Snowshoe rabbit season

High Rock

Okay, technically rabbits have no season in oregon but I like to wait until the showshoes start to turn white before I start hunting them.

So today I decided to check and see if they had begun to turn, unfortunately for them, they have.

Snowshoe rabbits, or technically hares are classified as unprotected mammals in oregon and are therefore huntable all year around and with any weapon, so they are perfect airgun quarry. I like them best during cold weather when they change their color from gray to white.

The change in color is triggered by the amount of light they are exposed to rather than the color of the environment they live in, so this time of year (just before the snow falls) you get a few of what I call earlybirds. Some of the rabbits go white before the snow, which makes them much easier to see.

Cedars

Today I was hunting cedar thickets near Mt. Hood in the national forest. Snowshoe hares live at altitudes higher than 4000 ft. Although I have seen them lower in places, generally they are up pretty high in the mountains.

My stratagy for today was to find a likely looking patch and scout for signs of rabbit activity, then if I think they are there, wait for them to come out just before dark.

Well I waited as long as I could, then started stalking around the edges of the thicket. I never could sit still for very long. So after spooking 3 hares without getting a shot (they were still gray and very hard to see in the shadows), I came across a white one sitting under some brush 20yrds away. I had to aim a little low as my Hatsan AT44S long is sighted in a 50yrds, but I squeezed the trigger and Mr. bunny is in the bag.

I continued this tactic until dark then headed back to the truck. I spooked two more gray rabbits with the same results as earlier, and near the truck another white one, but this one was headed for Canada, he took off and never stopped. Smart bunny!

Well at least I got one for the pot, and I know where to look for more once the weather turns. I can’t wait to hunt them in the snow. Then it will be more tracking and spotting as they are nearly impossible to see in the snow.

 

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Badgers near Burns

Well again archery season is nearly here and I have not practiced nearly as much as I should have. I have gone out a few times to check the sights, and the flight of the new arrows I bought for this year, but as always work has kept me from really doing it up right.

I did get a chance Sunday to go scout an area which is new to me. It was recomended by a customer who like me is an avid airgunner, and has, over the last year or so become a friend as well. He told me the area was home to a good sized heard of elk, and also had a good population of badgers. Well I had to check that out didn’t I?

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I got a late start as usual and drove halfway across oregon to get there, but by noon I was in the area recomended, the edge of the ochoco’s between Paulina and Burns. I had no idea where to go so I just sort of wandered about on the logging roads there.

I saw quite a few deer for that time of day, but the area was much dryer than I had hoped, and there was thick smoke in the air. I hope the fire is not too close as I would like to explore more of this area and perhaps hunt here.

As for the badgers, my friend was not lying. I saw several of them and as they are considered vermin here in oregon, I shot a couple for their hides.  The hides are not worth much this time of year, but come winter when the fur is thicker they bring about $20.00 each. Still I was very please to have found such a populated spot, badgers are usually sparsely populated and spread over a very large area. Here however, there are badger holes every few hundred yards, and I’ll bet things really get rolling after dark as badgers are nocturnal.

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I also spotted a cougar coming up from a small creek near Allison station, It was not a huge cougar, but a cougar none the less. I grabbed my rifle as I have a valid cougar tag and went after it to try and get a good shot. I went to where it entered the timber, but did not follow it in there. Instead I scanned the area using my scope and checked for it looking at me from some hide just inside the timberline. It may have kept going, but I doubt it. I was probably lurking just inside the cover of trees watching me. That’s the feeling I got anyway. So after scanning the hillside I went back to my truck.

As I was putting my rifle in the truck I saw movement a few yards away and guess what, another badger. This one was smaller than the last one, but really nice looking. Very clean and healthy considering the unrelenting heat we have had lately. Anyway, like I said. Jason wasn’t lying when he said there were a lot of badgers here.

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He also said there were a lot of elk, but on this trip I did not see any. All in all some beautiful and very dry county here. There is water in the form of three creeks that I found and I am sure a few springs which I did not find, and there is a good sized lake with a campground nearby.

I will definately be back much earlier in the morning next time, and hopefully I will see some of the elk that are surely there. And I will be back when the weather gets cold enough the make the badger pelts thick.

