Last night was a sleepless night, not only because of the constant winds, but also because I kept going back and forth, debating the plan for today. We had hunted hard for three days, and despite the great sign, we weren’t seeing or hearing as much elk as we hoped to. Granted, the weather had a lot to do with that, but we were still questioning if we were in the right place at the right time.
There was also a major storm system coming through later today, which looked like it was going to deliver copious rain and snow in the evening, overnight, and into the next day. Would that weather make things even worse in this area? How bad was it going to get? We didn’t know, be we decided that we would hunt our way to the truck today, then make a drive to town to check the incoming storm, assess alternative hunting locations in this unit, and then proceed to hunt the best we could. I didn’t plan on packing off this mountain until an elk was down, or the week was up, but we felt like we were making the best decision.
Although the truck was only about 2 miles “as the bird flies”, those of you who know what its like to navigate in the mountains know that it was a much longer hike. But we were in no hurry, and wanted to hunt our way there. We used a trail to make our way east, then took off up a mountainside that would lead us up over a ridge, then down to the truck.
Hopes were high as we left the trail behind and started working our way up the mountain. It looked like perfect elk habitat, and we felt like we could get into elk at any time. We stopped to setup and call for a bit, and Rudy did an excellent job sounding like a whole herd of elk. After several minutes we got a response.
Finally, a bugle!!!
Rudy continued to work his magic, and after a few more minutes another bugle – this time even closer. I was kneeling at the ready, arrow loaded, release clipped onto the d-loop, scanning my surroundings with purpose.
I only had two small shooting lanes that would give me a clear shot – one about the size of a basketball, the other about a 2′x3′ rectangle. The image of a bull walking through these lanes kept playing over and over in my head.
The wind remained calm and consistently in our favor. Everything was looking great, except the bull never showed. We waited patiently, but after a few responses, the bull never showed himself. Had the bull come in silent and spotted us? Did he circle downwind of us and pick up our scent? Was he waiting for “the cow” (us) to come to him?
We decided to drop off to our left and circle around the bull’s position. This time we were going to get above him and bugle, hoping to elicit a challenge. We dropped into the draw to our left, to avoid being sky-lined as we worked up the ridge, and noticed fresh beds and fresh droppings.
Our hopes remained high as we setup again, but our calls fell down the mountain without purpose. This bull had either outsmarted us, or just wasn’t interested. He had seemingly vanished.
It was disappointing that I didn’t get a shot at that bull, but the encounter was such a rush that I couldn’t be too bummed. We continued to hunt with uplifted spirits, covering a lot of ground.
Without realizing it, we crested the peak of the mountain that we had been climbing, and the view that greeted us on the other side was jaw-dropping…
After a long climb – actually several days of long climbs – and enduring the up’s and down’s of the hunt, we all soaked up the majesty of this view.
The mountains make us feel small, and in feeling small we become alive.
Our everyday lives are structured in such a way that reinforces the idea that we are the masters of our domain; that we are in ultimate control. We live as independent individuals – choosing what we want, doing what we want, and exercising our authority in nearly every detail of our modern life of convenience. But hunting in the mountains shows you that you are the master of nothing, and you are not in ultimate control. You realize that, while you may be the master of your universe, you’re not the master of the universe. And that’s a good thing to realize.
Alright, enough philosophy. Back to hunting…
We got back to the truck, dropped off the mountain and headed to town. The incoming storm looked like a slow-moving system that was going to hang over the mountain and dump buckets of rain or snow, depending on the elevation. We talked through our options and ultimately decided to drive to a new area of the unit that I had scouted before. I scouted this new area as a backpack hunt alternative, but I knew that there was some great looking elk country that is not too far from the truck, but is very difficult to reach.
We left town, hit the highway, and arrived at our final turn to reach this spot. Shortly after turning on the bumpy dirt road we rounded the corner and were greeted by a large sign that read, “Mudslide Ahead – Road Closed”. We decided to proceed anyway and made it to the end of the road, which was wedged between two incredibly steep mountainsides.
I wasn’t surprised when we exited the truck and Rudy asked me, “Are we hunting elk, or bighorn sheep?” It was that type of terrain.
We spent the couple remaining hours of daylight searching for a way to cross the creek that meandered between the two mountains, but the recent rains and snow melt made it difficult to find a safe crossing.
We crawled into the back of our trucks at dark, and it wasn’t long before thunder erupted and rain started coming down sideways. Tomorrow would be interesting…
Lesson of the Day
A “lesson of the day” segment implies that I learned a (singular) lesson – aka, “I didn’t know something, and now I know it.” But there are so many “lessons” from this trip that are more than just “know it or not” factual pieces of information. The lessons that I learned on this day had to do with identifying moments – when to call, when to wait, when to pursue – and that is a lesson that I’ll continue to learn as long as I hunt elk. Should we have been more aggressive in response to the bugles? Should we have been even more patient? Should we have left this mountain? Or was trying a new area going to be the right choice? The one thing that I did learn with absolute confidence is that all you can do is make the choice that not only fits with logical reasoning, but also a choice settles well in your heart. Right or wrong, that’s what we did, and I’m proud of it.
Gear of the Day
Day 4 of the same base layer shirt, same pants, same underwear (TMI?), and no stench. The First Lite merino wool gear was proving to be spectacular. It kept me warm, kept me cool, and the new outerwear was about to keep me dry (in the forthcoming days). If you haven’t seen it, I walked through all of my First Lite gear for this trip, and I’ll do a more thorough follow-up in the coming weeks – but for now I have to say that the First Lite get met all of my expectations. And the new outerwear stuff?…Stellar.