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June/July 2011 EHJ (Issue 125) - Dawn was still three hours away when I rose to greet the morning. It was an early morning filled with darkness and sleepy boys being roused from their warm beds and shuttled into a cold bedroom where chilly pants awaited their reluctant legs. Soon, sleepy minds awoke as the meaning of the unusual event asserted itself. There was anticipation in that crisp morning air - an elk hunt.
Preparations had been carefully and ritualistically made the night before. Special attention was given to foul bores, breaches, exact load measurements, and of all the precautions intended to ensure shot ignition. Hunting camo, wool socks, boots, and packs laden with the necessary gear had been set in order. Mental checks had been made again and again so that nothing of importance would be forgotten. My wife had seen to the lunches herself, knowing how important good nutrition is for a safe outing in cold weather. I thanked her with a kiss, barked little orders at the rest of crew, and soon we were traveling down the ever-degenerating byways.
An hour passed, during which I was the only one awake. Soon, I roused my sons from their slumber saying, “Watch for game boys.”
My 15-year-old, Benedict, had a close encounter with a buck that got away early that morning. Shortly thereafter, Mark spotted a spike bull elk. Mark accompanied Benedict as they attempted a stalk on the spike. An attempt was all it turned out to be as the small bull went one way while Mark and Benedict went the other.
By this time, Mark noted it was pretty late to be heading into our destination and I hesitated a moment. I watched as the wind shifted directions and swirled the steadily falling snow and reflected for a moment more before I replied. “No”, I said with determination, “the weather is nearly perfect. If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen today. If you boys want to go back down to look for a spike or check out that buck of Benedict’s again, go ahead. I’ll meet you here at dark or as soon after as I can.”
So that’s where we parted company. I donned my snow camo, shouldered my pack, and set off into the storm. It was as if I had become one with the wind, the snow and the trees. It was one of those days when everything seemed to fit together perfectly - I was in my element. These were my favorite times, my favorite season, and my favorite mountains and I was muzzleloader hunting for elk.
Right off, I saw a cow and calf moose trotting away amid the falling snow. In a few seconds, the tracks with those telltale long strides were all that remained.
I soon dropped into a basin, passing the spot where I had harvested my best bull two years prior. Only good memories crossed my mind as I observed this special place - this drainage has treated me well over the years.
I was moving down the main ridge in a way that would allow me to intercept a parallel flat ridge. A fresh 18 inches of powder only heightened my expectations of finding a good bull. This is one of those honey holes where bulls go to find solitude, rest, and food. I hadn’t seen an elk track yet, but this didn’t concern me. No matter the outcome, I was breathing fresh air and enjoying myself.
Eventually, I intercepted the ridge and zigzagged down it. The floor was laced with white pine deadfalls that lay suspended waist high. It was after I had crossed the worst of it that I came upon a lone track. The track appeared to be large, though very undefined in deep powder. The gait was too short for moose, so I deemed them elk tracks. Despite being snowed in and drifted, I figured they were not over six hours old.
For a full account of Robert's adventure, go to page 14 in the June/July 2011 issue of Eastmans' Hunting Journal.