The pure ruggedness of the canyon behind our camp is overwhelming to someone who might not understand it offers the sanctuary and other life-giving necessities to elk in the month of September as they have a need to feed and breed. Steep canyon walled lined with rimrock and good feed descend into a pit 1,800 feet from the top. I love this canyon since there are always animals feeding on the slopes and I hate this canyon because as much as I love seeing animals, should one kill a bull on these steep slopes or in the creek bottom, it might damn near kill you to get a few hundred pounds of food out on your back. I knew I needed to give the canyon one shot early in the hunt in the event I did kill something and needed to spend four or five days hiking it out to the top. It’d been two years since hunting the canyon and my memories of year past push rational aside in my decision to hunt the miserable beauty of the canyon.
On the way to my lookout point to glass the first rays of light I walked into a small herd. The bull was walking directly to my left and below me and would have given me a perfect shot. I dropped to my knees to try and get into position. In hindsight, I didn’t need to make any moves to my left. In the bleak dawn light, I didn’t see how good of a position I held. As I moved, the GPS in my pocket was making all sorts of noises because I was hitting the buttons. It was all for nothing when I looked up, and ten yards away all of his cows were looking at me. Busted. Silhouetted against the rising sun the picture of the small bull and his cows will forever be burned into my mind. Fiery pinks and red clashed with the early morning hue of blue, imprinted on the skyline they looked back, and I was reminded again why we love September. They pushed off into the timber above me, and I moved through that timber to try and cut them off. I couldn’t catch up to them.
Moving back to my glassing point I’ve used to scout this canyon over the years I spooked a mule deer doe as I moved down a small spine to open up more geography. A bear walked adjacent to me on the opposite brush-choked canyon wall. I looked north and found what I was looking for, the out of place tan lumps milling around the steep rock filled shutes. Seeing the bull was a relief. I’d made the right decision on where to hunt and enjoyed the time I had watching him feed, push cows and rake bushes. I knew a few things; the wind was dropping to the bottom of the canyon. The wind was going to move down the valley and that there were about three hours until the sun reached this position to change the thermals. I also realized with that many cows I needed to get a little whitetail on him and ambush him as he pushed his cows into the cool depths of the timber to bed. He was pushing his cows, m chasing them and raking trees. I should have been patient, but I wasn’t, or just couldn’t be patient. I wanted to get in the zone. This canon is full of Rimrock and brushes forcing your feet to walk at awkward angles, crushing your toes into the sides of your boots. Just not easy to traverse. My big toes are still numb. I need to wait. But, I was impatient and dropped down towards the creek because I figured he was pushing his cows to the timber for the day and I needed to try and ambush him.
Picking my way through the choke brush and rock I pushed my way low down the avalanche shute and was careful to ensure I was not in line with the herd. I stayed probably 150-200 yards off their line of smell and was ready to sit and wait several hours if needed. Just as soon as I’d nestled into a small pine tree to rest and wait when the cows began talking to each other with the distinct high pitched but short whine we know as mews. Honestly it like they were about to walk right around the corner. The wind still was blowing down and towards them. I dropped even lower down the slide and hiked back uphill and found myself in between two groups of cow elk. Now the wind was right, but I couldn’t go any further quietly. Being in between two groups of cows is a strategic advantage to challenge a big bull. The sound of the bull raking his antlers less than 100 yards away was a dead giveaway. I bugled and he bugled up higher on the hill. My excitement was dashed in the hovering silence which followed.
I’ll spare the painful hiking details of hiking the bottom dropping a full 1,800 feet in elevation only to have to hike out of the canyon in the heat of the day. I saw two other cows on the adjacent canyon side feeding in the small timber slots with no bulls in tow. Looking back down from the top it was not the best thing I have done but somehow feel like I need to do this hunt every year. Why? I make a point to take this hike because this canyon strips away the comfort which builds in my body over the course of the year. It is an accomplishment to get to the top. This hunt is what my body and mind need to reset and grow in preparation for another long year of sitting at a desk.
I relaxed inside the timber and wolfed down handfuls of trail mix and several food bars. I was going to pay for the hike in the days afterward. Dad and I met up at a series of sheep fences where he recounted his story of seeing a small five-point bull that morning.
We hiked in the direction of where the bulls I saw went and heard a small bugle 200 yards in front of us. We snuck along for several hundred yards, and as I was looking at a tan log, I looked to my right about 10 degrees and saw the small bull standing at 36 yards. The bull moved off to about 65 yards but never came back to investigate. This is how the week was going to go, call-shy bulls, stalking bulls, bumping everything.
Dinner that night was Chicken and Rice with extra chicken from a can.