Wednesday, September 11, 2013

2013 Elk Update

Danny and I spent the first 9 days of the elk season in the woods. We are headed to Ontario for a moose hunt in the morning. With only a limited amount of elk hunting time we were not going to be picky about what we shot. 

The year 2013 will go down as one of the best opening weeks I have ever experienced in terms of elk rutting behavior. The bulls were going absolutely hog wild. My brother, Dan, was within twenty yards of over 20 elk on many separate occasions, including several big bulls, and two jaw droppers. The fact that he never got a shot off on a big bull was pure bad luck. The dense hill sides made getting close easy, but getting a shot was a whole other challenge of it's own.

We packed in on horses for the first four days of the season. 

Danny's horse, Snappy. This was our first hunt with Snappy and she was fantastic.

We got to our camp on Friday afternoon. The day before opening morning. We had all day to set up camp in a drizzling rain. With all the anticipation of the next day it was hard falling asleep that night.

In years past my brother has had great luck blind calling at the meadow in the picture below. In fact, he has called elk to within shooting distance every time he has ever set up on this meadow. This year would be no different.

Five of us shared camp. On the opener, the five of us made our way to Bonetree, the name our hunting partner, Dale, gave this meadow. We planned on calling at Bonetree, and then splitting up to hunt different parts of the mountain. Danny and I dropped behind the pack to do some calling while the three others sneaked their way into shooting positions.

Danny and I are dangerous together. I usually let him take the lead on our calling sequences while I play the support role. He dictates the pace and the tone, and I follow suit with soft elk sounds, not always including vocalizations, but often times snapping small branches or making other noise consistent with a group of elk. As it turns out, we didn't have to pull out any of our tricks on this set-up.

Our calls were the first sounds of an otherwise still and silent morning. Within a minute of the first cow call I heard the unmistakable sound of a bull elk, though I don't know how to describe the sound I heard. It was half way between a grunt and a glunk. "Game on!" I thought.

I heard Danny changing his position to get the bull in-line with our "shooters" and himself. I swung around to make sure the bull didn't try to slip up on the downwind side of the shooters. I positioned myself 75 yards directly downwind from the others, if the bull decided to check our wind I would be waiting. No sooner did I sit down than a cow popped out of the meadow, just 20 yards away. I lifted my bow with the intention of shooting her. Just before I got to full draw I saw the bull sprinting across the meadow, half glunking, half wheezing, half grunting, and kinda almost bugling the entire time. The big bull was headed directly towards the others, so I decided to let this cow live. From what I could tell it was a great bull, and I didn't want to spoil their chances at him on a measly cow.

The bull charged right in. In order to protect the innocent I won't name names. The only thing I will say about this encounter is that somebody is short an arrow, and the bull is a little more educated. What a way to start the season! We figured the whole week was going to be great.

The guys laughing and talking about the cool experience.

Dad getting some much needed R&R.

Unfortunately that opening morning encounter was the best action we had during that first four days of the season. The amount of hunters on the mountain was a bit discouraging. We saw far more people than elk...with the hunting pressure too high, and the elk too few, we left.

Danny and I didn't leave the mountain for long though. As soon as we got the horses taken care of we headed straight to another trailhead. We planned on another four days of hunting. This time we left the horses in the corral and went in off our backs.

Here is my four days worth of gear. 

I am in a constant state of experimenting. I'll list my gear for any of those interested. I am not an ounce cutter, but I am conscious of weight. I'll start spending more money on lighter gear when my legs get older. For now...this was very easy for four days.

It has taken me my whole hunting life to build my gear to where it is now. I usually add one or two things a year. I am pretty happy with where I am now. I added the entire Big Agnes sleep system and tent this year, I was thoroughly impressed and very happy with it.

1. Wapiti Spike III longbow.
2. Carbon Express Maxima Red arrows, tipped with Tuffhead broadheads (a gift from a great friend).
3. Camelback hydration system, I feel that this is an absolute necessity 
5. Food - Mountain House, instant potatoes, various snacks, peanut butter and honey tortillas, etc.
6. KOM Omnilite pants. The pants I wear are discontinued, the newer model is very nice. Wool pants are the only thing I will ever wear in the elk woods. We were in rain every day, walking through tall wet grass every day, and putting on wet pants every morning. I used my KUIU pants last year and absolutely froze, I felt wet and I was very cold. This year the temps were colder, and the brush was wetter, but I was warm, and I felt perfectly comfortable. Sure, I got a little hot a few times, but that is a trade off I will always take.
7. Swarovski 10X30 CL binos, Lockdown bino straps.
8. Brunton Raptor Stove (discontinued model)
9. Katadyn Hiker water filter
10. Garmin Rino 530 GPS (discontinuted)
12. Big Agnes Farwell sleeping bag, with Q-Core SL pad
13. Upper layers, 2 Predator shirts as base layer, 1 Fleece mid layer. Lower layer- Filson wool longjohns.
14. KUIU Guide Jacket - Personally I don't have too much of a problem keeping my upper body dry. I do carry a poncho if it starts to downpour, but for most rains I just hunker under a tree until it passes. Later in the season I would trade this jacket out for my wool.

