The alarm went off at 4am, and I was already awake. It’s the first morning of elk hunting season this year. I put the coffee on, and I was dressed and loading the truck by the time it was done.
I always look forward to the elk season even though there are very few elk here in the area I hunt. The elk were run off to the north by fire years ago, and found refuge and good pastures on the private lands there. I guess they just never came back.
I hunt the area of national forest along it’s border with the private ranches, not because the elk moved over there, but because that is where the water is, and it can reach 90+ degrees during the elk season here in Oregon.
So off I go an hour and a half before sunrise. I want to be in the area when the time is right and that means leaving early. I arrive at the canyon I scouted about 6:30am and it is light enough to take a shot, but the sun has yet to rise above the canyon walls. Perfect!
I make my way slowly along an old drag road made by loggers years before and long since overgrown. Walking quietly, taking a step or two, looking around then a few more steps. I often spot animals laying under trees, or in the grass this way and prefer this method of hunting.
After approx. a quarter mile I find a recent scrape at the base of a fallen tree. I can smell the musk so I set up a hide just up the hill from this scrape. I am 25 yards from the scrape and slightly uphill with a good view of the trail in both directions.
I wait a few minutes to let the forest quiet down from my movements, Then in the distance a familiar sound. An elk is bugling. I have never heard an elk sound like this before, and I have been around many elk during my time with the Washington State dept. of Game.
I assumed it was a squirrel, or another hunter. But then it let out a proper bugle and I knew it was an elk. Not a large herd bull, but a smaller subordinate bull. Like a spike. The tag I have with me is for a spike or antlerless so this is perfect.
I respond with a subdued cow call and immediately get a response from the bull. After a few moments I repeat the call and I can hear the bull moving around just out of sight and out of range.
This goes on for another half an hour with me calling and him responding but not coming any closer. Frustrated, I decide to try a full on challenge bugle. This will either draw him in to fight or send him running. Well something has to happen, I can’t just continue this all day so here goes.
I let out a mighty bugle and wait to see what will happen. Then I hear the bull. He is farther away this time, DAMN!
I try a few desperate cow calls, but no luck I have spooked him away.
I break cover to see if perhaps I can close the gap with him and reengage, or maybe get within range of a cow that might be around.
I stalk further up the canyon, pausing now and then to look and listen. I find some bear scat that is probably only a day old or so, lots more elk scat and a few beds, but no animals.
I am working my way back down the canyon toward my truck now checking beds and signs trying to decide if this elk being here is just a fluke or if there are indeed elk in the area. Like I said before elk here a very scarce.
Then I hear a sound that freezes me in my tracks. A bull, not a spike but a “Holy crap that’s a big SOB” bull. The bugle cuts right through me and grabs my by the spine. WOW, that made the whole trip worth while.
I know this is the herd bull I am hearing now and this time of year (early Sept.) he should be surrounded by cows. They are bedded on top of the south hill of the canyon I am in. Now I have a choice. It is later in the morning now and the sun is fully up and making it warm. I could climb the hill and after catching my breath (which could take a while) I could try to creep up on them in their beds without being spotted. The odds of this happening are extremely low. Or I could quietly leave the area and come back later when conditions are more in my favor.
Option two is the obvious winner, so I start my quiet walk out still looking for deer or perhaps a stray cow elk.
I make my way along much as I did coming into the canyon, stopping frequently to look under the trees and along the grassy hillside for anything out of place. I see what looks like a grouse on a rock about 30 yards from me so I stop to check it out. After a few minutes I determine it is just an end of a log propped up on the rock from the back side. I take two more steps and a grouse takes flight from a bush along the creek approx 10 feet to my right. Once my heart starts beating again, I resume making my way out.
I see a couple elk beds on the way out but no more animals. Back at the truck now and I put away my stuff and prepare to drive home. I did not bag an animal today, but I think the trip was a success none the less. I had some excitement. I heard several elk at fairly close range. I almost stepped on a ruffled grouse and didn’t have to change clothes. Yep, all in all a pretty good morning.
Sometimes the elk win, and that’s okay.