Category Archives: Reader Trophy Tales

Dale’s ‘Bobber Bear’

By Dale Moffat

In more than a half-century of bear hunts, there are many special memories, highs and lows, and, unpredictable what-ifs; but one stands out.

For me this would be “Bobber Bear.”

Since my first bear hunt at the age of 17, the passion I have for bear is something I can’t even describe. From horses in the high country, spot and stalk in huckleberry fields, to the endless bear habitat of Alaska. No words can express my obsession. When I’m not hunting bears, I’m thinking about hunting bears.

Before we get to one of my favorite bear hunting adventures, let me fill you in on a few of the lessons I’ve learned over the years.

JUST A QUICK THOUGHT ABOUT GUNS AND caliber. Pick a rifle you are comfortable with and can shoot accurately. I have found while helping  youngsters and also guiding in Alaska, that bullet placement is much more important than caliber.

A few words about observation: Good optics are an absolute must. You need to be able to scan the countryside thoroughly many times over. Keep reminding yourself to be patient; the beasts are normally on the move, so you never know when one will show up. Maybe it will be just a black spot or a stump that seems to move. Or yep, it’s a bear.

Use your field glasses, because you don’t want to shoot a sow that has a cub. So take the time to observe the critter before squeezing the trigger.

Also, before shooting, especially in the spring, you’ll want to look over the bear for the quality of its hide. Look for bad rub marks; good binoculars will allow you to do this.

Judging the size of a true trophy can be very frustrating. Personally, I find determining the size of a bear is the hardest of all game to judge. I remember a guide telling me once, “a large bear standing on a hillside should look like a Volkswagen. A small head, little ears and very little daylight under his belly.”

SPRING IS ONE OF MY FAVORITE TIMES to hunt. Washington, Idaho and Montana are all very target-rich environments for black bear. Washington has a very good population of bear. Why Washington does not have an open spring season is the question, especially since we can’t hunt bear with dogs anymore. Spring bear hunting would be a great tool to keep bear in certain areas. Maybe someday we’ll convince the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife of that.

Longtime hunting partners, Jerry Taylor, Jerry Downing and myself, plan our hunt. In the spring, timing is a large part of things that need to come together to have a successful hunt. If we are too early, with no vegetation there are no bears. If too late, there’s too much foliage that comprises our ability to spot bear. Plus, the probability of finding rubbed hides is much greater. It is often to your advantage to make a scouting trip to check on the snow pack, etc. The spring dates will vary each year. The weather and snow pack will determine the start of growing grass, skunk cabbage and wild onions. Those are all part of a young bear’s diet. Frequently, lower elevations are earlier. As a general rule, follow the snow levels; as the snow melts, start moving up. Larger rivers first, around April, and then higher creeks and meadows. Old roads through clear cuts can also be a good bet. As for time of day, probably 70 percent of spring bear sightings will be the last two hours of daylight. You will see them earlier, but not consistently.

Ghosts of spring! Nature calls, and magically, bears start to silently appear. Over the years we have our favorite areas that we see game. Some areas look good, but with nothing to show for them. I think this has a lot to do with den areas. More often than not, the bear will den close to its food source, which is often the north slope. If the weather turns really nasty, the ghosts return to the same den until, once again, nature calls.

For many years I have made a practice of keeping a journal of both hunting and fishing trips. Where, when, weather, and details of what and who. I have been blessed to have many very good hunting partners. Unfortunately, some of the best are no longer with me. They were my teachers. The people I looked up to and still miss, for me, were the perfect role models.

Hunting partners Jerry Taylor, Jerry Downing and I have had many years of fantastic memories. On Labrador, I saw Jerry D. shoot a caribou at 600 yards. In Alaska, Jerry T. took a 10-foot brown bear. Both of them are seasoned, so on this hunt I’ll be in good company. Both are dedicated bear hunters. Jerry D. lives in north Idaho, and was our recon man. Anyway, enough about strategy, let’s get to my hunting story.

I get a call, and it looks like it will be another week or 10 days. The meadows are probably starting to green up, but there is still too much snow in the pass. I relay this to Jerry T., and we will need to make arrangements to get off work for a few days.

IN MID-MAY WE HEAD NORTH. We plan to park the camper in a small camp about a mile from the start of the chain of meadows. The meadows can’t really be seen from any road. It’s truly hit-and-miss this time of year as to the weather. As luck would have it, we head right into a heavy rainstorm. We plan to hunt that first evening. So we set up camp, collect firewood and make our plan for the evening.

As we head out, the rain is still coming down, and it’s miserable. I am taking my chest waders in my pack instead of hip waders, just in case the water’s too deep. The country is heavily timbered. Coming down out of the high country is a creek, but more like a small river this time of year. The steep hills determine the speed and course the gushing water will take.

As I start to break out of heavy timber, it’s time to put on my chest waders. Almost to the creek, I’m in swampy alders, making my way toward the creek and meadow. Over time, beavers probably created these intermittent meadows. This is prime habitat for spring bears.

We each plan to hunt a different spot, which ups our odds. Jerry D. will hunt the first one, Jerry T. in the middle in the spot he killed a 6-footer a couple years earlier.

I have hunted my spot before, but was never able to connect because the wind always had my number. A bear’s nose is his first line of defense.

In any type of hunting, the weather is a huge factor. Today’s wind seems to be consistently downstream, which is good. As I make my way through the alders, I’m able to watch most of the meadow. I find a very large tree that’s slightly elevated above the meadow that has been down for years. I tell myself that this will make the perfect bench rest. Ninety percent of the meadow is across the wildly-flowing stream. The open grassy area is about 200 hundred yards long and 150 yards wide.

As I sit in the nasty, cold rain, it’s getting close to prime time. Matching wits with animals on the ground is not for everyone. Anyhow, I started to get the twinge of anticipation. Usually, I’m right on, and there’s a certain smell in the air. Jerry T. calls it a vision. His visions are, more often than not, black clouds.

AFTER A LONG AND AGONIZING WAIT, the rain is finally letting up. I sense that something is starting to happen! I catch some motion across the creek and to my left. It’s a bear!

The big hairy creature is coming through the alders toward the meadow. It’s a massive dark chocolate-colored bear. My first though is this is a grizzly. With that color and its size, it has to be. As the big bruin moves through the alders, try as I may, I can’t get a good look at him. I peer him at first through my field glasses, then my 300 Winchester mag with a 4-to-12 Leupold scope. I’m not too excited because it’s a grizzly, right?

Now slowly feeding to my right, he is coming out into the open. Just then my blood pressure jumps. There’s no hump; it’s a giant (black bear). The enormous creature looks all around, with nose in air. The wind is still good. He’s 180 yards, almost totally broadside and slightly downstream to my left. The rain has stopped as I snuggle in close to my rifle.

I take a quick look back down the way he came, and good; there’s no company. My crosshairs lie solid in his shoulders. Talk about exciting. It’s time to seize the moment. I fire, and the loud boom echoes violently through the steep canyon, and the bear lies motionless. I quickly let off another round while I keep the crosshairs on him. I determine he’s dead. Wow, what a rush. After all these years I get still jacked in the moment.

With roughly 45 minutes of daylight left, there’s no time to waste. I need to get that hide back across the raging waterway tonight. And I have totally lost bears to other bears overnight. Believe it or not, I once had one totally disappear.

Before I leave behind my pack, rifle and both coats, I take one more good look through my binoculars. There’s no movement at all. I tote my knife, steel (sharpener) and small flashlight, pick a good spot to enter the icy waters of the creek, and start working my way across. It is so cold! I have only about 6 inches of freeboard above my chest waders. But so far, so good.

As I climb a small bank towards the bear, I see him lying on his right side with his back to me. I get fairly close when – holy crap- he’s motionless, but still breathing. Now what? As I say only a few R-rated words, I realize I should have brought my rifle. I’m not liking this one bit, and it’s rather scary. I look around for whatever is handy, a club, big stick, anything.

Finally, I pick up rock, and say to myself, “This is plain dumb.” Moving closer, I can see his eyes are wide open, and they seem to be following me. He doesn’t move a muscle, and must be paralyzed. I sure hope he is. I hit him with the rock, but not too hard fearing I’ll tick him off. Nothing happens, and he can’t move. With no time to ponder, I take out my knife, and put my left foot on his nose and head. Still nothing. So I grit my teeth and plunge my knife deep into his heart/lung area. I jump back, and there’s still no movement. Within a minute, two at most, the bear’s breathing stops. Time to roll him over and get to work.

WHAT A GORGEOUS BEAR. My plan is to skin the body as fast as I can. I have done this before. With not much daylight left, I hear someone call out. It’s Jerry T., standing on the opposite bank looking at me through his field glasses. It is a welcome sight. He yells across the water to ask if I need help. Then he says, “It looks like a good one.” I tell him the water would be over his hip waders, and besides, I’m almost done. I finish up and hold the light in my mouth.

I drape the huge bear over my shoulder, and wow, is he ever massive. His head is touching the ground, as are his hind feet on my backside. I’m about to outsmart myself. I head upstream from where I climbed out. This way I’ll be able to hit the same place I entered the biting cold, rip-roaring water. The hide is very heavy and I’m having a heck of a time.

As I slide into the water, my toes feel for the bottom. In an instant, I disappear and fall into an 8-foot-plus hole. The frigid water takes my breath away. I scramble frantically trying to get some air. My right hand has a death grip on the bear hide; I don’t want to lose my beautiful trophy. Good grief, my waders are now full of air, forcing my legs and feet to the surface. I am almost turned upside down. At this point I am moving very fast downstream. As my chest waders begin to get filled up with ice water, I manage to get some air and begin to get my feet on the bottom. I start to feel the creek bed, making it possible to slow my downstream speed. Finally, I can stand up upright.

