Washington archery elk Sept 2012

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DSCF1014 Elk Season 2012 As I look back on my Washington archery elk season of 2012, I am left wondering what could have been. Every person that dawns the camo and steps into the woods each fall, steps out of those woods with knowledge that will help them in future hunts. That knowledge a lot times comes in the form of things they did wrong on that particular hunt. As I am still new to the elk woods, there are still a lot of things to learn. From preparation to equipment, Washington 2012 has taught me many things. I started my prep for this hunt before last archery season was even over. I arrowed a black tail deer on the last night of my archery elk hunt last year and as I packed camp to head home, I was already planning my next hunt. I had a long list of equipment I found myself to be lacking. Tree stands, calls, better camping set up, there were things to be bought and I had a mission. When you have an unpunched tag in your pocket you spend a lot of time dwelling on what went wrong and what you could do better next year. What will make you more successful next time? As spring arrived, I received news that my brother Matt did not draw a tag in Arizona and wanted to come and hunt with me. This would be Matt's first time in the thick Washington Roosevelt country. With this news came the realization that I was now outfitting and guiding a hunt trip not just hunting. There was more shopping to be done. I was more excited about this trip now than I had previously been because I had the opportunity to share the experience with someone I grew up hunting with. All of my other hunts here in Washington have been solo. While solo hunts provide you the freedom to do what you want when you want, they lack the comradory that a true hunt camp deserves. Matt and I sent countless texts, had weekly calls and bounced back and forth many emails over the next few months as we strategized our hunt. I talked more to my brother during this time than we had talked in years. In July the snow melted away enough to allow access to our hunting area. Access is closed to vehicles from Dec. 1st though July every year due to heavy snow. The first weekend our road was open, I was off to scout. It had been a long winter/spring counting the days to be back in the woods. As I pulled off the main road and onto the logging road I was happy to see I was the only vehicle this road had seen since last fall. With a mile to go till camp, I came around a switchback to find a cow standing in the middle of the road staring at me. She seemed almost in as much disbelief to see me as I did her. As she stepped back over the side of the hill, I parked the truck and got out for a photo opportunity. This was the first time I had seen elk in my hunting area. Last year the bugles of bulls filled the air around me but I never closed the distance in time to see them. This was the proof I needed; I was in the right spot! The cow stepped out behind a thicket of trees, this time flanked by her calf. They stood and stared for a few moments and then slowly walked away, joined by 7 other cows 1 more calf and a young 4X4 bull. My adrenaline was racing. I snapped off a bunch more pictures and then they were gone. I jumped back in the truck and hurried off to my "spot." Last year I had a lick set up and the animal use was heavy to put it lightly. I was hoping this would still be the case. When I got to my spot I was surprised to find no evidence of any animal activity. I was still convinced this was the right place to be. There was an active bedding area, a feeding area, and most importantly I didn't see any other hunters all last season. So I got to work. First thing I needed to do was set my lick back up and find a spot for my tree stand. I chose a tree that I thought would work well and place my first trail cam of the season. Then I was off to scout some of the places I thought would be good to place a tree stand for Matt. After what seemed like an eternity of trudging through sticker bushes and wet cedar trees, I was no closer to finding a spot for Matt. I walked back to the truck, soaked with sweat and water from the local plant life. My packing for this outing was very smart as this was my only outfit to be in the woods with. I changed back into street closes and headed home. Neither Matt nor my wife were impressed with how short my outing was, know how much I still had to accomplish. This would be a repeating theme. However both were equally as excited as I was when I showed them the pictures of what I had encountered that morning. The days couldn't fly by fast enough that week at work. I had spent many hours on the computer looking for new spots to scout to hang a stand for Matt. Finding a spot would be this trips biggest priority but I was even more ecstatic to get back to the woods to retrieve the first images from the trail cam. As I stepped into the woods I immediately could tell things were different. My