The following are some pics and a report of the action. It's wordy, but has some highlights of bears, wolves, all out persistence hunting, open bivies and near misses. Enjoy.
|Fresh and clean- confident and driven. Everyone's a champ on day 1. Humble pie coming right up.|
Gear is disorganized and I'm feeling rusty to the process. I pack kit and food for a few days and head to one of my most trusted spots. Unfortunately, it is easier to get in there due to recent trail work. It has been years without any care and now I can jog it if I wanted. We'll see if that changes the quantity of game in there. I slip into the first big drop of the canyon and get a glimpse into Bowl 1 of- let's call it "Bear Mountain." Boom, lots of elk. Bugles thunder down towards me as the herd grazes on the old semi-burned slope. It will be tricky to do it undetected, but I attempt to descend deeper into the canyon and climb the bushwhack slope to meet them. I meticulously pick my way down, crawling when the slope is exposed, to the creek bottom. I cross the creek and begin the climb. Alder thickets and a summer of good growth obscure me from the eyes above. Or do they? By the time I get near where I saw the herd, it is clear they have moved. I hear a bugle much higher in the bowl and to the right. The herd bull has moved them to his "power spot." All bulls have them. A spot that nothing gets into without the entire herd witnessing the invader- human, wolf, whatever. I begin a series of bugles to try to tempt him out. This seems familiar, as I have been in this same tug-of-war with this same bull, in this same spot. Last year. He was a 6x6 last year. Big. My buddy Matt had the same issue with him in this spot. "Big 6" initially seems to be coming in. I hear some alders crash and it gets louder indicating he may want to check out what is making the bugles. He hangs up about 100 yards out. Darkness is now just minutes away, so I drop my pack and rush towards him, crashing brush and trying to provoke a fight. Nothing. He continues to bugle but doesn't give me an inch. I'm defeated. It's dark and I will try again at first light. Now, I just need to slip a little lower, set up camp and wait.
Problem...can't find my pack. I left it less than 50 yards below me. Sure, I was in a moment of focus on the elk...but I should have found it by now. The night comes dark, cloudy and inky black. I have no light, except a lighter. I traverse the slope for an hour giving everything I have to find it, falling continuously but I succumb to its blackness and sit down for some suffering.
I slept some. Thankfully, the night was reasonably mild and it only rained and pounded me with wind for half the time. I was spoiled by my tiny USGS quad map as a shelter. At one point, I tried to make a torch out of a stick and my socks, to search for my pack. I figured, a good torch burns oil-soaked rags. Nylon socks are pretty much the same thing. It turns out my socks were wool. I ran 100 miles to win them in Alabama last November. When burned...they smelled like my cat's tail when he brushes against my fireplace. No flame, just a stink of burning death. They looked like a marshmallow that was charred, then they fell of the stick. More sitting in the rain until morning. Every hour or so, Big 6 teases me with a bugle to let me know he makes the rules out here. He has no rucksack full of amenities either. But he likes it that way.
I awake at first light, stiff and cold and thinking about Run Rabbit Run going off today. I wonder what I could have done out there. I retrace my steps and in ONLY 5 MORE HOURS of walking up and down, I have found my rucksack. I had slept about 30 yards from all that warm and dry gear. Bivy tent, sleeping bag, pad, food, water. Oh yeah- water. I had not had one sip since leaving the truck yesterday afternoon.
I eat last night's dinner, breakfast and now lunch. I drink about 1 gallon of water from a nearby stream and take a nap in the afternoon sun. Big 6 has moved on. I know where he went. We played this game last year too. I move on to Bowl 2. I first climb 1000' to near the top of the ridge, then traverse the mile of exposed granite to reach the bowl. I bump off a doe mule deer. It is amazing the homes mule deer will make in the gnarliest of cliff bands. No food or water nearby, just a perch in the rocks. She bounces off and disappears over the cliff and into the timber a ways below. I enter the Bowl and do my rounds. If they are here, I know the 3 spots they will be. In the marsh of the back left, in the "podium" of pines in the back center, or the power spot of the front right. I pull out the binos and glass the front right. If they are in there, I will give myself away walking past. Always check that first. Nothing doing. I make my way along the left side to the marsh. Nothing. Scat is old and dry. Tracks don't look recent. I climb the fireweed slope to the podium and nothing again. Nobody home. I believe they have dropped into the timber running into the canyon below. It is hell down there, but that is the next play. At least I know when I get to the bottom, there is a trail down there to get home.