With waders full and towing an even heavier bear hide, I make my way towards shore in slow motion. Hypothermia is now setting in. At this point, Jerry T. comes out to give me a hand. As Jerry pulls me up on the bank, he starts to chuckle. I stand there, shivering.

“I fail to see the humor in this.”

He chuckles again.

“When you were drifting, with your duck hunting hat still on and the only thing visible, you looked like a bobber going downstream,” he says.

Thus, the Bobber Bear.

AS I SHED WET CLOTHES, Jerry retrieves my pack, rifle and coats, I drain my waders, put on my dry coat and head for camp. Jerry takes my pack and the ponderous, soaking and wet bear hide. Meanwhile, I’m just struggling to get some warmth back in my shaking blue body.

Well over 6 feet and approaching 400 pounds, Bobber Bear is now mounted life-sized in my man cave. A lifetime of memories is contained in that room.

Now, past the age of 70, my mind says “Let’s go!” But my body reminds me I’m fast approaching that sell-by date. I plan to spend my remaining energy passing on what my mentors taught me. With all the outside influences, I find it very important to take a youngster hunting.

Finn’s First Deer, A Real Hunt

Editor’s note: Reader Frank Davido of The Dalles submitted this article.

by Frank Davido

Finn was just 9 years old last year when he came to deer camp for the first time with our group in Heppner, Ore. He is my brother’s son’s boy – my great nephew — and he truly is a “great” kid.

Finn’s interest in hunting came from reading some of the other stories that I have written. His mother, Jen, was raised in Las Vegas and had no experience with hunting and had somewhat of a negative view of hunters and hunting. She told me that Finn would like to hunt with me, and even though she wasn’t enthusiastic, she would honor his wishes. I had her read Call of the Mild, and had Finn and his father Erik take the hunter safety course together in Seattle, where they live.

They took a little Rossi single-shot .22 to their cabin on Lake Wenatchee before that first deer camp. Finn, Jen, and Mona, Finn’s little sister, all shot the .22 and had a great time. Mona is now getting ready to take the hunter safety class this winter and plans to come to deer camp next year. I plan to have a week of greydigger camp with Mona this summer before she come to deer camp.

I had cut one of my rifles down to fit Finn the previous August and he had shot it a few times at a deer target, but he hadn’t practiced enough to feel comfortable shooting at a real buck. As it turned out, although we saw many does that hunt, I was unable to find that real buck for him to shoot in the few days he was allowed to miss school for deer camp.

He was also disappointed that he and I did our hunting by sitting on a stand and waiting for the deer to come to us. All of the other hunters in camp were stalking deer, and he wanted to do the same.

In March he accompanied the hunting party to Idaho to hunt for European boars, and although he was successful on that hunt, he was still having some trouble shooting from a standing position. In July, we arranged for Finn to come and stay with my wife, Jean Ann, and I for a few days in The Dalles to hunt greydiggers, a variety of ground squirrel that is a real nuisance to farmers. Getting Finn to The Dalles became a bit of an adventure in itself. He was supposed to fly out of Seattle and land in Yakima where Jean Ann and I would meet his plane. We got in the car and headed for Yakima two hours before his plane was scheduled to leave Seattle. When we emerged from the cell phone dead zone of Satus Pass, we had a message from Erik. Finn had missed his plane by two minutes. Traffic in Seattle had held Jennifer up and though the plane was still sitting on the tarmac when they made their frantic dash through the terminal, the gate attendants would not let Finn board the plane.

He was devastated. Erik said Finn and Jen were both in tears. Being retired, we offered to just drive on over to Seattle to get him, but Erik said he would leave his office and drive downtown to get Finn at Jen’s office then try to meet us at the freeway rest stop just west of Ellensburg. As we passed Ellensburg, we were able to phone Erik and found he hadn’t passed North Bend yet and so we revised the plan again and arranged to meet at the restaurant at the summit of Snoqualmie Pass. Not only did we get one happy hunter, but we also had a good lunch.

On the way back to The Dalles, we stopped at Cabela’s in Yakima. I bought a Ruger 10-22 with a scope for Finn and any other of the kids in the family to use to hunt greydiggers. The rifle had been bore sighted, but we needed to change the scope relief for Finn’s eye, and I let him adjust it to his preferences then had him put the bore sight back in and get it close enough to start fine tuning it on paper targets. We took the rifle to the wheat ranch of a very good friend, and out behind the barn, Finn zeroed the rifle at 50 yards.

Sighting it in

FINN SIGHTS IN THE 10-22. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

After shooting most of a box of shells at targets, he was anxious to start the hunt. This would give him the chance to walk around and shoot squirrels from a number of different positions and at varying distances. It is exactly what I should have done with him the year before. By the time he had spent the week stalking the little critters, he was shooting squirrels at ranges up to 100 yards from sitting, kneeling and standing.

THE GROUND SQUIRRELS LEARNED TO FEAR FINN AND HIS RIFLE. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

THE GROUND SQUIRRELS LEARNED TO FEAR FINN AND HIS RIFLE. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

This year was to be my hunting group’s moose hunt. Because we would be in Canada during the first week of the Oregon deer season, our party decided not to apply for deer tags. Instead, most of the group bought a preference point that will guarantee that we get drawn for the 2014 deer hunt in Heppner. I, however, couldn’t take a boy deer hunting one year and then tell him that it would be two years before he could do it again, so I applied for a West Biggs tag with a second choice of Hood River. The chances of drawing the West Biggs tag without any preference points was 72 percent, but the Hood River backup would guarantee a deer tag somewhere within driving distance of home.

I talked with another good friend who has wheat in the West Biggs unit on the breaks of the Deschutes Canyon and got permission to hunt on his land if we drew the tag. The tag would be in my name, however, through the Oregon Mentored Hunter Program; Finn would again be able to hunt with me and fill my tag if he had the opportunity.

I got lucky and drew the West Biggs tag, but shortly thereafter a wildfire in the Deschutes Canyon took the critical deer food and shelter around Freebridge then jumped the river and burned up the Sherman County side to Harris Canyon and then jumped the river again and burned back down to about where it had started. This reduced the number of deer in the area and changed my plans for hunting. Another fire in my friend’s wheat during harvest destroyed a truck and quite a few acres of wheat further reducing the chances of success on his ranch.

The moose group returned to The Dalles with five moose that needed to be cut and wrapped on Tuesday, the fourth day of the Oregon deer season. We cut all day Wednesday and Thursday and until 3:00 p.m. on Friday. Erik, Finn and Erik’s friend Bruce arrived Friday evening to start Finn’s hunt on Saturday. Erik and Bruce brought their dogs and planned to hunt birds while Finn and I looked for a deer. We spent all of Saturday looking for places that could be hunted for birds and or deer. We got up early and drove to the top of the canyon at Freebridge. I had Finn load his rifle and we crept to the edge and looked down to the river far below– no deer, but we did jump a covey of chukar. The dogs ran and sniffed, relieved themselves and then we loaded back up in the truck and continued to the upper end of my friends wheat fields.

As we drove back to the pavement, we saw the first deer of the day. On a ridge a few hundred yards away, we saw three does and a small buck. We stopped and watched, but because I didn’t have permission to hunt on the property, we were soon on our way again.

Chem-fallow, a process of controlling weeds by spraying instead of by plowing and cutting the stubble short for no-till seeding, has changed the look of wheat land. Stubble is cut much shorter than it was in the days of summer-fallow. The short stubble doesn’t seem to provide the cover necessary for game birds and the populations have declined noticeably.

From Freebridge, we drove to the mouth of the Deschutes River by way of the Old Moody Road high on the canyon wall above the Columbia River. We saw a couple of herds of does and a herd of five branched antler bucks. I know the rancher who owns this land and even though I know he usually doesn’t allow hunting on his land, I felt I should ask just to see if there might be a chance. There was no change. I believe it was good for Finn to see that we could be denied permission and not hold any ill feelings toward the rancher. I think it was also good for him to see that I wasn’t even considering letting him shoot from the road – he was here to hunt and that was what we were going to do.

We drove to the top of Gordon Ridge to the short piece of road that crosses public land and provides and access to the Harris Canyon, Sayrs Canyon and Deschutes River from the Sherman County side. As we stood and looked across Harris Canyon with our binoculars, a large buck, disturbed by the sound of shotguns erupting at birds along the edges of the distant wheat fields, trotted across the flat ridge top between Harris Canyon and Sayrs Canyon and then disappeared into the depths of Sayrs Canyon. He was over a mile away from us, but we counted him as buck number seven for the day.

We continued south to the access road from Sherars Bridge and drove down the Deschutes River looking for hills that weren’t too steep for bird hunters and their dogs. I let the group out for a short hunt and sat and watched a curious mountain sheep ram on the ridge high above and across the river. We were obviously not the first humans this ram had seen as a small yellow tag dangled from his neck collar.

The dogs jumped a small flock of chukar and the bird hunters got to replace the accumulated dust in their barrels with burnt powder residue. The access road has been used by so many boat trailers this year that the washboard ruts are the worst that I have ever seen. After a few more miles of clinching our teeth to keep from jarring a filling loose, we decided to turn around and head back toward Sherars Bridge and the pavement.

On the way, we stopped at the bottom of a side canyon to make one more attempt at finding some birds. By chance, I parked right over a small rattlesnake. The day was cool enough that the snake wasn’t alerting us with the buzz of his tail and fortunately Bruce spotted him before one of the dogs found the snake. This hunt produced no birds and soon we were on our way again. A large herd of mountain sheep yews and lambs with one immature ram were on the first rock outcropping above the road.

(BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

(BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

At Dufur we turned back toward the river and climbed toward the Center Ridge Road. We saw a couple of large herds of does and fawns and two more small bucks. Nine bucks in one day could have been a road hunter’s dream – it is no wonder that poaching is such an impact on deer populations here in Wasco County.