excitement raced as every step I took closer to my lick I saw more and more fresh tracks. What once was barren was now full of sign again. To my astonishment, when I go to the lick, the 20lb feed block that I put down with the lick was completely gone. Jackpot! I quickly retrieved the memory card from the camera and downloaded it to my laptop. And there they were 400 images of what, from that point on, I would refer to as my herd. This was the conformation I was looking for. I spent the rest of the afternoon walking the areas I had marked on the map looking for a good place to put a stand for Matt. Nothing seemed to be what I was looking for, and being that I was so new to elk hunting I can honestly say I didn’t really know what I was looking for. What I did know was that the season was coming quick and I needed to figure this out. I decided to hang Matt's stand in a tree along the same corridor the elk were using to travel to my lick. I placed another lick and another camera and headed home. In retrospect, this was one of many bad decisions I will have made during this hunt. I left the licks alone for 2 weeks before returning to hang the tree stands. When I returned the feed block at my lick was gone, but Matt's site still had half a block. The elk had been there but not as often as down at my site. I was ok with this though. I justified to myself this was still a good spot because it had fresh rubs and all of the rubs I had seen last year were around this spot. Because of my inexperience in using tree stands, this was proving to be one of my most frustrating days pre-hunt. I used the maghauler I had purchased in the off season to haul the stands and ladders down to the trees. Not knowing anything about tree stand hunting, I thought I would just take them out of the box, climb the tree and strap them on. I learned a lot of new things on this hunt. First thing I learned was I will NEVER buy the screw into the tree, tree stand pegs again. Trying to drill a starter hole into a tree while holding onto a peg for dear life and then somehow wench this new peg into the tree without falling to your death was not my cup of tea. Next lesson, buy a safety harness. If you don't have one, don't hang a tree stand. I did not, and I also did not get the stands up that weekend. There were a lot of lessons learned in the preseason, one of which is that tree stands do not come fully assembled. Another is that it is always good to have tools in your truck...I did not. This being said I had to walk out of the woods, get in the truck and drive to town to buy tools I already own to put these damn things together. I returned later that afternoon with my newly acquired truck stop tool set and built my stands. I was feeling pretty good about my accomplishment until I tried to yard one of my behemoth stands up a tree. Without a safety harness, climbers strap and a good length of rope, I would not suggest trying to hang a stand. Again defeated, I packed my stands on the hauler and headed home. The following week I was back. This time with a harness, rope, a climbers strap and some new ladder type steps to replace those screw-in pegs. Success this time would be mine. The ladder steps I highly recommend to anyone new to tree stands. After getting both stands in place I reapplied my lick set up got both cameras positioned and headed out of the woods. Before I left I drove down the road from camp a little bit and stashed a few cases of water and fire wood for later retrieval. I do not own a chain saw (yet) so I purchase my firewood for camp. Not recommended. This method takes up valuable space in your rig and is heavy to carry around. Knowing I have a lot of gear I will be hauling out for our ultra plush base camp, getting the wood and water here now will save precious space later. Time is flying by now and Matt will be here soon. I only go back to the woods a few times to check the cameras and reapply lick. The cameras keep us on the edge of our chairs as each week new bulls show up. My herd uses the licks daily and will even lie down and bed at the site. I am confident of this spot. I use the last few weeks before he arrives to finish off my check lists. I am a bit of a worrier so I have lists to make sure I don’t forget ANYTHING. I have 3 separate check lists, one for food, one for camp needs, and one for my hunting belongings. Unlike Santa though, I check mine more than twice. The food list breaks down was pretty straight forward; breakfast, lunch/snack food, and premade dinners. The dinner part was nice. We made taco meat for burritos, I made a big batch of spaghetti, and we had steaks, pork steaks, brats and a few other items. This was no freeze dried meal deal. My camp needs list breaks down pots and pans, tp, toilet, shovel, fire starter, chairs, bed…you get the picture. And lastly the hunting list; bow, arrows, clothes, shoes, scent killer ect. Being I was now stocked up enough that 6 people could live in the woods permanently, I put my lists down and waited. I