|Omega 3's yo.|
The canyon trail is clear, so I shed a layer and prepare to run out. The truck is about 3 miles away and 1500' vertical gain. I am surprised how well I can run with the pack and bow. A testament to my state of fitness from the summer of mountain running. A few minutes into the run, just as darkness is setting, I hear a rustling ahead. I knock an arrow and clip my release to the string. I peer over a granite boulder to see a nice little black bear eating something. He smells my campfire smell and scuttles away. I love wild bears. Garbage eating neighborhood bears I can do without, but a people-hating wild bear is always a joy to encounter. The remainder of the run goes well and I am happy to make it home an hour later and sleep in my bed. I had survived a pretty nasty epic and still had a good hunt.
I drive to the "Honey Hole." I have harvested elk here the past 2 years- the only elk I've ever harvested. I know this spot intimately, having spent many hours hunting, hiking, scouting, running, etc. It has everything...solitude, deep timber, swampy meadows and lots of space to hold lots of elk. The main spots are the upper alpine bowl, the "bench", the upper and lower meadows and the highway trail that links them. A fall back spot is the lower lake and its deep timber surrounding it.
I decide to try the "bench" first and I come in from above. It looks good, but is a bit dry at the top. Hopefully, the swampy pools will still be full a little lower. As soon as I get to a spot that feels right, I feel a slight breeze on the back of my neck. Bummer, the thermals are shifting early. Not 10 seconds later, I see the enormous rump and some antler tips through the brush. I'm sure he hasn't seen me, but the wind has given me away. He trots downhill, bugling at me. I answer to try to turn him, but he is gone. I know where he went. He will take his herd down the length of the bench to where it joins the upper meadow and from there, they will find sanctuary in the timber of the upper bowl.
It is getting late, so I decide to bivy instead of pursuing him and blowing everything up. He continues to bugle so I know the morning will have lots of action. I sleep only 200 yards from his frequent bugles.
I awake and head for the bowl on the side farthest from the bench. I use the huge granite cliffs as a barrier and trace the cliffs staying just inside the trees. My buddy Nick and I did this same thing last year and he very nearly missed taking an elk right here. I believe this is the same bull we chased last year. I slip into the timber and make a few cow calls to see if I can lure him my way. I know he has a herum of several cows and a few smaller bulls. I can't fool all those eyes, so I try to get him 1 on 1. I hear him coming. Wait, I hear multiple animals coming. I squat behind a spruce tree and knock an arrow. What I see is beautiful and horrifying. First, a white apparition floats by- streaked with blood. La Lupe, Lobo, Wolf. Then a big black and finally a grey rushes by not 20 feet away. Their eyes are transfixed on another kill. We are all chasing the same prey. They slip by without a glance in my direction. I hatch a plan to use them in my game. They are circling and cutting off the bowl and perhaps pushing the elk my way. I hear a thundering bugle and fear I may be too late.
I tear through the trees to their edge, arrow still knocked and ready. The wolves have disappeared, but there is the bull, coming my way. He crosses a small ridge and enters the open burn between us, but a little too low. I can't follow him, because there is no cover. I can't call him, because I fear the wolves will pursue the elk...and me. I slip back into he trees and try to cut him off. I sprint into position about 200 yards down the slope. Here he comes. He makes a minor zig in his approach and that takes him out of my range. I'm out of options, I pursue into the open. When I get within 50 yards, I take a knee and use the cow call to stop him. He pauses with nothing between us, quartered away, perfect. In the second it takes me to draw, he caught my motion and exploded downhill. I let down my draw and continue the chase. He heads back into the upper meadow, bugling all the way. Where are the wolves? I climb the minor ridge and get a look into the meadow and there he is with about 25 other elk. He leads them up the bench again and doesn't stop. I hear his bugles grow more and more distant indicating the stress of wolves and hunter warrant a change...of zip code. He'll be back. I'll hit the bench later this week.
I head back to the truck and another solid 4 mile run with pack and bow. I'm getting the hang of this.
