I get a real kick out of reading others adventures so this is simply my Elk hunt from last year.
I would ask for, and appreciate your opinions as to what I could have done different in a few of my situations.
Left MN on Tuesday morning O-Dark-Thirty, spent one night in a motel, back on the road early Wednesday morning, about 10 miles from our final destination – change a flat tire on my trailer – that sucks, I now don’t have a spare.
The last 3 miles are much worse than past years, lot more exposed rocks, 5 deep washouts to go through and bottoming out my trailer bad. A couple washouts were so bad that my tires were actually off the ground as the tail end of my trailer scraped hard. Little damage, oh well, “it is what it is”. Arrived at our camping location mid-day on Wednesday.
This is exciting, this is the first year that the sheep haven’t been in here, we’re keeping our fingers crossed that they at least give us a few days of peace and quiet hunting, not to mention the stink and flies that come with them.
Set up my spotting scope and about an hour before dark I start counting elk. Normally with the sheep covering this entire park we almost never see elk from camp. We count 21 with a couple pretty nice bulls – well for this area an elk in the mid 200’s is pretty nice. The white arrow (3/4 mile from camp) is where the elk are. I’ll address the red arrow / circle later.
Next morning I’m up early with cup of hot chocolate and bi-nocks – count 6 elk in the same area as last night. Dean grabs his coffee and joins me.
We decide to have a big breakfast (bacon, eggs, bread, fried potatoes, and big glass of ice cold milk) to make sure the elk have time to bed up for the day before we head out to have a look around.
We’re cleaning up after breakfast and a white flat-bed pickup pulling a sheep herders wagon pulls in and deposits the wagon about 150 yards from our camp. 10 minutes later he waves as he heads out. We grumble a bit but quickly decide to change our attitude – we are NOT going to let this dampen our spirits.
When we get to the pond (about 15 yards across and 20 yards long) is pretty much dried up with a big muddy area where water used to be. There is some fresh rubs and a couple areas where they have been wallowing around. It looks just OK, not as good as in the past, but a plan B if needed.
We head back to camp and then take the wheeler about a mile up the trail to an area Dean has hunted (I’ve never been back up in here). Again, fairly good sign, another plan B.
Back at camp – a pickup pulling a trailer goes past (CO tags on his truck) - get a few more camp chores done and set up to glass the “Elk area”. Glass until its to dark to see – nothing. We figure this hunter may have moved into that area and pushed the elk out???
After another hearty breakfast we head out. Dean goes to one of his old reliable areas and I head to one of my spots to scout. We meet up at a prearranged area and time to discuss the sign. Both areas we looked at, look good.
We’re about 1 ½ miles from camp and decide to head to another proven area, here comes the rain. Get suited up and off we go – it only rained for about 20 minutes or so. Good elk sign all over this area so we back out without going all the way in.
Back at camp we shoot our bows again (we try to shoot every day). All dialed in, we go through our packs, make sandwiches and get everything ready for an all day sit tomorrow, if the weather (wind) will cooperate.
Hot shower, couple cold drinks and off to bed.
Since I don’t hear worth a darn, most of my hunting is trails, wallows and the edge of bedding areas. I can’t hear a bugle if it’s more than a 150 – 200 yards away. A cow call 50 yards, maybe. Just no way for me to “run-N-gun”
I’m set up in a location where I can glass about a ½ mile across the drainage to the east. I’m a bit early, I shut down my head lamp, and finally after about 5 minutes I can see the outlines of the trees around me.
Another 20 minutes, I’m shivering from the morning cold just as the first rays of daylight begin to breach the mountain. About 10 minutes later I hear a soft guttural, growl sound – the kind a bull makes when he sort of wants to bugle but then doesn’t. …… I can hear it, so I know it’s close, really close. I’m guessing within 50 - 60 yards or so.
It came from the south across the creek. I hear it again and he’s moving from the east to the west paralleling the creek. I let out a soft cow call. He immediately let’s go with a squealing type bugle – no chuckles.