I placed phone calls to two of the ranchers who had been students of mine to see if we could get permission to hunt on their land the following morning, however neither was home and so Finn and I would drive back to Gordon Ridge, hike down about 1,000 feet in elevation into Harris Canyon, then climb all of that 1000 feet back up to the top of the ridge between Harris and Sayrs Canyons to see if we could find the big buck we had watched slip away from the commotion in the adjacent wheat fields the day before.

It wasn’t quite light as I slipped an extra water bottle in my pack, picked up my walking stick and turned on my headlamp. We wanted to be far enough into the canyon when it got light that we could look up into the small finger canyons that joined together to make the larger side canyons that eventually dumped into Harris Canyon. Hopefully we would see deer moving off Gordon Ridge and heading for the safety of the canyons below. The fields adjacent to the road on Gordon Ridge, however ,had recently been seeded and so there was very little food available for a deer, consequently, our sitting and glassing was unproductive. This left no alternative other than continuing down into Harris Canyon and heading for the spot where we had seen the buck.

DESCENDING DEEP INTO HARRIS CANYON. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

DESCENDING DEEP INTO HARRIS CANYON. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

Going downhill is always hard on old knees, and though I had picked the gentlest ridge to descend, I knew I was going to hurt for a while after this hunt. When we got to the bottom, we found a well-used game trail that headed diagonally up the side of the hill toward the ridge between Harris and Sayrs Canyons. We passed numerous deep depressions where deer have dug back into the hillside to bed without having to lay out in the heat of the sun. I was feeling good about our possibilities of finding deer since there was a lot of fresh deer sign and this area was remote and required a physical commitment to hunt. We could see a steelhead fly-fishermen in the Deschutes River far below us and hear the whine of a distant jet boat bringing more fishermen up river for the day.

Just before we reached the top of the ridge, I heard another sound – a quad! It was right above us in the area we had planned to hunt. I was surprised because we were now on land that belongs to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and I didn’t think they allowed cross country travel on their property. Once on top we could see the freshly torn-up tracks that indicated that the driver was driving out onto any vantage point he could find overlooking Sayrs Canyon. Maybe we weren’t the only ones to see the big buck the day before.

Finn and I continued up the ridge. We would find a good place to sit and watch in Sayrs Canyon and then climb back over the ridge and sit and watch in Harris Canyon. Had we seen deer across the canyon on either side, they would have been too far for Finn to shoot, so we were hoping to find some animals bedded that we could sneak up on. We continued our hike toward the head end of Sayrs Canyon and I remember thinking that if the rifle were on my shoulder and the tag in my pocket, I wouldn’t be here. This is just too far to pack a deer, but Finn is a 10 year-old and I am determined to do whatever is necessary to get him a shot at a deer. I started making contingency plans for getting the animal out of here without having to climb back up to the truck. Plan one would be to call the adjacent land owners to see if they would allow access; plan two was to pack the animal down to the Deschutes River and see if I could find one of the river guides that I know and get them to boat us to the mouth of the river; and plan 3 was to take the deer to the river and hang it overnight, climb back up to the pickup then come back in the morning with our wheel cart and walk in the 6-plus miles to get the deer on the old abandoned railroad bed.

(BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

(BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

Just before we dropped to the bottom of Sayrs Canyon and started working our way back toward the mouth, a doe and a fawn ran right at us. They were well within Finn’s range, but no antlers. As we watched them cross the canyon and start up the other side, six more does and fawn strung out in a line on the opposite side of the canyon. Maybe we would still find that buck.

Near the bottom of the canyon, we found an old wagon road that had been built sometime around the time that the railroad in the Deschutes Canyon had been built. Gravity and water had taken a toll on the road. In many places the creek had undercut and washed it out, trees and other brush grew so thick in some places that we had to work our way up on the side hill to get around them and in other places rock slides had covered the old road. The further we went the more damage we found and harder it was to keep moving. Finally we climbed back up on the side hill and followed a game trial because though it was much harder on our ankles, it was easier going. For the last quarter of a mile down to the confluence with Harris Creek, we returned to the road in the bottom of the canyon. Here Finn abruptly retraced a few steps to avoid an 18-inch rattlesnake, and in the next 50 yards we encountered another larger snake. Finn told me that from that point on he was going to walk behind me and only step where I stepped. We finally worked our way across Harris Creek and started back up the ridge toward the pickup. It was 4:00 p.m. and we were out of water when we finally made it back to the road.

Sunday evening, I called a neighbor who has wheat near the eastern border of the West Biggs Unit to ask if he would allow us to hunt on his property. He said he would send me a text as soon as he was done with some morning appointments and let me know when he would have the time to show us his property boundaries.

DAWN BREAKS ON MT. HOOD. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

DAWN BREAKS ON MT. HOOD. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

Finn and I headed back for the Center Ridge Road Monday before day light, but after I had to drive back to the house for my rangefinder and camera, we no longer were going to be able sneak into a field in the predawn in the hopes of surprising a feeding buck on the property that we had permission to hunt. We again were seeing numerous does and fawns on the drive. A nice 2-point stopped feeding to watch us drive by – not where we could hunt, a spike ran, turned broadside and stood – not where we could hunt and finally a very small spike stood along the fence that marked the boundary of where Finn could hunt. I was beginning to wonder if I would ever find a deer for him.

We got our text message and headed for the small community of Wasco. A half an hour later we were being chauffeured and shown property boundaries and likely places to find deer. We drove up on a ridge in the CRP and there, just a couple of hundred yards away, was a herd of six does and a three-point buck. We backed away from them so as not to disturb them and continued on our tour of the ranch. Hopefully the herd would settle back down and Finn and I would be able to sneak up on them later.

FINN SPOTS MORE DEER. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

FINN SPOTS MORE DEER. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

The wind was blowing at about 20 miles per hour and the deer we had seen in the CRP had been on the sheltered side of a small hill. Finn and I walked back and glassed for the herd, but they had moved. We continued in the direction that they most likely would have traveled and looked for another area that was protected from the wind. In a tight little draw running at right angles to the direction of the wind, I spotted a single doe feeding. She didn’t see us and I felt the rest of the herd was probably close. I spotted antlers in the sage. The rangefinder showed him to only be 65 yards away – the perfect distance for Finn. I told him to move forward and rest his rifle on the wire on the fence so that he would have a solid rest when the buck stood up. As he moved, the doe spotted us and the whole herd exploded into escape mode. The buck never stood up. It went from resting to a full run and I was unable to get him to stop and look back at a whistle. These deer had probably spent the previous weekend evading hunters and they were getting good at it. Finn didn’t take a shot. He ask me later if he should have and I told him that he should only shoot at an animal if he is comfortable with the shot. I told him we would find him another buck and at the same time, I made a mental note to put a large bull’s eye target on a tire in greydigger camp next summer and let him practice shooting at moving targets.

We hunted across the rest of the CRP looking for another wind-protected area. The only area we saw was on an adjacent ranch in the distance where we counted half a dozen deer with two bucks feeding on a wind-sheltered hillside.

We left the CRP and drove to one of the small canyons that crossed the ranch. The problem with the canyon was the fact that it was parallel to the direction of the wind and though there were numerous fresh tracks, we didn’t find any deer. When we could see what remained of the canyon before it crossed the fence that marked the edge of the next property, we hiked across the field toward the contour on the screen of my GPS that marked the next canyon which would take us back down toward the pickup. This canyon was even more open to the wind and I was beginning to think we would have to come back in the morning to get another chance at a deer. Finn spotted an old barn and vacant house ahead in the canyon and beside it was the remains of an old black locust wood lot. Our intent was to stay in the canyon and pass the barn then come back up to it from below so that if any deer were in it, they would have to run across the open hillside where Finn could see them.

I looked at the woodlot with my binoculars and a doe stood up. I stopped and watched as she tried to determine what we were. I could see heads and ears of other deer beyond her laying in the grass in the wind protection of the trees. We moved forward ten steps and again stopped. Only the one doe continued to watch us. We moved ten steps again. I had Finn move up to a fence post to rest his rifle so that he would be ready if a buck stood up – still no movement from the other deer. Finally the doe bolted and seven more does and fawns jumped and ran with her. No bucks.

Finn and I worked our way up to the barn. Deer often will enter vacant farm buildings to get out of the sun and the wind. Finn was reluctant to step in but when he did there were no deer inside. We turned and started back down the canyon in the direction of the pickup. Through the limbs and leaves of the trees, I could see the eight does, about 300 yards away, bunched up and looking back to try to determine what we were. I noticed that they would look back into the woodlot and then look up across the canyon on the adjacent hillside. I knelt and could see four bucks in a bunch on that side of the canyon. I had Finn move up to the last tree at the edge of the field, told him to sit down and lay his rifle on the old roll of pig wire. I could only see one of the bucks from my position and I ranged him at 245 yards. I have loaded Finn’s .243 shells with a 90-grain bullet at a modest velocity and I told him that he needed to hold the crosshairs 8 inches above where he wanted the bullet to hit. In the last three days I have told him to hold the crosshairs steady and slowly squeeze the trigger so many times that he must think I am losing my mind.

Bang! The shot came so quickly after he sat that my first thought was that he had jerked the trigger, but in that same instant the buck that was the highest on the hill jumped forward in a high sharp arc, made two more bounds, then seemed to lose his footing as he disappeared into the draw. That high sharp arc meant that little bullet had done the job.

We sat for a minute or two while the other three bucks ran a short distance then stood on the hillside and looked for us. I took a picture of the three, then we walked down to where we had last seen Finn’s buck. In the bottom of the canyon I could see his antlers. I moved forward with Finn and had him touch the eye of the buck with the barrel of the rifle. I told him if the animal blinked he needed to pull the trigger again – but this deer was already dead. A nice three-point.

FINN AND HIS TROPHY. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

FINN AND HIS TROPHY. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

We took a few pictures and I called the rancher to tell him that we had a buck and to ask if we could get a key to the gate so that I could drive up the road to get the deer. He said he was just leaving Wasco and would come up and get us in a few minutes. During those minutes, I got the deer cleaned and ready to load. Finn’s shot had hit behind the front shoulder, passed through the heart and both lungs and was lying just under the skin in front of the other front shoulder.

