After last year's fiasco during muzzleloader season http://www.biggamehunt.net/forum/just-another-smooth-hunt, we all felt like we had unfinished business up in the elk woods. While we are notorious unit hoppers, Ryan and I wanted to go back up there partly because we enjoyed many aspects of the hunt, and partly because we needed to prove to at least one of those elk that last year was a fluke.
Unfortunately, none of us drew bull tags, so this was going to be an expensive and difficult meat hunt, but hopefully we'd at least enjoy some rutting activity with a chance for a cow.
The plan was to arrive at the trailhead sometime between noon and two, then pack in with at least an hour to spare before dark.
Once again, things did not go according to plan, and we got to the trailhead by about 3:00 pm, which would be pushing it to ride 4 plus hours and set up camp before dark. And then, to really compound matters, the transmission on Ryan's truck puked about 6 quarts of fluid on the Forest Service road in to base camp. Since it was a Saturday, we knew there was no fixing it (wouldn't engage a gear at all), so we decided to head up early Sunday morning but come out sometime midweek to get the transmission fixed. A generous hunter brought us some transmission fluid from town that night, allowing the truck to slip into gear, giving us some hope of driving into town when we got back from the hunt.
Anyway, we hit the trail by about 8:00 am Sunday, and between then and Wednesday afternoon, we rarely went more than a few hours without rain, which is not a great ingredient for a muzzleloader hunt.
At one point, after a small break on the ride up, Ryan's horse threw him off while he was mounting him. Thankfully, it was in a grassy area, and Ryan only landed on his butt. Other than being a little sore, he was no worse for wear. However, I was starting to feel like this would be a repeat of last year's rodeo instead of redemption.
To then compound things, when we finally arrived at our old camp, the site was taken by another hunter. Plan B was also taken. On our way in we saw what looked like a potential Plan C site, which then rode back to. Plan C had no real amenities already set up, so built the fire pit, arranged the sitting logs, saddle logs, creek crossing log, meat pole (later), set up the high line for the horses, put together the corral, and finally relaxed for a minute. In the end it was probably best that we didn't rush things and try to get in the night before and we still had a very comfortable camp.
But let's back up a minute...As we crested out in a meadow near camp on the ride up, we finally had a chance to test the new secret grouse weapon: the Slingshot! I tried to get a little video of the event, but of course turned the video off when I thought Ryan would never hit one. Turns out he got one right in the back, causing it to flop around long enough for him to run up and wring it's neck. Later that night we roasted it and added it to our Mountain House meals... I Sweet and Sour Mountain House Grouse, while Ryan had Teriyaki Chicken and Grouse.
We did manage to get in a little hunting later that night, but it was fairly unproductive. The next morning we slept in while it rained, then got up to tend to the horses by about 7:30, gear up and head out into some north and east facing timber. We wanted to check out some potential wallows or ponds we might have IDed on satellite photos, but didn't think they'd be using them this year because it was so green.
Regardless, we decided to set up on one of those ponds and do a little cold calling. Barely 3 to 5 minutes later, a coyote comes up the trail, followed by a little raghorn bull who came within 10 yards of us. I wasn't able to get the camera up because I was watching the coyote when the bull came in.
As we sat there while the bull tried to figure out what we were, a grouse flew up into a nearby tree, and I took this little bit of video as a preview of what I thought was about to be a grouse hunt:
While we were sneaking around, trying to find which tree the grouse landed in, we heard a couple of foot steps off to our left. Ryan saw a cow elk's head just below the little finger ridge we were walking along and quickly got into position. I mostly just froze until I finally saw her. Ryan stopped her with a little cow call, where I had no chance to back him up, as she was quartering away through a bunch of twigs.
He fired, but didn't feel very confident at the shot. However, when she wheeled, I thought I saw a huge spray of blood coming out of her. Regardless, we decided to play it slow. After 15 minutes we went to look for blood, and as Ryan had feared, it was liver blood, with a little bit of rumen in it.
Turns out, we were being overly cautious as he made a perfect shot straight through her heart and she was dead 100 yards away. Bullet was a .50 cal 300 something grain Platinum Power Belt that stopped in the offside shoulder muscle.
We packed out a deboned quarter each on the 3/4 mile hike back to camp.
The bugling was really slow where we were at, though we were still getting into elk. We cut the hunt short after feeling satisfied enough and headed back down to deal with the truck.
While the hunt wasn't everything we wanted in terms of rutting activity, we did get a little redemption up there.