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May/June 2011 EBJ (Issue 65) - The alarm sounded, but I was already awake. Rain had stopped pounding my tent, anticipation of the hunt had won out over sleep again, and I hurriedly stuffed my pack with enough food and water to hunt all day. Midday still-hunting can be very effective during the rut, with bulls cruising the timber looking for a new opportunity to pick up a hot cow.
It was the third morning of a nineday, solo backcountry elk hunt and all was well. That was until a little twinge in my back began to grow rapidly. I was scared; I knew this pain - I had experienced a kidney stone four months earlier. In a panic, I quickly pounded down some food and Ibuprofen, but it was too late. Within minutes I was rolling around outside my tent in the darkness and wet grass throwing up due to the pain.
There was no doubt I was in trouble and needed to get out of there quickly. The problem was I was two miles from my pickup and another hour of driving just to get cell service - and another three hours from home.
Regaining some composure, I threw my most expensive gear - binos, GPS, rangefinder, etc. into my daypack, grabbed my bow, and gimped my way out.
They say kidney stones are the closest pain to childbirth and I believe them. If the hike out was bad, trying to drive my truck was horrible. Every ten miles of that bumpy dirt road I would have to hit the brakes, roll out of the truck, and vomit again. Finally, with the help of my wife and son, who met me halfway, we made it home. I spent the last six days of my elk hunt in and out of the emergency room. Although I did eventually retrieve my gear, 2009 was a bust.
In 2010 I was looking for some serious redemption. I had been lucky enough to draw the nonresident Wyoming general elk tag again, and scouting revealed that my primary target bull from last year had survived the winter and had added more inches to an already great 6x6 rack. Through the summer my bow had remained true, my gear refined, and my pack loaded weeks in advance. I was ready.
My base camp would be two miles up the trailhead and tucked snugly in the convergence of two large drainages, atop a knoll overlooking a beautiful creek with native trout zipping around in its crystal-clear pools. I would be hunting a three-mile radius - plenty deep for a solo archery elk hunt off my back.
I awoke in predawn darkness to the bark of an alarmed elk. I was in elk country and loving every minute of it. I found myself shadowing a rut-frenzied herd of elk. A symphony of bugles ensued, all of which started with some simple cow calls. Whatever it was I said had worked.
I had followed the herd all morning, passing on a 4x5 satellite bull and closing in on the herd bull. Eventually, two spikes bedded in a shallow draw, successfully cutting me off and ending the chase. It had been a great first day on the mountain. Three more similar days passed with many miles logged and many close encounters.
Forced to go back to work for a few days, I planned to return for a nine-day block I had scheduled off. Leaving the wilderness is always tough; I wished I could just stay. The backcountry is my church; it’s where I recharge my soul and can leave the business of life behind and think more clearly. Sometimes the solitude of a solo hunt can be almost stifling, but it can also be a great place to reset your priorities. Four days later, I was racing back to camp. Too excited, the result is an $85 ticket. At least I’m back on the mountain, though, and soon enough the alarm screams; the hunt is back on!
For a full account of Dave's adventure, go to page 26 in the May/June 2011 issue of Eastmans' Bowhunting Journal.