We were in the same area as we went to last year and our plan was essentially the same: backpack into an area a long ways away from any motorized vehicle access to get away from pressure and into more elk and elk that weren’t as pressured by other hunters. It was a fun, difficult, and at times frustrating hunt that dealt us some great opportunities as well as some significant curveballs. I was with two great buddies and we were in God’s country. Anytime we can get in the Rocky Mountains with good friends and a bow in our hands, we will most definitely have fun.
Doing backpack hunts like we did this year is tough, as many of you already know. It’s physically difficult and psychologically more complicated than day-hunt type hunting, where you have a comfy bed and a good, warm meal waiting for you anytime you want. The physicality of the hunt is something that a person just can’t go into the hunt unprepared for. Between the three of us, we run, bike, lift weights, do cardio workouts, and do the dreaded weighted pack workouts on “the hill” (70 lb pack up and down one of the only hills in Fargo) so that we don’t get crushed by the mountain and the demands of the trip. Part of that preparation was our involvement in the Hard Charge mud run in Fargo this past June. It was a good way to guarantee that we’d be in good shape going into mid-Summer and would just require us to push a couple months with our conditioning to be ready for our hunt in September.
We really got into the spirit of the mud run and had team uniforms and team haircuts. We looked ridiculous, but had a lot of fun with it. I think the haircut really gave me some extra intensity.
As you can see, my wife was really impressed…
Here’s our group- Jon, Gabe, and me (Team Elkblood) and our buddy Jake (Elkblood wannabe):
Here’s a pic just before the race.
…and here’s what we looked like after.
Finally, here’s a shot of my sister Nicole, who I talked into doing the mud run. She kicked butt!!!
The race was tough and fun and we enjoyed it a bunch! It was as physically demanding as you made it, but at a minimum it was a good test for us. It definitely motivated much of our early training.
Travel to Montana I left from Fargo in an airplane. I had a conference for work in DC and flew into MT and met up with the guys there. It was an early start for me on Thurs morning.
My conference went well and I flew into MT and got a ride to the top of the mountain where Jon and Gabe would have the truck parked and all of my gear inside. This all went like clockwork and I arrived at the trailhead on Sat, Sep. 21st at about 2:30. The day before this, Jon and Gabe got to the trailhead mid-afternoon and headed in to the location we were to camp. Here’s a pic of Gabe just as he’s about to get all of his gear ready.
Here is a pic of Jon and Gabe’s packs and most of their gear before they headed in.
Here’s the trail to camp, which was 5.28 miles from the trailhead.
Jon and Gabe got to the place we’d decided to camp, set up their tents, ate some grub, and hit the rack looking forward to the happenings of the day to come.
Day 1 With me en route, Jon and Gabe headed to an area Gabe had good luck finding elk at last year. On the way there, they bumped a herd of elk right near the area we set up camp last year. Soon after, with more light to help them, they spotted a spike bull. However, our tags didn’t allow us to shoot spike bulls, so he was safe. Soon after, they heard a bugle from several hundred feet in elevation below them. With the thermals not quite set up, they sat and waited for the shifty winds to settle down. Eventually the winds switched around and were more cooperative. They moved in close to the bull, called, and were greeted with silence. The bull would have none of it and never did respond. He was either call shy or the wind wasn’t as stable as they thought it might have been. After that, all was quiet and they didn’t find any other elk to chase.
There was plenty of fresh sign around, just like last year.
I arrived mid-afternoon that day and decided to hunt my way to camp. After climbing a mile on the trail towards camp, I dumped off a ridge and hunted a North facing slope for about two miles. About one mile into this process, I got a bull to respond to my calls. I moved in quickly, set up and got ready. Unfortunately, the wind was its usual uncooperative self and the bull left quickly and silently. Half a mile later I had the exact same scenario play out again. The bull responded to my calls, I moved in and set up. I was close- the musky cattle-like smell of elk filled my nose. Again, however, the wind juked and jived and the bull left without ever saying another word.