had amassed so much stuff that I almost bought a pull behind trailer to put it all in. I knew there was no way we would fit it all in my truck. Season started on a Tuesday, Washington sets their dates funny like that. Matt arrived the next day. We were both so excited we could have left straight from the airport. The plan was to leave early the next morning so we hurried home to get to the business of packing the truck and deciding what last minute things we needed to buy that I might have forgot (I don’t forget). After a quick run to Cabela’s, Matt had tag in hand and we were off to load the truck. I was glad he was here for this part; Matt can really pack a truck. We eliminated some things that were not absolutely needed and somehow, everything fit. A few beers and some quality time with my family went by at a rapid pace and somehow we were on the road. I don’t think I slept 5 minutes that night. Like so many other opening mornings we have spent together, Matt and I were giddy as we headed off to glory in the elk woods. It was Hot! This was the theme of last year’s archery season and it would ring true again this year. The 10 day planner showed sun and 90’s as far as we could see and to make matters worse, it hadn’t rained in 73 days! Not a good combination for slobbering bulls. When we arrived Matt was in awe with how big and wonderful this country we were going to play in was. Before dropping camp I wanted to head over to our stands and put the last application of lick down those elk would ever taste. I just knew we were going to tag out in 2 days. As we pull up to the spot I park my truck to walk into the stands, the unthinkable happens. A hunter walks out into the road. I’m sick, but this is the reality of public land hunting. Matt jumps out and waves the guy down. We stop and talk to him for a bit and his partner shows up from down the road. To my horror, they ask if the stands down below are our stands and tell us we will see them on our cameras. Fortunately for us, the stands and the cameras were still there. I didn’t lock them because I had never seen anyone out there before. The hunters we talked to made it sound like it was a very used area. Confidence shot. The hunters told us they would stay out of the area since that is where we planned on being and headed on their way. Matt and I gathered our things and headed down to the stands both feeling a little gut shot. We got the licks set up, down loaded the pictures from the camera and headed out to set up camp. The weekend before our arrival, my family took a road trip to set up a fake camp. The area we are hunting only has about 3 campsites. It is also in prime huckleberry habitat. Elk season falls right in the height of huckleberry season and each year this area has plenty of pickers out and about. I knew if I didn’t “reserve” a campsite, that one might not be available when we arrived a few days later. So we took a few of my old 2 man tents and set out to reserve a camp. When Matt and I arrived my fake camp had done the trick. So we unloaded the truck, pitched a tent, and got the tables and chairs set. Elk camp 2012 was a reality. Other than Matt’s queen sized air bed going flat on the very first night, I would say it was a rather plush outdoor experience. With camp set, a little food in our bellies, and afternoon quickly ticking away we jumped in our camo and started off to kill some elk. We got in our stands about 3. It was hot but at least the bugs were not as thick as there were last season. The first evening passed with only one faint bugle. We hurried back to camp, grabbed some food and drink, and sat to discuss the sure glory the next morning had in store for us. Camp is so much better when you have someone to share it with. We called it a night early, we have big plans. After an hour or so of dealing with a deflating air mattress, we got some sleep. The next morning was crisp. We dressed quickly grabbed snacks for our packs and set off. It was still dark as we got to our stands. I dropped Matt off at his and slowly made my way to mine. A flash back to last season had me spook a cow off the area my stand it at opening morning. I came around a switchback in the trail and there she was, not 30 yards from where my stand is today. Keeping that in mind I was very quite coming in this morning so as not to have the same fate. It wouldn’t matter. I was 75 yards from my lick when the still woods thundered to life with the sound of elk crashing through. This would be as close I as would come to my herd on this trip. I climbed up into my stand and waited anxiously for light. I sat there hoping the elk just spooked off not knowing what they heard or smelled in the woods that morning. I was hoping that the lick was enough to bring them back. That same lick they visited everyday that summer. It wasn’t. I heard 2 bugles that morning, both of them were hunters. Matt had a very similar experience, not hearing anything but hunters that morning. We returned to camp, grabbed a bite