The year prior had been a great year for our group. My brother got his first deer, 2 bulls were taken (one 6X6 and one non-typical) and our camp found a new unit to hunt that was going to stay productive for both deer and elk. My brother and I felt so confident in the unit that we decided we were going to try our hands at bowhunting. This is the year that the CDOW allowed banking of preference points so we thought it was perfect timing to give the stick and string a try. I would hunt deer and my brother would hunt elk. He was in for a much bleaker hunt than he expected.
Hunting elk with a bow ended out being a lot tougher than he thought. The elk just weren’t talking and he kept saying, "this is nothing like the hunting videos!" I guess he was just a little overoptimistic. He went three weekends of hunting without seeing or hearing an elk. It wasn’t until the last day of the last weekend of the season that he finally saw one. He was still-hunting a nasty, old-growth stand on the backside of one of the mountains in the area and had just crept over a ridge when a spike bull suddenly appeared directly in front of him. He froze. The young bull barked and took off, taking with him another six or so elk.
His tag was for either a legal bull or a legal cow, meaning spike bulls were off limits as their antlers were too long to count as a legal cow and didn’t have the points to count as a legal bull. He couldn’t believe that all of these youngsters were together without one cow or branch antlered bull in the group. He hunkered down and let the elk relax. They only ran about 200 yards and he didn’t think any of them knew what he was. After letting them relax, my brother stalked to within 30 yards and to his dismay, he still couldn’t find a legal cow or legal bull in the group. There was however one elk with its head behind a tree that was larger than any of the other elk. He figured it had to be at least a raghorn. The larger elk never showed his head and eventually they all moved off. On his way back to camp he stumbled onto another spike at less than 10 yards. The yearling bull let out the most pitiful bugle he’d ever heard and then just sat there at arm's length. After a while, he decided my brother wasn’t just a funny looking elk and ran off.
My brother’s archery season ended without an arrow loosed. I however released a couple of arrows that unfortunately didn’t connect. Our first archery season was a real learning experience for the both of us. We learned a lot about stalking and still hunting quietly that has helped our hunting a lot. Throughout the course of the hunt I took four shots at deer. None of them connected! I was atrocious at judging distance under pressure and would either send it screaming over their backs or plop it in the dirt below their bellies. One 2X3 buck even gave me two chances at him. But it just wasn’t meant to be. You can bet that I worked on judging distance quite a bit after that first season with bow in hand. My most memorable opportunity came when a your doe approached to within 10 FEET, not yards! She never turned broadside and was walking the game trail that I was standing on. We were in thick spruce/fir and for whatever the reason she didn’t see me standing there until she froze at 10 feet. It was a standoff. As soon as she turned to run I tried to nock an arrow but this was just an exercise in futility. My brother and I were not discouraged though, because we knew we’d be back in this same unit for 2nd rifle season a few weeks later.
When rifle season rolled around, hopes were high. The fun and excitement of archery season had just got us that much more pumped up and motivated to have a good season. But there was one little problem. It was my senior year in high school and those diabolical entities we call females had gotten me into a world of trouble. Long story short, I had stayed out all night after Homecoming without letting my parents know that I was not coming home. As you can imagine, they didn’t really appreciate this. THEY GROUNDED ME FROM HUNTING! I didn’t take this well. It was hard for my dad to leave me behind but in retrospect I guess he did the right thing. But the way things would turn out up in the mountains that week made me kind of glad I wasn’t in attendance.
New to camp that year was another one of my cousins and the guys were all hoping to get him a chance at an animal. Turns out he would be the only one with a chance at anything that season thanks to a huge snow storm that hit the evening before season. They were excited to see snow on Friday night, with hopes of being able to track animals through the fresh snow in the morning. When they awoke, they were surprised to just how much snow had fallen. The snow was up to the truck bumpers and knee deep.
Opening morning was interesting. The shear amount of snow kept them all close to camp. My cousin and brother grabbed the snowshoes, hopped on an ATV and set out to try and locate some elk. Their morning was pretty bland with only a few tracks spotted and having to deal with a sea of heavy, wet, knee-deep snow. They went back to camp cold, wet, and tired. When they did get back to camp the elder statesmen of the camp were worried about the snow and trying to figure out what to do, so the ‘youngins grabbed some grub and came up with an evening hunt plan. The plan they came up with was to go sit on a couple of meadows a hundred vertical feet above a giant park in the area. It turned out to be a good one. They rode the ATV’s to the end of the park, then cut up into the trees to find the meadows they planned on hunting. My brother set my cousin in a meadow that Dad and I had seen some deer in the year before and my brother headed over to a meadow roughly 500 yards to the north.
Not long after my brother made it to the northern edge of the meadow he heard the crunching and cracking of a herd of elk entering the opening. He only had a doe tag though. Fifteen to twenty elk had made their way into the meadow including two big 5X5’s and multiple raghorns. Good thing my cousin had heard the elk filtering through the pines as well because it wasn’t long before he crawled up to the edge of the meadow. The two met up and decided to use a small rise in the middle of the meadow for cover so that they could close the distance to right around 100 yards from the big bulls, who stayed cautiously close to the timber. When they finally topped the rise, the elk were feeding right in front of them. The sight of twenty elk probably didn’t help my cousin stay calm. He dropped to a knee and got a rest on a rock. After the shot rang out, all of the elk froze. My brother thought he had missed, so he told my cousin to shoot again. His second shot hit the bull in the shoulder but was more of a grazing shot through the muscle and didn’t reach the vitals. They picked up the blood and followed it for a ways but decided to head back to camp once they heard my dad over the radio and realized how late it was. They had a sleepless night but they were all confident that they’d find the bull in the morning.
The following morning the entire camp headed out to find the bull. Their confidence quickly dwindled when they found a spot that the bull had bedded the night before. The snow indicated a poor hit. Even though it didn’t look good they pushed on hoping to find the wounded bull and finish the job. Sadly the blood disappeared and the bull had joined up with the rest of the herd and left the area. Confident that the bull could survive the wound they gave up the search. The rest of their season was uneventful, except for the white-knuckle drive out with that much snow on the ground. It was a tough year for everyone but I really didn’t have that much sympathy for them because instead of hunting, I was back at home contemplating the stupidity of my actions the week earlier. Moral of the story, steer clear of women the month before hunting season.