I hunted until 7:00, which gave me two hours to get back to camp with some light. I seriously underestimated how long it would take me to get there and gimped my way into camp well after dark. I was shot and ready for bed. With Gabe’s help I set up my tent and gear and crashed for the night. Here’s a look at our camp once it was all set up.
…and the contents of our tent were pretty meager, just as they always are on backpack hunts like this. Inside each of our tents you’ll find a sleeping bag on a sleeping pad, a pair of Crocs, and a handful of other smaller items.
Jon and Gabe went down to the area we call “Big Meadow” and heard nothing until about 9:00. While moving down the trail they got a reply to a lost cow call. They moved in, set up, and simply couldn’t get the bull to play. This seemed to be an unfortunate pattern that was setting up for us…
That afternoon they thought they heard a hunter bugle from up a hill. Eventually, the hunter’s bugles sounded like they were coming downhill. Soon they heard chuckling and the raking of a tree, and soon after they heard the water from a wallow being splashed. They sneaked in and unfortunately, they quickly got winded and a decent 5 point bull ran off, never to be heard from by us again.
Here is the wallow the bull was splashing around in.
I hunted the area we call “The Hell Hole” that day. The short version of the story is this- I took a whoopin’! I didn’t hear a thing and saw nothing but old sign, until I got a very, very long way from camp. I was tired from the travel and the pack in, so I ended up sitting a couple wallows and hoping either to get lucky and have a bull come in to the wallow or to hear a bugle I could run off and chase. Here are a couple shots from the places I sat that day/evening.
Again, here’s my view while sitting another wallow.
I was sitting at the wallow immediately above towards the end of the day and hoping to hear a bugle I could go run after. The bugle never came, but the rain and snow did. We got rained on for a couple hours, then the rain turned to snow. Many of the flakes were the size of quarters and the temperature was dropping fast. It might be a cool night in the tent! It was cold and wet, which resulted in fairly few pics up here and many of the ones we took weren’t too good because either we were shaking when we took them or because the lens on the camera had moisture on it and wouldn’t take a nice, clean picture. Frustrating! Mostly though, our hands were so cold and wet that we didn’t take them out and fumble with cameras. Plus, our fingers weren’t working very well, so working the camera was a pain in the rear.
We awoke to a little skiff of snow on everything and a lot of moisture on the ground and vegetation. It had rained and snowed off and on all night. Everything on the mountain was sopping wet. Jon and my bows (Gabe was smart enough to not leave his outside) were caked in ice and it took considerable work to remove all of the ice on them so they’d work properly. Our arrows probably weighed 600 grains, rather than 450 due to all of the ice on them! We cleaned them up and got our bows ready for the hope at a shot.
Jon and I went to the North side of the area he and Gabe were at on the first day. We saw and heard nothing. It was a pretty miserable day with rain, frozen rain, and sleet. About a mile away from this location was a little hidden bowl with a tiny lake that we’d never been to- I’d found it while snooping on Google earth and we decided to head over there to check it out. The area by the small lake was awesome- there were little benches and shelves in the few hundred vertical feet above the lake. About 400 yards from the lake I ripped off a locator bugle and we were instantly (and finally!) greeted with a bulge from a bull. I immediately turned to Jon and said “You’re the shooter. Do you want to be aggressive or just use cow calls?” “Aggressive!”, was his response. We turned to head towards the bugle, which we estimated to have come from several hundred yards away. Just as we got hustling towards the bull, after only a few steps, Jon crouched down and hissed “There he is!” Unfortunately, he was only 40 yards away and he caught our movement- he must have come in on a run from the second he finished his response bugle. The bull spun and trotted away. I immediately cow called and the bull stopped on a dime. I cow called again and the bull came back ten yards closer. He obviously wasn’t aware of what had spooked him. Jon was 15 yards ahead of me and about 80 yards from the bull. I was hidden from the bull and managed to get “Esther”, my elk decoy, out from the straps that held it on the pack. I popped the decoy up and the bull locked on Esther immediately. The wind had been perfect, but just at that time, I felt the frustratingly inconsistent mountain wind hit the back of my neck. Our scent hit the bull’s nose and the young 5 point bull wheeled and tore out of there in an instant. Grrrrrr! Finally, a good, close encounter with a decent bull and the wind got the best of us once again.
