This year I changed things up a bit. I used OnX maps to e-scout what looked like a good location. It was about three miles back in the timber and off trail for the last half-a-mile or so. The spot sat about 10,600 feet in elevation and was on a small flat space next to a saddle that provided food, cover, and water. My wife and I hiked up there to scout it out in person, and it was tough to get to. For most of it, it was relatively flat and on a trail. However, as soon as you left the trail, the terrain became rugged and steep with deadfall. In fact, I remember quite distinctly hiking up there and hoping that it wouldn’t pan out because getting an elk off that mountain was going to be difficult, to say the least. Yet, as soon as we got up to the spot, I knew immediately it was a good area. There was sign everywhere. So I dropped a couple trail cameras, and we left.
I kicked my physical training into high gear to get ready because I knew if I got something up there, I would need to be in good shape to get it out. Anxiously I waited for hunting season. Then, finally, the day came.
I left the house alone, hauling the camper, and headed out to the South Slope. The opening day wasn’t until the next morning, but I wanted to get up the mountain, set up base camp, and then hike into the area to spike camp so I would be close and ready to rock on the opener. Generally, my wife would be with me, but she had military training that she couldn’t get out of, so it was just me this time.
I’m always anxious heading out to elk camp. I never know what the conditions are going to be. How many people are going to be out there? Would there be someone in the spot I want to camp, or even worse, would there be hunters already out at my pre-scouted area?
These thoughts rattled through my head as I drove. However, to my surprise, there weren’t many people up on the mountain. I got to my base camp location and found it empty, so I quickly dropped the camper, set things up, changed, and headed out to the trailhead. Strangely enough, there was hardly anyone at all up there. All the spots that are usually filled with campers and hunters were open. I parked at the trailhead, grabbed my gear, and headed out. It was chilly and wet, but I felt like it would be fine, and my gear would be good to go.
The hike there wasn’t difficult at all. I found a spot at the base of the steep mountain to set up spike camp and now realize in retrospect I should have gone all the way up. I chose to set up my camp where I did because it was open and away from any potential widow makers, and I didn’t want to be too close to my hunting area. After I dropped my gear, I hiked up the mountain to retrieve my trail cams so I could take a look at the pics and get an idea of what was moving around up there and what time of day they liked to move.
Going up the steep part is a pain in the butt and scary. It is very steep, and a lot of times, there aren’t very good spots to put your feet. I hate going up and down that thing with a passion. However, I made it up fine and got my cameras. After a stressful hike down to camp, I pulled out my SD card reader to try and see the pics and realized that the card reader worked with my old phone, but not my new one. It wasn’t the end of the world, but I would be going in blind the next day. At that time, it was evening, so I ate a quick meal and then got into my sleeping bag. The temperature continued to drop, and while I didn’t freeze, it was just cold enough to be uncomfortable, and I got very little sleep. As fate would have it, I was just finally dozing off when my alarm sounded.
My first mistake that day was not realizing how long it would take me to get up the mountain in the dark. It took longer than anticipated, and I arrived at the top at the moment I should have already been in place. My second mistake was assuming the winds would do what they were supposed to do. They did the opposite, and now instead of blowing in my face, it was at my back. However, at that point, there wasn’t much I could do, and I wanted to get past the pond to the game trails that lead to the saddle to ambush any elk coming in for morning drink. However, the elk were already at the pond. Just as the meadow came into view through the trees, my scent busted them. I heard, with dismay in my heart, the sound of about 12 elk running away. They didn’t see me. They smelled me. All that hard work had just gone out the window because I wasn’t there earlier, and the winds were not in my favor.
I trudged along to the game trail and picked a good spot hoping that maybe another group would come in later. I was warm from my hike, but as I sat, the chill started to creep in. I was still feeling like an idiot from busting all those elk and wondering what I should do. I was in the process of sending a message back home when I looked up and saw a young cow elk. It wasn’t a calf, but it certainly wasn’t an adult yet, either. It was about 30 yards away. As it moved through the trees, a mature cow elk came in behind it. I saw it was going to step out in one of my shooting lanes, so I drew my bow and waited.
Sure enough, it stepped out exactly where I thought it would. Yet, instead of walking broadside, it came out and turned right toward me and started eating. A front shot with its head down isn’t a good shot. After a while, I let the tension off my bow. I think the younger cow must have seen the movement because shortly after that, it turned tail and ran back up towards the saddle and the older one followed.
Sure, I was disappointed it didn’t pan out, but being there and having a plan come together, and getting to draw on an elk were all huge successes in my book. However, my happiness would soon fade.
It began to rain.
A sprinkle at first, and I got out my poncho and used it as a tarp to make an impromptu shelter. However, as I was tying the ends off, I noticed the dexterity in my fingers was almost non-existent. I knew I was cold but didn’t realize I was that cold. The rain continued to come down, and now that I was paying attention, I realized I was just getting colder and colder. I already had all my layers on. I finally made the decision to leave the area and go back to my spike camp. By the time I got there, I was even colder, and the rain was coming down harder. I knew that even if I got into my tent and put the sleeping bag on, it wouldn’t do much for the chill as everything was quite damp and wet. I made the judgment call to pack up and head back to base camp.
Once I had everything loaded, I made my way back down to the trail. I’m not sure if I packed my bag wrong or if I was fatigued from hardly any sleep, wet, or cold, but each step was tough and drained me. Maybe it was a combination of all of it, but hiking out was way harder than hiking in, and it had only been a day. I had gone through tougher workouts, but for whatever reason, each step out was a chore.