I give another cow call and he answers again – still other side of the creek. I wait maybe 30 seconds and another cow call – nothing. I wait another minute and cow call again – he answers but I can just barely hear him bugle this time – he’s moving away, going west and south up towards the bedding area.
I let go a bugle – just a squeal, locator type bugle. Nothing, so I cow call, again nothing. So, while all this is taking place, my attention has been focused on that one area.
I hear a noise behind me, down towards where I came from this morning to the east (down-hill thermals right towards the noise). This area is fairly open, and I can see a pretty big area about 150 yards down, then it gets thick, choked with thick willows, in the creek bottom that runs north and south, then on the other side of the creek where it goes up hill again I can see most of the park. I’m looking for the noise and then I catch movement going away from me and into the park on the other side of the creek – about 400 yards from me. Elk and lots of them. They “high-step” it out into the park and then relax and go about feeding. Some of the calves are running and “playing tag”. Man, I REALLY love this hunting, it’s just plain fun!
I contemplate going after them, but the breeze is beginning to swirl and I know that they are moving up towards their bedding area, I don’t want to bust them out. Besides my evening stand is right where most of them went. (PICTURE**my favorite spot is right at the very tip of the white arrow)
Right then I hear a cow call. It’s in the same spot where the bull had been standing, right behind the pines. There’s a well-used trail that I’m sure she is on, so I just clip on my release and same as before, get ready for a nice 25-yard shot. She calls again standing in the same spot. I wait a minute or so and turn my head and give a very soft cow call just as the breeze hits my neck. I hear on loud branch crack down in the creek bottom as she heads away from this stink and towards the safety of the bedding area. I need to bail out of here before I bust any more elk out, I take a few pics, then head back to camp. The sun was hitting my camera lens and playing havoc with some of my pics – I’ll address the “red circle” later. ***I would VERY much appreciate opinions as-to how you would have reacted in this same situation. As an out-of-stater, I only get to spend 8 to 10 days a year in the elk woods and just don’t have the confidence / knowledge as to how / what I should be doing / saying.
Dean returns he didn’t see any elk but tells me his story of a close encounter. He said he was set up and just after daylight he decided to move. As he’s walking through some really thick brush and tall weeds he sees movement just 15 yards in front of him. Just then a brown color black bear stands on its hind legs and takes a gander at him. He shouts at it, it spins and as it’s running away he see 2 cubs right at her heals as they all beat-feet it down the mountain. He said that had it come at him there was no way he could have had a chance to react at that distance.
I tell him about all the elk from this morning and that I know exactly where they will be coming back into the park this evening. (This just happens to be one of my favorite spots to hunt with a dark, north facing slope right above a seep with lots of wet mushy grass).
I told him about a nice little knob that I’ve sat on in the past and it’s a perfect spot for him to kill an elk tonight. (PICTURE IN THE PREVIOUS POST***Through the trees, where the tip of the white arrow is).
I went on up and found a spot kind of under a pine but at quite a down hill angle. I decided this was the best place that offered the best cover right here even if it was going to be uncomfortable. I checked my watch, 4 PM. I figured I would have about a three hour wait till the action began. I used my saw and pruning shears to trim enough branches and twigs, so I could meld right back into the tree with shooting lanes in three directions. I ranged a few areas and settled in for a long wait. After standing for a long time my feet and back started to ache. About 3 steps to the left was a flat spot so I moved over there and set up my 3-legged stool and “took a load off”. I held my bow in my lap for a while but that was uncomfortable, so I hung my bow in the tree. I remember thinking how much of a really bad idea that was …. to have it out of reach. “ya know you went through all this work, waited 3 years to draw this tag and now your going to screw it up by having your bow out of reach – really …. Ya bone head”.
I decided, uncomfortable or not I was going to remain standing the rest of the evening. As I stood back under the pine I picked my bow off the limb, I looked up and there comes an elk and it’s RIGHT THERE. I can’t believe it didn’t see me moving. (If I had stayed on that stool even another 30 seconds with my bow hanging out of reach, I would have been royally screwed … talk about lucky).
