face grew in a slight, ribbed, corduroy pattern.
Elk butt decoys popped out of packs, were hastily placed and we scattered in our own directions and started calling.
The elk were coming, but we were too high still!
"Chuck" and "Little Chuck" shifted again. The decoys were left behind. I shot straight side hill to some trees and looped slowly downward on the opposite side.
They leap-frogged again. I held tight in the shadows of my little clump of small pines. We were running out of ridge. I could hear the elk moving through the timber of the bottom just below.
"Chuck" was at my 10:30 as I looked down. "Little Chuck" had moved farther out in about the same direction.
I had tagged out. I wasn't shooting, but I experienced the same odd dilation of my senses.
A five point and a six point turned up the slope. From my vantage point, I could only see legs and the bottom half of the bodies. "Little Chuck" later said that another five point moved through the other side of "Chuck" as well.
"Chuck" called in a way that was a pre-arranged signal that told me he had a bull in sight and needed me to call to try to bring it into position.
I gave my best cow calls, hoping that I could help in a small way. I couldn't stop the thought, "Big Dan would probably slap that diaphragm out of your mouth."
I remember the feel of the pine needles under my knee and left hand. The flash of the incredible orange underwings of a red shafted flicker flaring to land on a branch just down from me. Behind me, I heard a woodpecker that I thought was hammering out the base line from "Cissy Strut."
I heard the sound of a bowstring and it all fell away.
An elk bounded away a bit. There was a cow call from "Chuck". Then the sound of a bowstring again. An explosion and a crash at about my 12:00.
Everything went quiet.
Then I heard "Chuck" quietly move off further to my 10:00, catching just a glimpse of his camo moving away through the trees.
"Chuck" called a few more times.
I held tight, silently for ten minutes or so.
Hearing nothing else, I picked a quiet line, put my extra sneaky feet on and took an arc up, around some other trees and crept down from tree to tree. I scanned everything with my binoculars and very slowly moved in the direction of a patch of "Chuck's" camo.
He was surprised when I blew a very soft cow call from thirty five yards behind him. I had no idea where "Little Chuck" was.
"Chuck" was looking into the botttom with his binoculars. I looked at the sightlines and rolled my feet as I slowly and silently slid a little closer with cover.
We stood for about ten minutes, about ten yards apart, each of us scrutinizing the timber with our binoculars.
He then ghosted up towards me.
"You shot that elk, right?"
"Five point. He's down over there."
"I lost "Little Chuck"
"He went after the other bull in the bottom."
The right side of his rack was broken up and his body was huge. The picture doesn't capture it well.
He had slipped into the timber in the bottom, letting the other bulls pass him. He saw the herd bull about 130 yards away.
Apparently exhausted from trying to run off the other bulls and protect his cows, he bedded down with his cows just on the other side of him in a little dip.
"Little Chuck" carefully belly crawled seventy some yards shielded by some scrub pines, checked the range, raised up on one knee when the bull stood and took a fifty eight yard quartering away shot. The bull tipped over quickly.
After a little more wait, we quietly moved down to see. We checked him out with binoculars, crept in, confirmed he was done and shared celebratory handshakes, clasps on the back and hugs.
"Chuck" and I required that he reenact part of the crawl for pictures, pose at full draw from where he shot and told him that he had to pack out both bulls by himself.
We took a series of pictures of him with his bull and "Chuck" and I with him with his bull. I hoisted him up, sitting on my right shoulder for a picture of the two of us with the bull.
The idea was for me to head up the spine of the big ridge, catch an old trail, get to the road, drop my pack, hike to the truck, bring it back around to the big ridge, grab the bigger packs and water and bomb back in while they broke the elk down.
It seemed like a good idea.
It was getting warm. I wanted to hustle.
I followed the spine of the ridge and picked up an old trail. Problem was, I picked up the old, "old trail" that followed the left side of the ridge, toward the road and eventually the truck. What I wanted was the "old trail" on the right side of the ridge.
The trail I was on eventually headed into a blowdown. We'd had to traverse countless blowdowns during this trip. Not fun, but you just pick up your feet and keep going.
It sucked me in nicely. Not too bad at first, until I was comitted. Then each hundred yards became more ridiculous. It stretched away as far as I could see in every direction. Satanic Jenga. I was crawling, over, under, through.
Around was off the table.
At least four times, I knocked the quiver off my bow which was strapped to my pack. The internal swearing count was in the millions.
I kept the pack on my back and hoofed to the truck. No way was I going through that again!
Dumping my pack at the truck, I grabbed my large pack and strapped "Chuck's" frame pack onto it.
I grabbed the extra knives that "Little Chuck" wanted and rummaged around for anything useful.
I hadn't refilled my Nalgene bottle and none of us had tossed extra water or Gatorade into the truck. We had half a small bottle of Gatorade and a third of a Nalgene bottle of water for three guys packing elk out on a warm day. My filter was back at base camp.
I felt like an idiot upon learning of the trail on the right side.
We packed up all of "Little Chuck's" bull in meat bags. We quartered "Chuck's" clydesdale of a bull and hung the front and hind quarters in the stand of Jack Pine. We removed the rest of the meat from the clydesdale, it went into separate meat bags and joined the rest in our packs.
