The temperature was about 29 degrees and there was a beautiful layer of fresh powder, eight to ten inches deep. We headed out right at first light, just as the snow began to glow a dull blue color. Within ten minutes, we found two spike bulls bedded up under a couple of pines. The elk were still in hiding from the storm.
We continued to cruise the edges of several big meadows and only found one lone bull track, which was from sometime before the snow stopped. It was the only fresh elk sign and it was hours old. We cut a dozen or more sets of fox and coyote tracks, along with maybe three or four muley tracks. No bugles and no rutting elk anywhere. You’ve never heard more deafening silence.
I wanted to check the wallows and see if there had been any activity the previous days. As I got close to first mud pool, I saw obviously fresh tracks ahead of me. “A lone bull,” I thought as I got close to look. Boy was I wrong. It was a lone male for sure, but not the species I had in mind. I signaled at Frank and Chris to walk up and take a look. I’ve never seen cat tracks that big!
We got what looked like a young female on camera few weeks earlier, but this was definitely not a small cat. You could see marks in the snow where this big tom was dragging his belly. Not a bull for us to follow, but a rare sight to see none-the-less. On the down side, it meant there was probably not going to be any game in that basin.
We decided to try one setup and give calling a shot. I threw out a myriad of cow calls and broke it over half an hour. Nothing responded and we didn’t even have a satellite bull come in to investigate. So much for great hunting in the snow. At least biscuits and gravy is a guarantee back at the lodge. We were hopeful things would normalize and the animals would move more in the afternoon.
The storm finally broke and the sun even made a brief appearance. We decided to head out mid-afternoon and see if the deer and elk were going to come out of hiding and start feeding. We came across a few sets of tracks in the snow and before long, we saw a nice Mule Deer buck. We watched him and three does for about fifteen minutes before trying to swing on the wind and make a stalk. If he had been alone, we may have had a good go at him, but the does were a nuisance as usual and spoiled the party.
It was early evening, so we decided to move down to meadows edge on lower ground and start glassing for elk. Instead of bulls, we ran across yet another threesome of deer. A small bachelor group, comprised solely of youngsters. One buck, we estimated at three years old, had a main frame 3x4 rack and whole lot of sticker tines. We took pictures at 50 yards. We could legitimately say we let these three bucks walk, in hopes they’ll be something worth harvesting next year.
Not more than three or four hundred yards up the same valley, we cut a very fresh set of lone bull tracks. The light breeze was perfect and we jumped right on the trail. We only got five minutes through the trees on his obvious spore, when a bugle rang out from behind us. Oh, decisions … decisions.
The bull we were tracking could have been a hundred yards ahead or a thousand. The bull calling was about a quarter mile away and he was vocal. So, we side-hilled back with a cross wind and moved in for a look. We were close, but visibility was horrible in the white weather. The next wave of the cold front had started moving overhead and we couldn’t find anything that looked like an elk. I cow called a few times and we got a very quick and close response. We were standing on top of him, but just couldn’t see.
“There he is,” I whispered pointing in front of Frank. He was kneeling and unable to get a look at first. I explained quietly, “He’s about to step out in this opening in front.” Chris was standing with the video camera and took some unreal footage of the crab-claw 6x6 bull as he stared through the thick white flakes.
I tried to draw him in for fifteen to twenty minutes, but he was not leaving those cows. Light was fading fast and the wind was starting to swirl a bit. We did the only thing we could. We got low and backed out, leaving the bull and his harem to feed in the snow. As we headed out, a satellite bull was inbound to my calls and turned towards the actual elk herd. Again, Chris Hood captured great video of the little, strange-tined youngster, getting chased off by the herd bull. All in all a good day, but we had nothing on the ground yet. The forecast was calling for another foot of snow. Was it September or November? Oh well, we didn’t care much. We had steaks marinating for the grill and everyday is about enjoying the outdoors, not always about tagging out. That’s what we say anyway, when we don’t tag out!