All through the night, it snowed lightly and the wind blew. We slipped out of the cabin early before the sun even began to show light, and went to our lookout point. From our lookout point, we could see places where the elk had been and much, much more. It was miles of elk country through our binoculars. It was once again a very beautiful morning. As it got light out, elk should have been out feeding already. We saw nothing, not even a mule deer. We are disappointed, but we are not about to give up. As Dad pointed out, every year this exact same cycle is repeated. Experienced hunters and inexperienced hunters pour into these areas on the last two days before the hunt, and every year lots of elk are taken. He also said that I was lucky, because by the time I came to hunt here on my own, I would be experienced and not make the mistakes that some of these other hunters have done. Dad said that he too was in inexperienced elk hunter, and came into this area leaving himself and his group, which included my 2 uncles, but only one day to scout. Since then they have learned a lot, but unlike me they did not have anyone to take them along for the first time and teach them what they needed to know. Dad said that the hunt begins tomorrow and if we want to get elk, we will have to get up earlier, walk farther, climb higher and be tougher than all the rest of the hunters.
No sooner did I make this last entry things changed again. My Dad decided we might as well drive down to the road that the elk always cross. Nobody had driven up that road this morning since the snow, but Dad said with all the vehicles out here now they would be soon, so we went to check for tracks. Sure enough, we saw tracks from the herd where they crossed. Dad got out and looked at the tracks and could tell that the whole herd had crossed here and he could see the tracks from the big bull. We drove up the logging road a little farther. There were no vehicle tracks in the snow at all. Just then, Dad yelled, “Look! There they are.” Not fifty yards in front of our truck were a bunch of elk running off the logging road into the woods. Dad didn’t want to spook them, so he kept on driving slowly past them. We went way down the logging road and turned around. On the way back, we could still see the elk standing just off the logging road about 100 yards. Two, four, six, eight, close enough they were all there. Due to the traffic that we figured would be through here later we were actually glad we moved them back off the road a little. After the light snow melts you will never see them standing there like we did. We went back and talked to my Uncles and asked if they would like to set up on this herd the next morning. Late in the afternoon, we went back with my Uncles and made a game plan of where we were going to set up. Dad got out and took a walk to see how many vehicles had traveled up the road today. Just as he thought it looked like a racetrack. He said dozens of tracks had gone up that logging road that for the last week had not had one vehicle up it. Dad figured from the path the elk were taking that they were alternating between two high pastures and two different low feeding places near the creek with water. Usually, ending the mornings near the water.
After a long restless night, Dad was up by 2:00 a.m. sitting in the dark, thinking about the elk. What bothered him still was how these elk had crossed the creek and the main road without leaving any tracks that he could find. The possibility remained in his mind that we still may have been watching two herds. Everyone else got up around 3:00 and 3:30 a.m. We slowly got dressed and went out to our spots. Dad and I crawled up the ravine and hid in the middle of the pasture where we had seen them grazing. Uncle Dan sat watching one end of the creek and Uncle Brad began walking across the big valley toward the other end of the creek. There was no moon and is was pitch black. I was more excited now than I had ever been for anything, as I lay there with my Dad in the dark. Unknown to us at this time, Uncle Brad walked right into the herd in the dark. He could hear two bulls screaming and cows talking as they ran off to the North toward the mountain. Although my Uncle Brad couldn’t see him, he could tell that one of them was a big bull by the sound of his bugle. He cow called a few times to see if he could get them to stop, as he kept walking to his spot. A few minutes later, he noticed that one of the bulls was heading back toward him. So Uncle Brad went back out into the valley to see the bull a little better. About the time it was o.k. to shoot, Uncle Brad had the bull within 150 yards from him. My Uncle carefully took aim and shot him through the lungs. He shot the bull three times before it went down. When he walked up to tag him, my Uncle could see that it was a 5 x 5. It was a very pretty bull and it had almost perfectly semetrical tines.
Meanwhile, my Dad and I were walking down the logging road that went into the woods with all of the elk in it. While we were walking, we saw three cow elk cross the road in front of us. My Dad and I tried to find them, but they went into the valley where a different group of hunters shot them. Then my Dad and I went back to the valley to help my Uncle Brad load his bull. Where it fell it was not too much work to get it to a road where we then loaded it into the truck. When we got there, Uncle Brad already had the elk dressed out. What a sight to watch my two Uncle’s and my Dad load this huge animal into a truck. This was the third time in their hunting Elk together that they have been able to bring one out this way. It was also the heaviest bull that our group has ever shot.
We took the bull back to the cabin and dressed warm for when we went up to the mountains that afternoon. As soon as we were all changed we got into the trucks and headed for the mountains. On the way up we saw an outfitter’s camp and when we got near the top there sat a vehicle with hunters sitting in it. Like they were going to spot an Elk from there. My Dad and I went over to where we saw the herd of about 50 elk. My Uncles went up to where we snuck over the ridge on the herd in the sun. It took my Dad and I about 5 hours to climb up the gulch. It was steep enough that if we had shot an elk on that slope, I think it would have rolled to the bottom very easily. The slope was so steep that we rested every 25 to 50 yards depending on the slope.