 

Mouflon at Crooked River

Well it started off simple enough, a friend and I were headed to Crooked River to hunt for the feral sheep that have been living there for the last 20 years or so. We met up at my shop in Madras, OR. and loaded up our gear.

I was hesitant to take my Hatsan .25cal AT44S-10 but there are a lot of cottontail rabbits where we were headed and with a larger caliber air rifle, well I was afraid there would be nothing usable left after the shot, So the Hatsan was chosen. I have taken lots of game with the .25 in the past, but I was worried that it would not get through the skull of a sheep for a clean kill.

Sheep are notorious for having a thick skull. I mean look at the way they fight with each other, ramming heads, and they do that all the time. Over a lifetime that had to build some pretty thick bones and my fear was that I wouldn’t have enough energy to penetrate it with a .25.

Well over the next two days I would have a chance to find out.

We headed down Highway 97 to Terrebonne, OR. then out to Crooked River Ranch, then onto the BLM property just west of the settlement there.

This area is beautiful. With a Golf Course, General Store, Scenic overlooks gazing into the Crooked River Gorge, and abundant wildlife (mule deer run through the residential properties here like squirrels at a nut farm).

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On the far western edge of all this is a narrow strip of BLM controlled land used primarily for day hiking and bicycling.

We arrive shortly after daybreak and set about getting ourselves in order, then head out down the trail to find our quarry.

After about a mile of hiking the canyon rim, we stop to check the gorge. looking over the edge can be a sketchy prospect in itself, there are no guard rails here and the rocks can be loose at times and this time of year everything is muddy, so if you loose your footing you can fall to you death quite easily.

That said, the gorge is absolutely beautiful with the river running strong at the bottom approx. 600 feet below.

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As we stand there looking off into the gorge checking for sheep along the walls, movement catches my eye. On my left and only 30yrds away lay our quarry, three mouflon.

The largest of the three is standing watching us, and the other two are laying in the sage.

I motion to Jason to take a shot, but my movement set them in motion. We both try to get in a hasty shot, but shooting through the sage at a moving target it would be a miracle if we put down a sheep, and sure enough we watch them run along the canyon rim unharmed from our attempt.

After reassembling our composure we set about tracking them down with the hopes that we can re-engage, and this time with more deliberation and less surprise. We find them again a few hundred yards up the trail, just over the edge of the canyon. This time we are not surprised. I take my time and check the range finder, 33yrds an easy shot.

The sheep are standing on a large rock in a kind of “bowling pin formation”
so I sight in on the front one, a nice sized ram with a 3/4 curl. I steady the shot, squeeze the trigger while aiming right between the lookers, and….

I had my answer. The pellet (JSB exact king) bounced off without any damage at all. DAMN!!!!!

Jason lines up with his Evanix Tactical Sniper .357 and shoots with the same results. I am surprised by this as I have seen many videos of Ian Harford (Team wild) shooting Mouflon and Corsican rams with a .357 of the same power as the Evanix, but at any rate we were underpowered for this game, at least for a head shot.

We followed the sheep for another hour or so before the got down in the gorge too far for us to safely pursue them, we would have to concede the day to the sheep and try again the next day.

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As we made our way back to the truck we discuss the events of the day. We decided we were simply out gunned and we would have to step up our game if we were to be successful here. The mile long walk of shame went quietly after that and we made our way home for the night.

The next morning I had an appointment so I was not able to join Jason until after noon. Jason had already relocated the sheep not far from where we left them the night before, and had found a way to get down into the gorge without dying (hopefully).

This time I brought my Sam Yang 909 .45cal rifle. I know this one will put the sheep down without any trouble. Jason brought his compound bow, so we had confidence the sheep would be coming home with us if we got another chance like the day before.

We made our way down the canyon to where the sheep had spent the night, approx. 1 1/2 miles from the truck.

We could see them down at the bottom by the river, but it had rained that morning and the skies were still threateningly gray. The ground was soft with the fresh rain and the rocks were very slick. I surveyed the trail Jason had found and decided this was more than I was willing to do for a sheep.

Jason however, is younger and stronger than me, and despite my advice to wait for a better / safer day, he was going after them.

The plan was for him to make his way down the muddy 60deg. rocky slope to the river, and for me to keep him in sight so if he did loose his footing I could call 911. This is NOT a great plan!

