This year’s fall elk hunt was a tough one. I hunted third rifle season, which ran from November 6th through November 14th. Third season is always chilly, and this year was no different. We had it pretty easy the first weekend. It at least got above 40 degrees during the day.
The first Saturday of the hunt, we only saw three or four cow elk where we hunted. We spent 9 hours hunting that day and never saw or heard a bull elk. so we decided to go to a different area the next day. Hank and I rode the horses for about 12 hours. We rode through the brush, the creeks, and then up the steepest mountains. We finally heard a bull!
We dismounted quickly and quietly and weren’t even 25 feet from the horses when not one but two bulls jumped us! It was completely unexpected by them and us. The second I saw them, I raised my rifle, but they were gone in a flash. Hank and I continued on that day and saw three more bulls. None were in positions where I could get a shot. They were all in the thick, thick timber and hard to spot. We sat and listened as the bulls bugled and chuckled until dark. No elk were answering to calls and none seemed even to be moving. That first weekend gave me nothing, but I was still pumped for the weekend to come.
I finished my work week and headed out for the second weekend of third rifle season.
That second weekend of third rifle season, we woke up at 2:30 in the morning! We ate a light breakfast, drank our coffee, and then saddled the horses. We headed up to the trailhead with two of our great friends who had been hunting and had not gotten anything yet either.
As we rode, I noted that I had three layers of clothing and was still chilled. We rode for three hours in the dark up to an area where Hank and I had seen elk the weekend before. We stopped and waited at the edge of a meadow for daylight. I stood there and shivered. My toes were cold in my 1000-gram Thinsulate boots, and my fingers were frozen in my gloves.
We remained quiet and watched and listened as full light came. We saw nothing, and we heard nothing. Finally, one of the guys in our group, who musta have been more frozen than me, started walking. He walked over to an old camp from seasons before and grabbed some firewood. We all smiled and were pretty excited when we saw the smoke. We had to go over there too and get warm! Thank you to the hunters who didn’t burn all the wood!!!
We warmed our toes by the fire for a little while. When it died down, we made sure it was snuffed out, and we headed on our way. Our friends headed one way, and Hank and I headed the other. We jumped about five cows and then tried to quietly look for more. The snow was frozen and crunchy. We weren’t doing a good job of sneaking on the horses, so we decided to tie them up and try to hike a little. We crossed fresh elk, coyote, and bear tracks but never saw a bull. Finally, we stopped our search when we crossed someone else’s fresh elk tracks.
Apparently, the elk were being hunted pretty hard in this area. We headed back to our friends and our horses and hunted our way out. Along the way, Hank and I found trails in the snow from nearly 100 elk on our way out. We were pumped! This could really pan out. We studied the area and devised a plan for tomorrow’s hunt.
We arrived back at the truck at 3:30 in the afternoon to see the temperature was barely 39 degrees. Back to base, we headed to warm up from the day, relax and get a good night’s sleep because tomorrow would be the last day and another early one.
It’s the last day of the season and I hadn’t even seen a bull through my scope yet. We woke up at three in the morning, saddled, and headed to the trailhead. Today I added an additional layer of clothing. I knew it would be a long day. I was going to get something today, or at least stay out until shooting light was gone trying. The extra layers did the trick. It was still cold, but I wasn’t shivering!
Hank and I headed to the area where we knew there was a large herd of elk. We were set up before light and ready. We saw four cows, and then we saw six cows crossing through the thick timber. Never saw a bull and never heard the sound of one. The elk still weren’t talking. We waited there as long as we could and then started our hike, looking for a bull. We found plenty of fresh sign, but in this snow, we could not stalk quietly enough. The snow crunched under our boots. We hiked further. We were at least warm from the hike, but I knew it was frigid out because of the icicles that had formed on my eyelashes. We pushed on and found another good spot to sit and wait. We could hear the elk walking over the ridges and up the hills. We stalked, moving in very short spurts, stopping and standing, moving again. We crossed our tracks from the day before, and right across those tracks were the fresh tracks of a mountain lion.
We weren’t the only ones hunting today. These elk were getting a lot of pressure. We headed to a meadow we knew of to have lunch and make a plan for the rest of the day. At the bottom of the meadow, we came across a fresh elk rub. There were pine needles and elk urine everywhere. This bull was mad. Still, we did not hear a bugle or cow call the entire morning.
While we sat and ate lunch, I consulted with my guide. Hank, my husband, has a second job, and it is taking me hunting! He asked my opinion we debated on what to do. He gave me two choices of meadows to sit and wait until dark. The snow wasn’t going to let us spot and stalk anything. We were going to have to play the odds and go with LUCK. I told him “You are the guide. You decide, and that is what I want to do.”
He decided on another area. We packed it up, hiked for a couple of hours back to the horses, and rode out of there. Despite the cold (it was 38 degrees today when we got to the truck) we were soaking wet, from sweat, by the time we got back to the truck. We decided to stop at our base camp and change into dry gear. We didn’t want to get chilled waiting until dark in wet clothes. Afterward, we headed up the trail to get me a bull!
We rode up the trail to the area my guide had chosen. We snuck up and stalked a bull through the trees. There he was! It was as though Mother Nature had placed him there for us. He was in the middle of the clearing waiting for me. My guide suggested the spot, and BAM! There he was.
After hiking, riding, freezing, and waking up before the roosters, we found him. It was hard work, but it paid off!
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