Dworak’s 2 – Elk (still plenty)
Day 1 – Friday
Arrived at the trailhead about 6:15 p.m. Drew and I had previously talked about splitting up, each heading off in a separate direction until either of us “got into elk.” I also had the brilliant idea of bringing my mountain bike – not. I should have remembered my last episode of trying to bike with a 70lb pack, almost impossible. Didn’t see any elk hiking in – ¾ moon.
Day 2 – Saturday
I wanted to check the area we’d found on our last outing with lots of sign, apparently Drew had the same idea because he called me in mid-morning with some low chuckles in some heavy timber, I wish he wasn’t as good of a caller as he is! We again departed ways, I continued heading east and he worked off toward the south, I wouldn’t see him for several more days. Walking down the trail I came across one of the outfitters drop camps and spoke with the guys packing out from their week long hunt. They gave me some good info to keep heading east. I spent the night solo about midway up a large drainage. Found a wallow and fresh sign. Only heard one bugle and I suspected it was another hunter.
I also realized I set my bivy directly in the path of a heavily used elk trail that had been getting regular use. I tried moving logs across the trail to make sure I didn’t get stepped on in the middle of the night but decided I’d rather get stepped on than landed on, so I strategically placed my already funky boots at either side of the trail. For some reason I didn’t sleep too well that night?
Day 3 – Sunday
Missed a bull! I was working my way toward the top of the drainage that I’d slept in when I spotted him feeding on the other side of the slope feeding his way toward the top.
I decided to stay on my side and hopefully parallel him toward the top, although as soon as I started stalking I’d lost sight in the heavy timber. I reached a clearing at the very top of the drainage where the walls went near vertical. I thought this looked like a likely looking spot for him to cross. I gave a couple soft cow calls (lost mew) and within seconds I could hear tree branches being torn from a spruce. I looked up and at 80 yards I could see the tree being bent back and forth with flashes of antler. Moments later he was heading my way and as he passed behind the last tree I came to full draw. I couldn’t have anticipated him entering the clearing any better. At 40 yards I whistled to stop him and my arrow was off. I seem to have developed a bad habit of loosing my arrow in flight and that happened again. He spun at the shot and ran back in the direction he had came from, although, not very fast. I could see my arrow sticking out of the hillside but couldn’t tell if he’d been hit. After waiting several minutes I went to inspect my arrow, no blood, and the angle it was sticking out of the hillside made me think it was deflected as the bull spun at the shot. Bummer!
Thought I might see Drew today but we never did connect. The plan was to try hooking up in the morning; we both carry two-way radios and can occasionally get reception depending on the terrain. I was really trying to find a decent “camp” spot for the night. Big luxurious base camps in wide open meadows seemed like a long lost memory. Since we’ve started bivy hunting most our nights are spent trying to find a spot flat enough we won’t roll down the side of the mountain in the middle of the night. I did find a nice spot to lie down for the night in the middle of a large meadow, that was a nice change of pace.
Day 4 – Monday
Almost a full moon last night and some clouds at last, and finally found some elk! I was walking in the dark trying to get to a spot that looked good on the map. I rounded a corner, walking by moonlight, and ran into an elk when it was only light enough to see a grayish form in the woods. Although this area looked good I continued on to the spot on my map, for whatever reason I had a good feeling about it. I’d just topped a large hill and was hoping for a steep dark drainage but was greeted by a deep aspen bowl. Somewhat disappointed, I looked down and seen a bull 300 yards below – game on! I descend the hillside and dropped my pack when I hit the bottom, at about the same time I hear him bugle from further down the hill and take off sprinting. I ended up seeing 11 elk that morning including 3 bulls but couldn’t make it happen, still a great morning and finally feel like I’m getting close to where we need to be. At this point I’m about 6-miles from the original trailhead and getting closer to another trailhead from the south.
I climbed the nearest peak trying to get Drew on the radio with the good news. Luckily we were able to connect and if all goes well I should see him around noon.
Finally hooked up around 2 p.m., good to have some company again. As soon as we meet up we found two cows with a bull bugling. I watched one of the cows bed down at 72 yards, on a steep downhill slope and horrible wind. Decided to hang back and see what might happen.
