As I hit the freeway, one of my hunting buddies texted me and said he was on the river and to stop by. As a testament to my ever increasing maturity (code for age) and patience, I stopped and chatted with him for a while. The old me wouldn't have dreamed of it, but I'm slowly learning to smell the flowers along the way.
Since we didn't have beer, the visit was somewhat short lived and I was soon on the road again. I stopped and got a gut bomb and fries, broad heads, and the really critical stuff, Cold Smoke and some hard cider.
Off we go.
Soooo, sit back and enjoy the scenery.
Seeing an opportunity to carb-load, I very sagely opted to make a pass through the drive through window. After all, it was likely divine intervention that the Dairy Queen just so happened to be right on the road to the trailhead.
Editor's Note: I sit here in a hotel room as I write this. I bought A BOTTLE of Black Butte Porter. It cost me almost nine bucks. Such is life when you are staying in a hotel right next to Sea-Tac airport. I grumbled to myself that I could have bought a whole six-pack for that price, but I write better with a beer. So, for nine bucks you all benefit from enhanced (code for gutter) humor.
I changed out of my flip flops, hoisted my pack, and headed down the trail. The trail had obviously been re-routed a bit from when my topo map was published, and it took me a bit of reconnaissance to determine I WAS actually on the right trail.
I crossed the creek without filling my boots, and plodded on.
I knew I would have to do a better job of pacing myself this year. I had sustained a fluke knee injury in July, and was on a no running/hiking/biking plan for a month. My fitness level, while still good, was not what I wanted it to be and I had some underlying trepidation about my knee. I wasn't sure how it would handle the mountains.
I set a comfortable pace and finally reached my pre-chosen camp destination at midnight. My first in the dark attempt at setting up my GoLite SL5 went without a hitch, and I had food hung and was in the sack at 1 AM. Daylight is coming soon.....
My alarm went off all too early, and I fired up the stove and made some oatmeal. This year, for some extra calories, I threw a pat of butter in each bag of oatmeal, with my usual standard fare of three bags of oatmeal and a 1/4 cup of dehydrated milk. It did make taste better, and the maple/brown sugar variety was really pretty good. I washed it down with a Starbuck's Via, grabbed the Bowtech, and hit the trail.
Based on my internet scouting, I had a pretty good idea of where I wanted to hunt the first morning. I left my tent shortly before shooting light and hunted my way up the ridge behind camp.
It looked even better on the ground than it did on Google Earth. The woods were eerily quiet though, without a bugle to be heard. I hadn't heard a single bugle last night while hiking in either.
Then, at the top of the meadow, I cut some very fresh elk sign. I lined out on the trail, tracking the elk through the timber. It wasn't too difficult to follow the trail, and I slowly made my way up the ridge.
The sun began peeking over the ridge to the east. Normally, I really enjoy this time of day. Today, it really cost me. The glare of the sun was right in my eyes, and I didn't slow down enough to compensate for it.
Too late, I saw the golden flank of an elk in the timber. I froze, and could see about eight cows. I could also see what I assumed was the bull, as he was bigger and lighter in color. I never saw his antlers. I was perfectly willing to shoot a cow on the first day, but the timber was too dense and I didn't have anything that even remotely resembled a clear shooting lane.
I waited while they milled around and eventually headed around the ridge. This is the timber they disappeared into.
I was standing in a saddle, smelling elk, and glassing the timber below where I knew they had gone. I heard something coming down the trail, and saw a suicidal mule deer doe coming my way.
I had made a pact with myself that I would not shoot a doe early in the hunt. My buddy would be joining me in four days, and I wanted to be able to hunt with him without worrying about keeping deer meat.
So, I gritted my teeth and exercised my full arsenal of self restraint. She walked by me at about five feet. This clearing was almost renamed Muley Doe's Last Stand.
I was glassing and thoroughly enjoying the view. I found a small band of elk way across the basin, much too far away to hunt today. I continued glassing, glassing, and glassing.