We brought the deer home whole. I haven’t done that in many years, but Finn wanted his dad to see his deer. It weighed 175 pounds without the viscera and so we figure the animal was at least 225 pounds live weight. We got it skinned and quartered Monday evening, then started cutting and wrapping Tuesday morning so that Finn could be home and back in school on Wednesday.

I have hunted deer for 50 years and have enjoyed every hunt, but none of them compare to the excitement of seeing a new hunter work so hard and get his first deer.

LET THE CUTTING AND WRAPPING PARTY BEGIN. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

FINN LENDS A HAND DURING THE CUTTING AND WRAPPING PARTY. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

A ‘Good-looking Buck’ For Josh

by Luke Miller

Having hunted this particular part of North-central Washington for the last 25 years during the general rifle season, my son Josh and I decided it would be our best choice to put in for a special permit. I knew he would not have a lot of time to hunt if he was drawn due to school commitments at Washington State University, where he is a sophomore, so we felt like this was our best choice.

Truthfully, we did not think he would get drawn as this is a premium unit and he only had three points. We were pleasantly surprised with the draw results in June.

JOSH MILLER'S OKANOGAN COUNTY BUCK. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

JOSH MILLER’S NORTH-CENTRAL WASHINGTON BUCK. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

Like I said, I’m familiar with the unit, but have only hunted it during October’s nine-day general season, so we were looking for any advantage we could get due to time constraints. We only had about 2 1/2 days to hunt. Some of the members at Hunting Washington were very helpful with their tips. We might have been able to squeeze another weekend in the following weekend, but in the end that was not needed.

Coming over from Bonney Lake, I showed up early Friday morning ahead of Josh to get camp set up and do a little scouting. Josh had a test early that morning before he left, so he and a couple college buddies didn’t show up until around noon.

After they quickly changed into hunting clothes, we took off. The area we wanted to go first was a no-go due to very thick fog, so we had to head a little higher.

After a couple-hour hike with only a few deer spotted we decided to check out another area. It was a short road in a burn area. We stopped at the end of the road and decided to hike up an old skid.

Five minutes in Josh spotted a nice buck, but it was not quite what he was looking for. Right after that we spotted another buck, but before we could get a good look at him, I saw yet another. This one was looking directly at us 75 yards above the skid road.

Josh got set up but missed the first shot. The buck turned and was quartering away when my son shot again.

This one hit the mark, and after a very short track, we found him. One more kill shot and we were done. Less than three hours into the first day of his hunt Josh had himself a great buck.

(BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

WITH WDFW HANDING OUT ONLY A VERY LIMITED NUMBER OF PERMITS TO HUNT THIS PART OF THE STATE IN NOVEMBER WITH A RIFLE FOR MIGRATORY MULEYS, IT CAN TAKE ANYWHERE FROM SEVEN TO ELEVEN PREFERENCE POINTS TO GET DRAWN FOR A TAG, BUT JOSH MILLER DID IT WITH JUST THREE. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

(BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

BELIEVE IT OR NOT, THIS IS ALSO JOSH’S FIRST BUCK. HE KILLED IT WITH A 7MM. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

The muley’s antlers have awesome color and mass, and are about 26 inches wide. Its forks aren’t the deepest, so it won’t score the greatest,  but score was not an issue. Josh just wanted a good-looking buck and we feel this one is perfect.

(BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

(BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

A Truck Driver’s Tanker Buck

UPDATED: 12:45 p.m., Nov. 12, 2013

“This isn’t a master-hunter story,” Scott Lyons warns me when I call the Vancouver oversize-truck driver about the tanker buck he tagged this fall. “I’m going to be brutally honest: This is dumb-luck, right-place-right-time.”

Maybe.

That’s the way most of us get our deer, unexpectedly crossing paths with muleys in the woods, horny whitetails as they chase down does, blacktails as they appear unexpectedly out of the fog.

But maybe not.

Lyons and his stepfamily hit the buck’s reststop repeatedly over a period of 10 days before he finally could get a clean shot at the animal.

SCOTT LYONS AND HIS BIG 2013 BUCK. FOR COMPARISON PURPOSES, NOTE THAT SCOTT DESCRIBES HIMSELF AS 6-FOOT-6, 350 POUNDS. (SCOTT LYONS)

SCOTT LYONS AND HIS BIG 2013 BUCK. FOR COMPARISON PURPOSES, NOTE THAT SCOTT DESCRIBES HIMSELF AS 6-FOOT-6, 350 POUNDS. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

Their hunt began on Oct. 16 when Lyons took his stepdaughter, Caycie Whitters, to an area south of Mt. Adams that he’s hunted since high school. They walked into a clearcut and didn’t go far before Caycie was faced with a buck before her.

“That bruiser jumped up,” Lyons recalls. “But she couldn’t get the safety off – it’s a three-stage safety.

He says they backed out of the cut, and came back with his stepson Clay Whitters the next day and again spooked the deer, again without getting a shot off.

The pattern continued through that week and all of the next, Lyons says.

“We jumped this deer 10, 11 times, but didn’t pursue it,” he says.

On Sunday, the 27th, their luck began to change. The dry, calm weather that had dominated October’s rifle hunt up till then broke as high winds, a bit of snow and then rain hit the area.

It was also getting close to that time of year.

Lyons, his fiancé, Chrissy Whitters, and Clay checked out the buck’s clearcut that morning, saw nothing, went elsewhere, and then returned in the drizzle.

“We saw him on the timberline, puffed up in full rut,” Lyons says. “I told Clay to shoot, twice, but a sapling was in his way. I wasn’t going to let him get away again, so I shot and dropped him in his tracks.”

SCOTT AND STEPSON CHASE WHITTERS POSE WITH THE BUCK. (SCOTT LYONS)

SCOTT AND STEPSON CLAY WHITTERS POSE WITH THE BUCK. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

The clearcut might have shaken a wee bit too. Not only were there six points on each thick beam– eight on one, nine on the other if you count all the stickers – but with the hide, head and guts out, Lyons says the deer still went 150 pounds at the butcher, a nice healthy buck – especially for a blacktail.

While there may be some intermixing with muleys in this part of western South-central Washington, the state considers the deer here to be those ghosts of the Westside forests, manages them as such, and a regional wildlife area manager who examined the animal termed it a blacktail.

If DNA tests determine it is in fact a blacktail, it will rank very, very highly amongst B&C bucks — a top-10 animal, Lyons says he’s been told.

Update, 12:45 p.m., Nov. 12, 2013: Boone & Crockett posted a pic of Lyons and his buck with this message on its Trophy Watch page: “This buck was taken near the border of the blacktail boundary in Washington State on October 27 2013 by Scott Lyons. Historically this behemoth would not have been eligible due to the kill location, but thanks to recent DNA research the club has been involved in, we do have data showing blacktails occur in this area and if the DNA analysis reveals this is indeed a blacktail it will be recorded as such. The hunter put a green score over 160 inches on this buck.”

The buck’s rack won’t be officially scored until the sportsmen’s shows this winter, but messing around with a tape measure and Boone & Crockett’s scoring guide, Lyons gives it a conservative green score of 166 ½ points. He says the antler bases go 51/2 inches in circumference, with the eyeguards going 3 inches around.

He shot it at 150 yards with a Howa Model 1500 7mm Remington Magnum and Scirroco bullet.

Lyons says he’s killed other bucks, including a 5×5 whitetail up in Colville, but nothing comes close to his 2013 animal.

“I’ve never seen anything like this in Washington,” he says.

As his family admired his animal, Lyons says Clay told him, “I’m glad you got it, or I wouldn’t have had anything to shoot for.”

A SAPLING IN THE WAY KEPT CHASE FROM TAKING A SHOT AT THE BUCK. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

A SAPLING IN THE WAY KEPT CLAY FROM TAKING A SHOT AT THE BUCK. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

photo 2

FOR SCALE, HERE’S A PIC OF SCOTT’S BUCK IN THE BACK OF A PICKUP. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

AND HERE'S ANOTHER PHOTO OF THE BUCK'S RACK, FOR SCALE. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

AND HERE’S ANOTHER PHOTO OF THE BUCK’S RACK, FOR SCALE. DNA TESTING WILL DETERMINE WHETHER IT’S A BLACKTAIL — IT WAS SHOT IN AN AREA WHERE THE STATE MANAGES DEER AS THAT SPECIES — A MULEY OR A HYBRID. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

The Trophy Bull And Buck That Almost Didn’t Happen

Story and photos by John R. Higgins

“Don’t worry honey, the chances are only about 30 percent that I will draw the tag and have to go hunting this year…”

So started my 2011 Montana big game hunting season. With three young children, I knew that heading over to Montana to hunt was probably not being a good husband, but I applied anyway for the tag with a good friend, Sean, in what I thought was going to be an effort to just earn some hunting preference points and perhaps get drawn in the future.

But thanks to the Montana legislature, and $950, this year would be different. They had apparently raised the price about $300 in an effort to increase state revenue. In a good lesson of supply and demand, they also learned that there is a price above which people say “no thanks” (economists call it the clearing price). So when I got the call from Sean, I was surprised to learn we were going hunting in Montana this year.

In Montana, the rifle season for deer and elk is mostly concurrent – and so if you want to hunt during the rut, with a rifle, then deer are your only option. But with a deer/elk combination permit, I wanted to hunt both. So after much thought, I decided to hunt opening week for elk and then come back later the next month and hunt the whitetail deer rut. I was going to hunt elk with Sean at his family’s place in Southwest Montana (Wise River area) and later deer at my wife’s family cabin in the Swan Valley.

