January/February 2013 EBJ (Issue 75) - Like many Oregon archery elk hunters I had been holding out for a tag in the coveted Wenaha unit. That changed in 2010 when my friend Ryan Justus returned from a hunt in the Walla Walla unit that borders Wenaha on the west.
The Walla Walla unit is only 33% public land and the Umatilla National Forest portion has around 60 miles of OHV trails, many of which are moderate to difficult single-track motorcycle trails.
The terrain is rugged, and the drainages are steep and thick with cover. The Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness to the east, the Mill Creek Watershed safe haven to the north and another trophy managed unit, Mt. Emily to the south, make up the rest of the prime big bull elk habitat in the area.
The big bull opportunity for the unit was awesome, but combined with a thrilling dirt bike adventure this had the makings for the hunt of a lifetime. I had about a 60% chance of pulling the Walla Walla tag with my 12 preference points and as luck would have it, my name was drawn. As an avid bowhunter and rider himself, it didn’t take much to convince Ryan to join me for a mid-July scouting and riding trip.
The highlight of that first trip was a 45-yard encounter with a big bull bedded in one of Ryan’s favorite drainage locations. As we drove home, Ryan reminisced about his 2010 adventure and commented that he might want to take a couple days to hunt for one of the big bucks we had seen and perhaps call for me. The invitation to join me was extended.
The results of two more scouting trips had produced a lot of excitement, not only for me, but several of my hunting buddies as well. Ryan, along with another friend, Fred Roy, both decided they wanted to be part of this hunting experience. The unit regulations allow for a general season archery elk tag holder to hunt for a spike bull but both of these guys were committed to my hunt and decided to hang their bows up to focus on my big bull opportunity. Fred would arrive September 8th and Ryan September 10th. Both would help call and/or video the hunt.
Friday, September 7th, I rode my motorcycle in the early morning darkness to a trail system on the South Fork Walla Walla River where I had heard an extremely vocal bull bugling the night before. About halfway up the drainage, I made a locator bugle and instantly received a response. The bull began to move up the ridge and continued to bugle, trying to keep tabs on the intruder. For several hundred yards, I silently followed the bull’s bugle sounds until I was a stone’s throw away from him on the opposite side of a thicket. When I finally fired off a bugle, the bull went berserk! He began bugling, chuckling, and raking, but was unwilling to break through to my side of the thicket.
I decided to take an aggressive strategy to break the standoff. After a bugle response from the bull, I charged into the thicket making as much noise as I could. The bull, perhaps hearing my approach, charged in as well. Suddenly, we were face-to-face 15 yards apart. I stood frozen, but the game was over and the bull turned and retreated. Through the thicket I could see several cows hoofing away single file, and then the bull sounded off with a final bugle in the distance.
The next day Fred arrived and we decided to hunt an area on the North Fork Walla Walla River. One of my trail cams was picking up some nice bulls, including a big 7x7. Around an hour before dark we found two bulls bugling at each other, offering a perfect setup for Fred and me to get between them. With 15 minutes of light remaining, we were standing on an ATV trail positioned about 70 yards from one bull; 250 yards away on the opposite side of us was the other. With the video camera rolling and the light about to expire, Fred suggested a cow call to try to pull the bull in close enough for a shot. Fred’s call sounded authentic, but the bull didn’t like what he heard and took off like a rocket—a reaction that still puzzles me. After reviewing the video, we realized the bull was indeed the big 7x7.
Monday morning I called Ryan to verify when he would arrive. Ryan figured to be in camp around 3:30 p.m. for an evening hunt. It had been a couple days since my encounter on the South Fork and figured it would be a good evening hunt for our trio. At 4:00 Ryan was dressed in camouflage with his motorcycle fired up and ready to run. The three of us rode the six miles to the South Fork trail system and by 4:30 we were on our way up the ridge.
For a full account of Bryce's adventure, go to page 36 in the January/February 2013 issue of Eastmans' Bowhunting Journal.