I grabbed my range finder the closest one, a calf was …25 yards. My range finder hangs on an elastic lanyard and as I let it down it tangled in my release. I’m watching the elk and trying to dislodge the finder … no go, I had to look down and wiggle my hand around and it finally came loose. The calf was wide open, a spike and then another spike, then a nice big cow. I needn’t look at anything else, the cow was right where the calf was, 25 yards, wide open, perfectly broadside, head down eating. Tension on the string, the calf looks up, my heart is about to come right through my camo, my breathing is to the point of almost gasping, I’m so fired up. I distinctly remember saying (I don’t think I said it out loud) to calm down, pick a hair, and make the shot. The calf went back to eating, they are all relaxed with not a clue in the world I was right there. Pulled back and raised the bow up at the same time. Gapped the 20 and 30-yard pins right in the crease, “CRACK” I thought saw my arrow hit right where I wanted. (PICTURE**She came out of the little bushes and was standing right where the “RED STAR” is) All hell broke loose, and the elk ran everywhere. I immediately cow called several times (diaphragm in my mouth always). The cow took about 4 jumps, kind of over the edge of the mound and stopped looking right at me. All I could see was the top of her head – her eyes and ears. I had another arrow knocked as she stood there, then she just turned and walked over a little rise. I thought I head a crash, but with the other elk busting around, I just wasn’t sure. Now the questioning, I doubted my shot placement, did I really make a good hit, did I get to far forward and was the loud “CRACK” her shoulder blade/bone, maybe the tree right behind her, or her rib?
2 calves came running around the knob and stood just off to my right at about 45 yards, three spikes joined them and two began barking. I just kept on cow calling.
Motion up and to my left caught my attention. Out stepped a spike then a really big cow, then another spike (this was the same one I described earlier with the long spikes and the forks at the ends), then another spike. The cow and 3 spikes were all standing 10 yards from me, up on top of this little knob, in a row facing towards me looking at the pine tree that was shaking violently. That bush that I circled earlier is right where they were standing. This would have been an outstanding pic.
The cow and three spikes simply turned and walked to my left off the other side of the knob and proceeded out towards the park.
I looked at my watch, it was 7:00, I waited until 7:15 and went to where the cow was standing (I know, I know, but I just couldn’t wait any longer) couple drops of blood, which perplexed me because she was broadside and where I thought I hit her, it should have been a double lung and she had stood in this one spot for probably 30 seconds to a minute, where’s the big puddle of blood????? Maybe I didn’t hit where I thought, I replayed the shot over and over and I swear it looked like a 10-ring. This is the point where a person really begins to question yourself – it looked perfect …. But did it really hit ……. my stomach begins to churn….?
I stood for probably a full 10 minutes without moving a muscle. I took a couple steps … more blood but only a couple specks … what the hell? Couple more steps … THERE SHE IS. Yeah baby, I didn’t jump up and down or shake my fist in the air, but I was one VERY, VERY happy camper. I walked about 50 yards towards where Dean was and he was on his way up the hill. His first comment was “well how big is it?”. I’m sure the smile on my face pretty much told the story.
He said he heard me shoot and all the cow calling. He had a calf and then a spike come right up to him, he said the damn spike just kept barking and barking. We had a good laugh. He also had a cow come running down the trail he was setting by, but she wouldn’t slow down – no shot opportunity.
The next morning it took us a couple hours to get her de-boned and game bagged. We split the entire elk into 4 bags, I’m guessing about 50 – pounds each. We then put 2 bags each on our pack frames and began the pack out. We only went about 150 yards and I stepped in a hole and my back went out. I went another 20 or so yards and was limping bad. I told Dean there was just no way I can do this. I removed one of the bags and put it in the shade under a pine tree and told him I would have to come back for it. Loaded back up and as we started out he picked up the other bag and was going to carry it. We had a bit of a discussion about leaving it where it was, but he’s bull-headed and so he now has 2 bags on his back and carrying the other one, that I was supposed to carry. Did I mention he’s an animal!
