Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Lair

Opening weekend was brutal. We really worked hard, and for four days we hiked the leather off our boots. On day three our good friend, Del, followed some cows to their secret hiding place. He couldn't believe the hidden bowl they brought him to. He also could not get over the amount of bear sign. With all the elk and bear sign, and with how brutal and concealed this place was, he instantly named it "The Lair". defines "lair" this way:

  1. a den or resting place of a wild animal
  2. a secluded or hidden place, especially a secret retreat or base of operations; a hideout or hideaway
What a perfect name!

The Lair is protected by huge cliffs on three sides. The bottom has a small creek running through the middle of it. Approaching The Lair from camp and hunting it effectively is nearly impossible. You have to navigate down the cliffs on the South side, several times you have to carefully lower your bow on to ledges below so you can use both hands to climb down.

The cliffs do not drop straight down to The Lair though. They are more like stair steps. Each level you drop down to is loaded with elk and bear sign. Down and down you go, dropping from one step to another. The whole time you think the next level has to be the last.

The first of about four levels of The Lair

Kelly and I pumping some water before leaving The Lair

Del is a selfless hunter, after discovering The Lair he decided to hunt a different spot. But he had no problem allowing my brother Dan, my brother-in-law Kelly, and I to try our hand at this savage bowl.

Sunrise found us sitting on top of the cliffs looking down into The Lair. I had no interest in going down there. With the early morning thermals pulling the wind down the drainage I did not think we could get low enough, fast enough, to hunt effectively. And by the time we got there, I argued, everything would be bedding down for the afternoon. 

Honestly though, envisioning the hike out of this place might have influenced my thinking a little bit. Those thoughts never enter Danny's mind...

No sooner did I get done explaining why we shouldn't go down there when a bugle shattered the air. I knew what that bugle meant. It was the kind of bugle you hear in late September, not late August. That kind of bugle meant we were going into The Lair. We looked in one of the meadows and saw the bull. And a bull he was. There was no talking Danny out of it now. He had already started walking before I could even say anything. 

Into The Lair we went.

If only we had a better camera, the unique main beam really dropped off at the end

Step after step we crawled down. I've never seen so much bear sign! It was around every tree. The whole woods reeked of elk, and game trails zigzagged everywhere, with fresh tracks on all of them. We even found Del's tracks from the day before with elk tracks over the top of them.

Velvet from a bull's antlers he shed while preparing for the upcoming rut

We finally found ourselves in the meadow where we saw the giant bull. I thought the whole plan was stupid at first. But Danny masterfully led us into the depths of The Lair, using a small hill on the SW side to keep our wind as far from the elk as possible. We tried to make the best of what we had and did a little blind calling. After 15 minutes the three of us re-convened to talk about our next step. I closed my eyes for a little bit. Danny gave a bugle and then whacked me on the arm. "Did you hear that?" He asked. I was sleeping, I didn't hear a thing. So I grabbed my cow call and gave a mew. Within a second I got a mew back. Back and forth I mewed with a cow, and she was coming!

We all took our positions, Kelly went off to the right and disappeared in the trees. Danny and I stayed together and set up on the edge of a boggy meadow. Soon I saw the cow, well, it turned out to be a calf, standing on the opposite side of a small bog. One more mew and here she came! I have an extra cow tag, and would love nothing more than to use it on a tender, good eating calf. 

Danny giggled in my ear like a little kid, he sees what is about to unfold. I am going to have a perfect five yard shot at this calf. The wind is perfect and she has to walk behind some brush before she steps in to my shooting lane. Danny knows just as well as I do that this is as sure of a thing as there is in hunting.

My hiding spot at the edge of the bog the calf was crossing 

I'm playing the scenario out in my head. I already know when I am going to draw my bow. I am consciously reminding myself to pick a good spot. My hands and feet are perfectly in place. I've got complete control of my nerves, and I'm already thinking about how cool it will be to do this with my brother one step behind me.

The calf was walking along the edge of the bog, just 10 yards away now. I am starting to put tension on my bow string when I hear a soft thump, followed by a loud whack. The calf bolted into the willow bushes! It startled the heck out of me and took me half a second to figure out what the heck happened. 

