January/February 2012 EBJ (Issue 69) - My first visit to the Wenaha was in 1972 at the age of 12. My father was an old-school, backcountry elk hunter and we loaded up the ‘66 GMC farm truck with horse tack and four horses and headed for northeast Oregon for what was, at that time, a general season rifle elk hunt. That first Wenaha elk season was full of adventure and through the eyes of a child, it was a country that hunting dreams were made of. I witnessed the high-mountain wilderness, rich gardentype soil and sharp-cut tabletop ridges that make up the Wenaha Wilderness river drainage. It burned a permanent vision in my mind of what the perfect elk country should be.
High numbers of elk, bear and whitetail deer made the trip unforgettable. My father and I shared our first bull elk kill and had the biggest horse wreck ever, one that wreck taught me a simple lesson at an early age. Walking was much less painful than getting bucked off and falling ten feet face first on a windfall log. That old saying, "if you get bucked off a horse you need to get right back on” wasn’t what I was thinking. Instead, hiking became a big part of hunting for me. In years to follow, my father would always ask, "Son, would you like me to bring you a riding horse?” My response was always, "No thanks, Dad, I can walk.” At the time, I had no idea that this would somehow define my backccountry archery hunting style for a lifetime.
All through the 1980s several bow hunting friends and I bow hunted the Weneha wilderness till 1990. An Oregon Fish and Wildlife biologist stopped by our camp and explained that the unit would be moving to a limited-entry area for branch antlered bulls. The area had always produced some good bulls but was, as my father put it, mostly a spike harvest. This would change by the late 90s, the unit began to produce great bulls for those lucky enough to draw one of the tags and soon became the go-to unit for governor tag holders.
Sporting thirteen points, 2009 would be my year that the Lord would bless me with my long awaited return to the Weneha. Jon Wick of Outback Outfitters was my first call, Outback Outfitters is licensed to guide the Weneha and Two Cannon Wilderness. Jon is highly respected as one of the best guides and packers in the Northwest.
Jon informed me of a short plan on the areas of interest and high points in the unit. Jon’s help would allow me the freedom to dive deep within the wilderness with the comfort of knowing that meat removal was a phone call away.
After three red-eye scouting trips, trail cam photos revealed that the trail would only cause me loss of sleep.
My game plan was to be dropped off at the far end of the wilderness by my wife, Lisa and son, Nathan, after spending opening weekend with them. I would pack in on opening day and hunt for 11 days, covering most of the wilderness. I had spent countless hours on Google Earth charting my course and counseling with friends Sid Marks and David Chapmen, who had drawn the tag in years prior. Chapmen had drawn the tag in 2008 and taken an awesome 340 bull. His wild bull stories only added to my sleepless summer.
Lisa and Nathan had made the trip over and had planned on hunting with me the first two days of the season. Spikes, deer, bear and lions are all legal to hunt general season archery in the Weneha unit. On my previous scouting trips, I had hung treestands on three elk wallows where trail photos revealed a number of spike bulls and bucks were frequenting.
Opening day, the weather was hot and it was quiet. Our plan was to set in treestands and see if any spikes would wander through for Lisa and Nathan. One hour after daylight, a good little velvet whitetail buck came through and Lisa made a textbook shot. The buck traveled less than 30 yards. After photos and celebration, I joked that she was subcontracting on my hard-to-draw elk tag.
For a full account of Wayne's adventure, go to page 18 in the January/February 2012 issue of Eastmans' Bowhunting Journal.