Friday, September 18, 2015

Done and Done

I left my house yesterday for round two of the day at 3:30 in the afternoon. After seeing a bull head off the park and into the timber earlier, I figured I'd get out of the rain, eat some breakfast at the Grub Stake and try to cut him off in the evening. I've seen him twice now--once in the morning and once in the evening and he's been pretty much taking the same route. Because he was coming across a big open park, I figured I'd try getting his attention with the use of Miss September; the decoy I purchased and my new-found hunting companion. I'll call her Bess.
When you think about it, the likelihood of an elk coming out in just the right spot on such a huge park in order to get a shot with a bow isn't great. Even though I've seen him in the same spot a couple times now, I was watching him from almost a mile away and there is a much better chance of picking the wrong spot than the right one. Having the decoy might get his attention and might bring him past me. Now it's figuring out where the best place to put the decoy is and where I should be sitting.
I snuck up into the park along the tree-line. The wet ground helped and I took it slow; always looking into the timber for bedded down elk. There were a number of sparsely distributed, random trees out in the park just above the tree-line and my fear was that he'd be bedded down next to one of those trees with an optimal vantage point and now he was watching me. I crept in and didn't feel like I had busted anything out of there.
I got about a hundred yards from where I thought he'd be coming out and set up the decoy in the park where it was most visible from multiple directions but mostly from where I thought the bull would come out. About forty yards further up the park, there were a group of young trees where I could set up. The trees were about forty yards out into the park and were dense enough to give sufficient cover. There were other, bigger trees dotted throughout that corner of the park that would also help if he decided to come out. I was set up by around 6 o'clock and figured sunset at about 7:30. I gave myself until 7:30 to wait for the bull to come out. If it didn't happen by then, I figured it wouldn't.
I had a pretty good vantage point to glass a lot of area in that drainage, which helped with the waiting. I'm not going to lie, I don't like sitting and waiting. It's one of the things I hated about whitetail hunting in the Midwest--sitting for hours in a tree stand waiting for something to happen. Spotting and stocking is much more my game but locating elk with a call and setting up and drawing them in is really where it's at. I love that interaction. Unfortunately, the elk stopped talking after the first weekend so now I sit and I wait.
(By the way, I had a guy tell me once that the elk stopped calling because of all the wolves. That's complete BS. These elk were talking the first day of the season but because of all the hunters out there bugling in every corner of that drainage, they've learned pretty quick to keep their mouths shut. When you go to areas with low pressure, the elk do still talk regardless of other predators.)
I cow-called a few times at the beginning just to see if anything would answer but nothing did. Then I'd wait for about fifteen minutes and try it again. I used two different calls; one that sounded like a lost cow and one that sounded like a hot cow looking to breed. (At least, I think it sounded like that. I've never really heard a cow on the prowl if you know what I mean...) I did have my grunt tube but I told myself I wouldn't touch it for fear that this guy has heard it too many times and would send him fleeing. I had it though, just in case a bigger bull did start talking and sounded like he was looking for a fight.
It was only going to be an hour and a half but boredom definitely set in at around six-forty-five so I stood up and snuck around the trees to get a look at the other side of the park--nothing. With about forty-five minutes left, I stayed standing up, tucked just inside my little nook of trees. I waited and watched the clock tick down. Doubt was definitely permeating what was initially a fairly confident plan. I even told a couple buddies I was going in after this guy and said I was going to get him but now I my confidence was waning and I was about 75% sure it wasn't going to happen.
I started thinking how ridiculous it was to expect this bull to just walk out on the park right where I was to get a shot. I started dreading the next morning, getting up at 4 am just to do it all over again. I even thought about quitting all together because it's just too much work and with all the other hunters in the area and the elk not talking, it's just too hard to locate them--if there are even any more elk in the area. The clock was ticking.
I looked at my watch. It read 7:27. I used the hot cow-call one last time and didn't get a response. I was just about to reach down to pick up my bow up to get ready to head out. I was done. It was done. I was convinced my plan had been foiled but before I could pick up my bow a thump, thump and the sound of antlers scraping against pine bows turned boredom, frustration and a disappointing low to an "Oh shit!" and a massive adrenaline high in a matter of a second.
The bull busted through a clump of trees just 20 yards to my right looking for me, (or I should say, looking for that hot cow.) As he came out, my head snapped and without even thinking, I was on the ground ducking behind a pine bow. He caught my movement but couldn't make me out and now we were staring each other down. I was trying to hide as best I could, even tilting my head just enough to use the bill of my cap to hide my face a little but still allowing me to watch his movements. He didn't move for a couple minutes. He just stared me down and all I could do is try to sink lower and lower into the grass and behind that one pine bough that separated us.
"There is no freaking way this bull isn't going to bust me," I thought. "But just don't move. Don't move!"
When I hit the ground, it was done immediately with absolutely no thought for how I was going to position myself and couldn't really control how I would land. One leg was stretched out and the other leg wound up under me in a weird contortion that was definitely not at all comfortable but I couldn't move. I had a hand on my bow and had already taken an arrow out of my quiver an hour and a half before just in case something like this happened but I hadn't knocked it yet. It was leaning up next to my bow against a pine bough and al I could do is wait for a chance to grab it. The bull just kept staring me down; not quite sure what I was but not really having enough evidence to know for sure I wasn't that cow he was looking for.
Eventually, the bull did look down the park at the decoy, which gave me just enough time to reach my cow-call and give him a little me-eew. That definitely peaked his interest and maybe confused him a bit too but also put his focus back on me and not the decoy. He turned and started up the park to put some distance between us before looking back at me. I hit the cow-call again and he turned back towards me but now he was behind one of the big pines out in the park.
