Three weeks into September and we finally have some precipitation---not much, mind you, but enough to form a puddle or two. I’ll take it since it is the first perceptible amount of rainfall since opening day of archery elk season. Every day, leading up to the precip, has been hot and dry making still-hunting a chore as every step on shriveled alder and maple leaves was like walking on potato chips. Taking it slowly with intermittent calling or stand hunting, was the only way I found to get close to what few animals I could find. In my little patch of elk country the hills are steep, the brush is thick, and the little bands of Roosevelt Elk are notoriously quiet---hearing a bugle or cow talk is quite an event and just seeing one up close, especially while hunting is already considered a successful season. Finding the elk and then getting close enough for a shot is hard enough, but finding a shooting lane through impenetrable temperate understory for an ethical humane kill is a whole other matter.
The first week into the season I had my first encounter. The unbearable heat and humidity of the first week had me thinking elk would spend a good portion of their days hiding in the most densely shaded creek bottoms they could find, thereby keeping cool and secure by whatever brush-choked waterway they could find. After walking miles along different drainages over the course of that first week I found no evidence of heavy elk activity, except for one well used wallow.
I sat on that wallow for two days with nothing showing except hordes of mosquitos. While not completely abandoning my “creek bottom” theory, I came up with another idea. Maybe the elk were travelling between low and high country through the course of the night, that is, cruising the ridge tops at night to feed when it was cooler, then descending into the heavy draws as the mornings dawned. One evening I put my theory to the test and found a well used game trail along a main ridge that was intersected at right angles by another steep sloping knife ridge. As I approached the intersection of the two ridges I let out two soft cow calls. Instantly, a bugle erupted a couple hundred yards down the knife ridge. I tried to entice the bull with some seductive cow talk, but except for the occasional bugle he held his ground. I decided to inch my way closer, but the brush was so thick and tall it was slow going and shooting lanes were reduced to under ten yards. The bull kept answering my calls and, at times, would work his way closer but would always return to his cows which I could now hear moving as they fed. The stale-mate continued and it was getting dark. I decided on a more aggressive approach. I grabbed a limb and started raking a tree while letting out a spike bugle. The bull was clearly upset at this new interloper and let out a hardy bugle followed by a deep throated chuckle all the while trying to flank my position. I readied myself for an up close encounter only to have the bull do an about-face and head back to his harem. I never saw him even though he worked his way to within 40 yards. As darkness fell, I could hear him herding his cows further down the draw, and with one more far-away bugle he remained silent for the rest of my stay.
The next evening I knew that bull was still on the mountainside; however, I decided to come in earlier during the heat of the day in order to find a position that would give me a better shooting lane and visibility along the trail. I found a high cut bank a few hundred yards down the knife ridge along the trail. I carved out a stand high on the bank and cleared out limbs giving me two shooting lanes at just under 20 yards. As evening approached so did elk movement further down the impossibly steep draw. Amazing how such large animals, especially with antlers, can move so easily through such steep terrain with brush so thick and tall I have to navigate much of it on hands and knees.
At the first hint of distant elk movement I let out a series of soft cow calls followed by another spike bugle. The same bull as the night before let out a thunderous bugle, but this time another more demur bugle answered further down the draw and to my right. This three way bugle-fest continued for more than two hours with both bulls shifting position but never committing. Finally, as the last half hour of shooting light approached so did the second bull. My bugling became more aggressive which, I think, triggered something in the second bull. I could distinctly hear him come up the draw towards my position, bugling and grunting the whole way in. The wind was in my favor and I could now smell the rutting bull. At 30 yards I could hear the cracking limbs and see the tops of the salmonberry quiver with each step he took. I was ready for him to emerge in 10 more yards. He let out another monstrous bugle that shook the air. I kept quiet at that range so he would have to search for me, which he did---in the opposite direction. Like all smart bulls, he decided to circle my position in order to catch whatever scent he could pick up. He swung behind me and the mound I was on, completely out of view, let out another bugle, winded me and was gone. What took over two hours was over in a matter of a few minutes and I still never saw hide nor hair of that critter. That’s typical Roosevelt elk hunting with bow and arrow in the Coast Range.
As days followed and daytime temperatures rose I made a few more evening trips to the ridge but the elk seemed to have disappeared---I felt I may have blown my one chance and possibly pushed the elk out of the area. I decided to give the ridge a break for more than a week and concentrate on other areas---that is until the rains came.
I had no other elk encounters while covering vast and diverse terrain over the next week and a half--It was discouraging. The gift of rain was the kick in the pants I needed to head back to the ridge tops and see if the elk had returned. I decided on another evening stand hunt on the ridge’s cut bank. At 5 pm I was slowly and, this time very quietly on the moist ground, working my way towards my stand when a bugle erupted from the familiar draw below. It sounded like the same old bull with cows. However, this time two other bulls chimed in---one bull was between me and the first caller and the third bull was, again, down the draw and to my right---I was stoked. I cow called as I moved down the trail towards my high perch. All three bulls answered and from then on the next two hours was a quartet of bugling, posturing and positioning. But, like the week before, nothing committed until the last half hour of light. Finally, the second bull that was positioned between me and the herd bull started to make his way towards my nest, bugling the whole way in. He had a short, raspy bugle always followed by a gruff, low chuckle. Of course, thoughts of a large crowned Roosevelt bull filled my imagination as I waited on pins and needles for his emergence from the green wall of vegetation. I quieted my nerves by internally talking myself through the scenario that was about to unfold as adrenaline was pounding through my veins. The last bugle was close but all went quiet. I kept a staring vigil on the trail in front of me.
Then, without warning, the sea of green 20 yards in front of me had a tan body standing in front of it. The massive antlers that I had envisioned associated with that deep throated bugle was reduced to a weird set of thick, velveted deer-like forks. Nearly every year I encounter spikes at close range but never have the heart to shoot them. I always look at them as the “Rodney Dangerfields” of the elk world, never getting any respect from other elk---they haven’t yet had the chance to strut their full stuff, grow massive, fight the big battles, pee all over themselves, and impress the girls. That’s what gave me pause at deciding to shoot this weird looking forked-horn as he inched closer. At 10 yards I was still not at full draw deciding whether to let him walk or fill my freezer with some delicious young elk roasts. At five yards, directly below my feet, he turned broadside to feed on the browse I was hiding behind. The season had been hard and he just looked too tasty to pass up. I drew. As he emerged from behind the bush it was just a matter of point and release. He bolted as the arrow completely passed through his chest and buried in the trail. He ran back down the trail out of sight in the blink of an eye, but I cow called right away. I could hear him stop and very soon after I could hear the fall. He only ran 70 yards before laying down for the last time. He was a beautiful little bull with some funky little forks, but I could not have been more proud of him.
Comments will be approved before showing up.