It finally stopped raining, and I pulled my phone out to help me find the trail. As I did, I noticed a bit of movement out of the corner of my eye. I saw something through the trees and could tell it was an animal doing that little shimmy they do when they are trying to see something. I snuck a little closer and saw it was a big cow elk. I quietly shed my pack and checked the wind. It was blowing in my face, which was perfect. Then I moved a little closer.
I pulled out my cow call and let a mew out, and it mewed back! Moments later, another cow mewed back in the trees. For the next few minutes, I talked with the cow using the call. I’d mew, it would respond and get a little closer trying to see me.
I ranged it at 60 yards. For me and my abilities, 60 yards is a no-go. I knew I would have to get closer to seal the deal. So I continued talking with it, and it continued to get a little closer. However, it was moving out diagonally from me. I started to move perpendicular, thinking I could cut the distance and find a good shooting lane. I moved slow, waiting until it was behind trees or had its head down to move at all. Sometimes it would look up and stare right at me, and I’d make my best tree impression.
It was all working, and I knew if things kept up, within a minute or two I’d be close enough and would have a good chance at flinging an arrow downrange. Suddenly the cow turned and ran into the woods.
I was dumbfounded. It ran when we were both behind trees, so I knew it hadn’t seen me. The wind had been good, so it hadn’t smelled me. But, to double-check, I pulled out my wind checker and found the wind had shifted! It had caught my scent, and that was enough to scare it away.
Again, I was disappointed but elated to have not one but two chances to close in on elk in one day. I trudged my way back to the truck, and by the time I got there, I was utterly exhausted. I’ve done more before, so I have no idea why I was so gassed and can only chalk it up the combo of being fatigued and cold.
By the time I got back to base camp, I was feeling a bit better, but as soon as I could I crashed and took a nap. I slept HARD. When I woke, the wind was going nuts, and although I felt a lot better, I decided to take the evening off to recharge and hit it the next morning.
The next day I hit one of my old spots. My setups worked in the fact that I had deer roll through the area less than 30 yards from me. If I had a deer tag, I would have had two good chances to fill it. However, no elk. In the evening, I went out to a different spot I was familiar with. Again, no elk, although I did bump something on my hike out that was quite large, and I think it was an elk, and I had a pack of coyotes howling and yipping probably within 100-200 yards of me. But I didn’t see any timber ghosts. I did, however, find some beautiful new spots.
I got up early and headed out to a third spot that I’ve hunted before and been in elk. I hiked out to my spot and set up on this steep incline. I didn’t see or hear any elk; however, at one point, I turn my head and find a doe about 12 feet away from me. The deer can kind of tell something is amiss; however, it couldn’t tell what was up. It poked around for a bit, then took off when it finally walked into my scent. However, once again, if I were hunting doe up here, that would have been another excellent opportunity. Yet, as I sat there not seeing any elk and not seeing much sign, I started to think about the spot I hit in the very beginning. At this point, I have begun to reference it as Mt. Doom, and in the back of my mind, I know there are elk on Mt. Doom. So I decided I would head back to camp, eat a hearty breakfast, recharge my electronics, and then hike out to Mt. Doom for an afternoon/evening hunt with the idea that I would most likely be hiking out in the dark. However, with the knowledge of knowing that there are elk up there, I remembered something I had heard before: Don’t leave elk to find elk. So I did just that, I went back, ate, recharged, and then headed out to the trailhead around 1230 and started to “simply walk into Mordor.”
I made it up to the top of Mt. Doom and set up. This time, even though it was the middle of the afternoon, I snuck in very aware of the wind direction and made my way to a good ambush spot. I was hopeful and yet a little apprehensive as I started running calculations in my head on how long it would take to haul an elk off that mountain by myself and what time I would get back to camp. Here’s a pro-tip, don’t do that. Just enjoy the moment.
As I sat up there, it started to rain again. However, this time, I was ready and set up my poncho as a tarp and stayed dry. It rained for a good 30 minutes, then cleared up. However, no elk ever came by. On the one hand, I was bummed. On the other, I was happy that I went back up there and gave it another try, otherwise in the back of my mind, it would always be nagging me, telling me I should have hiked back up there because that’s where all the elk are. I still believe that spot is one of the better spots I’ve ever found, but I’ve also been in elk in other spots too.
I timber-stalked my way out of the area, never coming across anything other than some beautiful scenery and a cool paw print. I think it could be a bobcat or young cougar.
I woke up still very sore and fatigued to the point that I decided to take the morning off. Some may call this dumb and a missed opportunity. Quite frankly, I don’t care what others think. That extra rest really helped and let me go hard that evening. Plus, it wasn’t all for not. I may not have hunted, but I definitely gathered.
Whenever I come up, I always keep an eye out for chokecherries. I know where some bushes are, and this year, they were plentiful and ripe. So I gathered a bunch up to take back to my mother-in-law because she turns it into some amazing chokecherry syrup and jam.
In the afternoon, I headed out to a spot I had e-scouted that looked promising. I hadn’t yet been there in person, so I was going in blind.
This new spot wasn’t nearly as far in the backcountry as Mt. Doom. However, that being said, I found lots of sign. Tons of tracks, scat (it was a little older), and lots of good cover, water, and food for elk. It was a good spot. Yet, I still didn’t come across any of the elusive timber ghosts.
That concluded the hunt. Some close calls with deer and elk. I mean, other than actually harvesting one, you can’t ask for a better hunt. I’ll be back up on the mountain in mid-September. Hopefully then I can seal the deal and bring home some elk meat.