Well after much nail-biting on my part Jason was safely down by the river and looking for sheep. I was stationed on the canyon rim with a view of the area, though not the sheep. I could see the only two ways out of there so if the sheep made a break for it, I would be waiting on top.

After losing sight of Jason below the riverside cliffs, I settled in for the wait. I am not good at waiting, but I also never leave a friend behind, so I settled in next to a sage bush and waited.

After what seemed a very long time two of the sheep emerged from the unseen land by the river. They made their way to a shelf directly below me and proceeded to feed for the next hour and a half.

As there were originally three of them down there, I was hoping that Jason had the remaining sheep with him, and that I would be seeing them both soon.

I ranged the two sheep below me at 88yrds and calculated the holdover given the steep angle of the shot, but decided to wait and see what happened when Jason returned.

The sheep were on the trail Jason had used to get down to the river and as far as I could see there was no other way for him to return. So when he comes up the trail he should push the sheep up the hill before him in which case I would have a 20yrd shot at them when they reached the top, and I would not have to drag them up that hill. This seemed like the best plan, so I waited where I was and did not take the shot.

The sheep stayed where they were until sunset. We were losing the light fast and I figured in 15 more minutes I would not be able to see at all without a flashlight. I still had not seen Jason, although the sudden movement of the sheep did give me hope he would make it out soon.

The sheep were moving the wrong way, and not coming up the hill, so I get up and moved to the other side of a large rock formation to see if Jason had found another trail up from the river, and much to my relief he had. I could see him making his way up through the rocks inching along with a dead ram. By the time he reached the top we needed a flashlight to see. Talk about cutting it close! Jason didn’t even have a light with him, had he been any later he would have spent the night in the gorge, and me on the edge.

As it went it was well after dark when we made it out with the sheep, but Jason had his reward for all his hard work, and I had my friend back from the gorge safe and happy. What a great hunt we had. It was Jason that brought up how fortunate we are to live in Oregon, and to have opportunities to experience hunting like this.

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In most places hunter would either pay tons to hunt like this, or not be able to do it at all.

 

Scouting Forest Hogs in Winter

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I have been hearing a lot of reports of the wild hogs moving into different areas around Madras, now that the weather is getting colder. I did some research and it seems that the hogs move into the forested areas in winter to get shelter in the trees.

So I went to those areas on the edge of the forest to check it out. The areas where the reports came from were along the edge of the National Forest near Prineville Oregon. This is a beautiful area with many creeks and habitat ranging from sage to pines and firs.

The day I went was the morning after a snowfall so I could look for tracks crossing the road. I was hoping in this way to identify the areas the hogs were using before setting out on foot. This is a fairly large area and would take months to cover on foot, so I worked my way along the boundary between private and public land. Moving from water to water checking for activity along the creeks and in the draws, and for tracks crossing or running the roads.

Much to my dismay most of the tracks I found were from hunters using hounds. Running them down the roads to pick up the scent of whatever they were hunting. There are very few things that can be legally hunted with hounds in Oregon, so I will not speculate here on what they were after. With the hounds running the roadways along the boundary at night. (fresh tracks in the snow that fell the night before) I was not expecting to see much.

I moved further toward the area of another sighting, but the access to that area is closed in winter as the roads are too bad, and the animals winter there and need a safe place. I will have to pick up the chase another day.

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What I did find was a lot of beautiful snowy country and a few Elk, Deer, Grouse and Rabbit. I know from reports that the hogs are in this area. ODFW has listed this as an area they are known to inhabit as well, so I will not give up. I think hunting hogs in a forested area would be quite an experience, and one that is definitely on my list.

Finding the Right Pellets

During a recent correspondence I was challenged by Stephen Archer (Archer Airguns), to alter my writing style and incorporate a more “How to” approach in order to help my readers to become better, more efficient hunters.

I was contemplating doing this, well more to the point “How to” do this when I realized that I do this myself all the time. I am always looking for that one thing that will help me be a better hunter. Whether it is a trip to the range to practice, or trying different pellets to see what groups better, or sitting at my computer looking for tips and tricks on stalking, or building a better blind.

