A Tough Year To Top

Preface by Jeff Holmes;
Story by Sean Hansen

 

Through my work with Field and Stream magazine doing their Western states whitetail deer reporting and my work here with Northwest Sportsman, I seek out and receive a lot of verified hunting and fishing reports, including from some truly great sportsmen. During 2014, no one’s results surprised me more than those of Sean Hansen and his hunting partners. I featured his friend’s 150-class Blue Mountains whitetail and a stack of mule deer and elk heads from that same camp on F&S, but it was Hansen’s consistent success that stood out.

Like a cat who just seems to kill a new squirrel or bird every day, Hansen flashed braces of trout, salmon and walleye across my phone screen in 2014, followed by geese, elk, bear, deer and more elk. He’s not pro staff, doesn’t hunt private ground, isn’t otherwise “connected” in the industry, and isn’t local where he hunts. He’s a hardworking young biologist who puts in the time and the sweat, and who was rewarded richly during the 2014 hunting season. Here’s his story:

MY HOMETOWN IS Camas, just east of Vancouver, but this summer I worked for the Forest Service in their fisheries department based out of Kettle Falls, Wash. I had just graduated from Washington State University this last May with a bachelor’s degree in biology, so without a lot of baggage to weigh me down, I was able to spend a lot of time pursuing my passions of fishing and hunting. I am used to pursuing elk and blacktails on the west side of the state, so when I got the job in Kettle Falls, I saw it as an opportunity to learn how to hunt the Eastside and pursue some species that I had not harvested before, like whitetails, Rocky Mountain elk and black bear.

My job with the Forest Service really helped with getting to know the area over there, since I was working in the woods every day. I was able to do a lot of scouting in the early season and find the animals and begin to pattern them. I also made friends with some good people who had knowledge of the area, and they pointed me in the right direction of where to begin scouting. After watching the deer, elk and bears all summer with the use of trail cams and a good set of binos, I had a great idea of what I needed to do, and where to be, come opening day.

I was able to harvest a Northeast Washington elk calf right at the end of early archery season. I set up a blind and bait site with a trail cam that I checked regularly, and the animals were using it, but I was never able to be sitting in the blind when a shooter animal was at the site. I ended up getting my elk by spotting and stalking it in a clearcut and then cow calling frantically with the help of my partner. It came running right in for a double-lung 30-yard shot. Then as I was retrieving my arrow and my partner was retrieving his backpack, 100 yards away a spike was closing in on all the commotion. Long story short, the spike busted right as my partner was coming to full draw, and we couldn’t convince it to come back into range.

Sean Hansen of Camas, Wash., made the most of his summer working for the Forest Service in Northeast Washington, using his time off to scout public land. He arrowed and one-shot killed this 6-foot-4 bear from 40 yards after an exciting stalk. (SEAN HANSEN)

Sean Hansen of Camas, Wash., made the most of his summer working for the Forest Service in Northeast Washington, using his time off to scout public land. He arrowed and one-shot killed this 6-foot-4 bear from 40 yards after an exciting stalk. (SEAN HANSEN)

 

I ALSO HARVESTED a 6-foot-4, 300-plus-pound color-phase black bear a few days prior to my Washington elk. Based on tracks and scat, I knew there was a good number of bruins in the area, and some large ones at that. The area we were hunting was a high-elevation huckleberry meadow that we were actually targeting for elk. Walking in at first light we heard some large sticks popping in the meadow below us, so we sat in the middle of an abandoned road and waited to see what was about to unfold. Rather unexpectedly, a very large-bodied bear lumbered across the road in front of us, feeding his way along, totally oblivious of our presence.

With the bear at 30 yards but no clear shot, we made a game plan to split up to see if one of us could get a shot. I hooked around and above the bear hoping it would come to me, while my partner tried following it. He had the bear at 10 yards at one point but no shot. I lost track of it for at least 30 minutes before I heard some rustling just 50 yards away. I ranged the possible paths it might take, and lucky for me, it took the one at 40 yards. I was able to make a calm, collected shot, hitting the bear midbody and taking out one lung.