After about the 10-minutes something scared them. Not sure if they finally caught our wind? That evening we bumped into another elk and we both heard bugles while returning to camp after dark. So we have a couple options for the next morning.
Day 5 – Tuesday
Decided to check out the bugle that Drew had heard the evening before. Drew hung back to call while I worked up toward where he’d heard the bull bugle last. After several locate/contact bugles and chuckles the bull finally answered, still several hundred yards ahead. We never could locate him. We did find an abandoned horse camp that we were going to relocate to later in the day. Pretty excited to have some creature comforts, stumps/benches, toilet seat, peeled pine poles, fire circle. Will try to climb to a peak this afternoon for cell service to update Big Ron and Hall who should be joining us shortly.
Big change of plans – BR couldn’t get to the now closer trailhead, as it was closed to ATV access and was still an 8-mile hike. So he had to go to our original trailhead, about 6-miles back, as the crow flies, in the direction we had come. Drew and I just started back to meet him and topped our first ridge when were greeted by a bugling bonanza! At least three different bulls were sounding off in the bowl below us and from the sounds of the bugles they were having a heated discussion! One was close, 150-200 yards. We were pointing to an opening in the timber saying, “that’s where it sounds like he’s coming from” and 30-seconds later he’s standing in the exact spot. We made the bad decision to chase down after him with the afternoon winds still swirling. Twenty-minutes into the stalk our scent must have drifted down into the bowl because the entire thing absolutely exploded. We heard trees snapping and I’d bet there were 100 head of elk holed up down there. We saw at least 20 elk stampede out of the bowl but knew at least three bulls were still down there bugling, with who knows how many cows? Everyone we’d talked to so far hadn’t seen anything; I think we just found out why.
We wised up and spent the rest of the afternoon eating an early dinner of dehydrated Mountain House on the upper ridge waiting for the evening thermals to settle in.
When the valley was two-thirds covered by shadows we dropped down in, making our way towards the bugles. We pushed hard but couldn’t get into the elk. We spent the night with bulls bugling within 100 yards or our bivy’s. Hearing hooves stomping and branches breaking throughout the night, it seemed every time I rolled over I’d scare something that was way too close! I don’t mind saying that night was a little un-nerving, not sure if I’d call it terrifying or exhilarating, exhilarfying? I felt like we were sleeping in the middle of a corral.
Day 6 – Wednesday
The next morning we followed the herd up out of the basin, amazingly in the direction we needed to go to meet BR. I’d told Drew the night before he was only allowed to chase bugles to the North or West, as he sometimes needs a gentle reminder to keep his elk-fever at bay. Drew did close the distance on a great bull to 25 yards but, of course, at exactly the right (or wrong) time the bull stopped his vitals were obscured by brush. We spent the rest of the morning hiking to meet BR and saw two more bunches of elk. Met up with BR around noon and made our way back to the “elk valley.”
We set up a small spike camp that afternoon to call home for the remainder of the trip. We headed out for a quick evening hunt and were working the rim of “elk valley” using a locate/contact bugle periodically. The area looked deserted, not many tracks, droppings, etc. when all of a sudden a bull screamed from 50 yards. I immediately ran the opposite direction and screamed back, throwing in some chuckles and cows calls hoping he’d think I was a bull with cows, and maybe present Drew or BR with a shot. Drew was able to get to within 40 yards but had too much brush for an ethical shot.
It was a good thing we’d set up our spike camp because it started to pour on our way back. We sprinted the last quarter-mile in the dark trying to stay as dry as possible and dove back under the tarps. It rained throughout the night.
Day 7 – Thursday
Drew and I decided to head back to “elk valley” and we were greeted by bugles as soon as we hit the rim. BR was going to sit a wallow we’d found the day before.