Here’s the lake we found at the bottom of the bowl. It was a really cool spot and one we’ll definitely be back to.
Gabe went to the backside of the big mountain. This area was new to us. It was beautiful country, filled with lots of new and old sign and well used trails. However, all Gabe saw was one muley doe. On his way back to camp Gabe found a spot where he could get data on his cell phone. He did a quick weather check and found out that the forecast for the next few days may result in over 30 inches of snow. Eeesh! With a 30+” forecast in the high country, who knows how much snow will actually fall or how big the drifts will be. At camp that night we discussed the weather-related info and made the decision to pack off the mountain in the AM. None of us were happy about this decision, but we are all 100% onboard with it. If we get as much snow as the weatherman says we might, we might not get the truck off the mountain until June! Winter storm warnings may also put our safety at risk and make getting to the truck really tough. This was a curveball we weren’t really prepared for. We literally had areas A, B, C, and D in case we didn’t find many elk or had too many hunters around, but all four of these areas were chosen because they were high in elevation and a real pain in the rear to get to. With the weather we had coming in, none of these areas would be a possibility any longer and we had no Plan E-Z.
…a few other pics from our A spot in the higher country.
Mmmmmm… peanut butter, bacon, and honey on a bagel!
The pack out took 3 hours and 45 minutes and was pretty uneventful. Even though our spirits were down and we were really unhappy with the fact that we were leaving the higher country, we keep our chins up and made the best of it.
We headed to the nearest town and found a motel room. We scouted out new areas for the rest of the day, but at the end of the day we spoke with the packer, Rusty T., who gave me the ride from the airport, and he suggested we try an area he knew about. Given that our scouting turned up nothing of great interest and that we had a tip from a local with lots of valuable info about the area, we happily headed out to the place he suggested.
Question for you - I haven't used a tent/tarp without a floor since I got a good job and could afford one WITH a floor, but wondering how you keep the water from running in and soaking everything when those awful afternoon hail-rainstorms hit?
That was what finally drove me to carry a tent (and switch to a synthetic bag - having a wet sleeping bag and hypothermia way back in the wilderness.
Jaq, is that kinda like "I used to wear a shirt like that when I was a kid, but then my dad got a job"?
I can't say much about the floorless tent- it was Gabe's. Other than eating grub under it one night I don't have any experience with them. I know Gabe used the tarp and a bivy combo, so he wouldn't have any worries about water. Also, if pitched right you can take care of most worries. We had everything from drizzle to hard, driving rains and he didn't have any issues with water coming in, regardless of his bivy.
Gabe was happy with his combo. Also, he had a lot more room under his tarp then I had in my tent and his bivy/tarp combo weighs a fair bit less than my Big Agnes Copper Spur 2 man tent weighs.
But for camping... - I'm old, so I'd rather carry an extra pound and a half for a roomy shelter with bathtub floor, and drill holes in my Depends and toilet paper to compensate for the extra weight.
Thanks for sharing...
Good luck, Robb
Thanks Robb. The trip didn't go as planned- Mother Nature was very cruel to us. However, as you'll see, we did the best we could with what we had to work with.
Thanks guys- more to come tomorrow.
Geez.... I can get "tomorrow" from Coach....
What if something happens to me tonight? I'd die not knowing the ending... then you'd be sad.... then you'd have to go do something you didn't have to cheer yourself up, then...
Ok sounding like a Direct TV ad.... had to try though...
If something happens to you and you miss the ending, I'll be sad. If I'm sad I drink to drown my sorrows. If I drink too much I'll be dancing on the the pool table. If I dance on the pool table, I'll slip on the 8 ball and get a concussion. If I get a concussion, I'll forget I ever elk hunted in the first place.
