I wrote the following a few days after we returned from our 2009 elk hunting trip. It still inspires me to this day to learn more, gain confidence, and to become a better outdoorsman every chance I can get.
Day One (Wednesday 10/14/09)
My husband, Gary, and I headed up to the McKenzie Unit. It started raining and we found that one of our tents was lifted up by the wind and relocated down the hill. What fun setting up camp in the rain! Our time was spent resetting one of the tents and moving in with limited scouting only.
Day Two and Day Three (Thursday and Friday)
Gary is pretty sure where the elk are. In order to avoid spooking them, we use a process of elimination tactic: we begin to scout the areas where he thinks they are absent. This was my first real day of learning to recognize signs. Mike, Gary’s hunting buddy, showed up Friday afternoon ready and raring to go!
Day Four (Saturday 10/17/09)
Opening day of the season! The alarm went off at 5:00 a.m. Gary was pretty certain where to send us all, so off we went in different directions within a different unit than we had been scouting. This was a bit nerve-racking for me – my first hunt in the woods, all by myself. We started up a cinder road together and then he said, “I’m going to head this way; you continue up until this road ends somewhere at the top. Find a spot up there where you can see in the bowl without obstruction. Turn on your radio in an hour,” he tells me. With that, he was out of sight, through the brush in seconds. Well… here I go.
Gary got into a small part of a herd right away – three cows less than 20-feet away. He was crouched down, not moving a muscle. Suddenly, it felt as if something was staring him down from the right side. It was a fourth elk that busted Gary pretty fast and he/she ran off before he could see exactly what it was. It took the others with it. I was up a road on a hillside by myself. I was able to hear them run across my path in front of me, but they were over the other side of the hill beyond my view. We headed back to camp for brunch and then out again for a series of small hunts to determine where they may be tomorrow.
Day Five (Sunday 10/18/09)
A new day, a new unit. The strategy Gary and Mike seem to believe in is “strength in numbers and placement”. That’s why each morning, we would break out a map, and they would tell me where to drop them off. I parked and walked in an attempt to meet up with them. I walked up a long, logging road that when it finally crested for the last time at the top of the hill, there were four cows – my first in-person sighting and only about 100 feet away.
I threw up my rifle so that I could see closer by using my scope. She lifted her head …no horns. A second head from behind a tree on my right …no horns. Then, the biggest one moved in front from my left. She was beautiful! She stared at me for what seamed the longest time. Neither of us moved; we waited and waited. All of a sudden, a fourth cow up on the side crest of the hill from my right bolted the rest of the way up and over the hill. The others followed and in maybe five quick leaps and a blink of an eye, they were gone.
I radioed out to the guys and asked what to do. I had no compass, nor had I ever been in these woods before. I tried to describe where they went, but I must have been too wordy or confusing. He says to me, “find out which way they went,” and my heart started to race. Shit! – My first real walk in the shit-thicket by myself.
That was the best thing he could have had me do. I realized that when I walk with Gary, I trust and rely on him. When with Gary, I’m safe and rely on his knowledge and leadership. Now I had to rely on myself. My senses came alive – sights, sounds, and smells up there are incredible. Walking through thickets, not knowing where I was, I kept pushing on as I could see the next track, and then the next one, and then the next. I finally couldn’t go any further because the wall of vegetation was impenetrable. The guys radio to head back. I turned around, and all of a sudden, it looked like a completely different forest.
As I headed back, I began to veer too far north and found myself on a different logging road. It went north to south. I was standing in the middle of this road that was a low spot, like a “bowl” with both sides heading uphill and with logs, big logs, laying across the road. “A little help here, guys. Where am I?” Mike replies, and began trying to direct me. Gary informs me, “Mike is going to blow his cow call; follow it.” Bingo! They were only 100 yards in front of me down the hill, I just couldn’t see or hear them and visa versa.
NOW FOR THE IMPORTANT HUNT OF THE TRIP. IF YOU ARE SQUEAMISH, DO NOT READ ON ANY FURTHER.
We climb into the truck and head back up the hill. Gary determined that the four cows I just jumped were tail-end stragglers, probably headed back towards the rest of the group. Here we go again. I was to drop them off back up the hill, come back down from below, and find another advantage spot where I can see the entire unit from a high spot.