By mid morning, I felt the need to go for a hike. I decided that I should summit the peak ahead, glass the southern basins, and hunt around the basin below me and back to camp.
The view was incredible, and worth the climb. I could see peaks in Idaho and Wyoming, too many to count.
After a long and dry hike, I finally was able to fill up my Camelback. I slowly hunted my way across some beautiful benches.
A bull bugled below me in the creek bottom, but the winds were very finicky and I didn't see the point in trying to work in on him. I was in the transition time as thermals were shifting.
I saw one lone cow above me, but the swirling winds quickly ratted me out. As I worked my way down the creek, I saw an elk on the hillside above me. I sat down to glass and saw several more cows and a 5x5 bull.
Daylight was running out fast, and I knew there was no way I was getting up there in time for a shot. I slowly hunted my way down the creek, and made note of a bugle on the ridge above me where I had started my hunt this morning.
I hot footed it up the ridge, keeping the wind in my face. I bugled once and the bull answered me. I picked up the pace and began moving towards him. As I got closer, he bugled again, and I could tell he was already moving into the timber. I heard a bull bugle back towards the creek.
Decision time. I didn't feel the winds were stable enough yet to follow the elk into the timber. I did feel I could loop around and work the wind towards the bull down by the creek. I also felt there was the distinct possibility that I was going to crap my pants.
Things were "Code Brown" in flash, if you know what I mean. I pulled my release off, set my bow on my pack, and frantically fumbled for the bag of wipes. Just as my pants came down, it happened......
Instead, I heard something in the meadow. I looked up and saw a nice six point bull lined out at a hard trot, coming directly at me.
ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Really?
It was a Homer Simpson moment. DOOOOH! I looked at the bull, looked at my release and bow and realized that the only thing to do was enjoy the moment for what it was.
When the bull was about 10 yards away, I stood up slightly, and his eyes bulged out of his head as he buried all fours in the ground. He wheeled and took off at a sprint, leaving me there with my pants down.
This is the meadow he came across. He stopped right behind the two trees in the foreground of the picture.
I found out that they were camped about a mile from my camp. The guide told me that they were planning to go further up the ridge and work in concert with another group of their hunters to try and ambush elk in the saddle that was almost named Muley Doe's Last Stand. Their hunters would be working below the elk also.
I told them that since they had a coordinated plan, they should continue up the ridge. I knew I didn't have to do it, I was up there first. However, it seemed like the right thing to do.
I glassed the hillside to the east for a while as I waited for the winds to stabilize.
After about a half hour, I went into the timber after the elk. The were bugling and I quickly caught up to the herd. Each time I thought I could close the gap, I found myself battling thermals and I would have to backtrack and loop below them.
I couldn't ever close the distance enough to get a shot, and the wind showed no sign of stabilizing in any way. I'm not sure it ever does in this shithole of timber and deadfall.
By now I had four bulls bugling around me. I worked my way into a pocket meadow and decided to sit on it, given the wind. I heard elk at one point and had an arrow nocked. Something spooked them right at the edge of the meadow, 35 yards away. I suspected it was the wind.
I stayed there for the better part of the day. Bulls bugled actively throughout the morning, but I was stuck. The elk were up and moving at 2 PM, but I was still stuck. I waited for them to move on, then worked my way down the ridge.
I came into a series of meadows along a trail, and sat down to eat. Suddenly, a bull bugled right over the hill from me. I grabbed my pack and took off running.
I crested the hill and could see cows at the bottom of the meadow. I worked my way along the edge of the timber, and quickly found myself under 100 yards from the small herd.
They were feeding my way, and the meadow would create a natural funnel. The wind was blowing steadily in my face. Arrow nocked, ready to rock......
Disgusted, I began hiking towards camp. After a short detour to go back and find my grunt tube, I found myself in the creek bottom.