The 2011 hunting season started with the long drive to Wise River (south of Anaconda/Butte about 30 miles, on the Big Hole River). We got there on Thursday night, with opening day on Saturday morning. Friday was out scouting day for elk: We drove all over our hunting area — public land, both Forest Service and BLM — looking for sign and anything else that would lead us to believe we’d found a good spot for elk.

We were also fortunate enough to get a two-hour guided tour of the area by a local and accomplished hunter. There were three of us hunting together – Sean, his uncle Frank, and me. We did as much scouting as you can in a day and settled in for the evening, excited about the prospects of opening day.

On opening morning, we drove to our area and deployed to each of our hunting spots. I walked in about half a mile to a nice park and the convergence of three different travel routes. Sean took the high ground adjacent to some private property. Frank stayed near the truck and watched another park. At about 9 a.m., I heard a few shots and briefly turned on my radio to make sure that everyone was OK.

A strange conversation followed:

“John, you there?”

“John, you there?”

“Yes, Frank, everything OK?”

“Well, I have a flat tire.”

“What?”

“I have a flat tire.”

“Well, do you have the tools to fix it?”

“Well, I dropped my gun in the mud.”

“What was the shooting?”

“I saw some elk, and missed, and dropped my gun in the mud.”

“Really, can you get it cleaned off?”

… and on it went. I didn’t really understand, and just kept sitting at my spot, waiting for elk. About two or three hours later, I radioed my friends to see if they wanted to meet for lunch; we arranged a spot, and off I went.

I was surprised to learn when I got to the truck that a “flat tire” was code for “John, I shot an elk, and I need some help getting it out of the woods.” In any case, Frank had shot a rag horn 5×5 elk and needed help getting it out of a “no motorized access” area.

So as Frank watched, Sean and I lashed ourselves to a small log, and like a mule team drug the elk about half a mile down a dirt road to the truck. Narrowly avoiding a hernia, we got the elk into the truck. We brought it home and the work began.

That afternoon we went back into the woods, but didn’t see anything, and so called it a night and got ready for the next day’s hunt.

Day two, Sunday, was a day I’ll never forget. After studying the maps the night before, I realized there was an easier way into the spot where I was hunting. So instead of walking in along the elk trail, I realized I could quietly approach from a road about a quarter mile above the spot. And so, at about 20 minutes before shooting light, I left my friends on the road and began to navigate down the hillside to my spot.

About 200 yards in, I heard a loud crash and saw the back end of an elk running down the hill ahead of me. It was definitely a bull just based on its size, and I was excited. I continued walking, quietly up to the spot. My handheld GPS was able to get me there easily, and I stopped just short to make sure my gear was in order. Someone once told me to never just crawl into your hunting spot, but to instead make sure and glass all around first.

I’m not sure why, but I remembered those words of wisdom and decided to take a look around the park before settling into my spot. As I was looking, something caught my eye. Movement, about 250 yards away, on a far hillside. It looked like a big elk rack moving – but I wasn’t sure.

Knowing that you should scout with your binos, but also thinking this was almost certainly a big bull, I put my rifle scope on the animal and confirmed it was in fact a nice bull – straight across the park on a hillside, feeding. I had seen the white tips of his antlers moving as he moved his head.

For about three or four minutes I just watched. He was incredible. Straight out of an outdoor magazine – a mature bull, feeding in plain view 250 yards away from me, and he had no idea I was there. After watching him, I started to get nervous thinking what if he spooked and I never took a shot? So I made up my mind to shoot, and then the rifle went off. The .308, shooting a 180-grain Winchester fail-safe, was at the limit of its effective range on game of this size, but I knew that it was all about shot placement.

After the shot, I looked up to see what had happened. No elk, lots of quiet. Had I missed? Did I hit the elk? Anyway, it was time to wait, so I did so for about 15 minutes. I know, they say 30 minutes, but I was anxious, and headed over to see what I could find.

I got there and saw nothing. My first reaction was – damn, I missed the elk of a lifetime. Wow, and I considered myself a good shot.

But as I started to widen my search, I saw him. There he was, dead, about 30 yards from where he was standing. When I shot him, he had been facing me at a slight angle, and I had hit him squarely between the shoulders. As I cleaned the elk, I found the bullet lodged in his rear hip. It had traveled the entire length of his body – taking out his lungs, heart, and other organs.

JOHN HIGGINS SOUTHWEST MONTANA BULL. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

JOHN HIGGINS’ SOUTHWEST MONTANA BULL. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

 

I was ecstatic — public land, hunting by myself, and a mature 6×5 on the ground. It took horses, horse trailers, and two friends to get the elk out of that spot – but at about midnight we were finally home and ready to begin the rest of our hunt.

The last seven days of our hunt weren’t nearly as productive as the first two. We didn’t see any more bulls, and it wasn’t for a lack of trying. We hiked deep into the Pintler Wilderness and through many other areas that we thought would hold elk. In every case, nothing. We ended up with two elk for three hunters, both taken in the first two days of our nine-day hunt.

THE SECOND PART OF MY 2011 EXPERIENCE took place in Northwest Montana, near the town of Seeley Lake in the Swan Valley. My wife’s family has been a part of the Swan Valley for more than 80 years – her great grandfather worked for the U.S. Forest Service in what is now the Bob Marshall Wilderness.

Three years before I had drawn a Montana deer tag and, along with a friend, drove to Seeley Lake determined to get a buck. After spending nearly a week in the mountains, we came home with only a doe. It was frustrating, for I knew that big bucks definitely lived in the area. The challenge was just finding them.

So this year, instead of trying to do it by myself again, I decided to hire a local outfitter to guide me for the five days I’d be there. I thought that it would probably be the best way to learn how to hunt the valley.

I timed the hunt to correspond with the deer rut, which meant hunting in mid-November. The drive over to Seeley Lake from Seattle saw the weather get worse and worse, and by the time I got there, I saw a foot of snow on the ground and temperatures hovering around 10 degrees. This was going to be a cold hunt – it turned out to be one of the earliest winters in more than a decade.

The good news, though, was that the snow had pushed the deer down from the hills and concentrated them in the valley bottom and winter range areas, making finding them much easier.

Together with the guide, we hunted hard for all five days. We used both spot-stalk and calling to find the deer, and every day saw mature bucks.

The first real shooting opportunity I had came on the second day as we were walking through a regenerated clear-cut. I saw two big-bodied bucks walking away from us in the woods at about 200 yards. We froze and began to call the deer using a grunt. We set up behind a stump, and a few moments later a big-bodied 5×4 came out of the tree line and stood there, broadside, head turned at us.

With my crosshairs on the deer, I asked the guide, “Take him?”

“Your call … but I would recommend against it. You can’t shoot the big ones if you shoot the small ones.”

So I was staring at a nice buck, at 60 yards, in my crosshairs – and the guide wanted me to not shoot. Wow, this was going to be a great trip, I thought, and waited.

Every day of the hunt had similar results. Lots of deer, and at least one look at a big deer.

On the third day we moved to a new spot, a hillside that was pretty brushy in an area that had been previously thinned and adjacent to a thick, older growth forest. The guide indicated that he had seen a bigger buck in here in previous years, and wanted to take a look.

As we walked in the first day, we saw a group of does, downhill at about 150 yards in the brush. As we watched the does moving, I got my first glimpse of the biggest deer I’d ever seen. I saw him chasing a doe and then stand still for about a minute, as I got myself into position to shoot. Unfortunately, when I got my scope back on the buck, all I saw was his rump — separated from the tips of his antlers by a large tree. Not being willing to take the unethical shot, through the brush, at his body, I let him go.

For the rest of that day I retreated to a ground blind on the hillside, watched, and waited. I saw a number of does as well as some smaller bucks, but never the big guy.

We hunted the same area the next day, and again I saw and heard grunt the big buck. He showed himself right at sunset, so I passed.

The last day of the hunt came and I had a good feeling. As we walked back into the same area, we noticed some new deer prints in the snow. Maybe there was another big buck in the area? We walked in and took up a position on the same hillside, overlooking the brushy clearing where we’d seen activity before.

Again, we saw more does and bucks – including a 4×4 that was awfully tempting on my last day. But I passed, and waited.

It was stormy and cold, and the deer were moving unlike anything we’d seen before. We decided to grunt and rattle to see if we could get the big buck’s attention, and sure enough, after about 15 minutes the guide whispered, “Big deer, coming at us at about 200 yards.”

I looked hard, but didn’t see anything. It was so brushy that, at best, I would see a flash of fur or a tail from time to time, but never really had a good look at the deer. This went on for about 10 minutes as the deer meandered towards us. At about 150 yards, he finally stopped behind a tree, but gave me a narrow shooting window. We grunted and I took the shot — and the deer didn’t move.

I turned to the guide and said, “I’m sure I hit him.”

“No, you missed. I heard it hit a tree.”

“Can’t be – I am sure he is hit.”

“No, he is still walking.”

The guide was right – the deer didn’t run, he had just kept walking towards us, unphased by the gunshot. Amazing, I had just shot at the buck of a lifetime, missed, and he still kept coming.

The guide kept grunting and the buck kept coming. I was nervous that he was going to get nervous and take off as he quartered away from us – but he hit our scent cone and turned back around, walking straight towards us. At about 110 yards, downhill, I had a clear shot and took it – dropping the buck with a double lung shot.

We stayed in the ground blind for another 15 minutes to make sure the deer was dead, and then cautiously approached him. As we got close, there was blood in the snow and the deer was not moving – it was clear he was dead.

Laying in the snow was the biggest buck I had ever taken – a mature 6×4, with a split main beam. The deer was obviously a mountain whitetail, given its large body size and the bleached hair on its head — he had spent most of his time up high in the sunshine on the mountains.

JOHN HIGGINS' SEELEY LAKE MOUNTAIN WHITETAIL. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

JOHN’S SEELEY LAKE MOUNTAIN WHITETAIL. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

 

Keeping a close eye out for bears (the valley hosts a substantial grizzly population), we cleaned the deer and hauled him back to the truck. His next stop was Seeley Lake, in the cabin’s garage – where we hung and quartered him for the drive back to Seattle.

