intəˈrəpSHən: an act, utterance, or period that interrupts someone or something.
“I can legitimately say that I’m an elk hunter now,” I told Jerud.
But before we get to that, I guess we should back up to the beginning of the day…
Our goal for the morning is to make the 900’ climb up to a high meadow that’s been nicknamed “Sheepsfoot”. Along the way we have a brief encounter with some cows, but they end up catching our wind and moving on.
My legs feel weak from yesterday’s hunt, so I am relieved when we finally reach our destination. We stop to eat a snack, while making sure we have a good grasp of the wind, assessing our surroundings, and formulating our plan of attack.
We’re higher than we’ve been the entire trip, and have a great line of sight, so I fetch my phone from my pack. I’m surprised to find that I actually have a signal. I anxiously dial home – eager to hear my wife’s voice.
It takes little more than a “Hello?” for me to figure out that something is wrong. Both of my kids are sick. My daughter is running a 102-degree fever. Nobody in our house has slept much in the last couple of days, and my wife is justifiably exhausted. I want to tell her how hard this trip has been thus far, but I now see my “hunting problems” from a new perspective.
Knowing what’s going on at home has interrupted my focus on hunting.
“What am I doing out here?”
In the midst of those thoughts, I’m interrupted again – this time by a bugle from a distant ridge. At first I think it’s another hunter, but when I hear it again a few minutes later, something in me knows that it’s a bull.
The thermals are still falling, which is perfect for us. We cross the meadow, drop through a marshy creek bottom, and enter a seemingly endless stand of dark timber. The bull is still bugling from what sounds like a stationary position, so we work towards him, gaining elevation, hoping to invade his personal space.
It’s been a while since we’ve heard him call, so I let out a bugle to see if I can get a response. There’s no echo, and we keep moving forward. Minutes later we hear a bugle.
Wait, this bugle is closer! No, now there’s the bugle I was expecting. We’ve got two bulls in here!
The bull that sounded closer fires off again, and this time he’s obviously moved in on us. Jerud tells me to stay put, while he drops back 50 yards to call.
Both bulls continue to bugle. Mr. King of the Hill that’s been stationary seems to remain contently seated on his perch. But this other bull – he’s coming!
I quickly find a spot that’s relatively comfortable, provides good concealment, and most importantly – has a few viable shooting lanes.
This whole time Jerud has been calling on and off. Honestly, he sounds so good that he has me fired up! It sounds like the bull has worked within 80-100 yards, but he’s since gone quiet. I wait with expectation – ready to hear a stick break and see a patch of hide.
Jerud has resorted to raking trees, running back and forth, imitating numerous cow sounds, and even cutting the bull’s bugles off with his own challenges. But this bull has hung-up and shut-up.
We wait a while, and the action seems to have died down, so we begin to move on. Except, as soon as we make a move we’re interrupted by a bugle. This time I drop to call and leave Jerud up as the shooter. It’s a repeat encounter – it sounds like we’ve drawn the bull in, he is definitely interested and responding, but he hangs-up and then shuts-up.
Jerud and I regroup, and decide to cover some more ground. A short time later we stop for a drink and a snack, hoping we’ll hear the bulls and figure out what they’re up to. I get my gear off, my snack out, and start debriefing the bull encounters with Jerud, but I’m interrupted by – you guessed it – a bugle!
We leave our packs and snacks, quickly mark the spot with our GPS units, grab our bows and head after the bull. We’ve got King of the Hill bugling from his perch above us and another bull that’s closer. We work the lower bull for a while, but are never able to close the distance, so we drop back down towards our snacks.
Again, we start to eat and debrief. We make it a bit further into our snack, but are once again interrupted. Yes, another bugle, and it is even closer. Unreal. We grab our bows and calls, and go.
I tell Jerud to go ahead of me and try to get on the same elevation at the bull. I trail him a bit, hanging lower, hoping that if the bull tries to swing around “the cow” (me) with the wind in his favor, then Jerud will still have a shot.
My plan is interrupted by a bugle below. Wait, below?! How did that bull swing around that far, that fast?
Just then, the bugle I was expecting from above echoes out again. Then there’s another bugle from higher up! We’ve got King of the Hill at the very top, the bull Jerud is pursuing a bit above us, and now I’ve got a third bull bugling below me.
I decide to hang tight and work the bull that’s below me. I can’t see or communicate with Jerud, but I’m sure he’ll figure out that I’m not tailing him closely when he hears my calls stay put.
My bull’s bugles are getting closer. I scramble to find shooting lanes, but it is so thick in here! I let out a cow call – the first since I’ve heard this bull bugling below me – and as soon as I do, I hear thunder roll up the mountain. I didn’t realize it, but my bull was probably only 30-40 yards away, and when he heard that call he came charging in.
He’s standing on the other side of a thicket, no more than 12-15 away. All I can see are patches of his hide through the cover, but he is so close that I hear him breathing and grunting. His breathes are heavy, deep, and fast. It’s amazing to be so close to such a large, majestic, wild creature.
There is almost a part of me that’s afraid to cow call again – I feel like I could get trampled if he covers another 20 yards as quickly as he just came in. Just as I bring the call to my mouth, I feel a breeze hit the back of my neck. A slight shift of the winds, and he’s gone like a ghost.
I work my way back up towards where I think Jerud is, and we eventually cross paths. As it turns out, while I had my encounter, Jerud had one of his own. The bull that he went after gave him a brief window for a frontal shot, which is one that he wasn’t comfortable taking, and I don’t blame him. Then the bull turned and worked within 20 yards, and more broadside, but a clear shooting lane was nowhere to be found.
Jerud and I have been in the middle of numerous bulls for nearly 5 hours now. We’ve each had bulls at less than 20 yards, but neither of us had a clear shot. What a rush! And what a stark contrast from yesterday!
We return to try to eat our snack again, and apparently the third time is the charm. The mountain goes quiet in the afternoon. Jerud and I work our way through the steep mountainside, bumbling and tumbling, with what can only be described as “drunk feet”.
We decide to take our first real break of the trip and head back to camp before dark. We’re going to need fresh legs, full bellies, and a good night’s sleep so that we can climb back up the mountain and try to get into the bulls again in the morning.
(This was one of the smartest decisions we’ve made the whole trip. Tomorrow is going to be a lot of work, and a lot of fun!)