I don't think either of us ate breakfast. We were both in a hurry to get down that canyon. We had spent last evening going over topo maps which showed us a way down. As we headed down the steep, 60 degree decline I turned to Kent and told him that it was going to be a real 'blast' coming out of this canyon - especially if we killed that elk. He looked at me and rolled his eyes. I mean, we were getting tired just climbing down this canyon!.
Fresh elk crap was everywhere down here. We were getting closer..
We made it to the bottom around the same time the sun was just cresting the canyon wall to the East. We found fantastic trails and sign. Even a wallow that was fresh within 24 hours. I set up and did some cow calls and we heard the big boy. He was not far, probably less than 300 yards. Rather than follow him we tried to coax him into view. But several minutes went by without a sound. Then, Kent said, he's coming from the south. I looked in that direction just long enough to see the shape of a bull moving through the trees. He grabbed my video camera and headed behind me to capture the kill on film. I set up behind a small tree and waited.
It was at least 4 minutes since we had seen the bull less than 100 yards to the west. Both of us stared intently to see his next move. Then suddenly, and with no sound or warning, I saw the bull but he was sneaking through the trees to my east. I snapped my fingers to get Kent's attention and readied for the shot. The bull passed through two openings and on the first opening I got a good look at his rack. He was a young 5pt, probably 200-220 inches. I knew immediately I was going to pass on him. Now, I know what many of you are thinking - this is my 10th elk hunt and I have yet to even pull back a string on one. But in all honesty, I don't need to shoot any bull and I decided to let him walk. As he came into the second opening I could have smoked him. He was dead broadside and moving slowly to the North. I just watched and enjoyed the moment. He eventually figured out that something was wrong and he turned and ran off. But I had him dead nuts for 5 seconds.
I could have easily killed this bull, but he was just too small for me.
Kent was confused about what happened. He couldn't see the bull well from his angle. In truth, I felt a little bad about it. I was not sure if Kent would have wanted that bull but knowing him as I do, I am pretty sure he would have passed him up too.
We waited there for an hour and tried a few more calls. But it was evident that the big bull had slipped down the valley to the South. So that's where we headed too. We eventually found him by his bugling and there was no doubt his cows were bedded up now. We both agreed to camp on him and wait for him to head back north. We had a great funnel where we were and could easily ambush him from the trails that ran alongside a creek. We remained so motionless that a pine martin actually walked by us less than 10 yards away!
We were so still and quiet that this pine martin walked by at 10 yards.
As the sun dipped below the horizon the bull became vocal again. It was time to call him in. It was Kent's turn at bat so I started cow calling for him. The bull responded but not immediately. After a while it was apparent that he was on the move. Only this time he headed down the canyon further south and then back up a Northeasterly fork. We never could catch up to him. We had a good strategy, but in hindsight we probably should have gotten closer to him and tried to call him out before the herd was on it's feet. All of this stuff is such a crap shoot anyway. If we had tried that and busted him we would have wished we played it safe. Oh well.
The fun part was over. It was now time to climb out of this hell-hole. We had two options: we could hike up to the head of the canyon and climb out where it was less steep, or we could go straight up the canyon wall in a steep, rocky chute. Despite the altitude and the fact that we had hiked several miles on nothing more than a 300 calorie turkey sandwich, we went up the steep side chute which would be harder, but far less distance. We took it slow until then end then we powered out of there. I don't know how many times I must have said - "this sucks," probably 50 times during that climb. Exhausted, but accomplished, we headed back to camp and collapsed for the night.
View a video of Pat's calling portfolio