I've been rifle hunting elk since 1980, but last year was my first archery hunt.....and while I was successful in taking a bull, last year seemed quite uneventful compared to this year. Here's a few things I've picked up on this year, and some of my experiences so far this season. Here goes:
A few lessons learned elk hunting so far this year….
1. Don't expect to rely on your GPS to find your way back to marked waypoints.
My GPS did a data dump between the time I turned it off one evening and the time I turned it back on again the next day. Every marked waypoint is…….GONE!
2. Never assume that you have to hike miles from your truck or camp in order to start seeing game.
A. First morning…..100 yards from the truck…..a doe is standing on the trail 35 yards in front of me broadside, with an either-sex deer tag in my pocket, and my bow in the sling, slung over my shoulder. Then all this ethics talk on AT about frontal shots played in my mind when I finally had an arrow nocked and she was now facing me at 30 yards. With 90 ft/lbs of KE, it still would have blown through her even if I hit the sternum.:nod:
B. Second evening…..almost dark…..I can see the truck from the trail, maybe 75 yards away. I hear a sound out in front of me to the left of the trail. I quickly nock an arrow and creep forward slowly. As I come to the small opening next to the trail, I see 3 cow elk standing 5 yards away from me. As quickly as I see them, they also see me……and boogie on out of there.
3. When it's 70 degrees plus at almost 11,000 feet at 3:00 in the afternoon, don't assume that all the elk are in the deep dark timber trying to stay cool.
On this exceptionally warm day, I was hiking out via the "shortest distance between two points" method that I use quite frequently while up hunting. At .30 miles from camp (via GPS), I crested over a small rise to find a grass-filled trough running from right to left about 150 yards long and 30 yards wide. There were a few trees in this trough, but mostly just tall grass. Right smack dab in the middle, laying in the grass in the full sun at 45 yards, is a 5-point bull!
Well, about .0000001 milliseconds after I saw him, he saw me or heard me, and quickly got to his feet and scrambled into the timber on the other side. We played cat and mouse for the next hour as I quickly cow-called and he milled about in the timber on the other side. The wind was in my face, so I know he didn't wind me, but he still didn't want anything to do with me. Eventually he snuck way down to my left, then started doing the "popping grunt" as Elknut calls it, which basically is telling me to show myself. He eventually disappeared for good.
4. When you're hiking through the dense timber with no trail to be found, over and under and around blowdown after blowdown……..if you get to a spot that really looks familiar to you……it probably looks familiar to you for a reason.
On this warm day around 1:30, I thought I recognized some of the blowdowns I was climbing over, and the flat rocky bench that was directly above me. As I crested over the rocky bench I quickly realized that I had been in this exact same spot last year. There was a nice half-moon shaped water hole on the other side of the bench. Only today, there was a cow elk standing on the other side getting a drink. Well, when she's only 20 yards away from me, it doesn't take much noise coming over from the other side to make her a little jumpy. As she sees me crest to the top, she puts it into quarter-horse mode and is quickly 1/4 mile away before I can even think about nocking an arrow. So, this takes me into my next mistake……
5. When one elk blows out of a spot like a freight train……don't assume that the area is devoid of more elk.
After the large cow took off, I assumed that it was over for me in that spot, so I decided to go down and check the water hole to see how much sign was down there. As I took a step forward, another cow jumped up from her bed next to the water hole and went into freight train mode just like the first one. In my defense, we're talking about a 25-30 yard long half-moon shaped water hole in the middle of a LOT of trees. So many in fact, that the water is almost black looking it's so dark in there. It's not like there were two horse-sized animals standing in front of me in the middle of a pasture.
6. When you are hiking up a trail and you suddenly smell the unmistakable musky smell of a bull elk………don't dilly dally. Figure the direction of the wind immediately…..and that's the direction of the bull.
My buddy and I were hiking up the trail when I smelled that oh so fragrant wonderful smell of a bull elk. The wind didn't seem to want to cooperate and kept switching direction, so we had some trouble trying to figure out which way the smell came from. Well, while we were fumbling around with our windicators, the bull had no problem figuring out which direction OUR smell came from, and he busted out of his bed not even 10 feet from the trail about 15 yards above us. Again…..in stuff so thick, that at 15 yards we never were able to see him.
7. When you stumble upon one of the greatest setup spots in the history of elk hunting……..you can smell the bull strongly……….and the wind is in your favor, forget about trying to take a cow……and concentrate on the bull and the setup.
This one will haunt me for the rest of my life. This is in one of those areas that you just don't find many hunters. It's steep, it's deep, and it's mostly all heavy timber with of course….lots of blowdowns. If there aren't lots of blowdowns…..then I'm probably not there. Anyway, I stumbled upon a small pond/large wallow in this depression surrounded by timber, steep up one side, steep down two sides, and with a timbered flatter area for about 30 yards to one side that drops almost straight off after that. While admiring the beauty of this location, a gust of wind came out of my left which brought that strong scent of a bull. A hot day, a beautiful wallow/pond with large tracks all around it, the wind in my face, and the smell of a bull……priceless! I couldn't have asked for a better setup.
