October/November 2011 EHJ (Issue 127) - Crack! Waves of nausea poured over me as I found myself suddenly sitting down, the excruciating pain in my left knee overwhelming my senses. As the fog started to lift and my brain cleared, my anger and frustration mounted. This day was quickly climbing the charts as one of my worst. Two hours earlier I had missed a chance at a monster sevenpoint bull, and shortly thereafter I was on the receiving end of a kick from my buddy’s mule.
I stood up and turned to go help Dan finish packing the quarters from his bull. As I started up the hill with my knee throbbing, I realized things were not right - my knee wasn’t stable. As I swung my leg to go around the sagebrush, my foot and lower leg went places they weren’t supposed to go, like a pendulum on a grandfather clock.
Two days earlier, with anticipation oozing, we packed camp on four pack animals and saddled the two riding mules. A half hour later I was gazing through the long ears of my faithful mule, Smalls. The trail unfolded around familiar corners and over hills, and I smiled remembering some of the events leading up to this point.
My reminiscing was quickly interrupted as we turned the corner on the trail and another outfit of horses was bringing camp, elk, and hunters out. The hunters - although tired and haggard - had smiles of success, along with two decent six-point bulls. Few words were shared, but volumes were read as we looked over their outfit and they scrutinized ours. They had hunted the same unit we were to hunt, but that’s about all they were willing to share.
As the outfit passed, I got the mules lined out and couldn’t help but reminisce the events of last elk season. Roughly ten miles from our trail location, things drastically changed with Mother Nature’s 36 inches of snow on September 30. Wading through the snow made it slower going and harder for the mules, but it ended up a gorgeous opening day. The pines were laden with snow, there was a beautiful blue sky, and a group of 60 unsuspecting elk bedded down above tree line. After a long sneak and belly-crawl in the snow, I was fortunate enough to harvest a 330-class bull. That had been a wonderful experience, but this year was totally different. I had to miss opening day.
After another hour or so, we rounded the last corner and looked down on camp. It was the same feeling as coming home. There was the wood stacked up from last year, the empty meat pole, the fire ring, good tall grass in the meadow, and clear water bubbling in the creek. It didn’t take long to get things unloaded and camp set up; we each knew our roles and weren’t afraid to sweat. As we got the last pack unloaded, Dan looked at me, smiled and said, "Let’s go!”
A few minutes up the trail, we could hear a late-season bugle. We figured it was a younger bull, as it was already past mid October. We soon saw 60 elk, with some small bulls and the bugler being a 300-class six-point. This wasn’t the caliber of animal we were looking for, so we spent the rest of the evening glassing a different basin, which held a couple of small groups of elk, but nothing of interest.
Day two found us up early and riding to an area we had looked at many times, but had never hunted. It was a great day; we saw multiple groups of young bulls and a couple of groups of 30-40 cows with some decent 320-class bulls on two occasions. We even found some great areas for bowhunting in years to come. Riding back to camp after a long day in high winds, we recounted all the elk we had seen and the new country we had explored, commenting to one another that we just had to be patient.
The following morning we rode to a vantage point and soon found a couple of cows and a small bull feeding. I caught motion and saw a bull with heavy antlers and long main beams. Dan confirmed it was a great 7x7 bull. After some study, he decided to go after him.
For a full account of Travis's adventure, go to page 14 in the October/November 2011 issue of Eastmans' Hunting Journal.