That last cow-call must have triggered enough in him to want another look but with a different perspective so he started walking laterally above me. He was trying to circle around me to get down-wind. As he did, I knocked my arrow and was able to get up on my knees. He had heard something he liked but he also saw something suspicious. What he hadn't done is smelled what he was after or smelled something he should avoid. He kept moving left to right above me stepping out from the big pine just 32 yards away. I drew and he stopped to look back at me. I let the arrow fly.
I've written about this before but once the arrow goes, you can't pull it back and what you wait for is the sound it makes; either the tinkling of graphite on brush, the crack of hitting bone or the hollow thump as it enters the elk's vitals. There were a couple small branches I had to thread an arrow through but they weren't really obstructing the shot. At some point you just have to fall back on all the practice you've done in August and trust the shot will go where you want it. The thump is what you want and that's what I heard. As the bull turned and headed off I could see the arrow protruding out of him just behind the front shoulder. It couldn't have been placed much better. I cow-called and he stopped about 50 yards from where I hit him, bedded down and expired.
I worked damn hard for this bull and although it's a rag-horn and I've definitely shot bigger, I'm really proud of the accomplishment. Most of the elk I've shot I can contribute about 90%, (or even more,) to luck. This was about 90% preparation, planning and perseverance. I watched this bull for a few days now. I have put on about twenty-five or thirty miles hiking these hills, locating a number of elk and waiting for an opportunity like this. I have had failures and I have passed up shots I didn't think were ethical. I also had to restrain from going after him right away when I saw him in the morning and wait for the right time in the evening when I thought he'd come back. I got in early and waited him out and it's because of making some good choices and devising a good plan; falling back on experience and lessons learned from hunting with a lot of people from friends out here to my brother and even my dad while I was a kid, I feel I was successful. I know it's not the Super Bowl and to some, it's just another elk but to me it's still a pretty big deal and it's why I still love to hunt.
I know I've talked about the hunt as a game. It's a game I've lost several times this season but it is much more than that because for the elk, it's life and death and I don't want to lose sight of that. By doing so, I think we can fall into a mentality of not necessarily respecting the animal like we should and we don't treat it with the dignity it deserves. It leads to making bad choices and potentially taking shots that wound animals instead of making more humane kill-shots. I don't want to get all philosophical on you (I guess I kind of already have,) but it kind of is a spiritual process in the sense that we should let virtue guide us. The more we realize that, the more we respect the process, the other hunters, and our prey and the better the experience is as a whole.
Keep 'em where they live...
The bull stood at the top of the park for a few minutes before bedding down and as I watched, I heard a bugle from a hunter a few hundred yards below me. I'm guessing the hunters could see the bull standing at the top of the park and didn't know I had already shot it but they had to have heard me calling it. If you've ever heard a real cow-call, it doesn't sound anything like a hunter trying to sound like a cow in heat. It's exaggerated and it's a dead give-away and when you hear it, you should give that hunter space and just back out. For these guys to try to call this bull out from under me is just classless and as I was gutting the elk out, it was still light enough to see the two hunters at the other end of the park look up at me, turn, and head out. I could imagine the disappointment they felt knowing I had shot the bull before they could and I'd be lying if I told you it didn't give me a little bit of a boost.
I feel pretty vindicated having killed that bull on public ground with all these new hunters in there. At the bottom of the drainage, there is an entire camp set up with guys from all over place. There are usually four or five trucks parked there with plates from all over the state and even Oregon. They've never been in there before but they've had their camp set up now for three weeks. They tromp around the woods with little regard for learning the elks' habits or any consideration for other hunters for that matter. They bugle when they should be cow-calling or just shutting up as what was evident with this bull and how they were trying to call it in. It's a young bull that doesn't want anything to do with a herd bull but will take any opportunity it can to get laid so bugling at it would have just spooked him off. I was fortunate to have gotten a shot at him before these guys blew it for me again.  
I called up my pack-out buddy, Toby Shannon, who has a kick-ass game cart. I wish I would have taken a picture of it because it is an awesome piece of equipment. Along with Jordan LaRue, we were able to pack the elk out whole; a little over 1 1/2 miles in less than two hours. On the way out, Toby asked if I had removed the ivories from the elk. (The ivories are eye teeth that elk have that people often save and sometimes make jewelry out of. They are kind of a trophy for some folks and are collected as symbols of the accomplishment of taking an elk. I have saved a few sets but have lost a couple--one set, my dog ate and a couple I just forgot about so unless I planned to make something out of them, it doesn't do a lot of good to save them but they are kind of cool.) I didn't remove them but Toby noticed they were missing. I looked and sure enough, someone had gone up to the carcass before we could and stole them. Really?
This is just another classless act from a group of hunters that just don't get it. Were they mad at me for putting the time into chasing this bull and devising a better plan? Was this revenge? What are they going to do with the ivories--store them in an ashtray at the bottom of their junk-drawer as a reminder of the elk they didn't kill? Nice work, dumb-asses. I hope getting your butts kicked all over the mountains this year sends you packing for good. If it was the guys camping at the bottom of the drainage, just remember to clean up you all your crap you have laying around your camp-site and take it back to Oregon with you and while you're displaying a meaningless symbol of an accomplishment you didn't achieve, I'll be sinking my teeth into perfectly grilled elk fillets.
Wow, that was a little aggressive but I feel it needs to be said.

1 comment:

  1. Nice animal Russ. Congratulations on the hard work you put in