It is still early- maybe 1:30pm when I reach the truck. I hatch another plan for the evening. I'm letting this area cool off and I will go to another spot where I've had some good action in the past. This spot, I call the "Cow Patty." It is full of cows- not like female elk cows- but Bovines, Cattle, Moo-Cows. They mix freely with the elk here and the elk can be found completely co-mingled with them eating and living shoulder to shoulder. I've never heard of such a thing, but here it is reality. I hunt slowly and quietly into the first alder thicket lining the stream. Here, I surprised some elk last year and ruined it. Now, I call quietly and carefully. The wind is poor and I feel it blowing behind me. I hear a rustling just ahead and the squirrels give away it's position with their squawking. This is a fine technique- use to the squirrels to indicate the position of the quarry. However, they also tell the animal of your position. Double-edged sword. I wait 20 minutes and hear or see nothing. As soon as I stand up something busts out of there and down the way I came. Not sure if it were and elk or cow. I think it was another elk that caught my scent due to bad wind. Having no luck with the wind.
I climb to the upper bowl of the cirque and I am saddened to see only cows and their patties. Everywhere. No elk sign at all. The evening was quiet and uneventful. I hunted well, but the elk are elsewhere. I run out most of the 2.5 miles to the truck, finishing after dark. I scare the jeepers out of some cows on the atv road leading to the truck. Home for Brandi's elk steaks, potatoes and squash. 10 hours of sleep.
I head back to the trailhead I started from on day one with a different strategy. I will hike the new trail deeper into canyon and try to see if the herds from the upper bowls have dropped into the depths as the weather has cooled off. Problem: there are 4 huge trucks with hunting decals on them. I never see hunters when I am out. Oh well, I set off as planned. After 2 miles, I see the tents set up in a meadow at a bend in the creek. I push on to the next huge timber patch that flows from the bottom of the canyon to Bowl 3 at the north head of Bear Mountain. A bugle tells me my instincts are right. I drop my pack and head into the timber for the last 2 hours of daylight. As I climb, the bull keeps calling and I get closer and closer. he answers every mew from my mouth diaphram and explodes with each bugle I try. But, he will not come closer to me and I run out of daylight. I slip back to camp and decide to push for him tomorrow. I set up camp at the edge of a big meadow, just steps from the pristine creek. Ad darkness falls, I see headlamps, lots of headlamps coming my way. I speak with a group of 3 hunters, then another guy from a group of 4- who just took a big 6 pointer down canyon. They are just getting started with breaking him down and packing out. The group of 3 will exit tomorrow, but the group of 4 has until Thursday. I make a plan with the group of 3 to avoid any conflict, as we are hunting the same general area. Tomorrow, I will push up through the timber for the bull I was working today, then I will head over the top of the peak (2500' up) and hunt the other side of the mountain. Hopefully finding some solitude. I slip into a deep sleep. I have to zip up the bag tonight, as the cold is for real in the river bottom.
This is my craziest and probably the hardest day of hunting ever. One of the most punishing outside of ultrarunning, for sure. I pushed up through the timber as planned, just after first light. The bull has moved its group a bit north and a bit higher into the timber. Soon, I get him talking and zero in on the location. He walks me in, but he keeps climbing away from me. This has been the pattern for me. Zero in and know the location, but I just can't close the gap. My calls do nothing to sway him. I hear another set of calls coming from a bit north and I believe it is the group of 3. I recognize the flute-y sound as not being like a real elk. My bugle sounds like that too. I decide to push hard uphill to get ahead of the herd and use the group of 3 to box them in to the north. I step out of the timber and left of a huge alder patch into semi-alpine tundra and I sprint ahead up the 40 degree slope. I churn and thrash and I finally hear the cows chirping just ahead. I spot one exiting the alders and making a move for the peak above. The alders stir with the rustling of many elk bodies. The big boy sounds off- he knows the gig is up. The elk bust from the alders for the rocks above. I draw my bow from 30 yards away and chirp on my cow call, trying to get anything to pause just one second. They make a turn south and head deep into the timber of Bowl 3. Gonzo! Per my agreement with the group of 3 hunters, I don't chase. I continue to climb through the semi-technical rocks above for 500 more feet to the summit. I whip out my phone to try to get a signal and call Brandi. No luck- I hear her talking but we quickly disconnect. Bummer. It is windy and cold up there, so I want to get off this peak. I look over the other side and I am shocked to see a MASSIVE 6x6 bull just 300 vertical feet below me and he is bedded down in plain sight.
