Washington, 2009, DIY, Public Land
Daylight the morning before opening day of the 2009 Washington elk season found me hiking with Chad Lewis up the ridge trail that borders my hunting unit. About 150 yards below in the timber, a bull ripped a bugle in the crisp morning air, immediately bringing smiles to our faces. We hoped to get a glimpse of him before the mountainside fogged in. We could also hear the cows calling reassuringly back and forth to each other.
Chad leaned over and whispered, “It doesn’t get much better than this.” The fog rolled in shortly afterward, spoiling any chance of spotting the bull that morning, but we would see many bulls over the next three days of our hunt.
Chad has been my elk hunting partner for the past 15 years. Our success has been well above average and we’ve taken quite a few respectable bulls, but nothing that could be called a real wallhanger. We’ve seen a few of them, but have never been able to close the deal. I knew that this hunt would be my best opportunity to finally harvest a big bull.
In 2009 I drew a special elk permit. My first call was to Chad to ask him to come with me, as I couldn’t imagine him not being there. Phone calls ensued to the biologist for the region and a friend of mine, Paul Katovich, who had drawn the tag a number of years before. Upon talking with Paul, I found out that he had drawn the unit again this year on a buddy hunt with Mark Jenkins. After meeting Mark and talking to Paul, we decided that we should camp together and help each other out.
After more research, I learned that it was one of the toughest hunts in the state. Twenty percent of the hunters that draw the tag don’t ever hunt the unit, mostly due to the rugged terrain and difficult access. About 75% of the hunters don’t hunt after day three. The unit also has a much lower harvest rate compared to the other controlled hunts units in the area. Most of the advice I got was, “Be in the best shape of your life.”
A good friend of mine, Jake Klein, accompanied me on many of my eight scouting trips, including five overnighters. We were finding quite a few elk in the area and seeing bulls almost every trip. After seeing the caliber of bulls in the unit, I set my goal on a 330 or better bull and was willing to work very hard to find one.
The evening before opening day, we really wanted to find a “shooterbull” to go after. About 3 p.m. the fog finally started to lift, so Chad, Jake, and I headed back up to the ridge to look for a bull to put to bed. We saw five bulls and a couple of cows that evening before the fog set back in. One bull in particular caught my attention until I noticed that his right antler was broken off right above the G-3. We would see him multiple times over the next couple of days. He would have easily scored over 350 if he had been intact. We failed to put a shooter bull to bed that night, but with the fog rolling in and the sun setting, it caused the fog to turn bright orange, unlike any sunset I had ever seen.
It rained most of the night, and between that and my mind racing with anticipation, I didn’t sleep well. It was almost as if I was 12 again and waiting for my first hunt. At 4 a.m. the alarm went off and we gathered our gear, ate some breakfast, and waited for the downpour to subside. After 45 minutes, the rain lightened to a drizzle and we headed out for the ridge trail that bordered my hunting unit.
We had a two-mile hike to the top, the last half of which I nicknamed “Gut Check Hill” for the steady and steep ascent. At the top of the peak we split up. Jake headed over to our glassing spot while Chad and I dropped down the south side on a narrow finger ridge.
It wasn’t long before I spotted what looked to be a decent bull feeding on an open hillside a couple of drainages away. I could tell he was a heavy six-point, right on the edge of what I was looking for. Did I really want to shoot the first bull I saw? I wasn’t ready for my hunt to be over so soon. The fog soon rolled in a short time later, making the decision for me. The fog rolled in and out daily, limiting glassing time, and I wondered if I was going to have to change tactics.
We went up to the top to see if Jake had spotted anything and wait for the weather to clear. Jake had seen “Broken Horn” again and three raghorn bulls before the fog moved in. We built a fire to warm up and waited for the fog to lift.
For a full account of Stacey's adventure, go to page 18 in the August/September 2010 issue of Eastmans' Hunting Journal.