When Dad and I got near the top he stopped and tried to figure out where to come up so we could sneak up on some Elk. As luck would have it we chose to come up right where they were sleeping and we busted a herd. The cows made sounds that we never have heard them make before. There was one bull and boy was he mad. He was grunting and snorting, telling his herd to move out! We could not get a clean shot at them in the tree’s but that was an awesome time for us. That is not something for a guy with a bad heart. Dad and I found where the bull had slept. It smelled so much like elk and had so many rubs that it was a dead give away. My Dad and I thought we had an elk bagged for sure. We still hunted up there for a while and cow called, but had no luck. It was starting to get dark now, so we started back across the valley toward the truck. It was not much easier getting down the mountain. We slipped quite a few times on the way down and it was quite a scare. When we got to the bottom, we had about a mile and a half to go yet and it was mostly uphill again. It took us two more hours to get to the trail that led to the truck.
While we were climbing my Uncles were on top of the other mountain. My Uncle Brad had called in two bulls close to him. He is good with his calls and was trying to help my Uncle Dan get close to a bull. Uncle Dan ran over by Brad, but to his disappointment, he was two minutes late. Some guy on a four-wheeler somehow found his way around the mountain from that camp up there. He drove right into the pasture and shot a cow elk in the same pasture that the two bull elk were in. The bulls just walked off, but lucky for the elk, they were out of sight of my Uncle Dan who was very discouraged now, thinking that he wasn’t going to get an elk this year. They arrived back at the truck at the same time we did, just by coincidence. We went back to the cabin, ate supper and got ready for bed. Actually, I slept on the way to the cabin from the mountain, so when we got back, I just went to bed without dinner. I guess I was just plain worn out for the day! Even though I climbed all the way up that mountain and came back without an elk, I still had fun knowing that we got close to elk and tried as hard as we could. My Dad kept apologizing because he didn’t find me an elk that day, but I told him that it was o.k. because we had four days left in the season and even if I wouldn’t get an elk this year, I had many more years ahead of me.
On Sunday morning we got up real early again. Uncle Brad planned on sleeping in this morning and skinning out his bull and quartering it up. Dad, Uncle Dan and I headed up to the top of the mountain again. We headed out real early and I fell asleep for the hour and a half ride to the parking spot that was almost to the top of the mountain. When we got there, my Dad woke me up and we unloaded the four-wheeler and rode it as far as it would go. Then we walked for about a half an hour to our spots on the mountain overlooking the valley that the bulls were in the night before. We were very cold for the first hour and a half until the sun came up. We fought the cold because we figured that if the two bulls were bugling over that cow so much, one of them might come back, expecting to find the cow. After awhile, I got cold, even sitting in the sun so we got up and took a walk to get our blood moving. We walked over to the next point, where there was an opening. Dad glassed the mountainside for elk with his binoculars. More than 1,000 yards away, Dad spotted what he thought for sure was an elk. He gave me the binoculars so that I could see it. As soon as I saw the antlers, my heart jumped. I looked at Dad and told him that it was a bull elk for sure. We got on the trail and walked to where we split off with Uncle Dan. Dad went to check it out and was almost sure that we were right above the elk! All of a sudden Uncle Dan showed up. He saw us get up and came to see what was going on. We told him that we had spotted an elk lying in the poplars right below us. When Dad came back and set us up so that we were ready. By now, Dad had shed all of his non-important articles such as his fannypack, backpack, and heavy jacket and put them all by a tree in the snow. Dad was wearing his blaze orange shirt, his cap, binoculars and has his rifle over his shoulder on a sling. He had lightened his load so that he could move swiftly and quietly across the face of the mountain. Dad told Uncle Dan and I to stay put and listen for his cow call while he traveled back to the spot where we had spotted the animal from to get his bearings. When I say that my Dad dropped off the side of a mountain or scaled along the side of a mountain you can not understand how challenging this is, unless you have been there. The slopes are so steep on these mountainsides, that in order to walk along them you have to dig the side of your feet in, just to keep from sliding down. In order to climb up them, you are almost on all fours, using your hands and feet. It is amazing that trees and grass can even grow on the side of these slopes. Dad moved along the slope until he got straight below Uncle Dan and I. We cow called back and forth to each other so that Dad knew exactly where we were. Come to find out the animal we were looking was farther along the mountain side yet. He continued along the side of the mountain until he was within about 300 yards away from our “bull”. From there, Dad identified what we thought was a bull elk to be a large trophy mule deer buck, snuggled up against a nice big rock, which gave his body the appearance of being the size of an elk. The sun shining on his horns cast a shadow in the snow making them look bigger as well. We could tell when we saw Dad coming back up the side of the mountain that there was no elk. I felt a lump in my stomach as once again my chance of getting an elk slipped a little farther away. I watched my Dad struggle to climb up the mountain to where I was. I set my rifle on my jacket and climbed down to meet him. Two days of chasing elk up and down these mountains and valleys, added to our scouting climbs was starting to take its toll. When I got to my Dad, I asked him if he was o.k. He smiled and put his arm around me and said, “I’m fine, just not as young as I used to be!” Again, my Dad apologized for not being able to get me to an elk. I just told him that just being out there with him, was good enough for me. We climbed the rest of the way up the mountain, without saying much, picked up our gear and walked back to the four-wheeler. When we got there, there were six sets of fresh elk tracks going up the side of the mountain, within 50 yards of the four-wheeler. Dad shook his head with a disappointed look on his face and said, “If I had anything left in me, I’d follow those tracks.” But not knowing whether the tracks were five minutes or five hours old, we packed up and headed back down. We were closer to town, than the cabin, so we went to town to get something to eat. After lunch we went and sat on some low pastures until dark. We didn’t see anything. We went to bed early again that night, exhausted from the climbing.