We went about 200 yards and stopped to rest (we are both in our 60’s so resting is a good thing) – he set the bag down (my bag) so when we began walking again I picked it up before he could get to it and was surprised that carrying it (although it really was a bitch to do) was much better (back pain wise) than having it on my back.
We bring a freezer and generator with us, so before leaving camp we fired up the generator. Upon arriving back at camp, we got it in the freezer post haste as it was already getting into the low 70’s and wasn’t even noon yet. We bring milk crates and break the meat up as much as possible in the crates, to better facilitate cooling. The freezer is old and even plugged in at home it takes a couple days to freeze anything, so it’s perfect for this as it just gets it kind of crystalized in about 4 days, running it 5 hours a day.
Sunday evening hunt was uneventful.
Has anyone seen anything like the "tilled" area? As I said, we've hunted this area for many, many years and I always go right through here - first time I've seen this - very curious, why this spot, this year?
Deans favorite spot is right on the bottom edge of a steep, north faced, dark timbered, blow-down infested area that almost always produces sightings. We surmised that maybe the reason he wasn’t seeing anything was due to this is the first time ever the sheep haven’t been in here and maybe the elk haven’t needed to seek refuge from them yet.
Tuesday afternoon we moved to a different area – we saw 3 come out right at dark a few hundred yards away.
That's when I came across the "tilled area". We didn't see any cattle, but in the past they have been in here so, although it did stink of elk and lots of elk tracks, maybe this was caused by the cattle??? Maybe the rancher had previously put a salt block here or something???
I walked all morning and about 2:00 as I reached the edge of our camping meadow I met with the three sheep herders, dogs and a bunch of sheep. I politely explained (mostly via sign language) to them where we were hunting and asked that they not push the sheep into that area. (The area we hunt only has a few small parks as compared to going the other direction, which is full of big parks with lots of sheep feed.)
I really think they understand better than they pretend not too. So Juan (we always call of them Juan) holds up 3 fingers and pointed in the direction of where we hunted and says 3 days, in barely understandable English.
I held up my hand with spread gingers and told him "no, 5 days". He shakes his head no and repeats 3.
I again said "NO 5 days". We went back and forth a few times.
**A few years ago, I spoke with a forest service lady who told me they were not supposed to be on the north side of the "1234 trail". (In this area the ATV, motorcycle, hiking trails all have a numbering system) that is not the correct number of the trail. Most of our hunting area IS on the north side of this trail, whether he knew this or not, I have no idea, but I'm certain that the rancher must!
Anyway that got under my skin, I knew I wasn't making any headway by being a smiley "nice guy" so I changed my demeanor and threw out a few "F" bombs while holding up my spread fingers hand and saying NO 5 DAYS!
He shook his head yes so I headed back to camp - we'll see.
Half hour later I took this, what I think, is a neat pic or the RED sun hitting the tip of a peak that I like to glass from.
This is the peak that I will glass from Friday morning – I’ll post some of those pics next.
Friday morning, I go to my “Red Peak” to glass and get a few pics from there as well.
**A little background on Dean - he is one of the hardest hunters I know. He kills white tails every year, but elk are his nemesis - he's snake bit. Every year he comes so close, but always something. I want him to get an elk so bad I can taste it. He's yet to put a knife into one he's killed.
We head out early, wind check - its good.
We set up on the north west corner of the park - I killed my elk on the south east corner of this park. (The series of pics from Thursday evening where I ran out of daylight at the count of 14 elk.) The same area where on opening morning the 25 elk came out from the creek bottom below me.
Our spot is littered with fresh (golden) elk scat. We are both kind of like school boys looking at the same cute girl and get that jittery, almost giggly attitude where you can't stop smiling. (Yeah I know it sounds REALLY corny to explain it that way - but "it is what it it" ..... right???)
We get set up - figuring the elk will be coming from the north and or the east, I'm 50 yards west of dean.