I did see a cow moose on my way back to camp. I threw down some chow, had a shot of Waitsburg Bourbon, and hit the sack.
At about 1 AM, I hear a loud sniffing noise outside the tent. Not exactly how I like to be woken up, but when I heard a hoof rattle a rock I felt a little relief knowing that whatever was out there was not carnivorous.
About a half hour later, I heard a moose calling "mmmmmeeh". The moose wandered around my tent, calling repeatedly. Maybe I was exhuding moose pheromones? I heard a long sniff, then another, then I saw the tent bulge as the moose put its nose on the side.
Enough of this I thought, I yelled "hey moose!" as I slapped the side of the tent. Bullwinkle retreated and I went back to dreamland.
No bugles from the Code Brown meadow, so I continued up the hill towards the saddle at Muley Doe's Almost Last Stand. The wind was HOWLING from the east, and bugles were very hard to hear.
I heard one from the saddle and hit high gear trying to intercept the elk. I heard another bugle, and saw the rump of an elk as they headed into the timber.
I dogged them for a while and gave up because of the erratic nature of the wind on the nose of the ridge. I heard a bugle on the east side and took off. I never could catch up with the bull, and finally saw a pair of hunters below me. The bull obviously winded them as he went silent.
I climbed to the top of the ridge so that I could glass. I heard a whistling bugle below me, and watched a spike come out 100 yards below me. He had now worries, as I was hunting a brow-tine bull unit.
At around mid-day I had my boots off to dry. I heard a bugle to the east, but because of the wind I really couldn't pinpoint it. I hastily threw on my boots and headed around the ridge.
It was a game of cat and mouse. I couldn't commit very far across the ridge or I risked the bull getting downwind of me.
It was also the hillside that had the large stand of dead whitebark pine, so concealment was limited. Whenever the bull would bugle, I would glass to try and locate him, then move as quickly as I could while staying downwind of him.
This leapfrog game went on for about an hour. I resisted calling because of the open hillside and not wanting to risk the bull getting downwind. Finally, I thought my luck had changed. I heard the bull bugle down near the creek bottom.
I ran down a stringer of spruce trees and cut into the wind. I nocked and arrow and began walking up towards the cut bank. I just knew the bull was going to be in the bottom and I would have about a 30 yard shot at him.
I eased up towards the edge.......
It's up there, free for the taking.
My nine dollar beer is gone, and it's time for bed.
Good luck, Robb
So far, well done.
My best, Paul
Great photos and great, flowery prose! Keep it coming!
As I was cussing at myself about the grunt tube, I decided to hike up the basin a bit and look around. To my dismay and surprise, I found four horses tied up along the trail.
I waited until the hunters came back, and found that they were from the same outfitter's camp. A gal had killed a bull at the head of the basin.
I chatted with them for a bit and learned that there were two hunters camped at the very head of the basin.
I had also seen another camp in the drainage to the west. That made three camps in three drainages, as well as one of the head of the basin.
It was obvious that the outfitter and guides hunted the elk hard. They weren't too concerned about pushing them into the next drainage as they had horses. Obviously, that was a concern for me.
My limited math skills went to work and I quickly decided that I was not liking things here.
It's a tenuous place in the hunt when expectations don't meet up with reality. I'm of the firm belief that you have two choices, grumble and bitch or do something about it.
I hiked back to camp, packed up my stuff and headed out. I had enough other places in the hopper to hunt that I didn't need this level of competition in a basin that would require a five mile pack out if I killed an elk.
I reached the truck at 9 PM and began driving. I sent a text to my wife to tell her I was relocating, and she called me.
During the conversation, she asked me "when were you planning on coming home?" I told her Thursday, and there was radio silence. Ruh Roh Raggy.
She said "oh, I thought you were coming home this Sunday.
My wife coaches high school cross country, and we have three girls in three different schools (elementary, middle, and high school). She was taking on a lot to make this trip happen, and I don't take that lightly. This would weigh on me each day.
