By Mark Kenyon

14 nights in a sleeping bag. 4,000 miles on the truck and dozens on the boots. Six frozen meals in the back of a truck, six freeze-dried meals in the mountains, two bags of cookies, countless coffees, breakfast bars and cliff shots.  After all of that and much more, I am back from my western hunting adventure. And that, in a nutshell, is what my trip was. An adventure.

When we last left off, I was about to embark on the elk hunting leg of my trip and I was heading out with high hopes of continuing the streak of luck that began with my Montana whitetail kill. Unfortunately, that was not meant to be.

The Idaho trip started off with a bang though, as we packed back into the mountains and on the first morning immediately heard bugling bulls. We chased after them for a few hours, never catching up, and then posted up high on a mountain ridge for the day, hoping to get lucky and catch something exiting the bedding cover in the afternoon. Long story short, we did get that luck, and my friend Andy was able to shoot his first elk ever – a nice big cow. The rest of the afternoon was spent gutting, skinning, quartering and packing hundreds of pounds of bone and meat back to the truck.

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Fast forward six days later and that was still our only shot opportunity at an elk. On that first day we saw over 20 elk, but over the next four days we saw only two more. Finally on the second to last day we did spot a herd of seven or eight cows and our first branch antlered bull of the trip, a giant in fact, and we bombed up the mountain after them. But we never did catch up to them, and that was basically the extent of our elk encounters for the rest of trip.

We hiked and hiked and hiked, up and down and up again, dealt with three days of torrential rain, icy cold mornings and just about no bugling to speak of. But we still kept at it. And while two of us never did get to fill our tags, there’s no doubt in my mind that the trip was a success.

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It’s hard to put a hunt like this into words, especially when trying to describe it to someone who’s never elk hunted. Because, to be honest, a DIY backcountry elk hunting trip like this can be absolutely brutal – both physically and mentally. The elements, the physical demands, the struggle of living on next to nothing and of course the obvious challenges of chasing an animal that’s much better suited to its habitat than you are, and trying to do it with nothing but a stick and string. It breaks you down a little more every day, it stretches you far past where you’re comfortable and it gnaws at your inner reserves, every day whispering in your ear to just give up.

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But at the same time, its also so undeniably amazing. Everything on a trip like this is a little sweeter than you’re used to; the rolling hills draped in fog that appear over the horizon after a backbreaking hike, the rare hot meal or splash of water, the full-body shakes after the surprise encounter, the laugh shared after falling in the mud, the rock solid confidence built with every challenge conquered, the bond created with your companions.

A trip like this – even without a cooler of elk meat or a set of antlers to bring home – provides plenty. And for that, I’m thankful.

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