Kelly! That shot stealing son of a gun! I forgot all about him! I didn't have any idea he was even that close to me. He didn't know where I was, and in our group, if you get a good shot, you take it!

Kelly used a Basset recurve, Carbon Express Heritage arrows, and 175grain  VPA Terminator broadheads. He achieved a complete passthrough with roughly 600grain arrows.

Our first trip in The Lair produced meat. Crawling out of there with the calf on our backs was really not much of an option. We could access The Lair from another trailhead and not have to deal with the cliffs, so we left the calf overnight and planned on fetching the meat the following day.

The Lair is a place of its own. Almost magical to the four of us who have hunted it. There is an old woman who used to outfit this area and we found the trail she cut into The Lair many, many years ago. I would be surprised if many people have visited this place since she quit guiding. Nobody in their right mind would!

We found this bear den in the middle of one of the cliffs

On the way in to recover the meat, which I did not help with, Danny, Del, and Kelly had a run-in with a stud of a bull, who is still alive. But that's another story for another day. 

Keep checking back. Hopefully I will have a lot more good pictures and stories of the 2012 season!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Coyote Gulch

My grandfather on my Mom's side is quite the outdoorsmen. Like Barbara Mandrell's song "I Was Country (When Country Wasn't Cool)", Pop was outdoors when outdoors wasn't cool. 

As a little kid he always talked about his favorite place on earth, Coyote Gulch. He told us wild stories of all the elk and deer he saw up there. "You guys gotta hunt Coyote Gulch." He would say. "Just be sure to put your boots inside your tent at night, or else you'll have deer carrying them away to lick salt off the leather."

"Yeah, okay Pop. We'll be sure to do that." We thought. I mean, come on...he has to be exaggerating, right?

He showed us on maps where this special place was, but we were always too busy checking in on old haunts or exploring other parts of the state. Pop is getting on in years now, and it has been a long time since he has visited Coyote Gulch. What are the chances that it is still as pristine and chalked with game like it was in his youth?

Since Pop has gotten older he has started to tell us much more about his youth and his adventures. I have learned more about his life in the past five years than in the 25 before that. He brought up Coyote Gulch, again, and finally we started making plans to visit the place Pop calls heaven. 

Unfortunately I could not make the initial scouting trip to the paradise I've heard about my whole life. My wife just gave birth to our second son, so my time needs to be devoted elsewhere for a while. However, Danny brought his girlfriend, Ashley, to see if Coyote Gulch was all that Pop cracked it up to be.

In a few was. They did not have any deer licking their boots at night, but deer they saw!

It is a small area, not the kind of place that would tolerate much, if any, hunting pressure. Based on what Danny saw we highly doubt that this place gets any hunting pressure. The effort that it took to get here might be a big part of the reason.

Danny and Ashley hauled in a spotting scope to check this place out without having to dive down in. From their tent they glassed across the bowl and spotted some deer.

One of the most exciting things they saw was the wide range of age class of deer. Everything from tiny forkhorns to a couple of absolute brutes. This looks like the kind of place that will produce a monster for many years to come.

They spotted over a dozen bucks this size.
Danny saw a deer that made his jaw hit the dirt. He was feeding out in the open, so Danny was in no rush to get a picture. The monster fed in to some stunted pines and never came back out. So he got no pictures of The King of Coyote Gulch.

He did get some pictures of one of the other beauties though. This great buck has a big 3 on one side, and a big 4 on the other, with some weird stuff happening on the left side.

He's got some palmation and some stickers coming off of his left side. Though it is quite hard to make out, considering these pictures are taken with a cell phone and the deer is nearly a mile away.
 Pop wasn't lying! Coyote Gulch is a paradise. Nobody I know holds a deer tag in this unit, this year.

But I know exactly where my Dad, brother, and I will be perched opening morning, 2013. 

How to make a leather hip quiver

Danny recently built a leather hip quiver for a good friend of ours. We took pictures of the process to show how easy it can be done.

Check it out HERE!