Mike got into a large group of about 40-head. They split into three groups, but Mike kept pushing them through the type of brush and boulder terrain that no human would ever go through but him. Gary knew that I was down below the action on a stump watching down a small gully. He pushed them my way. All of a sudden, in front of me and towards my right, coming down the opposing hillside, I heard what sounded like a freight train. I looked up and could see the tallest treetops begin to sway and shudder.
What do I do? Do I move? – NO. Do I radio the guys? – NO. Do I throw my scope up, take off the safety and wait? – HELL YES!
Adrenalin is a strange thing. You can’t control it at all. I couldn’t control my breathing or my hands from shaking. There they were. The first elk in sight, a bull – a 5 point as I remember, but my scope was shaking. I couldn’t wait because this one had horns.
I thought I missed. I was aiming at his left shoulder just below the thick part of his neck. There were CAT ruts in the terrain from a tractor when they logged the area many years ago. I thought that he stumbled due to stepping in one of the ruts just as I shot, so my bullet went over his shoulder. My elk stood straight up, turned, looked me in they eye, and took about six charging steps towards me. What the heck?! He’s coming after me!
That’s when I remembered to jack another shell into the chamber. I looked back up and here came the other elk – two cows, two smaller 3-point bulls, and eight more cows. As they ran by, the first bull decided I wasn’t his concern anymore, turned away from his charge and took off up the hill with the rest of the group. I just stood there watching this all unfold in complete disbelief. This is the first time I had ever seen a real elk in the wild, moving through his terrain with his herd. They didn’t run, they trotted and each step, about a 12’ spread. Amazingly fast these kings of the forest really are.
Don’t Just Stand There!
Then reality kicked in. What the heck was I doing just standing there? I jumped down off the log and ran down to where I thought I shot him, in hopes that there was some sign of blood. Nothing – I missed! Gary and Mike show up and I tell them everything that happened and show them the sign.
I felt like crap. I thought that I had screwed up the hunt. I missed my shot and scattered the herd in another three directions. Why didn’t I shoot a second time? Why didn’t I try to shoot at one of the 3-points? Why didn’t I pick up my shell casing from my first shot? Would I have the guts to do this again? All of these thoughts were going through my head as I was making my way back down to the truck. Then, Gary gets on the radio, “Roberta, where are you?” I tell him, “I’m just now at the truck started down the road and I can see where two sets of those that scattered crossed right here!” He says, “Just get up the road as fast as you can and that’s all I’m going to say.”
Now I’m frustrated. For sure I ruined the hunt and he’s pissed about it. I see Mike towards the top of the hill, and when I finally get to him, his only words to me were, “Look down.”
Holy shit! Right between his feet is a pool of blood, like it had been coughed up. He says, “You didn’t miss.” Now I’m really confused. Through the reprod, we head blood trailing an elk that is bigger, faster, stronger than us and through brush, sticks, ferns, trees, dirt, trying to pinpoint one tiny drop of blood after another. Gary sends Mike to go first. They have “eagle eyes” and can see these tiny, glistening droplets in some of the most impossible conditions. One minute there is one on the ground, the next, on a leaf or on a branch. For hours these two picked that forest apart.
Ultimately, I shot high and behind his shoulder. It was a lung shot that went clean through. We found a large clear area on the forest floor where he fell. Blood spilled out both sides and out his mouth/nose. Just like a water balloon hitting the ground.
They could see where more elk ran by which must have excited him. With great effort, we could see where he struggled to stand and run off with the others. This is just about when we lost him. Some of the others must have brushed up against him because now there was blood being wiped on the leaves and branches and no more blood on the ground to speak of. That “deflated balloon”, his lungs, were empty and now that he was up, the blood would begin filling internally rather than externally.
We searched for hours just to see any type of sign possible, but it finally just got too late and then it rained that night, erasing all hope of blood trailing any further.
Day Six, Seven, Eight, and Nine (Monday through Thursday)
The rest of the week we spent doing the same thing. If we weren’t out on another hunt, we were up there trying to find my elk. Nevertheless, we did not find my prize. However, I created a smorgasbord for the critters just before the snow set in.
I have much more to tell; I learned more in 10 days than I did in the last 30 years of my life.