Hunt Planned. Animals Laugh at Plan. Part I
In June we found out that my wife was successful in drawing not one, but two coveted limited entry tags here in our home state of Idaho. My initial excitement quickly turned to uneasiness as I realized I would have to take time off from work for both an elk and a deer tag that were not my own. And, to make it possible that I could take that time off, I would not be able to scout this area prior to our hunt – not that I’m always a “glass-half-empty” type, but I was worried that this hunt with amazing success rates could turn into a dud in a hurry.
I blocked those thoughts with reminders that every time I’d visited that area for summer backpacking trips as a kid, I’d seen plenty of game. What little information that could be gleaned off the internet confirmed that seeing game would not be a problem – but getting close enough for a shot could be. The other issue brought up by the internet overlords was that foot hunters would have problems in this unit – some people even going so far as to say if you can’t use animals on this hunt, it is a worthless hunt. Imagine my shock upon reading hyperbole on the internet!
We finally decided we would take two three day trips for this hunt – one at the beginning of the season (October 11-13 to be exact) in which we would target elk that could still be rutting, and the other trip we wanted to save for the end of the season when the mule deer could be starting to rut (November 1-3). Of course, I figured we’d probably come across a few mule deer by happenstance on our first trip, and perhaps we’d walk out with a buck.
Something about new country inspires unrealistic expectations. As we began hiking, I was filled with anticipation of there being a big bull behind every tree, rock, and brush. After 15 minutes, I began glassing further away. After an hour I was beginning to wonder if there were any elk in the unit. This is the way the human brain works. And we’re the “intelligent” species.We covered a lot of beautiful elk country that first day, and even watched someone pack a small 5 point bull out of the exact area we were hunting. But at the end of the day you could count the elk and mule deer we saw on your fingers even if you were a double arm amputee. I guess I’m trying to say that we didn’t see anything.
Our optimism from the beginning of the first day was back for the morning of the second day. We decided to hunt some more difficult country under the theory that the elk had likely been pressured into the nasty stuff. As we plunged down the side of the mountain through the brilliant yellowing leaves we noticed a lot of elk sign that was a few weeks old. This gave me confidence because if the elk were in this area a few weeks ago, they were probably still somewhere close by. We proceeded down the mountain. Finally, we came on seemingly fresh tracks – then they were confirmed fresh by a pile of fresh scat. Excitement boiled. We elected to follow the tracks, but soon they petered out and we were left to wander in their general direction. Excitement was brought back to a simmer, and then by the time noon rolled around excitement had grown cold. We carried our weary bodies out of the hole we’d dropped into.
Finally, we got a break from the nice, warm weather. This is the kind of sentence that defines how crazy hunters are. The weather had turned cold and rainy overnight, and we were hopeful that the change would get the animals moving. We hiked out a ridge and just as the excitement of a new day was beginning to drift into a pile of dead, smoldering leaves I spotted a herd of elk rounding a knob some thousand yards away. Finally, we had something to hunt! It took us quite some time to work our way to their location and by that time, the elk were gone. I figured they would have fed down into the timber – probably looking for a place to bed. So, we decided to slowly make our way into the timber with them. Soon, we noticed we were surrounded by elk. There were elk in front of and on both sides of us – and they were close. Peering through the trees and brush, we’d only catch glimpses of the bodies as they fed and mingled. Once I thought I caught a glimpse of a bull, but I couldn’t be sure. After a while, the wind stopped playing friendly with us and carried our scent to the elk, and just like that the game was over. Had we carried a cow tag with us, we could have been happy hunters, but as it was we never could say with conviction that we’d seen a bull.
We went home from this first trip discouraged by the lack of animals – and even worse, the lack of sign. I never even thought that not seeing animals would be our problem – but, there we were.
To be continued…