Leaving my apartment was like walking down the game tunnel exiting a locker room. The agony of waiting and preparation for elk season damn near tortures my soul every year. Without sounding like a love-sick teenager, the mountains and those animals changed deep parts of my being. I live for Jesus & September….yes and parts of November…..Get at me.
I love the desolation of eastern Oregon. The hunting is decent at best but the public land opportunities abound. All a guy needs is a chance to draw his bow…Right?
Three years ago my father and I doubled on wilderness bulls. From that day forward I’ve lived for powerful moments. Moments which cannot be replicated easily out of the wild. Since I moved away from home earlier in the year, the long drive was a welcome chance to reconnect with Dad. The sheer brutality of hunting the mountains has taken its toll on him over the last 17 years, which only compounds my drive to seek the wild.
Someday is a term which we like to hide behind. I don’t want someday to be 30 years from now. I’ve watched too many people get sick, pass away or when someday does arrive physically cannot walk to their long-held dreams. My youthful impatience loves to run wild. Approaching the edge of the canyon with my backpack and bow, I threw my hands up in victory. We all have cognitive dissonance, an image of one’s self. This is what I thought of in tenth grade walking the halls of high school.
If you have the choice to ride a horse or ride a bike 16 miles into the mountains, most sane people are going to choose a horse. We ride bikes. I’ll never forget the conversation I had with my Dad just three months after his open heart operation telling me we were going to ride into camp two years ago. I was slightly shocked. But, we made it. This is advanced intermediate riding over a trail which has claimed ribs and wrists alike. We left the motel at 9 after forcing down a plate of waffles and eggs. Our last “real meal” for a week and got to the camp at 1 pm after biking 16 miles. Bryce made fun of our slow pace on the trail, a trail he bikes in just under two hours. Pulling into the camp Bryce and I just looked at each other and nodded. Game on.
If not for my father’s friend, Bryce, none of this would ever be possible. I owe a great debt of gratitude to the man.
Organizing our gear in the tents, it felt great to jump into camouflage after a long summer. We’d busted out two elk on the trail back about three miles and decided to hunt back towards a patch of North face timber where the animals ran. Part of the way through the timber we ran into another hunter. Not the way we wanted to start, but he shared important wolf information with us. Important in the sense that we were standing right next to where he and his camp had kept seeing wolves each day. One big white wolf and several black wolves. The wolves showed up on our trail camera over a wallow one night, I can confirm, they are huge.
His camp had missed several 6 point bulls during the early part of their hunt and felt like they had a family curse. This gave me some hope. We hunted over towards the rim of a small drainage across from where I’d shot a bull some years ago. We found out our stalking skills were still on point and slipped to within 47 yards of three cows. No bugles but the wolves started moaning and howling right where we had met the other hunter. Talk about an eerie sound. Dinner that night consisted of a chicken based mountain house and a small cup of Both Box wine. What a day.
Our first full day began with a debate on whether or not to carry our rain jackets. Sitka Jackets are not cheap, so on the one day we need them we decide to leave them in the tent. Bad move. Our friend Devon had made mention of a bugle deep in a canyon he was not going to chase. Full of eager energy we decided to drop off after the bugle. Halfway down the spine ridge after first light, the wolves began howling right above the drainage. Not exactly what we wanted to hunt into, and we decided to call an audible and hike back towards the area where Dad had killed his big bull a few years earlier. The graveyard is a series of bedding benches on north facing timber. The rain began to spit, and we immediately regretted the choice not to carry our rain jackets.
This unit is super tough between the wolf pressure and the human pressure. Bugling and cow calling at times have the opposite effect. After getting into the timber, we bumped an animal and immediately had a small bugle crack off right above us. The rain began to fall, but we were between the bull and his cows and couldn’t afford to leave. We then saw a large spike bull harassing the cows and at one point he was just three steps from stepping into a 30-yard window. The first day second hour, spike bull. Its a general unit with only nine days to hunt, hell yes I’m going to shoot. I was tense but mellow putting tension on the release, ready to make a move when needed. He did not step out from behind the tree.
The animals moved downhill were we inched our way into a position as carefully as possible. After a half hour of cat and mouse in the rain the cows moved, and there was a bugle below the cows. The small group of females moved uphill out of view, and We got aggressive and moved to where the cows had been feeding. About a dozen steps in we bumped the bull that was walking into our position. Would have been less than 40-yard shot. As the rain began coming down heavily, we decided to hike out quickly to avoid getting soaked. We took no more than ten quick steps and ran directly into two other spike bulls broadside at 40 yards. No shots. We worked our way towards them but couldn’t catch up.
We spent a few hours in the tent but saw nothing in the evening. Dinner was a Chicken Fajita Mountain House. Add some canned chicken, and you have yourself a weekend.