Our last great hunt of the season. We know where they are but nobody will go in with us. The area is huge. Gary knows the area but one of the courses we need to take is “uncharted territory” as he stated. We told a few if the other hunters what our plan of attack was and they basically told us “good luck” because of the vast area and thick reprod.
I wear glasses so I have that as a disadvantage. Pair that with being right-handed and left-eye dominant – some partner I am. But, I heard Gary on the CB tell one of the other hunters we passed as we were staging trucks, that even with those disadvantages, I’m the best partner he has had; primarily because I’m extremely quiet and I’m like a sponge in the learning department. How sweet, but also extremely encouraging.
We left the truck at 8am. Once we hit our intended reprod target, we found fresh tracks leading out of the reprod unit heading back into the timber. We checked those out and all he did was make a wide circle in the timber and back out into the reprod where he felt safe.
We came out and cow called at every clearing. The bulls just aren’t responding. We used every call type we could – estrous cow, lost cow (mine sounded like sick or dying cow… I need to practice), but nothing would budge him/them out. We did this over and over. Bottom line? The score is Elk – 1 / Hunters – 0. And I mean a big fat zero for everyone. All week, not one shot taken by anyone in this hunt unit. That is just unheard of. The one reward we did have from this hunt was that we got to see a bobcat. That’s always a treat.
Our final walk took us to one last place we used to hunt heavily in years past. At the end of this long, uphill dirt spur road, there is a cul-de-sac. We used to find all sorts of sign along the road, but this year, it has been void of almost all sign. This place has a special meaning to me. The first year I had hunted with Gary and his previous partner, they were working the hillsides and assigned me to walk up the hill and report what I had seen or heard. Basically, because I was so new to hunting, they gave me the gravy walks. I couldn’t get lost that way. Hahaha! Were they ever wrong!
As I just crest the top of the road and enter the cul-de-sac, I look up along the hillside (beyond these grown up trees when it used to be opened up and I could see better), there are four cow elk standing there eating. The lead cow looks up at me and just stands there watching. I quickly radio to the guys: “I have four cows!” That’s when the lead cow turned and ran into the reprod and the others followed. Gary’s partner yells to me over the radio: “Go in after them, Berta!” So I did; I ran and ran and ran fighting the dense firs, snow brush, and berry vines. I could see where they had pushed through but they are so fast and agile. They were probably two miles away when I stopped and realized that I had no idea where I was at all. My first venture into the “wilderness” on my own – so I thought.
The guys hit the cul-de-sac and radioed to me to come on back; I had chased them off. Easier said than done! Holy cow! In my mind, I was lost and lost good. What I didn’t know then is that the main road was just above me and that I only needed to head downhill and I could figure out my way from there. But nope, there I stood frozen and said: “I don’t know where I am or what to do.” Those two guys must have just stood there laughing at me. One said: “Do you see that really tall tree with the top blown out in it? Head for that.” My reply: “I see eight tall trees with their tops blown out? What?” Another good one was: “Do you see that really, really big log crossing over another a really big log? Head for those and then turn left.” My now very scared reply: “What? There are dozens and dozens of logs! I don’t know what to do.” Then Gary gets on the radio and says: “I’m going to blow the cow call. Follow the sound.” So he blows the cow call. Good grief… I was probably only 100 yards uphill from them but there was a patch of bushes and small trees between us. They were laughing for sure.
That’s when I decided to start studying the map and learning the country. You can’t get lost anywhere up there. One way or another, something will lead you to a main road.
We ended Thursday with a visit to a neighboring hunter’s camp to sit by the fire and visit. Everyone up there was done hunting. The whole hillside was moving out Friday morning. Not a shot was fired. Only Gary and I were the closest to finding the herds and the only ones to have seen hair before opening day. It was a tough year up there. The weather hurt us. Better luck to all next year.