Don't forget your favorite hunting trips, post the damn story! OK, OK, I'll post!
After the trip we planned for over 350 days had the door slammed in its face, we were stumped. We weren’t very optimistic about odds of making something good happen- the only areas we knew anything about were in the high country. This area was brand new to us, it was accessible by truck so lots of other hunters can get there without too much effort, and these elk had certainly been harassed by other hunters already this year. In spite of that, we all agreed that we’d make the best of what we had to work with and we’d work as hard as we could to make something good happen.
Gabe and I headed down towards a large saddle and North facing slope in the new area and Jon headed a ways away to the North along a grassy hillside that had some beautiful cuts and draws below it. About ¾ of a mile from the truck Jon found himself slowly pecking his way through broken terrain. It was steep and had scattered pines and junipers. As he slinked through the trees he spotted a gray and white patch ahead of him and immediately recognized it as the backside of a mule deer. He soon saw it was a muley buck. Jon had a combo tag, which meant he could shoot an elk and a mule deer. Jon also had never shot a muley before, so it was game on! Eventually he cut the distance to the buck and when he was close enough, ranged the buck. He was slightly over 40 yards away. When the buck’s head went behind a tree Jon drew, steadied his pin, relaxed, and squeezed his release. In a flash the arrow was on its way and Jon head the sound of a “whap” as the arrow hit the side of the buck, a few inches behind where he aimed. The buck mule kicked and tore off at break neck speed. After a while Jon went to check the spot of the hit. When he got down to it, he looked off in the direction the buck ran. He saw the buck walking the hillside about 150 yards away. Soon, the buck crashed and never moved again.
While he waited to make sure the buck wasn’t going anywhere, Jon heard a cow elk call below him. He eventually sneaked to within 70 yards of the cow, but couldn’t get any closer. So he went back to take care of the buck. Jon field dressed the buck (stabbing himself in the meat of the thumb in the process) and packed the buck out in one trip.
Here’s the buck as Jon found him.
He readied his pack for the trip back to the truck.
Jon had a slip during the field dressing of the buck and unfortunately stabbed himself in the meat of his thumb. It was not a long cut, but a nasty, deep one. His hand looked like this for the rest of the trip.
A final shot of Jon’s trophy- his first muley ever. WTG Jon!
You guys should bring your fillet glove from home. It's always in the bottom of my pack now, and has saved me from many "field surgeries" like he suffered.
looking great, keep them coming
Unfortunately, the bulls were gone when we got up to where they had been. Soon, Ol’ Eagle Eyes, Gabe, relocated them on the next ridge over.
You can just see a bedded bull to the right of the center of the pic below.
We tried to call them over to us, but couldn’t get them to budge. We even employed Sonya, Gabe’s decoy!
We moved in on them, but the wind was dead wrong and we called off the chase without even getting down to them. No point in wasting energy on a long drop and climb that had no chance.
We tried several cold calling sets that morning, but to no avail. The typical set up would have Gabe and me split up about 80=100 yards and Sonya hung in a tree behind us 50-80 yards. Here’s Gabe waiting for a bull to sneak in on us.
Here’s how Sonya got comfy while we called to the mountainside without a reply.
One of the spots we stopped was a beautiful bench covered with these berries. Anyone know what they are? They are blueberry size and color, but slightly more oblong shaped. I tasted one and it definitely wasn’t a blueberry!
We’d seen elk all morning, but it was frustrating because we never had even close to a chance to get on them. Plus, we hadn’t heard a single bugle to chase, which gave us little optimism to find a bull we could get close to. We were discussing what to do and given that we didn’t have any reasonable options near us we considered going back to the truck early. Reluctantly, we agreed to head back to the truck. About 100 yards into the tail-tucked walk back to the truck we finally heard a bugle in the draw below us. It was a long way off, but it was something! We dumped into the draw and started dropping elevation quickly. We chased the bull’s retreating bugles for well over a mile.
