I heard two bugles while the wind whipped my little tent around all night long.
Folks, let me tell you something. I go on a lot of guided hunts with meals and soft beds - hell, even with servants in Africa. But I love doing this very thing I am doing right now; hunting and camping solo in the mountains. Some of you may remember my solo backpack hunts for elk in Idaho back in the '90's - which ran for 3 weeks at a clip. My little camp brought back those fond memories all over again.
Before any of you think this last day is boring because there are no videos or photos please don't turn this off until you read about my last day. I made a conscious decision to leave the electronic gear behind. As I left my tent this morning the only thing I had with me was my bow. I craved pure freedom to move swiftly up and down these mountains and try hard to slip in on a bull. I did just that.
My first stop was near the lake. I didn't call at all. I simply moved quietly, stopping to glass and listen intently. I moved completely around the lake by running the ridges that rounded the meadow like a giant amphitheater. It wasn't until the sun was high up in the sky that I heard my first bugle. It was very close and I slipped in to get a better look. I spotted his cows but the wind was squirrelly and they got a whiff of me. No problem, I moved deeper into the black timber.
Another 90 minutes went by and I had probably covered only 400 yards. But the hillside came alive with bugling bulls at 9:30 AM. The most audacious bugle was at my level on the mountain which was the ridge. Every time he bugled 5 more wimpier bugles bellowed out from hundreds of feet below. I was sure I was onto a herd bull and by the looks of the area I was entering I was probably correct.
There were two trails that looked like cattle had worn them 10" into the ground. Every 15 yards was a fresh rub. And the stench of rutting bull elk permeated the moist cool air of this black timber. I was in his house.
A meadow flanked the dark timber to the east and I moved to its' edge and put an arrow on the string. I started with a couple of simple cow calls then waited. I then followed up with a series of more seductive cow calls. I gave myself 15 minutes then headed back into the dark timber in the direction of the previous bugles. I had not gone 5 steps when I froze mid-stride. The bull was quietly heading right at me in full view.
My arrow still on the string, I waited till he crossed in front of a clump of spruce before I dropped to my knees and moved between two evergreens. His path would put him 10 yards broadside to me in 8 seconds.
I didn't get a chance to count points. He was tilting his head to the side as he squeezed between the timber. I did see massive bases and ivory tipped brow tines. His spread looked to be about a yard wide, maybe more and if I was to guess, he was a 300-340. No time to be nervous, I just remained focused on antler tips coming through the trees.
The bull was going to die. I knew that. Everything was snapping together. Wind, Terrain, even my sexy calling. He was probably just 30 yards away from this point when I felt it. That wind that so often turns on you as the morning thermals mix with the developing wind on morning ridge tops. It was over and I knew it. I never saw him again. Just the sound of antlers bouncing off spruce boughs as he ran clear off the ridge.
Once again, as in so many times before, I had been "this" close to collecting my first bull. God, I love elk hunting.
My hunt was over. Doug and I were packing out this afternoon. And as I rode Dillon back to the trail head some 12 miles away I looked out over a valley of glowing aspens from atop my horse at 11,000 feet all I could think about was two things. I can't wait to share this with my children and I can't wait to get back to the Rockies in September.
All photos taken by Pat Lefemine on the ride down from elk camp.