We chased bugles that morning but the elk were really moving and the wind was horrible. We split up, each working a different side of “the valley.” I happened to hear a bugle from the next drainage to the north and started making my way down. Finally we had good stalking conditions with the previous nights rain and a steady wind. When I got to where I thought I needed to be I gave a couple quiet cow calls. Nothing. Then about 1-minute later the woods erupted. From far up above I could hear elk crashing my way. I assume someone else bumped them because I heard trees snapping and hooves pounding for a good ten-seconds before I saw the first cow break from the trees.
At first they were heading several hundred yards to my left but as they reached the bottom of the hill they swung and started directly my way. At 80 yards I came to full draw. There were about 20 cows with a heard bull and a satellite bull, the heard bull was horning the satellite that whole way, trying to keep him from his cows. That was a cool sight. I could tell there were going to catch my wind before coming all the way and of course they did changing course at about 40-yards, heading directly up the steep hill I’d just came down. I let down my draw and sprinted 50 yards up the mean hillside paralleling the herd, breathing hard and trying to attach my release to my string I came to full draw. While all the cows were running hard the bull kept trying to herd them and kept working back and forth, finally I saw him approaching an opening and mewed just as he came clear and my arrow was on it’s way. He didn’t go far.
Drew and I had him quartered and hanging in the shade a couple hours later. I wish I could say I called him into my lap or silently snuck into range but as they say, I’d rather be lucky than good!
I also have to mention how lucky I am to have a champion for a wife, when I called to give her the good news, the first thing she asked is if there was anything she could do to help. Drive the car to another trailhead, etc. I could only imagine her and the B’s helping pack out an elk. I am blessed!
The rest of the day was fairly uneventful, with the exception of me and BR having a close encounter while returning from fetching water. We were walking back, neither paying too much attention to elk hunting when I glanced up a saw a bull feeding at 80-yards above us. The wind was perfect and he had no idea we were there. BR quickly closed the distance to 40-yards while I stayed back to call. When he was in position I gave a couple quiet mews, textbook style he headed right toward me. From my angle it looked absolutely perfect but not so good from BR’s perspective as the bull was walking directly toward him. With almost no cover to work with BR got busted coming to full draw at 25-yards. Bummer – that was close!
We dined on fresh tenderloin-Raman noodle stew that night.
Day 8 – Friday
Headed down to get my quarters packed up to a nearby horse trail where I’m supposed to meet packer on Saturday. Once again the bulls were bugling in “elk valley,” so I stayed up top to “keep them talking” while Drew and BR slipped down to hopefully sneak in on the action. I’d been sitting on the ridge being treated to a symphony for the last hour and by the sounds of things the rut was in full swing and tempers were flaring. The herd seemed to be staying in the same location and the wind was good. I thought we’d be packing more than my bull that morning.
Unfortunately, the boys weren’t able to get it done. Although the goat/ninja Drew was able to sneak between the herd bull and two sparring satellite bulls each 30-yards away but was never able to get a clear shot.
We spent the next couple hours packing my quarters up out of the drainage onto a horse trail for the packer to find. Drew and Big Ron are champs, I wanted them to both keep hunting but they wouldn’t have it and insisted on helping.
After relocating the quarters I headed back to camp to refill our water supply and I was beat. I lay down for about 3-minutes before heading back to the drainage to help Drew locate a talkative bull. When I got the rim of the “elk valley” I heard Drew calling on the radio, the message, “tell the packer to bring more horses”… Number two down, only one more to go. He used his mystical skills to sneak up on a cow and put her down within 1/3 mile of where my meat was hanging, the elk gods must have been watching out for us. I felt like a loser because I had to stay up top playing phone tag with the packer to ensure our quarters had a ride out of the hills the next day. Drew quartered his cow solo and packed two quarters that night, arriving back at our spike camp shortly before midnight.
Day 9 – Sat
Our last 5 AM wake up call. I headed back down to help Drew with the last two quarters. We’d finally figured out the trail that made getting down to the bottom of the bowl almost bearable.
We were back at camp and ready to go around noon. Big Ron hunted near camp that morning but came up empty, we hunted our way back toward the trailhead hoping we could keep the streak alive one more year. We didn’t get quite that lucky but regardless the trip was a huge success. I am extremely lucky to roll with the crew I’ve got on the mountain, there’s no way we could get it done otherwise.