When he finally stayed in on place for a few minutes, we moved in for a calling set. I dropped a cow call, and he responded. Before he could finish, I screamed a huge, aggressive, “don’t mess with my gal” bugle. That was it- he wouldn’t stand for this insult. He came strutting right in looking for a fight. The bull was coming on a perfect line- he’d be broadside of Gabe in about 20 yards. However, at about 60 yards away from Gabe the bull stopped. He called, looking for the “cow” that had originally called to him. I responded back. He stood and stared for a few seconds and took a few more stops forward. I kept looking at Gabe and screaming in my head “Draw, draw!”,but the bull wasn’t at the right angle for a shot yet and Gabe was patiently, and wisely, waiting for the right time to ready his arrow for release. Just then, I heard and saw a big wind blow through the trees above our heads. It was howling the right direction from the bull to us, but I knew what it meant. When the big gusts go through up high, they unfortunately come back through down low the opposite direction quickly after. “No, no, no!!!”, I thought. Sure as could be, I felt the return wind blowing back the wrong direction and after about a three count the bull swung his big 320” 6x6 rack, turned in a hurry, and left faster than he’d come in. Dang! So close…
Soon after this we again heard bugles. We again moved in and set up for another calling set. Before we did, I could see three elk bodies through the trees and we didn’t dare move any closer. Again, I get in a screaming match with a bull, but this bull is reluctant to come in. After a couple minutes I see Gabe tense up and reposition slightly more to his right. A minute later a medium 5 point bull cautiously works his way in to Gabe’s right hand side. The bull stops at 45 yards behind some brush. Gabe has no opening and the bull is positioned at a poor angle. I call and decoy, but the bull won’t come any closer. With my calling to this bull, I realize there are as many as three other bulls around us calling and making the whole scene quite chaotic. Eventually the satellite bull wanders off, but the herd bull is still screaming his fool head off at me.
We reposition on the herd bull to get closer, but he won’t respond to my cow calls again and he’s not bugling on his own. I grab a stick and start to rake a tree. The herd bull decidedly does not like this and he screams a bugle at me. I cut him off and he doesn’t like this either! However, we’re not quite in his comfort zone and he refuses to come in. Eventually, he won’t respond to cow cows or raking of trees, so I try a different trick- I cow call, then drop soft chuckles to try simulate another bull (me) trying to steal one of his cows away from him. Again, the bull is not happy about this and we continue our war of words. Soon, he tires of this exchange too and we chase him, but can’t get him to talk. Finally, I try to simulate a distressed cow and a spike bull who won’t let the cow get away from him. Once again the bull is unhappy with this and screams his discontent at me. However, he simply refuses to come in closer and show me who’s boss. As a last resort Gabe tries to sneak in and shoot the bull while I keep him talking from a distance. He cuts the distance, but is unable to get close enough to the bull to get a shot. Soon I’ve run out of tools in my elk calling tool belt and we run out of light.
We were over two miles from the truck and more importantly, had nearly 2000 feet of elevation to climb to get to the truck. It was pitch black, we were drenched in sweat, and totally shot. It was quite a day! Jon had shot his first muley and although Gabe and I hadn’t even so much as drawn our bows, we had the kind of day that I dream about. The play we had with the elk this afternoon and evening was what has us thinking about elk hunting for some part of the day every single day of the year. Chaos, aggressiveness, screaming bugles, bulls charging in looking for a fight- we didn’t shoot an elk, but man oh man did we have fun!
After the day we’d had before, we happily headed back to the same area in the morning. When we got to our parking spot it was snowing and spitting out and the wind was howling. It was downright miserable and we waited for a break in the weather before we headed out from the truck. Eventually the weather did break a little, but we had about six inches of snow where we parked the truck and it was dang cold.
Once the wind and snow settled down a bit, it was a nice morning. Things sure did look different!
I really like this pic below. It shows how dramatically the snowfall can change, depending upon elevation. As you can see, as you drop elevation the snow gets less and less, but there was fairly distinct line on the mountain where the snow simply stopped. If you went above a certain elevation you had snow, but below that same elevation it was all brown and green.
