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This is part two of a six part series where I will share my journal with you. Because it is a copy of my journal, I will get intimate and emotional at times. I will mention gear, what worked and what didn’t for future reference. And I will try to capture the context of the hunt so that I can reflect on it years from now. I hope you enjoy the hunt!
Tuesday, September 20th:
6:30 AM – Jeremy and I leave at daybreak and hike towards a series of steep canyons and dark timber we found on Google Earth. It’s a little more than a 3 mile hike, mostly uphill with a 1,500ft gain in elevation that takes us around 2 hours. We come into a series of beautiful meadows that rise into steep slopes covered in granite and dark timber. The right basin looks better than the left, so we head that direction. We see some fresh elk droppings on the west side of the field near the aspen line. Looks like a bull and a cow from the night before. Our hopes are high, until we spot another drop camp at the base of the right basin. Crap! We inspect the camp, looks like just one hunter who isn’t home.
The thermals are already starting to go up hill as the valley warms so it will be useless for us to hunt up, with the wind at our backs. We look at maps and decide to walk around the west side of the peak, climb a gnarly granite slide into to the left basin, then follow a bench around to get the wind on our face at the top of the right basin. With any luck the other hunter would have pushed the elk higher than he wanted to climb and we would intersect them in the dark timber. This detour takes us another 3 miles and roughly 1,000’ of elevation gained. (3.5 hours).
1:30 PM – We stalk into a block of steep dark timber on the north facing slope of the right basin. The climb is brutal, “steep as a cows face” as Chris would say, with countless dead falls from the mountain pine beetle outbreak. These beetles have affected 681,000 acres of trees between 1996 and 2015. The mortality is haunting. As we get to 11,200’ elevation we start seeing fresh elk sign. Fresh rubs and heavy brows indicate a bull is working the area. We climb slowly, cow calling every 50 yards when I hear a very timid bugle straight above us. It’s like the bull saying “I’m up here but I don’t want hunters to find me.” Jeremy drops down, using a Primos Hoochie Mama call and Montana decoy Kasi Willingham named, Delilah. Before I can advance even 15 yards I spot the bull just above me. He is 60 yards and he has us pinned. Bull elk are notorious for “hanging up” at around 60-80 yards from the caller, and this happened so fast that I hadn’t gotten enough separation between us to intersect him. He is a beautiful 6×6 bull that will score around 300” on the Boone & Crocket scoring system. His body is huge and he is in great condition, evidence of the abundant forage this year. He bugles at what he thinks is a cow, but this time it is louder and he ends it with a short chuckle. The kind of bugle that makes your hair stand up! Jeremy calls back and the starts down the hill toward the decoy. I draw my bow as he goes behind a large spruce tree so he doesn’t catch my movement, locate a shooting lane at 25 yards and wait for him to get there. I remember my 2015 bull which succumbed to the same tactic, giving me a perfect broadside shot. Just as his head enters the lane he hangs up with a small limb covering his vitals. His eyes are scanning the timber for the cow he should see and is showing signs of discomfort, telling me has come far enough and wants the cow to come the rest. My arms are shuttering at this point after holding my bow for over 90 seconds. I can’t hold it and he bolts uphill as I let up. I feel like a wuss. I stop him with a desperate cow call at what I believe is around 50 yards, uphill. I draw and shoot, the arrow flies true and appears to find its target. Jeremy and I high-five and wait 30 minutes before going to inspect. You never want to push an animal that has been hit, especially in this kind of terrain. Although waiting is a serious buzz-kill, the ethical thing to do is give the animal ample time to expire. As I anxiously approach the scene, my emotions fall quickly as I spot my clean arrow lodged into the dirt. A clean miss. I ranged back to my spot, 58 yards. I misjudged and shot under him.
Fog is starting to fall in now, so we start the steep climb down through countless dead falls, granite sides and water falls. I honestly don’t know if we could have packed 350 lbs. of meat and antlers off that hillside without breaking our necks. 2 hours later we drag into base camp, just before dark.
Daily Totals: 9 miles walked, 3,000ft elevation gain.
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