You see everyone who gets an air rifle wants to get right out there and start enjoying the sport, but in the case of a hunter there is more to it then just running around shooting everything that moves. A hunter should first be able to hit what he/she is aiming at with some degree of accuracy so there is not a trail of wounded animals left behind in the woods. Training is an essential part of hunting. I am not talking a lifestyle change here so relax. Training for the hunt can be some target practice on a backyard range, or in a basement. Target practice anywhere you can safely do it, but practice you must and often.

Each rifle is different, and although they all claim accuracy once “sighted in” it is not the rifle you rely on to put food on the table, or rid the barnyard of pests, it is you.

Try different pellets in your rifle to see what gives you the best grouping. Remember that getting the highest velocity “FPS” is not always the best thing to do.

I could explain the properties of the diablo pellet shape here, but I will do that in another article. For now I will say that faster is not always better. Consistency, accuracy and terminal energy are all far more important to the hunter.

I had been researching the Ballistics “Flight” properties of sabot rounds typically used in muzzleloaders and considering trying some in my Sam Yang 909 .45 caliber air rifle.

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I am always looking for something that will give me an edge when hunting, better flight characteristics or greater damage on impact. Try different pellets until you find what works best and will make your hunting more efficient and humane.

So after some research I purchased some 195gr. Barnes ExpanderMZ bullets. These are 100% copper hollow point bullets .40 caliber in a .45 caliber plastic sabot.

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While I don’t expect to pick up any FPS by shooting these, I was interested in the claim of better penetration and rapid expansion on impact.

Now I do realize that .45 is a very large caliber for an air rifle, and that it already has more than enough power to take down the animals I typically hunt with it, but even the most practiced hand can slip once in a while. I do spend a lot of time shooting both at the range and afield, but in the excitement of the hunt, shooting from all kinds of contortionist positions a less then perfect shot now and then is inevitable.

Looking for better bullets can help ensure that if a less then perfect shot does happen, the animals suffering will be avoided, or at least lessened. A hunter should always try to take game in the most humane way possible.

I normally use this air rifle for wild hogs and mouflon sheep, and occasionally for coyotes. Medium sized game on open ground 50yrds to 100yrds, I don’t shoot more than 100yrds when hunting, at that range there is too much opportunity for things to go wrong and I would rather let the animal go until next time then have it out there suffering because I made a bad decision. An improvement in penetration, or terminal damage could really help, especially at longer ranges.

So off I go to the local range to do some impact testing. As I said with the weight of these bullets (195gr.) I am not looking for more speed, I will be looking at accuracy and the amount of damage they do to the target.

I set out a standard 2×6 behind which I place a concrete block. I expect the bullet will have no trouble at all getting through the wood, but I would like to see what kind of damage we get to the block behind it. I am shooting at 50yrds, so my ballistics calculator tells me I should get approx. 206 ft/lbs given a speed of approx. 730fps.

First up, the Barnes ExpanderMZ bullets. Each of the three shots completely penetrated the wood 2×6 (no surprise there), but they only penetrated the concrete block about ¼”.

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Next up Precision Rifle’s QT pure lead with ballistic tip sabot in .45 caliber, 180 grains.

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Again no surprise that they went right through the wood, however these seemed to do considerable damage to the wood as they passed through, where the Barnes bullets did not. As with the Barnes bullets the penetration into the concrete was limited to ¼” to 3/8” at approximately 190 ft/lbs of energy.

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Lastly the ammo I had been using thus far. The Hornady .454 round ball. I had been using this ammo, because in my initial testing I found that it grouped much tighter than any of the other pellets I tried and at approx 122gr weight, I picked up a few fps and a flatter trajectory in the process, but back to my testing.

First shot with the round ball went completely through the wood and dented the block like the others. Second shot split the wood and broke the block. Third shot (block only as second shot destroyed wood) Block destroyed.

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So my findings are that although the sabot rounds look awesome, and may indeed work awesome in an inline muzzleloader, they are underwhelming when used in a Sam Yang 909 rifle.

I find it ironic that what seems to work best in this rifle is also the least expensive to buy.

Again, keep trying different pellets / techniques to become a better more efficient hunter. Learn to shoot well, learn to estimate distance, shoot from all positions, practice stalking techniques and tracking skills. Learn the habits and needs of your quarry. These are all things that make up a good hunter. We owe it to our prey to learn all we can about them and make the most humane choices when it comes to hunting.

