Out of all of my hunts I have been on this was the most emotional and thrilling hunt to date. I witnessed the hierarchy of an elk herd. I also learned that you can’t be too prepared and that technology doesn’t work in the bottom of a hell hole canyon.
“Lets just sing and enjoy the struggle, Whitey.” “Gotta keep positive otherwise all you feel is the pain.” “Shit that was my last blade.” These were just some of the quotes from one night of our 2014 hunt.
This year was shaping up to be great. I trained for a year straight, ran my first marathon a month before we left. I was now 30 but I was in better shape than my first elk hunt when I was 21. I had much better gear and I was far more prepared this year. Some of the essentials were my KUIU pack and clothing as well as my JetBoil stove.
The weather for 2014 was looking good but a little cooler than normal. Usually the drive out we get lucky and get to see the last big push of ducks and geese on their migration but this year there wasn’t a lot of open water so the birds were gone already. In 2013 I learned a lot more about the area we were hunting and where the bulls may be laid up so I was optimistic.
The first day was exciting! This was our older brother Steve’s first trip out west and he got his mule deer on the first day! He was excited and we were all thrilled that he was successful so quickly. The rest of the first day was slow. I got into some elk and our friend Ernie got into the same herd but no legal bulls were to be found in that group. That night we visited with some friends and talked about our plans for the next day. Justin and I decided to head straight up the mountain. I was going up the old creek bed by the mining cabin and he would go up a runoff area to get to some higher parks.
It was a beautiful morning to be up in the mountains. Snow was falling and the air was still. I made it to the top of the creek bed only seeing one mule deer running away. On my way down I was able to stalk to 10 yards from a mule deer doe and fawn. These are the moments that make me love being in the wild. She spooked after what seemed like a 10 minute stare down. After that encounter my legs were no longer tired, but just to give myself a moment to enjoy this part of the mountain more I decided to sit down in a deer’s bed and have a snack.
The rest of the second day was pretty slow. We saw more mule deer but no elk for Justin and I. That night my brothers and I stayed in the shack up on the mountain. My favorite night of this trip was by far that night.
We laughed a lot and told some great stories up there. We had no idea what we were in for the next day.
The third day we glassed until later in the morning then came up with a plan to attack another part of the mountain. I had set a course to head down into an area that is littered with canyons and boulders the size of houses. We always see a lot of sign in here but the animals can get around you easily in this type of country. I was less than 5 minutes in when I saw a flash and watched a mule deer spring away from me. I decided to follow the deer to see if I could get a look at it.
I followed tracks in to some nasty areas for a good hour and never caught a glance of the deer again. Eventually I got in to some elk tracks so I decided to change directions and get after this herd. These tracks looked really fresh so I decided to give them some time to relax before getting on them. I laid down under a pine tree that the snow hadn’t reached yet and dozed off for a little bit. When I awoke I was cold so I wasted no time getting on the tracks. After tracking for a little bit I started to smell something “ELK”! If you have hunted elk, you know what I mean. As a certified elkaholic I can tell you, there is nothing like getting that first smell that you get when you enter an elks home.
As I moved closer I put my mouth call in and got ready to see the majestic animal I have been chasing all week. There was no second guessing that I was in the herd when I looked down and every 6 feet was another bed that the elk were recently in. I started working my way down the steep canyon walls and got right in the middle of their bedding area and did a few cow mews. Tip- The bulls are not in rut this late in the year but when dealing with a herd bull chirps and mews can work wonders any time in the season. The bull responded immediately with a throaty quick “umph” sound that echoed through the canyon. I started to shake. Nothing beats communicating with a bull elk. Nothing. The game of chess began. I moved towards the bull and he got around me and was behind me (maybe 30 yards away) the second time he sounded off. I couldn’t see him anywhere so I snuck around where I thought he would be. No sign of him. I mewed again and this time I heard him going away from me. CRAP.
To be continued…