Thursday, September 29, 2016

Elk Hunt Report 2016 (Archery): You Can go Home

They say you "can't go home." You can; it just hurts more.

I hunted some rugged, remote, wild country I used to hunt years ago, country that is like home. It's where I "grew up" as an elk hunter. I killed a lot of bulls back there with my bow in my 20s and 30s. The country hasn't changed much, but I have. It's as secure as elk habitat security gets: steep, thick brush, tons of blowdown, no trails. In fact, the mountains seem steeper and the brush seems thicker. It hurt more than usual and I can't just blame age; I am out of shape for this sort of thing. My 10-pound mobile elk camp seems heavier than, and not as comfortable as it used to. (See "Spartan Camps: Hunting Elk Like a Force Recon Marine.") But something else is missing: The obsessive-possessive-compulsive drive I used to have for this sort of thing. I take a lot more naps on sunny hillsides.

I did see a half-dozen elk; heard a lot of bugling; saw a black bear, a moose and a mule-deer buck. And here's a nice improvement from the past: I heard wolves howling one night.

The bugling still excites me, and I never refuse a call. But a mentor once told me, "If you start worrying about how you're going to get an elk out of a spot before you kill it, then you will stop being a good elk hunter."

I worried.

The first bull I called in on day two (the same bull, I think, whom I heard bugling through the night as I lay under the stars on a ridge top in my sleeping bag) came close. Too close. He had me pin-pointed and walked straight up to me, 10 yards out. I couldn't move. When he turned and walked behind a big spruce, I nocked an arrow and drew, and held. One more step . . . one more step. Lucky for him, he never took that step. He knew something wasn't quite right, and he turned and trotted off, stopping a few times to look back. I couldn't coax him to return. It was lucky for me, too, I suppose; I'd still be trying to pack him out. (Yes, I worried about it.)

Day three I took a hard fall after stepping on dead, downed, fall-on-your-ass, slippery-smooth lodgepole while crossing a large pile of crisscrossed blowdown in a hell-hole of a spruce bottom as it was starting to get dark. But an elk had bugled up the ridge on the other side. What else to do? In fact, he grunted a few times right after I fell. I caught up to him, grunted back, got his attention, and he started coming in. I first saw him at about 50 yards, shadows of his long tines cast on the surrounding pines in the evening light. He took his apparent frustration out on a small subalpine fir; he nearly ripped it out of the ground. Then he came closer. Thirty yards. Twenty yards. Then he walked behind a large upended root-wad of a felled spruce. Time to notch an arrow and get ready.

And then I saw the sight to my bow was broken off. Gone. No way I could chance a shot -- chance wounding this bull (I have always believed a missed shot is a fortunate accident that could easily result in wounding).  I quietly watched him for a while, until he got suspicious and slowly wandered north.

Yes, David Petersen, I can see you shaking your head, hear you chuckling, and imagine you rightfully thinking, "I told you so." It's time to stop relying on the wheels, pulleys and technology I sometimes hypocritically rant against. Time to start instinctively shooting my recurve.

It's a good time in my life to switch over. The killing doesn't drive me so much anymore. Besides, I don't know how the hell I would have packed that bull out of there. (Yes, I worried about it.)

May he grow to be king!



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