So much for not hunting Montana in 2011.

Bear With Me

Editor’s note: The following hunt occurred in the Colville National Forest of Northeast Washington in 2013. 

by David Affeldt

The hunters had a friendship that was forged and strengthened over many years.  They trusted each other in the woods and like to spend time sharing stories around a campfire.  They had been on many hunting adventures together and on their own.  They had hunted big white tail deer in Washington.  The traveled to Texas to bow hunt even bigger deer.  They went to South Dakota and Minnesota to hunt pheasant.  They were more than friends.  They were father and son: David and Jeremy.  The younger one was a better shot with the gun and bow.  He was steadier on his feet and had a better aim – probably from years of standing on a pitching mound.  He had better eye sight.  The older one was a better cook.  He could afford to take greater risks because his children were grown and had left home.  Even when their relationship was strained they could rely on their hunting adventures to rekindle and restore the bond between them.

Finding the opportunity to go on a hunting adventure was getting more difficult.  Jeremy had a career to manage and he had his own family to nurture.  He was gone from home often and needed to spend time with his boys and his wife.  Someday soon though, he hoped his boys would be old enough to join PawPaw and Dad on a hunting adventure.  But the two friends enjoyed talking about past adventures and they dreamed and planned new ones in Alaska or Africa.  Their friendship continued to grow.

(BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

(BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

One year late in September, David was walking alone along a trail that ran next to a creek that flowed through some property that Jeremy owned in the mountains.  It was a strong creek that flowed all year around.  It made a lot of noise as it poured out of the hills and into the river below.  The trail was well marked and many animals had walked along it in the years past.  The animals used the water to drink and the Cedar trees on either side of it to hide.  It was early morning and the day was pleasant.  The sun dappled the ground below the trees and the water sparkles as it moved over small rapids.  On this day, David spotted some new tracks in the mud along the edge of the creek.  A bear had left his prints as he crossed over the creek.  David was excited.

David took pictures of the bear tracks and sent them to Jeremy who was living a long way from home.  That evening Jeremy called his Dad.  He was excited too.  He thought it would be best to put up some game cameras along the creek and put a deer stand high in a tree.  Jeremy said he would be home this year and the two of them would go on another adventure together.  Maybe he would bring along the grandsons.  The adventure was starting.  What surprises lay in the future for the two friends, the father and son?

At last the day arrived for both of the hunters, the friends, father son to meet at the hunting shack located high above the creek.  It was early in October and the leaves had started to show their fall colors.  The red, the yellows, the browns were mixed with the forest green from the cedar trees.  The autumn days were getting shorter and the sun was dropping behind the mountains earlier. The shadows along the creek and in the woods were fading into the black darkness earlier in the evening.

David had set the cameras along the creek.  He installed a deer stand 30 feet up the side of a huge cedar tree.  The tree trunk was very large and it split into two pieces and continued to grow over 100 feet into the sky.  The hunters arrived separately that Friday afternoon.  By the time David arrived Jeremy had pulled the pictures off the cameras so the Dad, the son, and the grandsons could look at them and plan a strategy.  The cameras snapped photos of a chocolate colored bear, a big black bear, and a huge brown bear.  The bears were prowling the creek in the early morning hours as the sun starts to break over the mountains. By mind-morning they were gone.  Sometimes they returned during the black of night and stayed around until midnight.  The excitement mounted and the adventure moved forward.  The hunters planned to leave the early the next morning before sunrise – maybe before the bears came down from the mountain and started to walk along the creek.

The hunters went to bed early.  They had to get up before 5 a.m. in the morning.  Neither slept well that night. The anticipation was high and their dreams of bears in the woods were vivid.  They rose silently careful not to rouse any of the others sleeping in the cabin.  Their energy was building between them.  They ate a cold breakfast of banana bread and juice.  Just enough to get them started.  They dressed in dark camouflage clothing and each carried a small flashlight.  They sprayed their clothing with a special odor to mask their scent and to make them smell like the earth and the trees.  They left and started down the long winding road to the intersection where the creek trail started.  They left without saying much but thinking many thoughts. They were careful to avoid loose rocks and gravel that would give away their position.

Half way down the road they spotted a narrow path that dropped down to the creek.  They decided to use the path and approach the creek from the top and not from the bottom.  They walked silently through the woods using only one flashlight to follow the trail.  It was a very dark night and even darker in the woods under the boughs of the cedar trees.  Quietly they approach the creek.  They could hear it rushing down the hill through the woods.  The sound would mask the noise of their footsteps on the broken twigs and leaves that littered the forest floor.

(BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

(BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

At last, they arrived at the creek and found the narrow game trail that wandered along the edge.  After walking along the creek for ten minutes they heard a loud splash in the creek nearby.  It sounded like a huge boulder falling into a lake or a person jumping into a pool.  The hunters stopped and waited for more sound.  Nothing. No sound at all.  They continued to walk forward along the creek.

They found their spot along the creek and sat in among the bushes, the trees, the logs, the leaves, and the shadows.  It was very dark.  Later, perhaps an hour or so, Jeremy thought he saw something move but it was difficult to see in the early morning light and the shadows in the woods were constantly changing.  Both hunters dismissed the image as a figment of their imaginations. Later they would discover that a big brown bear had walked nearby on the other side of the creek. He was only one hundred feet away.  The camera snapped the time and date.  The hunters waited.  For three hours they waited in the cold sitting on the ground as their body heat slowly left them.  They decided to leave and return to the hunting shack for breakfast.  The hunters looked for a new place to watch for bears that night.  It was higher up the mountain and there were fewer shadows but night seems to come early in the fall and the cold set in and they went back to the cabin when it was too dark to see.  They would return to the creek the following morning.

The next day they followed the same routine except this time they decided to follow the road all the way to the bottom and follow the creek trail back into the woods.  Perhaps they had made too much noise the day before.  It was very dark when they descended down the road and found the creek trail.  They both switched off their lights and crept silently along the trail.  They tried to be careful to avoid the branches and dry leaves that lay in their path, but it was nearly black in the woods.

Soon, they found a place to cross the creek and a place to sit and wait, and watch, and think, and wonder about those sounds they could hear coming from the woods.  This time they had brought a small stool and a bucket to sit on so the early morning cold would not rob them of their heat. Nothing stirred.  Only the shadows in the woods changed as the sun started its rise above the mountains.

After three hours they decided that nothing was coming along the trail. Their stomachs were empty and they started to talk about returning to the hunting shack for a warm breakfast.  They started out along the creek trail.  Back up the winding road to the hunting shack.  Only later would they learn that on the other side of the trees in a small clearing near the creek trail a chocolate covered bear was parked in the bushes eating berries and grubs from a rotting log.  He was only thirty feet away.

The weekend was over.  They tried again that night but the shadows were long and the cold set in early.  It was time to go home.  But each promised the other they would return the next weekend to try again.  It had been a good week end. They parted ways with a handshake and a bear hug.  They were friends.  They were father and son.

That next week seemed longer somehow than other weeks. It had the same number of days and hours but it seemed longer.  The weather girl said the weekend temperatures would drop to freezing at night and remain cool through the day.  She said there was a chance of rain.  What does a chance of rain mean?  No one likes to hunt in the rain. The hunters would only have one day together this time.  This time Jeremy decided to only bring his oldest boy on the adventure.  Once again Jeremy arrived at the hunting shack early.  Once again he checked the cameras for activity along the creek.  Again pictures of the three bears were snapped early in the morning as the prowled along the game path located near the creek.  Jeremy also found lots of bear scat under the tree where the tree stand was located.  He told his dad that he did not think the bears liked the human scent so they dropped scat around to mark the territory.

THE AUTHOR'S TREE STAND. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

THE AUTHOR’S TREE STAND. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

The hunters decided to split up this time when they got down to the creek trail. It was agreed that David would sit high in the tree stand and watch the trail from above.  Jeremy would follow the creek deeper into the woods and hide along the edge and wait for movement. They would be located fifty yards apart.   Both the hunters had a radio with them so they could tell the other if any of the bears wandered into the area.  That was the plan.  Before they went to bed, the grandson prayed that PawPaw would find a bear.

They set out early in the morning. Both wearing their camouflaged clothing and covered in earth scent.  Their small lights pierced the darkness.  The night sky was shrouded in clouds and only a few stars twinkled in sky.  It was cold and the air contained a hint of rain.  It was much darker than last the last time they had entered the woods.   As they approached the creek trail they switched off their lights and the darkness collapsed into black.

After they had walked perhaps ten minutes on the trail Jeremy heard a noise that sounded unusual to him.  It came from somewhere ahead of the two hunters.  David did not hear the noise.  His warm weather hood had muffled the sound.  Maybe his hearing was starting to fade like his eyesight.  Jeremy tugged at David’s hood just a little to expose the ears.  Now David could hear the noise as well.  The commotion was getting louder.  Sticks were breaking, branches were snapping.

Not knowing what was causing the sound, the hunters decided to bury themselves in the woods and wait.  They hid underneath some low hanging cedar boughs.  They waited.  They waited for thirty minutes in the cold and in the dark.  They listened as the sound continued and then it began to get quiet.  The forest became real quiet.  Jeremy whispered to his dad and asked if they should continue to move forward on the creek trail.  David motioned with his fingers to move ahead.  He whispered back that the tree stand was only a few yards further.

They moved silently, warily forward.  David was armed with a hunting rifle.  Jeremy only brought along a pistol for safety.  It was dark, very dark.  The hunters found the tree where the tree stand was located.  David looked up and said that he did not think there was enough room for the two of them to sit in the stand.  Jeremy agreed with his dad.  Jeremy also decided that with all the suspicious noise in the woods that he would backtrack along the trail and head back to the hunting cabin and wait for his dad to contact him by radio.  They decided that 9 a.m. would be the time for Jeremy to return and pick up his dad with the ATV.  Jeremy left.