I drove and drove, finally reaching the trailhead at midnight. I threw my bag in the back of the truck and crashed.
I awoke at 5 AM to a driving rain. I ate breakfast in my sleeping bag, and said screw it. I went back to sleep hoping the storm would cease.
At about 730, I woke up and didn't hear rain. Awesome! Oh, wait, it just turned to snow. I drove up to the top of the ridge to send a quick text to my hunting buddy, who would be meeting me tomorrow.
The break in the weather would turn out to be a siren's song. It suckered me in, then REALLY cut loose.
The snow was coming in sideways. I reached a timbered ridge, and after a lot of looking, found a tree that had some semi-dry wood. I was able to dig out some pitch and get the tinder going.
This fire was my companion for the next hour and a half.
I was already hooked. Now, ominous foreboding?
This is like when the guy in the horror movie says, "I'm going to go see what that sound was." Or the guy in the war movie who shares the picture of his girlfriend with his buddy.
Hurry home and drink a beer, please. You have us more interested in your story than your continued employment. Great stuff!
Incredible adventure, storytelling and pics!!!
Keep this baby rolling!!!
Thanks for taking the time to write about your adventure. I'm looking forward to the rest of the story.
Can't wait for the rest!
Seriously, this is great. You have inspired me to type up my hunt. (I can guarantee I cannot tell a story as good as you though!)
Keep working at your job, don't neglect the family, but you have us hooked. Keep it coming ASAP!
Don't you guys just HATE it when the wife says things like that!?
She is normally VERY good about it. She had the dates written on the calendar, but somehow in the confusion after she accepted the coaching position they got transferred over incorrectly.
She really is an amazing woman, and I don't begrudge her at all. I couldn't keep half the irons in the fire that she does.
I opted to forsake my health and got heart attack food for lunch so that I can put up a few more posts.
Oh, the things I do for my fellow Bowsiters!
The storm finally broke and I continued up the ridge. I found a lone antelope buck at 9k feet basking in the sun. Go find some girls young buck, and propogate your species!
I wish I had of checked my camera lens when I took this picture, it was one of my favorites of the trip. Unfortunately it appears that my lens had condensation on it.
I watched a small herd of elk with a VERY good bull come off of the small plateau to the left of the summit. This mountain is the real deal. There are cliffs on the east side that would take some serious balls and rapelling gear to navigate.
I glassed some other basins and only saw one lone cow down below me.
I have a glassing fetish. Even though these elk were completely out of reach for me, I like to glass and watch them as it helps me to understand the kind of areas they are hanging out in, how big are the herds, how actively are they rutting, etc. I then use this to plan my hunts accordingly in new areas.
Finally, after several hours of glassing and hearing or seeing nothing more, I could see the weather was changing. My internal barometer was pegged on "really shitty" and nothing on the horizon was dispelling that notion.
I decided to still hunt my way down the ridge below me. I would creep along, occasionally giving a cow call or a locate bugle. I was only met by silence and a growing cloud bank to the southwest.
I starting to think this ridge is completely devoid of elk.
I continued hunting downward, following some very well used trails. I found myself in a wonderland of sparsely timbered benches with grass, cover and water.
What more could an elk ask for?
I'd sure like to find the bull that did this.
I continued hunting down and never found or heard an elk. I decided to work down the canyon a ways. At about 430 PM, the skies cut loose. It turns out my internal barometer was entirely correct and I decided it was time to head for the truck.
This was no sprinkle, this was a "your blood trail is gone within minutes" type of rain.
It took me an hour and half of hiking at a pretty good clip to reach the truck. The last mile was across the alpine plateau, and let me tell it really SUCKED. The sleet was coming in sideways, and I would guess the windchill at close to zero degrees.
It was a good reminder of how people die from hypothermia in September. I knew I could push on and push hard to reach the truck, but it wasn't far from reaching conditions where you hole up and build a fire. I pretty much committed though, and just tucked my head down and trudged on.
