The wind – it didn’t stop last night, wouldn’t stop today, and would change everything about the rest of this hunt. If I told you that the wind was relentless, then you would likely interpret that as a figure of speech. But I mean it – the wind was non-stop – 20, 30, 50+ mph winds, for hours on end. If it wasn’t blowing directly on us, you could hear it rumbling through the trees, approaching like a train.
These incessant winds crippled our ability to call, or to hear any elk that might be talking; they made it impossible to ensure we were keeping our scent away from specific directions that we wanted to work – and I believe the winds kept the elk locked-down for the most part. Elk rely on their sense of smell for security, and for sound to communicate with other elk, and both of those sense were near pretty much useless in these conditions.
Nevertheless, when you’re out to hunt, you hunt. And hunt is what we did. With camp, and every bit of our gear on our backs, we began dropping closer and closer to 9,000′.
The morning went fast as we moved through the groves of quakies that were tipped with gold, and it was soon time to stop for lunch. We ate, mostly in quiet, until Phil turned to me and with all seriousness on his face said,
“Dude! We’re eating peanut butter on the side of a mountain!”
That random comment was enough to give me a big smile and raise my spirits to keep pressing on. The conditions may have sucked, but yes – we were lucky to be here, eating peanut butter crackers on the side of a mountain in elk country.
We finished lunch, crawled back under the load of our packs, and began working our way down a game trail. We weren’t 75 yards from camp when I stopped suddenly, somehow knowing that something was up. I turned around to see Phil, as he glanced back at Rudy. Rudy, with bright eyes, motioned that he saw something off to our left.
No words were spoken, but I somehow got the story that Rudy spotted a flickr in the dark timber ahead. I pulled up my binoculars and scanned through the thick cover. After a few moments I spotted movement, then made out the shape of a brown leg. Scanning up I spotted the rump of an elk just before it stepped behind another tree.
We all stood motionless, trying to pick out bits and pieces of elk through the maze of branches, bushes, weeds, and bark. I was out in front of Rudy and Phil and could see that the elk was casually moving uphill. I saw a flash of brown and tan take another step, just before it was blocked by a very large clump of trees.
The winds swirled, of course, but I had to make a move before this elk disappeared…
As you can see, the stalk ended without much drama. (The stalk lasted much longer than this brief clip.) I closed the distance as fast as I could without getting busted – utilizing as much cover between me and the elk as possible. But the intense moment ended when my eyes met the elk’s eyes, and the next thing I saw was the rear-end of a fleeing elk.
It was so thick where she was that it was hard to tell what direction she fled to, and how many (if any) elk she took with her. Maybe we were on the fringe of a whole heard? Maybe she was a lone cow? Maybe she didn’t go very far?
With the thick cover, and winds that drowned out all noise, it was impossible to tell.
We hunted our way through more ground, finally deciding to use the late-afternoon to try and locate a new campsite for the night. Throughout our day of hunting we heard several thunderous cracks of aspens falling in the forest, and we didn’t want to be what break their fall as we lay in our tents overnight. Priority number one for camp selection was to get away from large trees; a difficulty feat for this part of the mountain.
It took a while, but we found a campsite with as few trees as possible, although there were still some “widow makers” in reach. Nevertheless, we began to setup our tents as the thermometer spiked in the afternoon sun. Just a couple of nights ago it was 20-degrees, and now it was in the mid-70s. By the time we finished setting up our tents we were all walking around camp in our underwear. Several jokes were made about someone stumbling upon us in camp, in the middle of nowhere, in our underwear. (A sight for sore eyes!)
The more time that I had to sit and think, the more frustrated I became. We had hardly spotted elk, we couldn’t hear a thing, we couldn’t call, and our scent was blowing all over the place. Worse still, this weather pattern was forecasted to continue for the next 24 hours, then it was being replaced by a potentially severe snow storm.
Mental games plagued me that afternoon. I didn’t want to quit – I wanted to hunt more than anything! – but I wanted reasonably favorable conditions to do so.
Phil, again lightened the mood with his out of nowhere random comments when he asked, “You ever just stop and wonder what Wayne is doing?” That led to plenty of lighthearted conservation about Wayne – the southern boy that hunted with a 20-year-old bow and tennis shoes, but also went to the far extremes of flying over the mountain to scout before his hunt.
Finally, it was time for the evening hunt. Shortly after we departed camp we stumbled upon another heavily used game trail. We crossed that trail then turned back, in shock and horror, as two enormous aspen trees fell right where we were standing just seconds before. (Have I mentioned it was windy?)
The evening hunt turned up more sign, including beds, fresh rubs, a wallow that was absolutely destroyed and reeked of elk, and more heavily used trails. We saw everything but elk.
It was a restless night’s sleep as the winds picked up with even more strength. The incessant breeze would slowly become overtaken by wave after wave of 50+mph walls of winds that blew up and down the mountain. Each and every time that happened through the night we would tense up in anticipation of another tree falling, and hoping that it wouldn’t fall on us. Thankfully we survived.
Lesson Of The Day
There’s a lot of hype about training to be ready for backcountry hunts. But as good as a strong body may be, a strong mind what’s truly critical. Day 3 was the first day that I started facing mental battles. The conditions, the lack of vocal elk, the few sightings – it was all beginning to get me down. That is, if I let it. That fact is, it was only half-time, and I had to remind myself that all it takes is one second to turn a bad hunt into an epic one. It’s OK to find yourself thinking negatively, but realize that you can’t stay there. Get a new attitude, a new mindset, and go hunt with purpose.
Gear Of The Day
I had a lot of experience with the Tenzing CF 13 before this hunt. I had used it for backpacking trips, mountain day hikes, training exercises, and more. But at this point in my elk hunt, the pack was really proving how comfortable and functional it was. This was the 2nd day that I not only hiked with a week’s worth of supplies on my back, I also hunted with the load. The CF13 kept the load tight to my back, and distributed the weight to my hips well. I didn’t find myself constantly adjusting the straps to avoid hotspots or pressure points, like I’ve had to do with heavy loads in other packs. And some loaded-down packs have prevented me from drawing my bow effectively, but with the CF13 I didn’t have any issues cycling through my full range of motion, even with a full load of gear on my back.
If you want to learn more about this frame and pack system, check out this video that I put together earlier this year: Gear Review – The Tenzing CF13 Carbon Fiber Hunting Pack