and waited for the afternoon. That evening came and went with no elk. We returned to the stands the next 2 mornings and nights each with the same result, no elk. The cameras show the herd had gone nocturnal, too much pressure. The next morning was foggy and we didn’t want to climb back into the stands. I decided we should try a different spot. We went to a meadow I knew about but had been hesitant to hunt because I thought it would surely be the place we would run into other hunters, sure enough I was right. As we walked in on a motorcycle trail, Matt and I had a hunter cow call at us from the woods about 75 yards away. This was not a great sign. When we got to the meadow I was surprised to find a giant salt lick but no one hunting over it. There were fresh beds in the dew covered grass, lots of fresh beds. We decided if no one else was going to hunt the lick we might as well, so we set up. A half hour went by and Matt started calling. 10 minutes later I had movement in the woods in front of me, my moment had arrived. The elk was coming right at me; I readied my bow and saw his rack emerge from the timber. Except what I thought was his rack was actually a recurve bow carried by a skinny old man. The figure walked right over to Matt and plopped down like they had known each other forever. Apparently they man we later go to know as “just another Bill” has hunted these woods for decades but somehow gotten himself lost in the fog. He and Matt talked for awhile Matt showed him the way out, and he was on his way. We needed a new plan. Elk hunting gets a little frustrating when it is 100 degrees and the bulls are quite. We got what might be our only break on Sunday night, only to find out later we squandered it. Sunday night we sat around the campfire, had a nice meal, talked, and drank what was left of the beer. When the beer was gone we retired for the night. Somewhere around 3am the sky lit up. A thunderstorm. The forecast did not call for this, yet here it was. This was one of the best storms I have ever had the pleasure of being in. The lightening danced across the top of the tent while the thunder ricocheted off every hillside in the mountain range. I have never experienced thunder echo like this! At 6am it was still pouring, it was cold, and neither of us wanted to get out in the rain. The stands had not worked for us and we didn’t really want to go spend the morning sitting in the rain. So we took a break. Instead, we went to town. In town we had a nice hot breakfast, a shower in a sink, and tried to figure out what our next move was. We also did a little recon and found out that no one had brought an elk back to town as of yet. We were not alone in our shut out season. Between some hot food and getting cleaned up a little, we had a new spark. We grabbed some adult beverages and headed back to work. By mid morning it had stopped raining and we decided it was time to start beating the brush. We knew the herd was around somewhere and it was time to find them. We decided to hit up and area on the back side of the mountain from where our stands were. The cows were still coming around at night so maybe they were bedding nearby. Matt and I took 2 different hikes this morning and afternoon. We saw a lot of sign and some pretty country, but again no elk. That afternoon we decided we would go back to the meadow and give it a try for the evening hunt. There were 2 parts to the meadow, the front side which was a circle a few acres across where the salt lick was set up. And then the back side, about 10 acre long oval with some dried up wallows in it. I took the back side and Matt hunted over the lick. I walked the back edge of the tall grass lining the meadow keeping the wind in my face until I found a good looking spot about half way down the edge. It was still early I thought. I set my pack down, glassed the meadow, and then lay back against my pack at the base of a tree. It was a great afternoon and I lay back looking at the clouds thinking how great it was to be out here when I heard a crack. I sat up, being new to the elk woods I thought this was a hunter, and looked around for the fool making this much noise in the woods. The crashing kept happening, then some splashing..splashing? A hunter might break a limb stepping on it but he’s not going to be splashing on purpose! It has gotta be an elk! In that moment I realized that I hadn’t even ranged the meadow. Quickly I grabbed my range finder and took some measurements, when those big brown, white tipped tines came into view. 4,5, 6X..quit counting points and get yourself setup! But it was too late to stand. The bull came in the most pristine way I could imagine. The meadow was perfect, the wind was perfect, the bull was magnificent and I was still sitting on my ass. In what felt like 2 seconds the bull had entered the meadow walked half way across it and left me a perfect broadside shot. I worried I would not be able to get drawn without being detected but there I was at full draw, sitting on my