“The difference between hunting and watching wildlife is the equivalent of being in a play versus watching the play in the audience. Hunting is participation in nature.” – Unknown
This year we had three old guys and three young guys hunting. Additionally, we had one guy who wasn’t hunting but wanted to “check it out”. He came out on Friday night and left on Sunday around noon. I brought my 12′ x 14′ wall tent, with wood stove, while Paul brought the camper. The whole week prior to the trip I was stressing about finding a campsite, but to my surprise, there were very few people camping in our typical camping spots.
This year’s hunting trip was marked by fewer-than-normal shots heard. It seems that we always hear quite a few on opening morning and then progressively fewer each day. This year I heard none, except for one day. Very strange.
On Saturday morning, Tom and I went up high and hunted two areas. We saw nothing. On Sunday morning we went on Minnie mountain and again saw nothing. Later, after Tom left, Paul and I hunted in one of the areas where Tom and I hunted the day before as I knew there were elk around there because some small trees were shredded by a bull. Later, around 4 or 5 PM, I saw 4 bulls running through the willows, the last one being a 6 x 6 and quite large.
On Monday, I hunted back up high and ran into a spike, a cow and a calf. The spike jumped up and didn’t run more than 10 yards, out to maybe 40 yards, but the cow and calf went further out to maybe 80 yards. Their bodies were hidden by the willows, so I didn’t take a shot. Shortly after that I looked back across the willows from whence I came, trying to radio Taylor and Luke, and saw a lone cow jogging along. I tried to find it but never did.
On Tuesday, I hunted below the rock slides on Table Mountain. I followed a game trail for a couple of hours. At one point, around 4 PM, a squirrel began barking at me from high in a tree. I looked up at it shaking my head, and continued on. I was moving really slow. In another minute or two the squirrel stopped. I walked a little further, and examined a fork in the trail considering which way to go. The the squirrel started acting up again. I looked back to see what was the matter, but couldn’t see anything. “That’s odd”, I thought, “what’s his problem?”. I turned back around, and took two steps down the left fork of the trail. I looked up and I could see a spike elk standing broadside to me at 30-40 yards. Then . . . well . . . you know how you can look at those black and white blotches on paper and they ask you what you see? You might see two candlesticks at first and then they tell you it could be two faces. You look closer and then you see the faces. As I looked at that spike, and looked closer while standing still, the other six elk came into focus behind him standing among fallen trees. CRAP! I began to raise my Winchester Model 70 Featherweight, 300 WSM, and they bolted. A freight train through the forest whose sound faded quickly. Elk usually run for miles when chased out of their beds, or so I’m told, so I figured they were long gone, but I also figured I needed to head back that direction towards my truck, so why not follow them? After stopping for several 5 minute periods to study the ground while tracking, and after about 30 minutes total time since I saw them, I entered a little clearing area. I noticed fresh piles of droppings, about 6 or 7 over all and thought, “Aha, they are slowing down already. That’s surprising.”. I circled around for minutes trying to figure out which tracks were the freshest and which way to proceed. I stepped back one more time, surveyed the area and headed down the path of what I thought was the best. Again, I couldn’t have gone 5 steps in that direction, looked up, and there they were, 40-50 yards right in front of me, standing there watching me for 5 minutes or more. Before I could do anything else they ran off again, with half heading uphill and the others running downhill. Sigh . . . It seemed I was doing everything right except the last few minutes each time. I never saw them again.
Wednesday and Thursday I could find nothing. However, on Thursday afternoon, Luke got an elk up near Mesa Creek. He ran out of daylight to take care of the elk, so later, around 9:30 PM and in the pitch black darkness, five of us headed off into the forest to locate the elk and pack it out. Fortunately, he left a trail of logs for us to follow and we found it without too much trouble. We got back to camp around midnight. That was pretty fun, actually. Five of us milling about the forest in pack frames and headlamps.
On Friday morning, Taylor and I headed back up high. We swept a section of the forest and willows, close to where I saw the spike, cow and calf earlier in the week. I was lower and closer to a drainage where Shallow Creek begins. I had just finished crunching through some partially melted, and now frozen, snow and was thinking, “Man, everybody heard elk calls this week, but, I’ve heard none . . what gives?”, and within the minute . . . no kidding, I heard a bull elk bugle. I hustled through the forest to within 25 yards of a willow-filled, swampy meadow just in time to see about 30 elk moving hurriedly to the far side away from me. I thought I might get a shot at one of the two only 100 yards away, but then a 4-point bull came running along and they joined him exiting the meadow to the forest on the far side which I guessed to be around 200-300 yards away. Note: I later walked it off and it was about 250 yards. I dumped my pack pulled out my shooting sticks and planted my butt in some snow. I spotted a cow standing on the far side but it was mostly hidden behind a standing, but dead, tree. After watching for a bit it took a step or two forward quartering slightly away. I recalled not taking a shot at the cow earlier in the week, and decided this must be my time. I settled in, checked my cross-hair placement, and fired. When the scope settle back down I looked and now saw at least 5 elk. But, which one was mine? Then, they all ran off. Thirty seconds, or so, later I heard the report of another rifle off to the north. It was Paul and he radioed saying he had an elk down. I asked if he saw any injured, but he did not. I searched for 2-1/2 hours for this elk and could find no evidence that I hit it. Near the end of the search I headed back to the place I was sitting based on the prints in the snow, sat down, and looked through my Leupold 4x rifle scope. I noticed that I may not have been shooting clearly over the tops of the 150 yards worth of willows, but instead possibly through them. A deflected 180 grain bullet, even at 3000 feet per second, makes no guarantee it’ll hit its mark. It appears that I missed, but even now, nearly two weeks later I still question what happened.
Saturday’s hunt involved me, Joshua and Taylor, and we headed back to the same place. Today, Taylor would fill his tag and sadly Joshua trekked through a half-mile of willows near the end of the day and then came upon some elk. Attempting to chamber a round the bolt wouldn’t close. Later, we discovered that some willow seed had fallen into the action when he opened the bolt, and prevented the cartridge from seating fully. He was quite upset.
So, we went four for six as a group which is quite good, the food was great all week, and the weather was warm, and pleasant, with just a few days early in the week which had some moisture. We left for our trip on a Friday and returned on the Sunday a week later. Ten days in the woods was fantastic! There’s nothing quite like it for me to clear my head.
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