When I reached the truck, I fired up the heater on high. I drove up a long hill several times just to the diesel warmed up and the heater blasting. After about two hours, I was somewhat warm again.
I drove down to the river valley where I would meet my buddy tomorrow. I was trying to decide what I wanted to do in the morning for a hunt and decided to cross the river and hunt some lower ridges.
I ate dinner in my truck, which looked like a refugee camp with clothes, socks, and boots laying everywhere as I tried to get stuff dried out.
I pulled off the road and slept in the back again, and went to sleep to the drumming of rain on the topper.
I awoke at 7, and could still the hear the rain pounding away. I crawled out of the back of my truck, fully expecting too see Noah building an Ark, and the animals filing in two by two.
I made another cup of coffee and decided to drive around and see which roads were passable and which weren't. I saw this sheepherder's wagon, man that ain't good. I later saw a tow truck heading up the road, and sure enough this was his target.
I stopped in at a camp and visited with some guys that were standing around a fire. It turns out that one of them had a moose permit for the area. They had scouted some very good bulls in August, but now with the rain they couldn't access the areas those bulls were in. It was a pretty somber and stressed out group. In talking to them, I got the impression that vacation time was going to be an issue.
After BSing for a while, I told them I would let them know if I saw a moose. I had only gotten 1/4 mile from their camp when I saw Bullwinkle cruising the river bottom. I whipped around and flew back to their camp.
I asked the kid how big of a bull he was looking for and told him what I found. They frantically grabbed hunter orange, binos, and a rifle and followed me up the road. Alas, Bullwinkle pulled a Houdini on us and was nowhere to be seen. I left them to continue glassing.
About five minutes later, I saw Bullwinkle again, about a half mile away from the initial sighting. Just as I was getting turned around, the moose hunters came roaring down the road. They had seen him from their vantage point.
I got a front row seat as the young man got proned out and made two nice shots on the moose. I drank coffee while giving them hand signals as they navigated the willows. I saw a couple of fist pumps, high fives, and hugs.
This was probably the highlight of the trip.
We appreciate your patience....
My buddy met up with me at about noon. We caught up a bit, and did a little driving around. The roads were horrible, and the rain showed no sign of relenting.
Finally, we made the command decision that burgers and beer in town was the best available option.
We parked the truck about 30 minutes before shooting light and began our hike up the ridge. We were about 10 minutes from the truck when I saw another pickup turn around near ours. I flashed my headlamp at them so that they would see we were up here. They drove a short distance up the road and parked. Pissed, we continued hiking up the ridge.
Shortly before daylight we heard a bugle. We got to the top, and could now hear several more bugles. I glassed the ridge above us and could see a group of about 10 cows and a good herd bull heading south.
We crossed the meadow, and I gave a locate bugle. It was answered by another bull, much closer to us. I told my buddy to set up on the rim and quickly backed off and began making herd talk. I raked a tree, bugled, chuckled, cow called, the whole nine yards.
After a while my buddy came back and said that the bull was coming in, but spooked for no apparent reason. We had the wind and I could not figure out why he busted out. We would find out later.
Undaunted, we continued up the ridge to where we had seen the herd cross. It began sleeting and snowing again, and the wind was very erratic. I knew that trying to work into the basin would be futile with the shifting winds, so we built a fire and waited it out.
After about two hours, I was getting restless. It was 2 PM, and I heard several bugles across the sagebrush meadow.
As I was zipping up a pocket, I heard the sound of hooves. I looked up in time to see a herd of about 25 cows come running across the meadow, crossing about 65 yards in front of us. We were pinned down and had no way of getting closer.
I looked at my buddy and said "where is the bull?". All of a sudden I saw him. He was a giant. He was probably a 7x8, to be honest I couldn't really focus on counting. Let's just say he was a BIG dude. He crossed and followed the cows into the timber.
