Our first hunting day provided the type for the remainder of our hunt: woken before dawn as a guide lit the lantern and stove in our tent, devouring a delicious and filling breakfast, traveling several miles on foot or horseback into the surrounding country, still hunting until mid-day when we would take our “elk nap”, glassing throughout the afternoon, traveling back to basecamp in the dark, consuming dinner in an exhaustion-induced daze, and collapsing gratefully onto the camp cot. The one discordant note from the first day came from the lack of elk.
Day 2 was basically a repeat of the previous one, except that Gary (my guide) and I found elk tracks on top of our previous day’s horse tracks along the main trail to camp. I was also captivated by still-hunting to within 40 yards of a mule deer doe, two fawns and three young bucks. Though wonderful, encountering mule deer could not remove the nagging doubts caused by the hot weather and missing game. As night fell in camp, and the other groups of hunters and guides returned, the same story was repeated – plenty of heat, dust and flies, but no elk.
Discouragingly, dawn on Day 3 was dry and again accompanied by the threat of climbing temperatures. This morning, however, Randy and his guide (Dave) along with Gary and I had left camp much earlier in order to reach a distant ridge near the headwaters of Bear Creek. We left Randy and Dave just short of the ridgeline that would act as the boundary between our respective hunting areas; Randy and I looked at one another as we turned to ride into ‘our’ hunting areas and mouthed “no poaching allowed!” We continued to the ridge and there changed the bridles to halters on our horses, tethering them in a stand of young pines.
We began our slow descent from the ridge, but had traveled less than 50 yards when I thought I heard a distant bugle. Gary looked at me doubtfully. I had earned his doubt by repeatedly mistaking braying mules, singing birds and creaking trees for elk bugles. This time though, I was proven correct when the elk again sent his challenge into the dry, crisp, alpine coolness. Gary pulled a tube call from his pack and quickly unleashed his first response bugle; the bull answered with a grunt. The next sound from the bull seemed much closer and was not a grunt, but a full-throated bugle. Gary inferred later that we had been interacting with two love-sick bulls, but at the time we thought it to be one, extremely-talented artiste…
Soon to come: My Dad’s Elk – Our Dream Achieved