Feeling Squirrely

Okay, a day off at last. Deer in the freezer already so what’s next?? Well it is squirrel season in Oregon now so off I go to try my luck.
You didn’t think I would waste a day off indoors did you? Bad weather is coming soon enough. So I grab a rifle or two out of the collection, find my camo clothes and load up.

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I am not really all that familiar with the area I am off to today, so I am exploring as much as anything. As usual I bring more gear than I could possibly use, and load the truck down with snacks, drinks and warm clothes enough for several people, An air rifle of appropriate power, a backup air rifle and all the associated support gear. Then after all that I am off.

Oregon is pretty restrictive when it comes to squirrel hunting on the east side of the mountains, so there are only a couple of areas that are even open to the taking of squirrels. Now I’m not talking ground squirrels which are open year round with no restrictions, I am talking big beautiful western grey squirrels. I have seen these things as big as a cat and covered in thick light grey fur with a white belly. Yep, that’s what a squirrel is supposed to look like.

Now most of what I hunt lives on the ground. Rabbits, ground squirrels, sage rats, marmots, so walking around looking up in the trees is a new thing for me. Add that to the fact that I am hunting an entirely new area and I probably looked pretty comical wandering around aimlessly in camo, spinning in circles as I went.

So after driving around way too much and doing all the wrong things, I finally found some cuttings on a log and just parked the car, walked out a ways, and sat down for a while. Well what do you know after a short time something started moving in the trees. I saw several Douglas fir squirrels, and a couple chipmunks and lots of birds (mostly robins and woodpeckers) but no greys. At least I have a strategy now.

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The next spot I try pretty much the same way. A stand of pines with pinecones littered about on the ground. Find a spot to wait comfortably and 10 mins later, action.  First another dark brown Douglas squirrel, then there it was the holy grail (at least for this trip) a grey. 25yrds away and moving through the trees like a ninja. Man who knew they could move like that? I was up in a flash and in pursuit. I follow him from tree to tree trying to line up a good shot, only to have him move just as I start to squeeze the trigger. This goes on for about a hundred yards before I can line up a good kill shot with the Benjamin Discovery air rifle .22, but then it happens he stops on a branch about 20yrds away and just sits there looking at me.

That’s one in the bag and two to go. The limit for grey squirrels is 3 per day / 6 in possession on the east side of the state.

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I continue to stalk through the woods, stopping every now and then to let the woods settle, then moving off to the next likely looking spot. I see several more squirrels, but none of the big grey ones I am after.

I do come across a covey of ruffed grouse along a small trickle of a creek. There are 8 or 10 of them, it’s hard to tell for sure due to the low thick brush along the creek, but they are moving around all over the place. I can see 4 of them in one group near a large rock, and two more along the water.
One is standing on a stump bobbing up and down, while another is holding perfectly still in the middle of what was once a loggers drag trail.

I line up a shot at the one on the trail and squeeze the trigger sending the pellet cleanly over his head and prompting him to move into the bushes to his left before I can get the Discovery reloaded. I line up on one of the 4 by the rock and,,,,, damn!!! another miss. Reload, check, they are still there. I guess they were just closer than I thought. I kneel down and aim again, then they move out of sight just as I am starting to squeeze the trigger.

I remember shooting grouse to be much easier than this in the past…

I survey the area and find the one on the stump is still there, still bobbing up and down. Okay, last chance, I aim nice and low on the neck hoping this will give me some vertical grace. It is hard to time the shot right with all that bobbing. Just my luck I get a grouse with ADHD who can’t sit still even for a moment. squeeze the trigger and,,,, Grouse for dinner, yeah!!!

I field dress the grouse and bag it up, then back to hunting greys. I move along the little creek and find some cuttings on a stump here and there, but no greys. Making my way back to the truck I spot several more chipmunks, and even a douglas fir squirrel or two but the big ones are proving hard to find here.

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Back at the truck now and putting away the gear, taking care of my catch and getting loaded up for the drive home.

I did manage to find and bag one western grey squirrel and a small ruffed grouse, and I got to explore some new territory. I will definitely be back here soon to continue the chase, and continue my exploration of the area, but for now it is time to head home and make dinner.

Next time I am feeling squirrely I will know where to go….

Not this time…

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.

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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.

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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.