As elk hunters most of us can think back to a moment, scenario, or hunt that changed you or your approach to hunting. Some of us have been influenced by our fathers, uncles, friends or just a unique circumstance. We all have visions of who we are, and who we want to be as hunters, no matter how simple or how extravagant the dream may be.
My moment came unexpectedly many years ago with a close friend. Corey Jacobsen and I planned the ultimate archery elk hunt. Our foolproof plan would take place the third week of September, which was also the last week of archery season. It had been a hot dry summer. Corey had spent his summer fighting forest fires, and I had spent my summer busting tires at Les Schwab. We were both ready for an adventure and a vacation. This trek would take us 47 miles up river from the tallest dam in North America by boat. Being strapping young men, we would not need very many comforts for the long trip. Just a few provisions, and enough gas to get there and back would be all we would need for success.
We left the boat dock and headed for the area where the reservoir turned from slack water to rapids. We got there late in the evening with just enough light to find a camping spot on a beach just big enough for us to roll out our sleeping bags on the sand. Tents were for wimps. The unseasonably warm weather did not drag us down, as we were confident that these unpressured elk would be ripe for the pickin’. Sleep came slowly that night…too many thoughts of big bulls trampling around in our heads. A full moon filled the midnight sky as an amorous bull elk came down to the river for a drink. The bull’s bugle brought Corey and I out of our slumber. The moonlight was so bright we could almost see the phantom bull. After another ear splitting scream the old bull made his way back up the mountain. Now we really had a hard time going back to sleep on that comfortable sand.
Morning found us hiking up the hill in the direction that the previous nights visitor had went. After hiking straight up for thirty minutes we headed across the small finger ridges calling the whole time, trying to get a response. The country was absolutely beautiful. The draws and east facing slopes were filled with moss, ferns, small creeks and dark virgin timber. The west facing slopes were open and grass covered with large dry fern glades. Stellar elk country. We had crossed many creek draws and climbed a larger ridge when we finally heard our first reply for the morning. The raspy bull’s voice made us double our efforts to close that gap and find a set up. Corey was the shooter because in all my preperations I had forgotten my release. The bull was a dandy trophy six point who came to thirty yards of Corey’s position. The set up was not quite right though, a short bushy spruce tree stood between the bull and Corey. No shot. The bull quickly lost interest and disappeared into the black timber.
The sun was now high and the temperature was rising, so we headed back down to the boat for some food and drink. After refueling our bodies, we fired up the boat and headed across the river to the much cooler south side. We rested in the shade and caught some much needed sleep. As evening approached we started calling, trying to hear an elk’s answer. Soon we could hear a couple of bulls bugling on the north side of the river. We quickly made our way across the water and hiked up the hill. One problem…we could not hear any bulls on our side of the river. We could only hear the bugles of elk back from the side where we had came from. Darkness was setting in, so we hiked back down to the boat and our makeshift camp. Another not so delicious meal and sleepless night went by and we were ready for round number two.
The next day was hotter than the day before, in fact I believe it set an all time record high for that time of year. No bugles were heard after the sun came up, and none until the sun had set. We spent the hot midday hours fishing for bass, and swimming in the chilly water trying to make the best of a tough hunt. The next day we were up at dawn, heading back up the cooler north facing slopes on the south side of river. Hiking on ancient trails we found plenty of elk sign, but no elk. It seemed that they had vanished into thin air. After a long day of hiking we headed back down the hill to the boat. Back at the boat we had some food and rest. We decided to head back to town, and then up to the high country. We got a late start that afternoon and soon we were navigating the reservoir in the dark with a hand held spotlight. After a long boat ride of singing every song we new, we arrived at the boat launch. We loaded the boat on the trailer and hit the road. Finally we arrived at my parent’s house and hit the sack so we could get up early. That night, sharing a room, Corey had never heard me talk in my sleep before or bugle in my sleep. He was quite surprised! I felt bad the next day because he didn’t get much sleep.
The next morning we went to a place my brother and I had heard bulls earlier in the season, but were not brave enough to chase after. We got out of the truck and called down into an awfully steep and brushy hell hole. The bull bugled back without hesitation. His voice was so raspy it was easy to identify as the bull I had heard earlier. Corey said “lets go get him.” I looked at him in a strange way and said “what if we kill him, how will we get him out?” “We will cut him up in tiny pieces and carry him out on our backs, piece by piece” he replied. I said “OK, if you really think so.” He just gave me a look like “trust me, this will be easy!” At that very moment, I realized we were not boys any more, we were men, and things of such dificulty were now attainable.
We stumbled and clawed our way through the nastiest brush field that Ive ever blundered through. We finally had the wind, and were in close proximity to the bull. We escalated our calling, working the giant herd bull into a frenzy. All of a sudden the woods came alive as thirty cow elk and a spike came crashing past us. I knew the herd bull was close behind so I readied myself. Corey was brushed in with no clear lanes and I was all clear. That’s when the bull showed himself. He was magnificent. I had never laid eyes on such a regal creature, and he was only eighteen yards away quartering to me. Then all went silent for a moment, all those elk were balled up in that alder patch and without any notice the herd turned around and stampeded back where they had came from. Just as the last spike ran by I drew my bow, and focused on the big bull’s boiler room. The bull turned broadside and hesitated behind some dead branches of a dead tree. “One more step big fella and you will be mine” were the thoughts going through my head. Those thoughts turned to dismay when the bull lunged forward and followed his harem with me still holding at full draw. No matter what calls and tricks we tried , that wise old elk would not come back. Despite our sorrow for not getting the shot we were pretty proud of our selves. Chattering like a couple of squirrels, we fought our way back though the brush to the truck.
It was high noon and we weren’t done yet. I still had an ace in the hole, or perhaps two. We hiked in about two miles down a trail that had always proven worthwhile in previous seasons. At nearly the end of this hog back ridge we found two more bulls who wanted to play. I went after one and Corey took off after the other. My bull sounded good, with a lot of growl. We exchanged bugles as we both headed for the creek. I knew if I beat that bull to the bottom the odds would be in my favor. We hit a small swampy, grassy meadow almost at the same time but with me a few seconds in the lead. I was looking around for a good place to set up when the bull swaggered into sight. I hit my knees and hunkered down in waist high grass. That bull stood his ground and started putting on a show, screaming insults and pacing back and forth across the small meadow. I was pinned down and could only watch as the heavy horned six point dug his horns into the swampy ground tossing grass and mud in the air just out of my effective range. He soon lost interest, as he could not spy his insulting opponent and headed up the ridge from where I just came from. As soon as he was out of sight, I sprinted into the timber and let fly with a scream of my own. No answer, the gig was up.
Corey and I met back up on top of that hog back ridge. Collapsing next to each other laughing we told our stories and and had some water. We hiked back up the trail, enjoying the last day of archery elk season empty handed.
I always have had a vision in my head of what I wanted for myself in my hunting adventures. I enjoyed the thought of chasing big bulls in remote locations and up until then, I had too much fear to pursue them, sticking close to civilization. From that day on I haven’t hesitated, and I dive right in after bugling bulls located deep in no mans land. Not all successful hunts end with blood on your hands, sometimes you come home with more. Believe in yourself and be overly prepared and you can accomplish anything. Thanks Corey.