David climbed the tree using pegs screwed into the side of the tree.  He seated himself in the tree stand and stared out into the darkness.  He could only see the end of his brown hunting boots.  He sat and began to think about things other than hunting.  He had work to do at home.  He had assignments at work that needed to be completed.  Tomorrow he would go to church.  He thought of many things.  And then an odd thing happened.

It started to rain cedar needles onto his head.  He was wearing an orange Fedora hunting hat and the brim was catching the needles as they fell.  At first, David thought it was rain drops starting to fall.  There was rain in the forecast.  But it was strange because he did not feel any rain drops fall on his face.   The needles continued to fall.  He looked around for a squirrel or bird that may have caused the needles to fall.  And then the needles stopped falling.

Soon afterwards David noticed that the tree was swaying slightly.  It was swaying slightly from right –to-left.  It swayed just a little, just enough so that David thought his vision was playing tricks on him in the dark.  It was very dark and David was alone in the woods.  The tree stopped swaying.  Moments later the tree started to sway again.  It move just a little and then it stopped.  David looked around to see if the wind had started or if a front was moving through the area.  No other tree moved.  Nothing else moved.  No branches or leaves moved.  David wondered why his tree was moving.  The tree did not move again.  He thought that perhaps a bear was using the tree to scratch his claws and mark his territory.  Maybe the scent spray did not work as well as advertised.  David peered over the edge of his seat and looked toward the ground.  He did not see any bear that was for sure.

And then…..

David heard a low, guttural, menacing growl.  A real growl like you would think a lion might make.  He thought the bear must be below him.  So, again David peered out over his seat to see if the bear was lurking in the bushes below.  Nothing, he saw nothing in the early morning light.  Moments later he heard a louder, much louder growl. The sound was a real low, guttural growl that had some real strength to it.

David looked up into the tree and peering back at him was a six foot, 220 pound bear try to get out of the tree.  They stared at each other for a few minutes while David tried to figure out how to get out of the tree without taking his eyes of the bear.  David lifted his tree stand so he could stand up fully and face the tree.  He placed the boots so the heels extended out over the edge.  He positioned his rifle so he could protect himself if the bear moved down the tree any further.  David uttered no expletive only a prayer.

The bear moved.

The gun fired upward into the bear.

The bear fell through the branches nearly knocking David out of the tree stand.  The bear crashed to the ground and all was silent.  With the adrenaline still pumping through his veins David contacted Jeremy on the radio.  Jeremy’s single question was framed around the all- important issue of where is the bear.  David’s single sentence reply was that it had been in the tree and it had fallen out.  David did not know where the bear landed.

DAVID AFFELDT AND HIS NORTHEAST WASHINGTON BRUIN. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

DAVID AFFELDT AND HIS NORTHEAST WASHINGTON BRUIN. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

Minutes later David heard the sound of the ATV as it came roaring down the road and through the woods on the creek trail.  Jeremy arrived with his hand gun drawn.  David was still in the tree stand looking down trying to find the bear.  David asked Jeremy if he could see where the bear had landed.  Jeremy replied that it was located at the base of the tree and it was not moving.  David breathed a prayer of relief and thanksgiving.  Jeremy came around the tree to watch his dad exit the tree.  As Jeremy looked up at David to assist him with his footing on the way down the tree – he gasped.

Jeremy told his dad to look up into the tree. There were four more bears lying in the branches.  It was time to exit the tree and leave the bears alone.

The adventure was over – the adventure will never be over.

THAT DARK LUMP ABOVE THE TREE STAND -- A BEAR. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

THAT DARK LUMP ABOVE THE TREE STAND — A BEAR. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

ANOTHER VIEW OF THE TREE WITH AT LEAST ONE BEAR VISIBLE IN IT. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

ANOTHER VIEW OF THE TREE WITH AT LEAST ONE BEAR VISIBLE IN IT. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

 

From ‘Whimper’ To ‘BOOM!’ — Gratifying End To Man’s Quest To Kill A Blacktail

“Blacktail season ended for me with a whimper,” wrote a friend on Tuesday morning.

He’d hiked his usual logging road up the hill near his Snohomish County house and worked the clearcuts hard over two weekends, and all he had to show for it was a set of sore legs, wet hunting gear, a newfound loathing for fog, and a single sighting of, of course, a doe.

Of bear sign, there was plenty. But as for anything bearing antlers, no such luck.

“Man,” I emailed back, “are you really, really, really sure that there are even blacktails, let alone bucks, up there?”

Despite plenty of pictorial evidence piling up in my inbox over this and past falls, and the two-point rack over my door, I’m still generally suspicious about claims of bucks on the west side of the Cascades.

Eric, however, is positive they exist. The images he sends from his backyard trail cam are hard for him to dismiss as shadows, does with antler-shaped sticks behind their heads, weather balloons. Same with the copious sign he sees up on the hill.

As this week wore on, those legs of his loosened up, his clothes dried, and he realized he actually still had a few days of rifle hunting left to go.

“Argh, last day of season,” Eric wrote me Halloween morning.

He was telling me about a new, shorter road he’d poked around for the first time the evening before, though the initial survey wasn’t too promising.

“Nothing. Lots of bear activity, though. They are really working the blackberries, have pretty much tapped them out. Trails and tunnels and trampled bushes everywhere. I’ll try again tonight.  This is very frustrating,” he said.

He’s put himself through this routine for most of the last ten late Octobers.

I feel sorry for him. The building anguish in his emails is palpable. I almost want to ask the gods to be merciful on him. “This man deserves a buck! He’s put in the time, boot leather and intel gathering about his local clearcuts. He’s doing it right! Give him a break!

“Or just put him out of his misery!”

The blacktails have taunted him.

Literally.

Following his luckless October 2008 hunt, a buck put up three rubs in his driveway, each closer and closer to the house.

Teetering on the edge of sanity, Eric emailed to say, “I figure when he enters the garage, I’ll take him.”

This season, while he was wandering around in the fog up on the hill, his trail cam revealed he’d had a visitor back home — “a nice buck came through the property at 12:15 p.m.”

It was the same way, for both of us, before he got his first deer, in Eastern Washington.

He’d had a horrible run of luck.

A 4-pointer in his sights and a dud of a bullet in the chamber, and which he’d inscrutably reloaded for a second shot instead of ejecting and firing a new cartridge.

A spike whitetail in front of him that a hunting partner bagged.

A four-pointer that somehow got past him and I blasted.

The low point might have been when a muley buck literally — I kid you not — snuck up on him.

He’s since bagged two, one a very, very nice animal.

But at the same time, I don’t know that I really believe anyone “deserves” a buck. You either get one when you crack their code, get lucky (my tactic), or break out of your rut.

Yesterday, on the last afternoon of season, Eric took his wife, Melissa, out with him for the first time, again to the new road.

It happened quickly.

As they started up a skid, there up ahead 35 or 40 yards was a limber young buck, its butt and head both pointing back at them.

It’s unclear whose jaw dropped further in disbelief, Eric’s or the blacktail’s.

(One wonders if Melissa’s thoughts weren’t along the lines of, And what the hell is so difficult about this, again?)

“This never happens! We weren’t supposed to see anything,” Eric says.

“I take the scope cover off, mount the rifle and see what I think are spikes and ask Melissa to confirm it’s a spike. She does and I tell her to close her eyes. The deer angles more towards me. Boom!”

It wasn’t the cleanest of kills, nor the biggest of spikes, but it’s a first for my friend.

“After all these years of hunting these blacktails, it finally happens, last night of the season, just before 5 p.m.” Eric emailed this morning. “I get to avoid tag soup!”

(ERIC BELL)

WITH NO ROOM ON THE BLACKTAIL’S SPIKE TO SECURE HIS TAG, ERIC STRAPPED IT AROUND THE ANIMAL’S LOWER JAW. (ERIC BELL)

Bigger ones will come, Eric, easier ones will fall, but you have earned this one. Way to stick to it.

Waidmanns heil!; you, sir, are a hunter.

Buzz’s Northwest Wyoming Bull

Five Washington big game hunters are headed back west with memories of a Rocky Mountain hunt to last the rest of their lives.

Nine days in some of the Lower 48’s wildest country, wolves and a grizzly in and around camp, bugle-responsive bulls, and the sight of herds and herds of elk migrating out of Yellowstone as winter sets in in the high country.

“I’d do a hunt like this again,” vows Buzz Ramsey of Klickitat. “It was unlike anything.”

The Yakima Bait brand manager and contributor to Northwest Sportsman magazine “just got out of the woods last night” and this morning forwarded us a pic of his 6×6.

BUZZ AND HIS NORTHWEST WYOMING 6-POINT BULL. (BUZZ RAMSEY)

THOUGH BUZZ RAMSEY IS MOST ASSOCIATED WITH SALMON AND STEELHEAD FISHING, HE SWITCHES OUT HIS ORANGE CORKIES FOR HUNTER ORANGE IN OCTOBER TO PURSUE DEER AND ELK, EVEN MOOSE AND ANTELOPE WHEN HE CAN DRAW PERMITS. HERE HE POSES WITH HIS LATEST KILL, A NORTHWEST WYOMING 6-POINT BULL. (BUZZ RAMSEY)

It was one of a quartet of bulls bagged during the trip, which came together when five veteran western Yakima County elk hunters realized they weren’t getting any younger and it was time to check off a bucket-list hunt or risk kicking the bucket before making it.

Their guided, general-season-tag hunt began a week ago Monday with a pack train of 26 horses, six hunters overall and three guides riding three hours into a Northwest Wyoming wilderness at the edge of the national park.

Ramsey describes a steep, rugged landscape of treacherous canyons, high peaks and trails along precipices.

“If somebody would have slipped (while riding), I don’t know,” he says.

