I had always dreamed of hunting elk out west. Coming from a small town in Michigan the closest I came to hearing a bugling bull growing up was in Outdoor Life and Bowhunter Magazines. Michigan whitetails kept me extremely busy back then, and I still love to hunt them, but I’m here to tell you there is nothing more exciting than a screaming, slobbering, urinating, bull elk…PERIOD!
1988 found me moving to Nevada for work, and more importantly, much closer to hunting elk. Unfortunately the State of Nevada has very limited elk hunting opportunities and little did I know at that time that it would take me 16 years before I would get to actually hunt elk in Nevada. However, it did not take me long to learn that the two states just north of Nevada, Oregon and Idaho, both had over the counter archery elk tags!
So how does a small town Michigan boy learn to hunt elk by himself? Money was going to be an issue and I simply did not have enough to hire a guide to take me elk hunting. There was no internet back then to help with research, there was no Google Earth to scout and study. I didn’t know anyone that elk hunted, let alone archery elk hunted.
At a local sporting goods store there where a few archery elk videos. One in particular that Pete Shepley, Jerry Morrison (I think it was), Dwight Schuh, and Larry Jones had produced. Those videos soon became study guides. I watched the videos, took notes, read as much as I could, watched and studied the videos again – did I say watch and studied the videos? I can’t begin to tell you how much I watched those videos. I corresponded with one of the guys in the video, Dwight Schuh, via snail mail. Dwight helped me tremendously back them by responding to my letters with advice on what I should do, or what I should be looking for. I contacted biologist, studied 7.5 minute topo maps, learned to use a compass, learned to call, and basically came up with a play book on how to elk hunt.
In late June of 1989 I pointed the truck towards Northeast Oregon for 4 days of elk scouting. I had no idea what I was in for but I was about to find out! I spent 3 1/2 days following elk tracks, looking at old sign, learning roads, even woke up in the middle of the night in a snow storm with some creature trying to eat my tires! As it turned out a porcupine decided the rubber on the tires smelled pretty darn good and was trying his darnedest to make it his midnight snack.
As the season approached, a friend who was planning to go along suddenly backed out. I couldn’t believe it! All the years of dreaming about hunting elk, all the hard work getting ready for the hunt, the endless hours of studying, and he backed out. At the time I thought it was the end of the world, but in hind sight it was the best thing that ever happened to me. I went on that elk hunt by myself and will never forget the first bull that came screaming in and stopped a short 20 yards away, 22 years ago!
I had just cow and calf called and followed it up with a squeal. The bull came smoking down the hill as I waited kneeling, shaking so badly I could not keep my arrow on the flipper rest I used back then. The shaking was so bad I knew there was no way I would be able to shoot. I watched as the bull turned and started to circle to get the wind in his favor. As he went out of sight, I moved uphill, got my senses about me, and called again. He wasted no time covering the distance between us and again I found myself 20 yards from a screaming, grunting bull elk. This time I was able to keep my composure and make a nice double lung shot. I could not believe what just happened! I was elated to say the least! Of course there were no cell phones back then and it would be the next day before anyone would find out about my adventure of a lifetime.
The next few years were successful solo elk hunts as well. About 3 years later I found myself in a similar situation with a friend backing out. I tried to talk him out of it but he just could not make it. As it turned out on the first day of a 14 day solo elk hunt, I killed one of the biggest bulls I had ever taken, and with a recurve at that. Friends and family just could not believe that I would take off on a trip like this, hunt and camp by myself, and then pack a huge animal out of the mountains. I’ll never forget one of my closest home town friends saying “I can’t believe you do that by yourself, why?” I looked at him and replied, “Why not?”
A person learns more about themselves being alone in the mountains than one can imagine. Mental toughness, self confidence, patience, and facing adversity are just some of what traits I learned about myself while hunting alone. Just a few years ago I drew a Nevada Mountain Goat tag. Three friends were hiking into goat country with me and we had it all planned out. Once again, this time due to last minute illnesses, I lost two of the friends and the third one, well, your guess is as good as mine. Going into goat country by yourself may seem a little crazy but you just have to plan mentally for the adventure that awaits you. I never gave it a second thought and on the second day killed a nice Nevada mountain goat.
Bottom line, if you want to hunt elk, or any animal for that matter, as bad as I did 22 years ago don’t let anything or anyone get in your way. Plan it, over plan it, study it, talk to as many elk hunters as possible, then just do it and have fun! You may just learn a tremendous amount about yourself as an individual. If friends go, it certainly adds to the adventure, but don’t let anyone stand in your way if you truly want to do something. Best of luck to you this fall…I can hear the bulls screaming their heads off and feel the hairs standing up on the back of my neck already!