Day 7- No elk. We’ve all heard the stories and seen the shows of endless pursuit and no game. But this was different. It was my endless pursuit and no game. I’d setup camp in the back of my pickup with a camper shell. Of course, my truck bed was short so I tucked my knees at night and rolled from side to side on my blow up air mattress wrapped in my bag and every piece of clothing I had. I was rolling because I couldn’t lay out flat, but also because my breath was freezing to the glass of my shell at night when temps dipped below 20 degrees and rolling at least acted as cardio in between shivering.
It was the 7th day. 6 long, cold, restless, cold, long, cold nights preceded today. I was ready to get the boots back on and press through another 6 to 8 miles of gain and loss. Of course, after the 5-mile ride in the side by side up winding logging trails before dawn, with an hour to spare to climb on foot to the ridge where my hunting can “start”. I was ready to get moving. Partly because my toes were frozen, but more importantly, because I knew the next step could present that bull I was glassing for. My bull. We all have that animal in mind. It’s ours. We glass down range and the excitement rushes when we get a glimpse of the species we’re after. But my heart doesn’t race, palms sweat, or neck hairs climb like when I see “mine”. The one. Mile after mile, every drainage in between, could be holding my bull. Not only did these drainages not hold my bull, they didn’t hold a bull. A spike. A cow. An elk. It was the frost nipped frozen tundra of rolling range…and me.
I was facing the end of the hunt and the desperation began to sink in. I started to glass out further. You know what I mean, rather than glassing realistic terrain in range- you start glassing the beyond, “what’s over there?” terrain. As the sun was cresting the East ridge on the furthest point I could see, I caught a glimpse of dark brown antlers lit by the light orange glow of the rising sun. I found him! That’s all I needed to see, I was going there! I had parked the rig below me about half mile from where I was currently.
I guessed the bull was maybe a mile as the crow flies North of my position. I made the split decision to leave the rig and chase the bull following the ridge I was on. I grabbed my bag, packed my glass in with my jacket while under my breath saying, “that’s the one, nice bull, nice bull”. I threw my pack over my shoulders and began a slow jog with my rifle through the crunching snow. My jog soon turned into a fast walk, which soon turned into a walk, which then turned into an inner ear heart pounding walk in between my deep breaths as elevation was up and down. I was consistently glassing up ahead of me trying to keep and eye on the ridge I last saw the bull. I was consistently looking at my OnX Map while hiking trying to get a better idea of where the bull was in compared to my location, guessing the ridge lines. As I approached nearly a mile, I realized…he was more than a mile. Another half mile or so probably. My legs were burning, calves cramping, and my wrists sore from shifting my rifle to one arm to the other but the motivation was greater than how uncomfortable I was. I kept moving. By this time, I had peeled off nearly every layer down to my t-shirt and pant vents open while watching my breath freeze in the air- hunched over with a pounding headache.
I’d been on the move for nearly an hour. I began to slow my pace as I was glassing through the timber and knew I had to be getting close. In that moment of standing quietly glassing through thick timber to an open face I heard a subtle cow call from up ahead. Then another, then another. The timber was talking. I was within 400 yards of the heard. The ridge was broken with patches of timber, open face, and 6” of crusty snow patches. I began to move slow. Very slow. To a creep, then to a crawl. Cows were chattering and I began to hear them more clearly. I slid my pack slowly from my left shoulder gently into the snow.
Alone with my rifle I crawled on top of the snow to a piece of deadfall that was now lying about 3’ off the ground. I lifted my glass to my eyes and began to scan the open face through the small patch of timber. Lying facing South was my bull! Basking in the mid-morning sun surrounded by 20 cows feeding around him!
My heart instantly began beating in my chest as I felt my breathing become rapid. I dropped my glass and slowly raised my rifle to make steady on the downfall I was behind. I made a range…325 yards! I made the quick and simple adjustment on DOPE and had my reticle settled on the bull. He was laying in an awkward position and I didn’t feel comfortable making the shot until he stood. Seconds flew by, that turned into minutes, that felt like hours! This bull was lounging! I began to make a slight adjustment to my reticle position trying to figure where my shot placement would be when he stood, I wanted to be prepared. What felt like an eternity later, the breeze shifted and swung directly toward the elk. Within a minute the cows began getting a sense that something wasn’t right, I could see it through my glass. They didn’t spook but it was noticeable that they’ve become aware of my presence.
To Be Continued.... Part 2