It was about 11:00am. I hate sitting, but was willing to sacrifice a couple hours for this awesome scene. I figured I'd hang out until about 1:00, then go down and splash around with a large limb…..let out a bugle……and then quickly get into my spot. At 12:00 I pulled out a sandwich and started to eat. Halfway through……I hear a couple cows chirping off to my left a little ways away. I figure they might be coming to get a drink so I wait for them. After about 10 minutes, they still aren't around, so I throw out some lost calf calls. Nothing. So I throw in some regular cow calls as well. Nothing. So…….I let out a bugle. Nothing. After about 10 minutes, I start to wonder if there's another water hole just above to the left of this one, towards the sound of the first cow calls. There's thick timber to my left so I can't see past the edge of the wallow. So………I do something stupid.
I get up and start to move to my right so I can see further. As I moved I heard a sound across the wallow from me and saw……..a beautiful bull whirling around, throwing his head back, and busting through the timber. With his head thrown back, his antlers completely surrounded his body as he disappeared over the drop off. I was sick….literally. I almost lost my lunch.
ukey: I ranged to the spot he was standing……45 yards. I never heard him come in, I never saw him coming, but I'm pretty sure he was making his way down to the wallow….especially after hearing my bugle. What an idiot! Stupid cows.
8. I have no idea how they do it:noidea:, but squirrels can make more noise than a herd of elk going through the forest.
I'd say at least 3 dozen times I was put on high alert from the sounds I was hearing. Somehow they can break timber (or at least make it sound that way), stomp hooves, and rake trees just like a bull elk. I wasted more time with these jokers than I care to admit, before I realized what was making all the racket. And even then, every time I heard it my heart still picked up a few beats and my attention focused. I still don't know how they do it.
9. And finally………..when a bunch of yahoos move into the area, set up camp, play their stereo until 11:30 at night, and run a generator all night long…………it's time to leave……just like the elk have, and forget about that area for the rest of the season.
Sunday night Sep 7, was the first real bugling that I heard. There was a bull probably 1/2 mile above my camp that kept me awake most the night. Monday morning I was high in a basin and had three bulls bugling all around me. They weren't real interested in coming in yet, but they were starting to get ramped up. I was the only hunter in the area at this point, so I didn't want to pressure them, and left them alone for the time being. The winds were constantly swirling, so I didn't want to chase them down near their bedding areas. I figured in a day or two, they'd be a little more active and start reacting more aggressively. From mid-morning to late afternoon things were pretty quiet, but that evening things picked up quite a bit. About 6:00pm, I heard a distant bugle. About 15 minutes later, there it was again but closer. There were a couple nice meadows below me that I had seen lots of sign in previously. I raced toward the first one as quickly as I could. When I got there, there was the bugle again. This time I could tell that it was coming from the lower meadow and not this one. I cow-called a bit and he kept responding with bugles, but never got any closer. So, I raced closer…..called, then raced closer as he responded. I continued this until the bugles were no more than 100 yards away. Then I started to creep in. There was a band of timber between the meadows so I couldn't see anything yet, but from the sounds he couldn't be more than 60 yards away now. I threw out some estrous whines and he blasted back with some chuckles. Suddenly from 100 yards or so to the left, there was another bugle. All I could hear from then on was the sound of elk moving quickly to my right, into the timber, and over the next ridge. I cow called for several minutes hoping to get the second bull into range but I never saw him or heard from him again. Regardless, things were looking good.
By this time it was about 1/2 hour before dark, I was 1/2 mile from my truck, and I was pooped, so I headed back. I was 1/4 mile away still when I detected the obvious smell of cigarette smoke. Within a couple minutes I could now also hear voices and laughing. It got so loud as I approached, that when I saw the four guys standing next to their truck smoking, I told them……that a couple evenings earlier I had jumped 3 cow elk not even 100 yards away from where they were standing. They didn't seem to understand what I was trying to tell them. I drove the 1/2 mile back to my camp, and then heard their clanking truck coming down the trail. Later, that same clanking truck made three trips back and forth…..I assume moving their camping stuff from the main road up to the end of the trail. After their third trip, I heard what I thought was an ATV coming from the top of the trail, but it never got any closer nor further away. It was a generator…..that they ran all night long. They also ran their stereo for two hours until 11:30pm. All this sound clear as day from 1/2 mile away. That night, all I heard was the generator…….no bugles. The next day………nothing. No bugles, no elk, no fresh sign. I packed up camp and left. Decided to go back up this past weekend again hoping that they would be gone. The yahoos were gone……and so were the elk still. For three days I covered miles and miles of my favorite spots in the area, never heard another elk, and never saw another elk or any fresh sign. What I did find was a pile of .22, .40, and .357 pistol brass and a makeshift target range in what used to be their camp. I don't even think they were hunters…..or at least not what I believe hunters to be.
So, here I sit, looking over my maps trying to find a place closer to home that I can spend the rest of my available time before the season closes. I can't complain too much, it had been a great hunt up to that point, even with all my blunders and blown chances. I'm quite confident that without the yahoos, I would be sitting at home right now grinding elk burger. It's not very often that you can find a spot in an OTC public land unit, and be the only hunter in there for multiple days in a row. It was good while it lasted.