Up "The Gauntlet" we went. The trail on the right side of the ridge had some blowdowns, but they were nothing.
Getting back to camp, water tasted pretty good. Then Gatorade tasted good. Then some juice tasted good. Then a nice cold beer slid down.
Spirits were high. Chops were busted in hushed tones. We had water.
"Chuck's" quarters were squared away in pretty quick order. The last of the meat bags went into the packs.
We climbed "The Gauntlet" for the last time and took a series of pictures of each other at the top. There was a good deal of cutting up.
I was looking hard across the drainage, reliving some of the trip, taking it all in. "Little Chuck" wandered over.
"You coming back next year?"
I smiled and gave a nod of my head.
"You earned your keep."
We turned and started heading up the ridge.
I opted to hike out wrapped up in my own thoughts. For the third time in three days, I had almost half an elk on my back. It felt good.
I hiked along sweating under the pack in the warmth. The breeze wicked the sweat away from the back of my neck. Pine cones and small twigs crunched nonchalantly underfoot. A camp robber, a Clark's Nutcracker, eyed me from a deadfall.
I thought about what hunting and trips like that mean to me. How hunting trips seem to provide a "time lapse" series of images of friend's lives. Friends that you seem to just mesh with again as though there'd been no interval. New friends. The gift that I'd been given.
I thought about the serious life decisions that I'd made while sweating under a pack, or in a tent, or accompanied by the hiss of a lantern, or in the glow of a headlamp.
I remembered my first child being baptized with water that came from a hole in the ice and the next two who were baptized with water from trout streams.
I thought about the streak of my arrow, the highs and lows of the bloodtrail.
And I found myself at the truck.
"You want a hand with that pack?"
"Nah. I'm just going to drink some water for a sec."
I didn't want to take the pack off.
"You earned your keep."
A true hunting PARTNER. Thanks for the excellent story telling and pics...that was great!
The morning that I was leaving from "Chuck's" to go home, I woke up early. I packed up the few things that I'd brought in and took them to the truck. I checked out the fluids etc. and pulled out my toothbrush.
I was standing on "Chuck's" gravel driveway brushing my teeth, imagining my reception upon my return, when I glanced at the stars. There was Orion. Like Orion, I am an archer, large and, the darker it is, the easier it is to look at me.
At 5:32am a shooting star streaked through Orion. It could've only been more perfect an ending if it would've been going in a direction like it came off his bow.
When I was on the sidelines last year, I was jonesing for stories. I ached for more details to try to scratch my itch. I made a vow that I'd do my best to put up a story to try to salve that for someone else.
I'm not a wordsmith like Jaquomo. I don't kill bulls like BigDan. And I don't pack bulls up big cliffs, pursued by grizzly like city. But I did the best I could.
In my opinion, elk hunting can be hard. At times, with a few other challenging factors, it can be real hard. I think everyone should take up golf instead.
Thanks for taking the time to let us read about it, and congrats to all three of you
I'm guessing witness protection program..... =D
LOL! I gonna bet he hasn't shaved off the mountain beard yet either.... I know when I come home I hang onto it just as long as I can. Sometimes longer.
Thanks again. Great story. Congrats on a great hunt. Heck, ya even got invited back... can't beat that with a stick.... heheheheh....
TD - No one is wanted by the FBI or claimed to be having an appendectomy to take off work. Just keeping my word to my buddies. Plus, chicks dig them more, so it's fun to scribble on their faces..."Take that you little Leonardo DiCaprio looking bastard!"
But you're right. The beard is ever present and coming into its full glory. I'm cutting meat, scrambling with work and household duties...and prepping for my trip to WY.
The wife was falling asleep and I gave her a kiss. Some whiskers poked her in the nose and she freaked out. It was hilarious. I realized that I need to kiss my wife more.
A beard with good juju and built in entertainment!
Thanks for sharing.....
And I'm not even near a legend in my own mind! I do have a temporary exalted status with the kids, but I'm told that they grow out of that by their teens.
It occurs to me, that not only do we have a lot of amazing hunters here on Bowsite, but quite a few excellent storytellers as well.
Thanks again, and congratulations on the bull.
Yours is a keeper. Congratulations, my friend!
I didn't elk hunt his year and I am still worthless, reading all of these great write ups.
Lou, PM coming.
BTW deleted faces = Special Forces Ops, surely?!
Thanks for the time you spent making it.
I'm glad it came up again now that I'm off work. Grats and nice write up Orionsbro.
"Satanic Jenga" is a classic that's gonna have to get borrowed.
Great hunt bud. Awesome in fact!
Happy New Year, brothers!
Nicely done guys!
My best, Paul
Work really is killing me here - on the other side of the world from the places and things that mean the most to me for the last several years.
Looks like I should be able to have a week in September this year - was hoping for all of it and more!
Awesome story. Well done.
I'd say you must be a long-lost brother of mine, except I am nowhere near "large". And I'm DAMN good lookin'!!!
At least my wife says so! LOL
Do this again some time. The hunt AND the tale. Feb is a good time for such things.
Great thread to re-read, hope ya got out this year.
Thanks again for a great read...
I would love to see all of these epic hunt tales put in one spot so they would be easy to find.
Did you actually read the thread or just look at the pictures?