You also asked for ideas on how you did things, so I will ask you if you have ever tried the gutless method? I have not gutted an elk in 20 years. Only takes me maybe 10 more minutes to quarter than it does to gut, and that helps meat chill out so much better/faster and you are then almost ready to pack out when you come back. I get the elk laying on its side (as much as possible with the slope) and then you have 2 choices: skin on or skin off. If you want skin off that means you will spend more time and the meat will get dirtier on the packout, so unless it is warm, I leave the skin on. I remove the front quarter and then the back quarter first, then skin what I need to to allow taking the backstrap off. Then I make a cut right below the backstrap and behind the ribs to find the tenderloin, and remove that. Then I can take all the neck and rib meat you desire. At this point the elk is light enough I can turn it over using the legs (much easier if 2 people, but it is doable with 1). Then I repeat the process on the other side. Can then either hang the meat if you are worried about bears, coyotes, etc, or lay out on logs or rocks to cool, I will spend about 35-40 minutes doing the gutless method. That said, I take neck meat but not rib meat. All the work I do it is work you are going to have to do anyway even if you just gut it first. So, at least for me, it saves me a step and I will never gut another one. The one exception would be if I don't find the elk till well after dark and it is raining straight down and I just want to get to camp ASAP.
Another bugle, then another, as the cows continue working towards us, it is absolute pandemonium. It is non-stop bugling. Earlier I said I was set up about 50 yards from Dean, actually I'm only about 25 yards from him. We smile and give each other "thumbs up".
I'm guessing at least 6 different bulls coming from several directions. If I were to face the pond and then hold my arms out at about a 45 degree angle that would about cover where the bugles are coming from.
I check the wind, it's almost non-existent, the puffer goes almost straight down and just drifts barely to the north. 10 minutes later I wind check again, only this time I hold it up as high as I can and it shows it's now going from me to Dean. The only thing I can figure is that since we are right on the very top of this little knob it must be more out of the east (me to Dean).
We only have about 30 minutes left of shooting light and the cows are now 60 yards straight in front of us (south) eating milling around. I'm a little in the open so I get down low on my hands and knees in the lush green field grass.
I look at Dean and he is facing away from me looking north east so I'm thinking something is coming. Then I think maybe he doesn't see these out in front. I loud whisper his name - nothing, loud whisper again and he slowly turns just his head.
I point at the ones out front. He turns his head and now I realize that due to a slight rise in the terrain he hasn't seen them. His body language changes and now I can tell he sees them. He slowly turns but the cow continues to walk away from him. I do a soft cow call and she turns and begins to come back towards me. I glance at Dean and he has his bow up but not pulled back.
The cow comes to full attention - I can tell she sees him and the stair-down is on. She turn and quickly walks back to the southwest away form us.
Now it's getting almost dark and I catch a slight movement to my right - away from Dean. I have gone to laying right flat down on the ground now, due to being to much in the open. I look to the side (away from Dean) and right there, maybe 4 or 5 steps is a cow and calf feeding in the grass. She is so close I can see her blink and hear her tearing the grass up. I don't dare move and on one hand hope Dean sees her and on the other hope he doesn't. If he shoots now he will have to shoot right over the top of me.
Right next to her is another cow and calf - I'm shaking like a leaf. They walk right past me at only a few feet and get to about 15 yards from me and I'm thinking that Dean has to see them but maybe he can't see his sights due to it getting darker by the minute.
The bulls are going crazy down in the bottom and now coyotes begin to sing out in the park in front of us.
Dean -- "It's not just about the kill" We shook hands with a quick "man hug".
I just feel terrible for him. As we begin our walk out I'm expecting him to be really disgusted, but one of the reason I enjoy hunting with him is he always has a good attitude with a sense of humor and positive out look. He makes some jokes about not having to get bloody and pack another one out. I know he's really bummed, but at the start of this trip he said that it would make his trip just to hear a bugle. We guessed at least 25 to 30 bugles and they were still ripping as we walked away.
You just can't ask for a better hunting partner!!!!!!!!!!!
"It just plain don't get no better than that."
Thanks for taking us along buddy
Good luck, Robb