I walked back up to the edge of the aspens, trying to figure out what spooked them. My eye caught movement at the edge of the timber, and I looked closer expecting to see a hunter.
Instead, I saw a big yellow body with a very dark chocolate mane. I ran back loudly whispering "BIG BULL, BIG BULL, BIG BULL!" We grabbed our bows and set up. I didn't think we could move any closer, and I felt certain I could sweet talk this bull into range.
As he got close, I gave a few seductive mews on the Mellow Yellow. He looked our way, and came towards us! Then, he stuck his nose on the ground, and lined out directly onto the trail of the herd that just went through.
He stopped at about 60 yards, then entered the timber. The corner pocket on the lower right side of the photo is where they entered at.
It's pretty neat when the satellite bull is a 340" 6x6!
It looked like the storm was finally going to break, so we opted to wait for the constantly switching winds to stabilize and then track the herd.
We found this on top.
We began hunting our way down the basin, jumping a small bull that I didn't see as he was bedded behind a big downed log.
We opted to go back to the point where the herd entered the timber, and track them, hoping we could stay below them and use the cold thermals to our advantage.
We tracked them for about a half mile before we hit an open sagebrush slope, where the tracks fanned out as the elk began feeding. It was slow going, picking out the tracks, but we followed them to the edge of the timber.
Suddenly, I caught a whiff of something very dead. I heard branches breaking above us, and the pepper spray came out very quickly. This was a GTFO moment and my buddy and I both made a hasty retreat down the hill to put some distance between us and the kill. Several days later, I found grizzly tracks on the ridge above the location, and I'm quite certain a bear was bedded above the kill. Fortunately, it must not have seen, heard, or smelled us.
We picked up the elk trail again, but now they were lined out. I couldn't figure out why until we saw movement below us. It was three hunters that had come from the truck that parked after we headed up the hill.
Cussing them for their lack of consideration and ethics, we headed down the hill in the driving snow.
We were soaked by the time we got the road. I did have the pleasure of meeting a fellow Hunt Talker, and huge advocate for sportsmen. We visited for about a half an hour. For all of the inconsiderate folks in the woods, it sure is a pleasure to meet quality folks like this guy. He told me where they were camped and to stop by if we had time.
We drove around for an hour or so trying to get dried out as we hatched a plan for tomorrow.
I was in my wool long johns and flip flops, driving while I tried to dry out my pants and boots. We found one access road I was curious about. The game warden in the area is a very good friend of mine and had told me that it might be an area worth checking out.
I made a mental note of the road, and we drove further north. We saw a truck parked, glassing a big basin. I got out and talked to them for a bit, finding out what there plan was so we didn't interfere with their hunt.
When I got back in, my buddy was making fun of me standing outside in my "black yoga pants" and flip flops. I told him I didn't know the guys and didn't give two shits if they thought I was crazy or not.
We opted to go back to the road we had passed. When we got to the end of it, there was a pickup and camp trailer there.
As soon as we parked, an old man came running out the door and began getting his gear ready to go. I walked over and asked him which way he was going. He said he was going south. I asked if it would interfered with him if we went north, and he proceeded to tell me he had two friends coming that were going to hunt that way.
I wondered to myself why they didn't get up earlier if they wanted to hunt it. I asked the old man where we could go that wouldn't interfere with them, and he said "nowhere really".
Pissed, I mulled things over in my head. I don't head to the mountains to deal with assholes, and I decided it wasn't worth a pissing match with this guy. We left, and I knew full well in the back of my mind he was lying to me. Reminding myself that you reap what you sow, we drove east.
We saw a bull moose and this tree that had grown out of a rock for over a hundred years.
We thank you for your patience. I think I need beer.
We gathered a little firewood, and I was hitting a low spot mentally. I was still pissed at the old man, and frustrated with our seeming inability to escape the hunting pressure.
Thankfully, God put blue grouse on this earth to lift a disgruntled bowhunter's spirits. I have a fetish for shooting grouse that would rival Big Fin's.
