November 2013 EBJ (Issue 80) - The level roadbed of the unmarked skid road was my saving grace after a long day of ankle-wrenching sidehill walking. As I slid over the last large blow down, I wiped my sweaty, dusty brow and took a long pull of water from my hydration bladder. I then took a moment to retrace my steps on the map and pinpointed the best route to meet my father. I also marked each location where I had encountered elk throughout the day.
As the crow flies, I had about three miles to cover before dark; realistically it would be more like four-and-a-half, depending on the terrain. I set forth with a new sense of enthusiasm as I moved into unchartered waters. Every three hundred yards or so I would quietly hunker down and bugle, hoping to hear a bull answer my challenge call.
Weaving further into thick alder branches, I instantly felt the temperature drop about ten degrees. I could smell the rank musk of elk, but more importantly, I could hear the faint trickle of water. I looked left and right down the skid road, but nothing was flowing on either side of the culvert. I slowly meandered on the uphill side of the road hoping to expose the location of the trickling sound. Up and over two large boulders was the water source.
In the middle of the dry creek bed under a moss-covered log was a small seep pushing up from the sandy earth. Three or four feet downstream, as quickly as it appeared, the water vanished as if it never existed. I wasn’t the only one to have located this gem in the dry desolate conditions. Judging by the beaten down trails and sign, the elk knew of the cool, refreshing water source as well.
At first glance the dimpled earth could have easily been mistaken for a cattle trail. Knowing there were no freeranging cattle in the area, I began to get excited. I backtracked to the skid road and marked the location on my map. Judging by the sign, the elk were close and I opted to set up for a short calling session.
With the wind in my face I grabbed a baseball-sized stick and began raking trees and brush to simulate a bull polishing his antlers. Every so often I would try to entice a bull with a seductive mew. A few minutes into my calling I heard the tail end of a faint bugle, then silence, then another bugle and another bugle, all positioned differently on the timbered hillside – three bulls! Each bugle from one bull infuriated the others, until all three were interrupting the next.
The bugles echoed up the draws with such intensity that all I could do was listen in awe. Still a considerable distance from my extraction point, I knew that if I left at that moment I would be in good shape to make it by my 9:30 pickup time. If I didn’t return, my father was instructed to come back in the morning. I was fully prepared to spend a night or two, but from past experience I would much rather have a camp and sleeping bag.
I ran through all other possible options in my head so as not to pass up a better opportunity to harvest a bull. In my mind I knew what needed to be done. It was day five of a 15-day hunt and I needed to make things happen. I gazed out across the miles of real estate that I had to cover before darkness set in. The landscape from my perch looked soft and gentle but experience in this country pushed out any unrealistic thoughts.
In reality, what lay ahead of me was some of the meanest country Oregon has to offer. No matter, because on this hunt I was determined not to have any regrets. It was time to hunt.
For a full account of Nathan's adventure, go to page 46 in the November/December 2013 issue of Eastmans' Bowhunting Journal.