In the few hundred feet of elevation change shown in the pic above there was about 6-8 inches of snow difference from low to high. Imagine how much snow was up another 3000 feet, where we started our hunting trip. Later we would come to find out that up where we had started hunting they got over 30" of snow and drifts were over 10 feet high in some places. Clearly we had made a good decision to get off the mountain!!!
Gabe and Jon headed to the general area Gabe and I had been the day before and I headed to the general area Jon had been. Jon and Gabe’s day can be summarized as follows: nada. They didn’t hear or see a thing.
Early in the morning I heard a bugle. It was weak and a long ways off to my NW, but I clearly heard it. Twenty minutes later I heard it again, and this time it was closer- maybe 600-800 yards. I glassed where it came from and eventually saw a spike bull quickly cross an opening. The bull I heard wasn’t a spike though, so I pressed on. Eventually, I found the tracks of the “bull” I heard calling…
That afternoon we checked out an area Block Management Area. In short, the area seemed like a place we weren’t going to spend any more time at.
OK, I've got a confession I'd like to make: I like aspens. I love stands of quakies, not only because the elk love them, but because I love them!
As you can see in the pic above, the quakies change color during the month of September and I love being there to see this color change. Some elk hunters believe that when the quakies change, the elk rut will go into full swing. Regardless of whether you believe that or not, I love seeing the changing of the aspens in September. Jon and Gabe also enjoy giving me a hard time about the fact that I love quakies and they talked me into a few pics that would mockingly show my love for aspens. Here ya go Jon and Gabe! :D
I like those quiakies too! Great thread!!!! Thanks again!
jingalls, I hope you're right. I'm a Manning fan and I'm also a Brady hater. It's tough to cheer for a guy who your wife would leave you for on the drop of a hat! I hope pretty boy Brady gets destroyed. However, I predict he wins the game in the last minute. I sure hope not...
Next update will come on Monday morning.
Day 7 In spite of a tough day there the day before, we headed back to the area we’d done so well at two days prior. This day again put a whoopin’ on Team Elkblood’s collective butt! Jon and I saw one muley doe and Gabe saw five muleys. That’s it.
There was plenty of fresh snow and this snow revealed only a few muley tracks- the elk seemed to have vacated the premises. Because of this, we left this area and headed towards the area we had started the trip at, only at a much lower elevation. On the way there we passed through lots of lower ground. This low ground is nearly all private and loaded with critters. Here are a few of them we saw on the (mostly) private ground in between spots.
When the buck turned around, we saw he had been in a recent scuffle (just above his right shoulder in the pic below). When we talked to Rusty T about this he said it almost certainly was the result of a mountain lion attack.
Many elk would come out of the foothills of the range and feed in the ag fields down low. This herd of about 50 or so showed up at last light in a harvested wheat field.
One of the first set of tracks we saw were these. Can someone tell me what they are? I have been told bobcat, fisher, and jackrabbit. They don't look like rabbit track to me, but I was also told by my buddy "I'm 100% sure they're jackrabbit tracks".
Soon we cut a set of fresh elk tracks and I decided to head up a steep hill chasing them and Jon and Gabe headed down the trail hoping to cut a different set of tracks or hear a bugle. I trailed the tracks for about 30 minutes and before long I realized I was on a very, very fresh trail. Eventually, I knocked an arrow and slowly and quietly moved along, expecting to see an elk at any minute. Soon the tracks turned back downhill and again met with the main trail. At the main trail I discovered something pretty funny—Jon and Gabe’s tracks met up with the tracks I was following and they had started trailing the tracks off of the main trail. Those dirty buggers stole my hot trail from me!!! LOL. I didn’t want to move in on them and screw anything up, so I headed back to the truck and waited for them to return.
