By Mark Kenyon
It’s been a little over two weeks since I’ve sat at my desk and worked, so I gotta admit, this whole typing on a keyboard thing feels kind of weird. Nonetheless, with two weeks of adventures now in the memory bank, it’s certainly time to get back to work and there’s plenty to tell.
I’ll save divulging all of the details until our next episode of the Wired To Hunt Podcast, but in the meantime I thought I’d share at least a few updates and photos from the past two weeks chasing elk across Idaho and Oregon.
The adventures began on September 13th when my podcast co-host Dan Johnson and I headed west on I-80 to eastern Idaho and a patch of National Forest land that I’ve hunted the past two years. Unfortunately, things were much different this year than on my previous two trips. Most notably, the competition from other hunters was intense.
The first issue we noticed was that there were several more trailers and trucks in our parking turn-off than usual, but still I held out hope that these could be some of the ranchers that typically are rounding up grazing livestock in the area. I knew things were going to be bad though when we hiked in, set-up our backcountry camp and then headed down to the nearby creek … And there, in what historically had been prime hunting grounds, we saw a great big camp set-up – complete with three tents, horses and electric fences. Later that day we saw another two hunters hiking past our camp and then later, a family of four. Needless to say, things were going to be very different than the past two years (during which we never had any issues with other hunters at all.)
And then that night, things got worse. The rain began. And it rained. And it rained. And it rained. For four more days.
Over those next four days we had all sorts of issues – flooded tents, soaked clothes, and silent/non-existent elk. But I’ll save those details til this week’s podcast. In short though, we had awful hunting and miserable conditions. Still, we did get to enjoy some beautiful country.
While the trip to Idaho was marred by bad luck and bad weather, things seemed to be quite different on the second leg of my 2015 elk hunting season – as I headed to eastern Oregon. For this hunt I’d be doing something I’ve never done before – hunt with an outfitter. And while I was kind of apprehensive about this, in the end it was a really positive experience.
I’ve always been a DIY guy and had no interest in hunting with an outfitter. But when I was invited this summer to hunt with our friends from Lacrosse/Danner boots at Opal Butte Outfitters in Oregon, it seemed that it was an opportunity I couldn’t say no to. And I’m glad I didn’t.
One of my greatest fears on this hunt was that, since it was with an outfitter, I’d feel like I didn’t “earn” my elk. But it wasn’t too long into the hunt that I realized I’d certainly be earning any success that I might have. I worked my tail off over the five day hunt, as we hiked, and hiked and hiked – even more than I’ve ever done on my own backcountry hunts in Idaho. I’d guess we averaged around 10 miles a day, up and over hill after hill after hill. But the physical work was certainly worth it – as we saw and heard more elk than I ever have over my past three years of elk hunting. To be honest, it was really cool to be in an area with those kind of elk numbers, and it allowed me to see elk behavior that I hadn’t in the past. On top of that, by hunting with a guide, I got an opportunity to learn about elk hunting from someone who actually knew what they were doing – which was a much needed experience for me.
That said – every day we were in the elk, with numerous close encounters and plenty of excitement, but we just could never quite close the deal over the course of the first few days.
But finally, on my final evening of the trip. Things came together, in a pretty crazy way. I’ll share the full story of what happened on that hunt this week on the Wired To Hunt Podcast, but for now, here’s the most important details.
That night, after a crazy, hour long encounter, I got a shot at a nice 5×5 bull. He was coming into our cow calls, and as he got set to enter my final shooting lane, he bugled and began running. As he crossed my lane I bleated to stop him, and then released my arrow as he stood nearly broadside at 45 yards. The arrow was on track exactly where I wanted, but at the shot he immediately spun back the way he came, and turned right into my arrow – resulting in the arrow hitting him dead center of the chest.
Obviously, that’s not the hit I wanted at all. And while the blood trail was actually very good for the first couple hundred yards, after he bedded down and clotted up, the blood soon disappeared. After tracking for several hours that first night, and much of the next day, I finally had to come to terms with that fact that I would not be recovering my elk.
As I’m sure you can imagine, I was devastated – and still am. But as I’ve unfortunately come to realize personally over recent years (as I know many of you have too), this is part of hunting. Nonetheless, the sick feeling in my stomach continues.
I’ll share the full story and lessons learned from this hunt (and those from Idaho) on this week’s podcast. So be sure to tune in.
And now it’s on to whitetails. I’ll be hunting in Michigan on opening day this Thursday and then will be heading to Ohio for the weekend. Hopefully we’ll be able to get things turned around soon.