ass I put my 50 pin on his vitals and let it fly. The next few seconds were a blur. I remember the pure elation as my arrow found the big bull, then my minds eye saw the shot was high, and it was back some. It was still a lung shot I can see the arrow. The big bull raced off. After 3 steps his big front legs lunged back and snapped the shaft of the arrow. I watched my prize race out of the meadow and toward the hill. We had only been in the meadow for 30 minutes when I shot him. As he ran out of sight I called Matt on the radio and told him to get over here. I just shot a 6X6 public land bull. Matt thought I was pulling his leg. I assured him it was real and he hurried over. There is no way to explain the joy of arrowing your first bull elk, I was shaking! I walked Matt through the whole series of events and we walked over to the spot of the hit. 4 steps later we found the arrow. But we found no blood. I wasn’t worried, there was 11 inches of shaft and 1 sharp ass broad head in his right lung, this was a dead bull. We followed the trail out of the valley and to the edge of the hill. The bulls trail was pretty easy to follow until here, even though we still found no blood. By now evening was upon us and we had no clear trail. With the shot being back a little and up, we decided to wait till morning to be sure he was down. For now, we celebrate! We went back to camp and relived over and over again that moment, that glorious moment.   [nggallery id=11] The morning came and we dressed for the task at hand. We loaded our packs with the necessary items butcher the bull and set out to recover my trophy. The excitement was short lived. We spent all morning and afternoon hunting that hillside. There was no blood. The beast took 3 pounces down the face of that hill and was gone forever. We walked and walked and with every step the realization that I had killed an animal I would never recover became more evident. We called off the search later that afternoon. It was heartbreaking to go from that high to as low as I was now. This bull will haunt me. We hunted hard the next 3 days before the season ended. We ran into “just another Bill” and his son Michael the next to last day. Bill was like an apparition, showing up in the strangest of places and full of knowledge that was useful at just that moment. He was a tall, thin, frail looking old guy. Dressed in his old Woolworth jack and pants and carrying a recurve bow as tall as he was. Matt asked if he’d ever killed anything with that bow, “not yet” is all he’d reply. We talked to Bill for some time that day. He told us stories of a place called elk heaven and the giant untouched trees that live there. We asked where about it was so we didn’t run into him while we were out running around. He just smiled and explained that we would never find it, it’s too far in for normal people to find. If you don’t believe in things like a higher power, run into Bill in the woods and you just might rethink things. What a wealth of information this man had! Our season had ended with us eating tags. Not what any hunter wants to be eating on the last night at camp. It was not all in vein, the lessons I learned in this season have been invaluable in helping me become a better hunter here in the Northwest. What I did wrong. It seems like I did almost everything wrong on this trip. This is also why it is so helpful. First and most importantly, the biggest thing I did wrong was I put all my eggs in one basket. I have hunted deer my whole life so I whole heartedly believed that since those elk were patterned to the licks. I believed that they would return no matter what. Big mistake. I should have scouted better and scouted way more spots. Secondly, gear. I did not have adequate rain gear. I had a pull over rain suit that I bought because of price not because of quality. It did not breath, I couldn’t walk in it without overheating, and ultimately it was returned. Buy good rain gear! Also, get waterproof gloves. I did not want to sit in a stand the morning it rained because it was cold, wet, and I did not have waterproof gloves to hold onto my cold wet bow with. At the end of the trip we pulled the cameras and the only day the elk were at the licks during the light, you guessed it, while we were having a hot breakfast and avoiding the rain. Ouch! Next, I did not practice enough with my bow. I went did 3-d shoots weekly and shot from the make shift range at my house. But I never imagined I would be taking the shot at my trophy bull from my butt with my feet straight out in front of me from 50 yards. Practice, practice, practice some more. Practice every shot you can imagine and then practice some more! What I did right I had someone with me I enjoy spending time with. This is a very important part of hunt camp. And I had an EXCELLENT base camp. If you are going to get shut out in the woods, you might as well have a nice camp to come back and cry about it at. All that being said, we will hunt harder and much smarter next season!