As I was driving down the road, I saw a grouse running through the snow. I slammed on the brakes and yelled "chicken" as I threw it in park and grabbed my bow.
I had a fleeting shot and missed. The grouse, looking for whatever made the hissing noise over its head stopped, allowing my buddy to deliver the kill shot.
My spirits now lifted, we drove back to camp and I decided we should go up the road and check out some of the access roads to see if they were passable yet.
We stopped to talk to a couple of hunters that were parked where we had been yesterday.
The driver said "we followed two guys up yesterday and hunted below them". Remember the bull that spooked, the wind would have carried their scent right up the ridge to the bull. Mystery solved.
He then proceeded to laugh about how the guy "had bugled about a 100 times". I figured if this guy was so dumb he would follow someone up the hill it was pointless for me to either 1) point out his stupidity or 2) point out that sometimes bugling a lot is what it takes to get the job done. Had they not screwed us up, we would possibly be packing elk quarters right now.
I decided that today we should hunt a drainage I had never hunted before, but had often heard bulls bugling in. We reached the end of the road at 5 AM and began our hike in.
We crossed the bottom and were heading up the other side when I saw a headlamp. WTF? We were the only truck at the end of the road. I whistled to the person, but they didn't stop.
I double timed it and whistled again. I saw one of them look back and then pick up the pace. I began running and whistled again, at which point they finally stopped.
I asked them where they were headed, and they were pretty vague. Finally, I decided to cut to the chase and asked them which side of the ridge they were going to hunt. They told me, and I asked them if it would screw them up if we hunted the other side. They said no.
We began hiking up the hill. The leader of the group seemed surprised that we were keeping up with them. After the second rest stop, his demeanor changed drastically when he realized that we could have out hiked them and beat them to the top if we wanted to.
We heard bulls bugling in our drainage and bid them farewell and good luck. The wind was completely wrong for us the work the elk, so we looped back and followed the ridgeline up.
We got a nice seat, watching these guys work a herd of elk with three bulls in it. The ended up dogging them into the timber on the side we had planned to hunt, so we simply cut behind them and hunted the side they had said they were going to hunt.
Once they regrouped they headed further up the drainage. We dogged them, and got a good look at the bull. He was a nice 310-320" 6x6.
We followed them through the morning, and they ended up in a steep coulee. We snuck up to the edge , hoping to ambush them if they came back up. I belly crawled to the edge and saw a cow directly below me at 38 yards. The angle was all wrong because it was such a steep shot.
I backed up and motioned to my buddy to get ready, an elk was coming. However, he didn't realize it was coming up RIGHT NOW, and she pegged him at four yards. Unable to draw, she walked on by him and down the trail.
By late afternoon, the herd bull was still very vocal. Every time he bugled I would look at my buddy and say "he must have bugled 100 times", mocking the fool from last night.
Finally, I had enough and decided it was time to work in on him as our ambush plan was not materializing.
I made it down without incident. I slowly closed the gap to where I had marked the bull.
I bumped a mule deer buck, but fortunately he went to the east. The bull bugled, and I knew I was within 100 yards.
Super slow, I eased across an open spot. I closed one last gap, and as I did so I could see a cow bedded below me. She was asleep and never saw me. I saw another cow next to her, facing away from me. They were 35 yards away. The picture above is the bench I was working down. The bull was in the clump of aspens in the middle left of the photo.
The shadows were getting long, and I knew the wind wasn't going to hold out for long. I nocked an arrow. I gave a few mews on the cow call, then followed it with a screaming bugle.
The bull immediately growled and I heard him get up. He screamed back at me and growled again. I bugled back and came to full draw.
All of a sudden, I saw him come out by the cows......
I could see from his mane forward. I needed only a very small step. He started to move forward.....
.....then he turned downhill and hooked two of the cows.
My plan was to take the first shot I had, bull or cow. I got nothing.
