Aug. 2012 elk hunt

Hunting coastal Roosevelt elk in Oregon is a lesson in Zen. Opening day, Aug 25th has me crouching a mere 79 yards from a herd hoping they move east (to my left) so I can drop down and line up a shot from the brush line (shown at bottom of pic) near the elk.

As my buddy lures them towards him with cow calls, I start down the slope. Suddenly I’m falling…there is no dirt under the salmonberry. I have stepped right into a drop-off that only looked like a slope. I fall eight feet and stop…creating a huge crash. My feet are dangling and I’m all wrapped up in roots and vines that stopped my fall. I can’t believe it. How FN stupid is this? I hate salmonberry!! Now a week later I still have thorns imbedded in my hands.

I throw my bow up and try to climb out but my feet and legs are enwrapped so my only way out is to pull myself out using my arms. No easy task for a guy with my middle-aged center of gravity and the only thing to hang onto is covered in thorns. But hey, elk are a fine motivator and I was able to wiggle out in a few minutes just as the herd came back around to see what all the noise was about. I sit and watch as the herd stares in my direction. They seemed to be thinking. “Where’s the big bull we just heard crashing in?”

So there we are, the herd is in a pasture slowly moving to the west and I cannot move without being busted by 19 sets of elk eyes. Behind me is the mountain they are going to seek refuge in…and a little over 100 yards to my right is where their game trail runs up the steep mountain. First they have to travel about 120 yards thru overgrown pasture. Another brush line parallels their route from mine to the game trail so I wait until the lingering herd finally moves behind the brush and I begin to speed walk down a trail adjacent to the elk. I stop in places where the brush separating us opens up so see if they are there. Nothing. I move further down to the next opening. Nothing. I do this twice more when I see the charging up the game trail a mere 56 yards away. I don’t even draw my bow, my practice groups beyond 40 yards in ideal conditions are unreliable and they are not in the open. Had I just ran to the game trail I would have shot that 5X5 but hey, that’s elk hunting. Sometimes all ya can do is look down, turn around and walk away.

Lemme tell ya, coastal NW Oregon has mountain terrain that chewed me up like an old dog bone.

An old logging road enabled me and a local hunter (who was half my age that I met last week) to start on foot near the top of the ridgeline on the mountain the elk herd charged up. The plan was simple…find them and kill them, or at least move em down towards the pasture again.

After entering the thinned section of the forest (shown in two photos below) you can see it’s really nice. Nothing at all like the old growth…this is easily traversed terrain.

You’re walking on plants instead of dirt but it’s not as steep as the lower section of the mountain.

For those who have never actually hunted this area of Oregon let me paint you a little picture. The 60 degree slopes are cruel. In the 2nd generation old growth the forest floor is seemingly devoid of dirt. Rather, you are walking on roots, vines, ferns and rotting fallen trees. Some of these you must walk around because they are enormous. Often when you do find the rare patches of actual dirt, they are full of rat holes and these suckers are the size that holds onto your foot. Step in one…or even near one and the boot disappears and becomes wedged in the hole. Not fun. You’re using your one free hand to catch yourself on the steep slope as you slowly place your foot into the undergrowth…tentatively at first to see if you dare put weight on it. It is painfully slow going…more so than granite “rock-on-rock” mountains above the tree line. At least there you can see where you’re stepping…here, not so much. It’s a delicate balancing act that I failed miserably and on this hunt I would fall repeatedly…perhaps as many as 300 times (no exaggeration). It is hard, slow and exhausting. You are climbing over fallen trees, crawling under them, walking on them (like a bridge over spots). It gets pretty dense in places.

There are signs of bear everywhere here in the old growth.

Using a map and GPS we slowly work our way towards the game trail and hopefully, the elk herd we’d been so close to earlier. The forest is thick, rather dark for late morning and visibility limited, especially once we broke through the thin cut woods and entered the old growth forest. Searching for the game trail was difficult and we blazed a brutal biped trail trying to find it.

I had heard about people who had hiked into an area only to find themselves trapped and unable to escape but I had never been in an area like that. Most of my hunting has been done in the open country where I felt secure that if I ever broke a bone, suffered a venomous snake bite or became trapped for any reason, my personal locator beacon would have rescue crews plucking my butt outta danger post haste. Not so here. No way a rescue helo could extract you from this dense section of woods. Heck, carrying a person out would be a monumental task for any Search & Rescue team.

Well in retrospect I can honestly say, we almost got it right. We missed the elk trail by about 50 yards…a slight overshot but one that would prove profound. You see, this one little miscalculation took off in a direction nobody should go…ever! It is unofficially named “THE SUCK” because it sucks you in with deceptively attractive routes that suddenly shut off, forcing you into another direction that later too shuts down. This seemingly simple 1.5 miles hike down the mountain was about to become the arduous hunting experience of my life and one I was fully unprepared for.