Back to the hunting...

Danny and I started the 1.5 hr hike to camp just before dark. We wanted to make it to the base of Horsejaw, the name we gave a little drainage that leads up and over into The Lair. I wrote a story about The Lair last year, and I'll have another one this year from Del. We didn't quite make it to Horsejaw because the rain started to really come down on us. We threw up a quick camp site and got ready for the morning.

We planned on hunting up Horsejaw and then dropping over into The Lair. Much to our delight, a bugling bull interrupted our plans. Danny snuck his way to within 30 yards of that bull but never got a shot. The elk never spooked and we left them undisturbed as the day got warmer. We then positioned ourselves on top of The Lair for the evening hunt.

Around 5pm we threw out a few cow calls to see if we could drum up a bugle. Instead we drummed up another cow call. Just like last year in The Lair, a calf came in to our calls. The little cow seemed to just appear out of the forest. She stopped behind a tiny opening about 20 yards from me, I was already waiting at full draw when she got there. 

The view of my shot, she was standing in the dead center of the frame.
Thirty yards from the shot.

I used my Chastain Wapiti Spike III longbow, 58@28, 60". Carbon Express Maxima Red arrows, 300gr Tuffhead broadheads. Total arrow weight was around 570gr. My arrow shot completely through her and buried in a log 25 yards behind where she was standing. She fell in sight.

We met up with my brother-in-law, Kelly, that night. We had no idea where he was but we made contact with our Garmin GPS/radios. He had been into a few good bulls and had a few near shot encounters on his own. Danny's girlfriend, Ashley, also met Danny at the trailhead and joined us at camp. 

Danny and Kelly working towards some bugling bulls.

Kelly loves his baths in the woods. I'm not tough enough to jump in this freezing cold water.

The top of Horsejaw. The Lair is on the other side of those cliffs.
My BigAgnes Scout UL2 Tent. Condensation was a non-issue. Weighing in under 2lbs, I had plenty of room for all of my gear and slept like a baby inside this tent. I was very, very pleased.

Kelly was rockin' the Big Agnes Fly Creek 2 Platnium tent. He loved it.

I will ALWAYS make time to pick a few raspberries when I come across them in the woods.

On Sunday, the last day of our hunt, we made our way back up Horsejaw. We had no problem finding bugling bulls every morning and evening. This morning would be no different. 

After killing my cow I assumed the position of a caller for Danny the rest of the hunt. I really wanted him to kill an elk before we left for Ontario. As we worked our way up Horsejaw we heard a bugle far up the drainage. We closed the distance in no time.

Danny and I have been in about every situation possible, and we both know our roles in any circumstance. When the big bull bugled close by Danny automatically started making his way towards the elk, having full confidence that I would stay back and keep them talking. 

Generally we would prefer that the elk not know we are there. Danny is a sneaky hunter, if he knows where the elk are he can get right on them. So I stayed back and threw a bugle at the bull every few minutes while Danny crept towards him in silence. 

The bull was bugling at me as soon as I got done calling, every time. About 15 minutes after we split up the bull stopped calling. I just held my position, not knowing where Danny was or what was going on. 

I heard Danny whistling for me so I snuck up to his position. He started telling a detailed story about how close he was to the herd bull, but no shots presented themselves. Knowing that this was his last chance to kill an elk this year, Danny decided to shoot the first elk that gave him a shot. That just so turned out to be a little calf. Danny lost the sight of his arrow in flight, and heard it bouncing off rocks. He was certain he missed until he heard a crash and a small groan. 

Danny reenacting the events of the shot.

Danny's arrow, as we found it.

After being within 20 yards of two massive bulls, within an arms reach of half a dozen, and shooting range of a lot more, this was the first time Danny got an arrow off of his bow. Them's the breaks when you're elk hunting.

Danny shot this elk with a compound bow, still unable to shoot his recurve because of an injured shoulder. He is hoping that sometime in the next year he'll be able to get back to his wood bows. The shot was about 17 yards, Carbon Express Maxima Red arrow, VPA Terminator broadhead. The elk did not run 20 yards before expiring.

I've got half a calf on my Horne Hunter Mainbeam, though I could hardly feel the weight (not that there was much weight to feel). I really like this pack.

I have a few other good elk stories, but we are leaving for Canada in the morning. I sure hope to have a good story or two about moose when we return. We have two bull tags and a calf tag in Ontario. Check back in a few weeks. Good luck to everybody still hunting this year!