I drop off the summit the way I had just came up and traverse to a saddle to hatch a plan. I drop my pack, pop a Vespa Ultra Concentrate (nectar of the Gods) and decide to crawl to him to close the gap- no calling. As I crawl and butt-slide, he occasionally gets up and eats a bit, while slowly moving away from me to the south. This is frustrating because every yard I gain takes me minutes of misery. Pick up bow, put bow down 1 foot ahead, slide my body over blowdowns and rocks, repeat for hours. Soon I am within bow range, but he has moved into a clump of trees and I can't see him. Has he bedded down? Has he winded me and slipped off? I get a bit concerned and I pick up the pace, being a bit less cautious. I reach the place he stood and I see nothing. I decide he has detected me and went away. I stand and tip-toe 30 yards to get into a clump of trees to try to glass ahead and find him. Sure enough- he was bedded in those trees- he explodes as I nearly step on him. Hours of stalking is destroyed in 5 seconds. He races south and he finds his lieutenant- a skinny beamed 5x5. They race into the nearby tiny meadow and stir 25 or so cows and calves from their slumber. I know what they are planning. They are going into Bowl 2, just over the ridge to the east. I jump over the ridge and race the quarter mile to cut them off at the saddle. I pump as hard as I can, sliding and jumping over the dangerous loose rocks and logs. I nock an arrow on the run and push all out for the point I guess they will use to descend. I am only 20 yards from the point when I see the deluge of elk rush over the lip and drop. Sure, I am within range of all these elk, but little good that does me as they move at top speed. I commend the big bull for what I just witnessed. He could have just bounced out when he detected me and left the others in danger. He put his group- his family first- and sacrificed his life. Respect. He came over the saddle last and I put my sight on him at full draw and chirp hard to try to get him to pause a second. I follow him with my 20 yard pin at full draw until he is out of range. He screams continuously at his herd to push for their lives. He leaves no one behind as they slip into the timber below. I let down my draw and my mood sinks into despair.
|Talus forever. Out of food and water, this slope induced a memorable bonk and a near tumble as I skated on the steep kitty litter choss.|
As I mentioned earlier, before the crawling stalk began, I dropped the pack. I have lost over 2000' vertical during this chase, so I now must climb the mountain again to get my pack. I am exhausted, hungry and thirsty. After an hour, I am back at my pack and I take care of my nutrition deficit. The wind is really heavy now and it will definitely storm tonight. I decide to push towards the truck- but not the way I came in. I will circumnavigate the peak by traversing its west side. I hunt a few of the better looking spots, but mostly keep moving over rocky talus, huge granite slabs and scree filled colouirs. The storm closed in and the sky flashed with lightning as I finished off the final bit of exposed ridge. My muscles cramped and I tripped continuously, smashing my body and my poor bow on the unforgiving granite. What a bow- the 2011 Martin Firecat 400. I think of how well it has served me, how straight it has shot and the food it has provided. I apologize to my friend and finish off the hike. In 90 minutes I am back in the strange environment of TV and all the food and water I want. Feeling foreign now. I ache to be back on the hunt.
|So many places they can hide.|
|The icy storm is on its way. All downhill for me now to the truck.|
Change of Venue. A little south from the other areas is a nice granite peak with some heavy timber and meadowy bowls along its flanks. I have posted some pics of the peak in the past. Very rough and scenic country. After a late-afternoon start, I climbed to the summit ridge from the east, determined to glass the west face from above. Sure enough, upon my arrival at the top, I spotted a big bull with the naked eye and a few cows stirring around him in the alder thickets. I slipped over the edge and into the deep timber finger making its way to the alders below. I tried to remember as much of the landmarks from above, so I would begin to traverse at the proper time to find the spot where I saw the elk. However, it is really hard to get this right. By the time I made it down there and got around where I spotted the elk, I could find nothing. Darkness was close, so I hiked back up to the summit ridge and made camp- determined to find them again in the morning with binoculars. The night was very cold (probably 20F). Everything froze and my lightweight summer gear was tested to the max.
|The moon was so bright on the sub-freezing night, that I woke several times thinking it was morning.|
Upon waking, I tried my best to knock the ice off of most of my gear. My soaking wet shoes were frozen solid and my socks (which I put in my sleeping bag) were cold and wet. It took my wooden fingers a good 10 minutes to tie the icy laces. My feet would not have any feeling until mid-afternoon. My poor tent was so frozen, I could only hope to shove it into my pack bottom where it would certainly soak everything as it thawed.