Jon and Gabe had cut the tracks about 20 minutes after we split up. Not long after trailing them, a nice 5 point bull was standing less than 30 yards from Jon on a pine sprinkled hillside. Unfortunately, the bull spotted Jon at about the same time he spotted the bull. They stayed on the bull’s tracks for over a mile, but in the end the bull won the battle. Here are a couple shots of the master trackers before we split up and got on the bull’s trail. They decided to take turns being smart alecks in these pics…
One final bit of info about the trip for this post- we were really upset about the trip we planned being all busted up. To keep our plan as much as possible (or because we’re pathetic and lack social skills), in the evenings after a hard day of hunting, we’d head back to the hotel room and make our Mountain House Meals. Here’s a couple shots from our “hunting camp” in the evening.
Here’s a shot of Jon and Gabe, apparently very impressed (or is that amazed?) by the process of boiling water in the hotel room.
Sun had church, Sunday school, and family fishing on the schedule. What a fun day! We caught at least 50 bluegills, with a bunch being about 9.5" and my wife caught one that must have cleared 10.5". I'll put the tape to it tonight, right before I clean them and we eat 'em for supper!
I'll get another post up, as soon as I'm able to.
This country sure does make a guy feel pretty small.
A couple of rock solid guys and great friends to share a hunting trip with!
Gabe and Jon were split up just to the right side of the pic above, about 200 yards apart. Not long after getting settled morning’s light turned the blobs and rough figures in the tiny draw into trees and cut banks. Soon I saw four whitetails, somewhere in the general vicinity of Jon or Gabe. Afterwards, I found out that Gabe nearly got a crack at one of the bucks, but he couldn’t quite close the distance. Of course they strolled right past Jon, but he couldn’t do anything about it because he had already filled his deer tag. Here’s the last I saw of those bucks before they disappeared into the more heavily wooded area behind me.
Soon I saw two cow elk crest the ridge to our West. The zig zagged through the open area and made their way past Gabe and towards Jon. They were on the same path as the whitetails and would likely come out 40 yards from Jon. …and they did just that! The first cow walked up to the same tree that Jon had ranged the whitetail bucks at 40 yards. Jon just started to get ready to draw his arrow back and BAM- the cow snapped his head in his direction and instantly pegged him! BUSTED! We’re still not quite sure how the cow busted him so quickly and well, but she sure did. She trotted off towards me, but veered off to my South. Here’s a shot of her as she angled away from me.
The second cow followed the first, but on a line that took her out of Gabe and Jon’s field of view. Here’s a shot of the second cow retreating on a very safe path away from us.
Right after the cows came through Jon spotted the main herd of elk- about 60 of them. They came through just as they were supposed to, but they were about 300 yards NW of us. We'd guessed the wrong spot they came across the public land. There were a couple satellite bulls and one nice 6 point bull in the mix with these 60 elk.
Dang! Very close, but no dice for Team Elkblood! Our morning was just about done, but Rusty T had gotten us permission to hunt some private land on the ranch he works at. We were extremely appreciative and humbled by this- we certainly didn’t ask him to do this and he kindly did it just to be nice. We hoped this land would be full of elk that were pushed there both by the snow and by other hunters. We headed there mid-morning and spent most of the rest of the day there.
This neon yellow-green moss was on many of the trees. In some areas, the trees limbs were covered with it. Wind would blow it down off the trees and at night the stuff would practically glow in the light of our headlamps.
The moss in the shade seemed to die off first and looked like this.
We didn’t see as many grouse as last year, but they were definitely still around in good numbers. Rusty T told me he’d seen a ton of them on the roads in the early AM.
Here I am coming to full draw on one of them. Sadly, this would be the only time I drew my bow for the entire trip.
One more post to go. I'll get it done sometime this afternoon. Can Team Elkblood take an 11th hour bull on this trip? The private land we hunted was beautiful and definitely held elk...
Lots of great photos (I'm a camera nut). Many photos have the left side blurry, is that something from uploading or maybe you need a new camera?! :)
CurveBow- if you have any suggestions or thoughts on how I can fix this, I'm all ears. As far as I can tell, it's not fogginess on the outside of the glass.