One pack animal did roll, four times, splintering a hunter’s rifle’s stock. Fortunately, the steed was all right, though one eye swelled shut, he says.

Elk camp sat at 7,000 feet, and the men bucked their own firewood, per wilderness rules barring motors, with a crosscut saw.

The warmth and light came in handy. One night at least two different wolves — Ramsey says he could tell by the different pitches — howled right by camp, and on another occasion, a grizzly went through their corral.

“You could tell there was a grizzly — the horses got real quiet, and the dogs started barking,” Ramsey says.

Three shots fired in the air pushed the predator away, but the hunters also ran into another bruin along a trail, he adds.

(JIM PEACO, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE)

AMPHITHEATER MOUNTAIN, YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK. (JIM PEACO, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE)

Before this season began, the area had been hit by a snowstorm, and that seemed to have kick-started the elk migration east.

Ramsey says one of the hunters saw 100 elk, including four or five big bulls, in a single herd.

“We hunted out of camp every day, going in different directions,” he says.

Sometimes they sat and watched trails out of the park, and other times rode around.

Two of his friends tagged out on the first day, with a 7×6 and a 6×6.

He says that unlike during Washington’s rifle elk hunt, by which time a bull can just about identify the make and model of every call it heard in the early season, these elk were still really responsive to bugles.

At first he was skeptical they would be.

“The guide started talking about this, and I thought, ‘Yeah, right,’ but he was right,” Ramsey says.

His outfitter’s tactic was to bugle a time or two to identify bulls, and then when he had their attention, switch to cow calls. Then he would call from thick brush, which helped him hide better as the bulls came to investigate.

“The guide called my bull within 50 yards. It was coming right in,” he adds. “He was looking for the cow.”

Others in his party took their elk at 200 and 500 yards.

The bulls also whistled, as it were, at the hunters’ mounts.

“Three different times on the trail with horses we had elk bugle at us thinking we were another band of elk,” Ramsey says.

In another major difference between Washington and Wyoming elk, he was surprised by how long it takes for the herd to move out of the park to their wintering grounds near Cody.

“In the Naches, the migration starts and they’re out of there in three or four days,” Ramsey says. “The Yellowstone migration goes over a month. The biologists say 7,000 or 8,000 elk move through here.”

Every day brought elk sightings — but there was also a period of very low activity, he reports.

“There were wolf tracks everywhere,” Ramsey recalls. “When the wolves went through the canyon, (the elk) were out of Dodge.”

Still, the guide told him that there weren’t enough resident elk in the migration corridor to sustain a pack, and that most wolves stick to the larger herds in Yellowstone.

Higher grizzly numbers as well as long-term drought are also affecting Northwest Wyoming’s Clarks Fork herd, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

“Guys hear all about wolves … but there still is some excellent hunting on migrating elk around Yellowstone National Park,” Ramsey attests.

As the hunt drew to a close this week, one of the last two men with live tags passed on a 5×5 and cleanly missed another while the other settled on a 3×3,

“Five of us Washington hunters got four elk,” he says.

MOST OF THE WASHINGTON SPORTSMEN WHO WENT ON THE WYOMING ELK HUNT APPEARED ON A 2010 NORTHWEST SPORTSMAN COVER WITH ONE MEMBER'S PEACHES RIDGE BULL. (BUZZ RAMSEY)

MOST OF THE WASHINGTON SPORTSMEN WHO WENT ON THE WYOMING ELK HUNT APPEARED ON A 2010 NORTHWEST SPORTSMAN COVER WITH ONE MEMBER’S PEACHES RIDGE BULL. (BUZZ RAMSEY)

And even on the ride out yesterday, the day after season ended, the party still was running into elk.

But those are the ones that got away for this year.

Maggie, clear a space on the walls, Buzz is bringing home another trophy.

And make room on the bookshelves for one trophy of a hunt.

Carl’s First Bull

by Carl Lewallen

Took this 4×4 bull on the last day of archery season, my first.

CARL LEWALLEN AND HIS GRIZZLY UNIT BULL. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

CARL LEWALLEN AND HIS INDIGO UNIT BULL. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

It was a long, hard season. I didn’t even feel like going out on the last day — got up late, couldn’t find keys, out of coffee, nothing seem to be going right.

Went anyway and met my buddy Ron. We took off and decided to go into an area that we normally wouldn’t. Went there because we were running late. We parked and hiked in a few miles, called and hunted for several hours. Nothing.

We decided to go back to the rig and move to another area. On the way back out, we got busted by a small herd right next to the trail.

Disappointed, frustrated, ready to give up. We had already been out for days and weekends hiking and hunting our butts off. We had gone east and got into some elk there and blew it. Ron had taken a cow elk over there the weekend before and I was into that same herd, just couldn’t get a shot.

RON GARDNER'S GRIZZLY UNIT COW. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

RON GARDNER’S GRIZZLY UNIT COW. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

Anyway, that last day, we got back to the rig and took off to another spot. At this time it was about 2 in the afternoon and looking pretty hopeless. We stopped to glass over some areas, and actually spotted some elk about a mile away along some tall timber. Soaked to the bone by the pouring-down rain but excited to see the animals, we took off after them.

When we got to where we thought they were, and Ron, who was calling for me, did a couple of soft cow-calf calls and got a call back. Knowing where they were we made a move so as to have the wind in our favor

Ron made a couple more soft calls and boom there was a 5X5 on top of us just like that — no sound, just came running in. There was no time to do anything except to look and see the bull turn and run at less than 10 yards from us.

I looked at Ron in disbelief. What next?!? I hadn’t even had enough time to draw my bow before the bull was in and out. The wind was in our favor, so he must have seen something.

Ron motioned me to move a step or two for a better open shot, then made a few soft calls again. I heard what I thought might be the same bull coming up on my left and this time I was at full draw as the bull stepped out at less than 15 yards. I hit the release and sent my arrow on its way. It connected right where I was aiming.

From there on, it seemed liked all was in slow motion, but it all really happened in seconds. The bull turned, went less than 50 or so yards in a little opening and fell as I sat and watched it all take place.

It seemed as though I couldn’t get there fast enough.

“Patience, calm down,” I kept telling myself, “Give the bull time, make sure he doesn’t get back up, nock another arrow, be ready.”

You know, all those things that go through your head when the adrenaline is flowing 100 miles hour.

That is how it happened for me this year. Finally, all the missed opportunities, all the hours, all the miles of driving and hiking, calling and hunting, all the work for this one moment in life that will forever be in my memory, somthing I can share with friends and family.

I was using 100-grain, three-blade Muzzies and shooting a Bowtech Pro 40. I was in the Indigo Unit.

After all was said and done, and the bull was all quartered and packed out, the big crash from so much adrenaline came. But there is nothing else that could compare to that experience.

(BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

(BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

Dad’s Big Cow Elk

by Joshua Leavell

Hunting in Lewis County Washington GMU 667 during the 2012 blackpowder season, the day after I shot a cow elk my dad, Tracey Leavell, killed his big cow.

On day one, not even 5 minutes out of the truck, we heard that sound that every elk hunter loves: a bull elk bugling not far away. Long story short, there was a small bunch with a few legal bulls in it, but they winded us and ran off.

Now the kicker, 5 minutes later — BAM … BAM … We had run them right to someone else. We met up with the guy later who then told us he had killed a 4×4 bull.

Next day, Dad and I hit the same spot but we came in separately to pinch anything that may be in the area. Low and behold, after about 30 minutes into my hunt before I met up with Dad in the middle, I had bumped into a cow elk about 30 yards away from me almost in the same spot as we saw them the day before! I watched her for a while and decided I would let her go and try for a bull since it was only the second day of the season.

Didn’t see another elk the rest of the day.

Day 3, ready to take a cow at this point, Dad and I tried our split approach as we did the day prior. Dad was on elk, I was on more elk but neither of us could get close enough for a shot with a muzzleloader.

Eventually after a few rounds of getting close and spooking them off, they were long gone.

Later on that morning I heard that sound we all love to hear again, but this bull was screaming his head off, breaking branches, and the cows were chirping back.

After slipping in to the thicket and finding myself on the edge of the heard , I could not see a thing yet they were all right there. I could hear them clear as day, but not even as much as a leaf was moving.

I decided I was close enough. Trying not to spook anything I took a seat against a tree and just listened. It was like I was a part of the herd or something as they continued to thrash around, not going anywhere, making all kinds of noise.

Shortly after, there was movement and a cow elk gave me a perfect shot. 35 yards away and broadside. Cow elk down — now the work begins.

Day 4 was exactly like our first day this season, but Dad was able to get an elk. We walked in together and not 5 to 10 minutes from the truck, he spotted a cow. I went up to cut her off while Dad stood back and tried a direct approach.

Hoping to chase this cow back to Dad for a shot, I slowly worked my way up then back to try and button hook her. Then I ran into more elk with at least one 5×5 in the bunch. I spooked them and off they were, only in the wrong direction. They were gone.

Don’t know where that cow went that Dad spotted. Trying to meet back up with Dad I went to where we split off, and Ill be damned if that cow had disappeared and went right back to where Dad saw her the first time.

Who button hooked who now?

Haha!

So I’m watching these cows about 200 yards away and Dad finally meets back up with me and he was able to get a good 60 yard standing broadside shot at this nice 400-pound (gutted and skinned) cow!

IT TOOK A BIT OF WORKING A HERD, BUT TRACEY LEAVELL EVENTUALLY BAGGED THIS COW ELK NEAR CENTRALIA, WASH., IN OCTOBER 2012. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

IT TOOK A BIT OF WORKING A HERD, BUT TRACEY LEAVELL EVENTUALLY BAGGED THIS COW ELK NEAR CENTRALIA, WASH., IN OCTOBER 2012. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

Another incredible elk season in the books for 2012.

Oh, forgot to mention: This was our first  time hunting anything blackpowder!