It’s funny to talk about an “unsuccessful” hunt being one of your most memorable, but sometimes, it just happens that way. It was back about 7 years ago, I was at a graduation party for one of my wife’s coworkers. There I met Robert, her father, and we started talking. He was a nice guy, lived his whole life in central Oregon. As we talked, I quickly realized how much this guy was into hunting. Of course, I am always willing to talk hunting, so we talked on and off for the rest of the party. By the end of the evening, I had myself an invitation to go up and hunt with him for elk. I had never been elk hunting before, so I was pretty excited.
I spent the next couple of months talking it over with my wife, and contacted him to make sure the offer was still open. He said it absolutely was, so we started making preparations for a trip. Luckily, Oregon has an over the counter tag available for the general rifle season. The price of the tag was also very reasonable, totaling under $500. Our plan would have us camping on the Umpqua National Forest, and hunting Mt. Bailey. He had been hunting for decades in the area, so I just went along with the plan.
As the day approached, I got together all I could think of, which never seems like enough. Then, once you try to pack it all into your truck, it always looks like too much. Nevertheless, I got the truck packed, and started on the 13 hour drive. I stayed in a hotel that night, just a few hours from my destination. I had an extra day, so no use pushing it. One miraculous thing happened along the way though. I had lived in San Diego for 7 years, and I had never been north of the cities and freeways of southern California. I have heard all the talk about the liberal west coast, and the hippies, etc., and pretty much, to this point, I had not seen anything to refute that perception. Well, as I got north of Sacramento, I started seeing wide open spaces. Then, I started seeing trucks parked along the road with gun racks. I could feel myself starting to breathe easier, truly feeling I was getting into the outdoors. I grew up in a town of 5,000 back east, and this is what I was used to. This was my element.
I made my way to my destination, met up with Robert. We headed out a logging road, and I started to see some camps set up with campfire smoke drifting through the trees. We found our spot, and set up camp. After cutting and stacking wood, organizing our sleeping arrangements, and making sure we were ready for the morning, we walked over to our “neighbors”. They too had been here for years, as I found out a lot of the guys had. We talked, swapped stories, and got the rundown of the area. I was warned about the mountain lions, and had many offers of help in case I got one down. After some good conversation, we headed off to bed.
The next morning was “Go time”. We drove to a spot, and then started on a nice hike. Now, these are not the full fledged Rockies of Colorado, but they are still over 8,000 feet, and higher than anything I had hunted on a regular basis. We spent the next day and a half walking around, seeing some sign, but no elk. It was sort of an orientation to the mountain for me, and I spent the next 2 days working it on my own.
On the morning of the second day, I was walking into a small thinned out area inside the pines, when I saw what looked like fresh sign. The ground was all torn up, and it looked like many large animals headed in all directions. Something had definitely spooked them, possibly me. Well, I took a few steps down a trail, and went to step over a log in the way. All of a sudden, I started hearing a rumbling, and I swear the ground was shaking. I look to my right, and no further than 30 feet away in the brush, I saw the jet black “stockings” of a couple elk, and they were headed right towards me. I froze! The funny thing was, I had one leg in mid air over the log, holding my gun in front of me. The elk appeared just 15 feet away, and stopped dead in the trail in front of me. Now, I could shoot any bull, from a spike right on up, so I was praying for horns. However, these were just 2 “small” year or two old cows, maybe 300 lbs. I still couldn’t believe how big these animals were, and they were just little girls. I waited, wobbling the whole time, for what seemed like an eternity. They skipped off, and stopped again about 50 yards out to look at me. I don’t think they ever figured out what I was.
I spent 2 more days hunting that mountain, spotting a lot of sign, but only rumps and ears were seen. I can’t say how much happier getting an elk would have made me. I was in the outdoors, with good company, camping, and just breathing in the fresh air. Heck, that was even the year of Brett Boone’s home run for the Yankees in game 7 against my beloved Red Sox, and I couldn’t have cared less. I was out of the city, back in my environment, and had met a new friend. I received a call from Robert, later, and it turns out that the day after I left, he ran into a bachelor herd of 4 bulls, and he pursued them for a day and a half. He never did get a shot, but he was still excited to talk about it. To this day, I still have more photos and stories of that hunt than any other “unsuccessful” hunt I have ever had. I have not yet returned to Oregon, but I will do so at the drop of a hat if the opportunity ever came up again.