Dejected, I hiked back to my buddy who had watched the whole thing go down.
We began hunting our way out, and jumped one elk out of aspen jungle, with no shot opportunity.
This was the first time my buddy had gotten to witness rut activity like this, and he had the time of his life. I did too, days like this don't always happen and one should appreciate them for what they are. We had been into elk from daylight until almost dark.
My buddy wasn't feeling well and I knew I would likely be going out by myself in the morning.
I opted to hunt lower this morning in a big basin of aspen groves. At daylight I could hear the elk herd ahead of me. Actually, there were two elk herds. One was up in the sagebrush, so I left them and tried to keep up with the other.
They were on a mission today, and were soon in their bedding area. I continued still hunting along. This drainage has a number of hidden pocket meadows, and as I came over a ridge I unexpectedly was looking into a small meadow.
I saw a small bull standing in it. At first, I wasn't even sure he was legal, but saw a brow tine that I was sure was 4". As I mentioned earlier, the game warden here is a long time friend, and I had no desire to put me or him in a difficult situation.
This moment of hesitation threw me a little, and in hindsight I missed an opportunity to find a shooting alley through a stringer of timber. Instead, I opted to wait and see if the bull crossed in front of me. He didn't.
I began the long hike back to the truck. The final stretch was a tough uphill hike through a stand of Douglas Fir. I was 50 yards from the edge of the timber, and the road was 150 yards from that. All of a sudden, I saw a flash of yellow and got a whiff of elk.
Moral of the story, finish the hunt.
I made a quick stop at the Hunt Talker's camp that I had met. I left him a note telling him where I found the elk that morning in hopes that he could get into them. I loaded up my gear and took a byway route home that I had never been on. It was a picture perfect day. I never get tired of taking pictures of aspens and sunsets.
This story isn't to impress others with my hunting prowess, far from it. I'm sure many Bowsiters would have been able to capitalize on the opportunities that I had. The point rather, is to look at things as a summation of all the parts.
If I were to look at this hunt from the final outcome perspective, it would be a 0 for me and my buddy both. However, when I stop and look at all the experiences along the way, it easily rates a 10.
Would I have preferred to come home with an elk? Absolutely. I won't lie, I really wanted to kill an elk with my bow so I could hunt with my wife and girls without thoughts of an empty freezer. But to base the entirety of the trip on that factor would be a huge mistake.
Public land elk hunting is tough. It comes with highs and lows. Sometimes they are separated by milliseconds.
I turned 44 the day after I got home. I had an injury this year that gave me a scare, and gave me a fleeting sense of physical mortality. Thankfully, it was nothing serious. I read Paul Navarre's stories and marvel at what he does.
I pray that God will bless me with the ability to do this when I'm 75. How lucky can one be, to be able to retreat to the solitude and sanctuary of our public lands and chase elk?
For all of those hunters that think about going elk hunting, don't put it off. You aren't getting any younger and failure doesn't necessarily equate to a bad trip. For all of you that do hunt elk, count your blessings and appreciate each trip for what it is.
Thanks for following.
You deserve another beer.
The easy elk hunts seem to fade from one's memory, but the really hard one's burn their way into the brain and are etched there forever--elk or no elk.
Thank you for sharing as I know it takes some pre- planning and then time to put it all together.
My best, Paul Navarre
I didn't get to the elk mountains this year and it's killin me. Reading this helps me to cope.
good hunting Matt Houska
Congrats on a great hunt!
Best of Luck Jeff
Really enjoyed the read - thanks for taking the time.
Hopefully next year, I can post a good story.
I also commend you on the most concise and colorful writing style I think I've ever read on bowsite. If I had to venture a guess....you write for a living?
Also props for, I assume, typing up your whole story off-line, so that it could all be copied and pasted here in one or two bursts. Simple concept that I wish everyone would do. Soooooo much better than those teaser story threads where we gotta wait a day or three for the author to put up his next post ;-)