Eventually, Jon got on a set of tracks and followed them, and followed them, and followed them. He eventually wandered uphill and all the way over to where he and Gabe had gotten on the 5 point bull the day before. Each time the tracks would lead him into a thicker area he’d slow way down, glass and look carefully, trying to pick out any sign of a bedded elk. After doing this for almost three miles Jon came into a thicker area and again moved at a snail’s pace trying to pick up a visual on an elk. He looked ahead and to his right and caught a tan colored patch through the thick cover. He looked closer and could make out part of the body of an elk. He couldn’t tell which way it was facing, if it was a bull, cow, or calf, but he knew it was an elk. He suddenly realized he was inside of 20 yards of this elk and quickly, but quietly knocked an arrow. Even though he didn’t make a peep, the elk must have sensed something was wrong. It stood up and Jon could now see it was a nice 5x5 bull. Jon came to full draw and put his pin on the bull’s vitals. Even though the cover in this area was relatively thick, Jon had a clear shot all the way to the bull’s broadside chest, except one angled branch that was just inches from the bull. He could have forced a shot above, below, in front of, or behind the sweet spot, but he held tight, hoping the bull would take a step forward or up the hill away from him- either one would result in an open shot. After a half-minute standoff, the bull wheeled and ran uphill away from Jon in the blink of an eye, offering no shot opportunity. So close…
Gabe and I got on a bull pretty quickly after we got going late that morning too. However, we simply couldn’t close the distance to him. We’d move in on him and he’d back off. We played that game for a while, but he eventually went silent and disappeared. I think swirling winds got the best of us once again on this bull.
The three of us met at the truck to regroup later in the afternoon. Jon and Gabe wanted to hunt the private land until dark. I chose to go back to where we were in the AM in hopes of catching the herd or a straggler elk coming out before dark. In short, Jon and Gabe struck out that evening. I had a very quiet night too. Here’s my view as I sat quietly waiting for an elk to wander out of the hills towards the fields below.
I saw no signs of life that night, so with about 15 minutes of light left I decided to pack my gear up and try catch an elk coming out somewhere from the hills on the way back to the truck. I scanned the open terrain in front of me one last time- nothing. Still sitting, I turned around and dumped my remaining water from my Nalgene bottle and tucked it away in my pack. I also put my camera in my side pouch of the pack and zipped up the pouch- Zzzzzzziiiiiiiiip! I turned around to see a nice 5 point bull staring directly at me from 80 yards away. He was standing right in the middle of the picture above and had seemingly appeared from nowhere. Had he not heard me, he’d have certainly come past me to my right or gone straight, both of which offered me a shot inside of 40 yards. Instead, I was completely pegged as he’d heard the zipper pull as plain as day in the quiet evening air. He stood there for a minute, then turned and quickly trotted off. I watched him juke and jive through the sage flat until distance and darkness swallowed him up. …and that’s how my trip ended. I was mad that I finally had a chance to get a chance at a bull, but had unwittingly bungled it. But, in a sick sort of way it almost seemed fitting for the trip to end this way.
Not much went as planned on this trip. Heck, I couldn’t even manage to get a good sunset picture to end my story with this year (I like to end all of my stories with a sunrise or sunset picture). But… that’s hunting! We went out, worked as hard as we could, did all we could do in spite of tough conditions and came home without one elk tag punched. Although we got some help from Rusty T with local info, we did it on our own otherwise, didn’t hire a guide, didn’t have anyone holding our hand, and busted our rears to the best of our abilities. That’s how we hunt and that’s all that we could do. It just wasn’t in the cards this time. We had fun, got to spend some great time with great friends, and got to spend time in the Rocky Mountains chasing elk and mule deer- we’re very fortunate to have had the chance and we had a wonderful time.
Montana and Mother Nature kicked ol’ Team Elkblood’s butt this year. However, we’ll be back and we’ll do our best in the rubber match!
Thanks for sharing!
But we can't wait to get back out on em again.
Thanks for the story and pics! Great job.
Now I can die happy... =D
Thanks for taking the time to share it, and if you ever want to ice fish in northern MN, please shoot me a message or email.