I mounted the ridge top and tried to find any elk- to no avail. I decided to go into the west side alders and timber and have another look. As I descended, I found where the elk had been last night and I followed a fresh track and scat down the valley into the dark timber. The signs were impressive and seemed to indicate a large herd was present. I tracked therm for hours, until at about 2pm, I decided to eat lunch and head back uphill and try the other side of the mountain. After eating, I packed up and prepared for a long hike. I gave one rip on my bugle and the forest erupted with the loudest and angriest bugle I had ever heard. He was really close. I sat for an hour bugling back and forth, as the bull went uphill and down, but would come no closer. I decided to move in a bit to try to provoke him. I slipped downhill 50 yards and I discovered the draw to this place. He had a huge mud hole (wallow) he was protecting. I let out one soft bugle from a tree just beside the wallow and his tone changed instantly. It was clear that he was coming in for a fight. He charged- busting timber and screaming as he approached. I tucked in tight to the pine, so I could draw undetected, when the moment arrived. At about 50 yards out, he slowed and began a more deliberate approach. Here, I caught my first glimpse of this mighty beast. He was the largest elk I had ever seen- a huge 7x7 bull with 15 inch tines and massive main beams as thick as my forearms. I am not a trophy hunter, but this was truly a sight to see. The stage was set to take him down. I just needed him to continue along the path to the wallow. At 20 yards out, I just needed him to go about 5 more steps and I would draw and take him. However, he did something I had not considered- something brilliant. Instead of continuing on the path, he jumped over a downed tree and headed left, still obscured by the pine. He looked at me, but he did not react negatively, so I assumed all was still well. Then, he continued left- circling my pine, so he could smell me. I drew the bow, as he passed behind another pine, and he came to a stop just 20 feet away. My bow was not pointed at him and there was still lots of obstacles between us- so a shot was not possible. He definitely smelled me, because he turned and jogged off. Just like that, it was over. Another heart-breaking failure. Remembering the starving wolves, I soldiered on.
I climbed the 1000' back to the ridge and called Brandi to wine and moan. As soon as I looked over the east side, my spirits were lifted as I spied 2 elk with my naked eyes, just 1/4 mile away on the east face. Long story short- I made a perfect stalk on a nice spike bull and at 20 yards the wind shifted and he ran away. My disappointment took on almost no emotion. I am running of emotional energy. I am becoming the wolf. Just keep going and find the kill, spill the blood, feed the family.
The emotion came in my dreams, as I slept fitfully in my bed. I awoke in tears. I know I am wasting energy that I will need in my race in just one week. Obsession has taken over and I don't care. I resolve to be smarter with my energies. I will finish this. This ends tomorrow.
Friday 9/20. One week until race day.
I spent the remainder of the evening to the north in the small drainage leading back down toward the road. I saw some fresh signs, but I heard or saw no other elk. Quietest day of hunting this season. I took it really easy and I guess that you get what you give, in this pursuit.
Saturday 9/21, 22, 23.
Rest. Postponing the hunt until after the Bear on the 27th. There is plenty more season to go, but I will be in the woods with the rifle hunters after October 5th. Plus, there is no guarantee that I will be able to walk- let alone climb these mountains where the elk roam. Still hungry to make it happen.
Autumn dawn, pierced by shrieking beasts
The hunt is on, rewards of yearlong feasts.
A provoking mock, or an olive branch mew
Cloaked by rock, soaked with sweat and dew.
Within his sights, lumbers the antlered giant
At full draw, the archer is silent.
Ghost of the forest, gone with the breeze
Over the ridge with power and ease
Safely above the fear and dismay
A razor tipped death still haunts its prey.