Another elk season has passed for me and a few of my friends. Dozens more miles under the boots. Some new freeze-dried food sampled. Some forgotten country seen again. Lessons learned, and plans made. This season began as we have every other season. Phone calls among friends, invitations to those who always make excuses why not to make it, and knowing there are those who will make every effort to go . . .
This year was a small group effort. Just four of us. And two of those just along for the hike. We chose the second rifle season for one primary reason. The moon was nearly in its new phase. That means the animals will likely be out foraging during the day instead of at night during the full moon week.
The day before the season began, we were hit hard by a storm. As I made my way along Hwy 101 to our base, I could feel the wind rocking my truck. As I rounded the curve at Cape Foulweather, my 9,000 lb. F-350 crew cab long-bed dually is pushed over into the wrong lane. Holy crap! The windshield wipers are on high as the rain is literally blowing sideways.
This is good. With trees snapping and branches falling, it’ll likely keep the herds huddled deep and keep them restless. This should make them hungry when the storm abates the next day.
Opening day breaks calmer, the wind has died down and it only spits rain now and again. We spend the day on high places, glassing likely areas.
We chose our hunt area based on the latest “travel management areas”. The roads are gated. The gates aren’t really locked, though. They have big zip ties holding them. So in an emergency, we can drive in to retrieve someone who is hurt. If we get an animal down though, we have to hike it out.
Hiking in is something a lot of hunters won’t do. We could see the “bubbas” driving along the roads dressed in camo through the binos. While we are miles in, on foot.
Out of the three herds we saw, two were on private property and one was cows and calfs only. The private property herd is interesting. It has a few really large bulls. Mind you, the western or Roosevelt elk bull can be 7-8 foot long and weigh a half a ton on the hoof. It is one of four species of North American elk.
The herd we are interested in is fed grain and alfalfa by a small ranch owner. They are trying to protect the animals from the hunters. Hmmmm. Gotta think about this.
Day two turns to day three with sore legs, wet gear and a look at maps to get deeper into the woods. As we aren’t seeing any fresh signs high up, we decide to work the lowland swamp areas.
After a break for lunch. Hiking burns serious calories. With a renewed energy level, we set out. The first mile is slightly uphill before the road splits. I take a right and find myself in a sexy creek bottom with fresh sign everywhere. The alder trees are on my left and the five-year-old forest is on my right.
At my feet are constant trails of elk scat. I touch a few with my boot and it seems fresh. Farther on, I pick up a few turds. They are warmer than air temperature. With the breeze in my face, I come to low ready at every bend in the trail.
My Sako .375 H&H, is stoked with 270 grain solids atop 74 grains of IMR-4350. My friend’s chronograph showed 2,400 fps. Should be a decent sleeping pill for Cervus canadensis roosevelti. That speed and bullet weight is a sweet spot for that beautiful piece of wood and steel.
Bend after bend, curve after curve, I come up to low ready, then back down. The scat isn’t getting any fresher as the miles of trail unfold. I figure they are an hour or so ahead of me and walking a good pace with their nose into the wind. As the daylight wanes, I have a sense of dread. There is no way I can keep up with something that has a 4-6 foot stride. I make the decision to turn back. I have an uphill hike back most of the way. Fortunately the last mile will be downhill. I make it back with very little daylight to spare. Another 10-12 mile hike and I am beat.
While my body may be beat down, my spirits are high. I may not have been able to harvest the elusive wapiti, but I was able to participate in another hunt. It’s in my DNA, my heart and my soul. And besides, bear season is open until the end of the year. And I have a week off during the Christmas holidays.
As for that private land herd, the plan is made. It involves a bottle of mountain lion urine, bear urine, and a couple of backyard portable sprayers. When the breeze is right, a slow drive by after hunters are situated a half mile away, on public land. I love it when a plan comes together.