The tracking job was interesting because when I checked my arrow, there was just grease on it – no blood. I was very confused because the shot had looked good, but I then began to seriously doubt my shot was even fatal. I ended up giving it four hours before going to make a recovery because I didn’t really want to walk up on a big wounded bear. Right after I made the shot on this bear, it wheeled around biting at the arrow and growling and then taking off through the brush. What I didn’t know was that it barreled right toward my partner and then turned about 15 feet in front of him, scaring the crap out of him. What he did observe from his angle, though, was that the bear stumbled a few times, showing how he was injured pretty severely. So after looking for signs of blood with no luck, I just walked in the direction that I last heard a crash, and luckily enough, found the bear laying 150 yards from where I shot, stiff as a board. I felt so relieved to find him because I had lost hope after finding no blood.

 

DRAWING THE MULTISEASON tag, I was able to hunt all the seasons before late archery, when I killed my buck, a Northeast Washington whitetail. I was able to join my usual hunting group, The Sh*tridge Boys, down in the Blue Mountains for general rifle season, and even though others in the group took some nice bucks, I was never able to find a shooter. I did pass on some small bucks during late bow season, but did not have any other opportunities at shooters other than the one I capitalized on.

I harvested the four-point whitetail with my PSE Bowmadness and Slicktrick broadheads in late November, when the rut was in full swing. I was hunting an area with a lot of feed and dense areas of cover early one morning and found a buck frantically chasing does, like a dog with his nose to the ground. I was able to come to full draw on this buck at 50 yards but never had a clear lane to let an arrow fly. The activity settled down at midday and I didn’t see any more deer, so I ended up returning to that same spot for the evening hunt.

The spot I was sitting at was a high cliff bank that overlooked thick hardwood bottoms on each side, with a pinch-point trail directly below me. The bank was so high, though, that the possible shots were long and at a steep angle. About a half hour before the end of shooting light, I heard some leaves rustling and then spotted a buck walking down the trail directly towards me. I came to full draw as he was walking and stopped him with a grunt when he reached the tree I had ranged at 55 yards. The angle was so steep, though, my rangefinder with ARC, or angle range compensation, told me to shoot as though it was 40. I released the arrow and immediately the buck wheeled and ducked.

The arrow was in flight for so long that the buck was actually able to flip his body around 180 degrees, and I hit him on the opposite side I had aimed at. This put my arrow a little further back than I originally wanted, but I heard it was a solid hit. I backed out and gave the deer three hours before going in for the recovery. I went directly to my arrow to help me understand what kind of hit I had made. After finding a bloody arrow and walking 30 yards on the blood trail, I found my buck lying right there. With the exception of my cougar tag, I was tagged out in Washington.

Hansen’s wallet contained only a Washington cougar tag by season’s end, a year that included some extracurricular elk hunting in Montana. He dropped his first bull with a rifle after felling his first ever elk, a fat calf, with a bow weeks prior in the Evergreen State. (SEAN HANSEN)

Hansen’s wallet contained only a Washington cougar tag by season’s end, a year that included some extracurricular elk hunting in Montana. He dropped his first bull with a rifle after felling his first ever elk, a fat calf, with a bow weeks prior in the Evergreen State. (SEAN HANSEN)

 

JUST PRIOR TO my whitetail hunt in Washington, I was able to harvest a five-point bull in Montana. My dad and I had big game combination tags to each harvest a deer and an elk. We did see some smaller bucks, but nothing we wanted to fill our tags on at that time. Hunting with some friends who live near Bozeman, we were each able to fill our elk tags within a few days of each other on our 10-day hunt.

I killed my bull at 400 yards with an 8mm Mag. I spotted the herd from about 2,000 yards and we made a stalk into shooting range. The temp was 7 degrees below zero at this time, and my fingers were so cold that it was difficult to pull the trigger. I was able to pick out the largest bull in the herd and put a kill shot on him.

I was so excited walking up on my first bull. We quartered it, and four of us packed out all but the hindquarters that night. The pack out was about a mile and a half uphill on an old, gated-off road, and when we returned the next day, there were two more bulls standing 200 yards from where mine was. With no one left with an unnotched tag, we got to watch them look at us for 10 minutes. All in all, it was an awesome trip to Montana, with a lot of good memories taken from it.

This past season I was able to harvest my first whitetail, elk and bear – all with archery equipment – and my first bull elk with a rifle. It will be pretty hard to beat in 2015, but I am going to try. We have plans on archery hunting Oregon for elk, Montana again for deer and elk, and, of course, Washington for late archery deer. I’m not sure where I’ll end up working or hunting next fall, but I’ll look to do more fisheries-related work after enjoying the job I had this summer. I am also interested in getting my guide license to do some guiding on the side for fishing, but if it works out, I may even pursue it as a career. NS

 

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