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>> Last Hunt of 2005 Idaho Elk Season :: By Marshall Stanton on 2005-11-06
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I was last out was Wednesday, the 2nd which was the next to last day of our Idaho Elk season. I worked all day, and after bringing the girls home from school I decided to go for a walk out behind the place and see if I could find a stupid whitetail following his hormones. I got my gear together and finally left the house about ten minutes after four in the afternoon, and headed east off the property for a drainage that I hadn't hunted in about ten days.
The thermals were flowing directly off the mountain into my face, and the wind was perfect for my hunt, and the overcast skies made the day darker than normal, so I knew that my hunt would be very short that evening.
As I approached the draw, which runs almost precisely east and west coming off the mountain to the east, and the bottom has a year 'round creek bordered by heavy cedar, birch and cottonwood timber. The ridge to the south of the creek was clear-cut about two years ago, and the grass and brush is nearly waist high, with the cut-over area running from the top of the ridge, down to the preserved riparian zone at the creek, I suppose overall about an eighty acre cut. The ridge to the north is relatively open ponderosa pine and buck-brush with heavy native grasses, being that it's a south-west-facing slope. In the bottom of this draw near the creek runs a grown-over skid trail from the logging operation, with a couple of skid trails running down through the bottom of the draw and up to the clear-cut on the opposite ridge.
Following this overgrown skid trail which now resembles a game highway, I eased up the draw, carefully glassing the opposite ridge and clear-cut where I could see through the timber in the bottom of the creek. Visibility of the clear-cut is broken at best, but as I slipped up the creek, I stopped frequently glassing the hillside, seeing nothing. Just as I expected, there were two new scrapes along the trail in the bottom, and I freshened up the second of these with some fresh estrus doe urine, and a saturated felt wick hanging from an overhanging branch. I eased back down the trail to set up about fifty yards from the scrape to watch, and have the wind in my advantage.
As I slipped towards my ground blind, movement on the opposite ridge riveted my attention. I froze, and slowly glassed the movement, and out of the broken view materialized a huge cow elk! She was feeding directly towards the creek bottom, and on a direct path to me. I waited until she put her head down to feed, and I ever so slowly eased down the trail to one of the crossover points where the skid trail intersected with another leading to the clear-cut across the creek so that I would have at least a window of unobstructed view of the hillside beyond the creek. This went unobserved by my cow elk, and I simply shrank down into the old road-cut with my back to the cut-bank where the cat had dozed the road in a few years earlier, thus eliminating my outline against the light colored vegetation around me.
Soon I picked out another two elk on the hillside feeding on the straw colored grass, both of them yearlings. Either sex elk season had ended on the 24th of the month, so I was earnestly searching for antlers. Daylight was fast falling, as by now it was nearly 4:30 in the evening, and the heavy cloud cover made things even darker. As I glassed through the timber looking to the opposite cut-over hillside, I spotted two more elk, both big heavy bodied animals, and after some considerable adrenaline rush and diligent glassing determined that they too were merely cows. All the while I'm glassing these elk are feeding closer and closer to the creek below me. None of the elk were over 150 yards away, and three of them within thirty yards! Thankfully the thermals held, and the breeze was flowing straight down the draw carrying my scent down below and beyond my precarious position. Further glassing revealed yet another elk, obscured from clear view by the relatively heavy creek-bottom trees, but with scrutiny I saw the animal had a really light buckskin, almost golden coat, with a dark chocolate heavy mane that began at the shoulders. This elk kept its head in the buck-brush, and the light continued to wane as I frantically tried to glimpse a clear view of the head and ears to look for head gear. No luck, the trees were too heavy, the view too broken, and the critter was feeding, quartering away from me with its head in the brush.
As I'm studying this mystery elk on the hillside, I hear hooves, and here comes a pretty nice whitetail doe to visit the scrape that I've just freshened up! We have either sex deer season open now, but the last thing I'm going to do is pop a whitetail doe on the second day of season when I've got elk within easy range and on the next-to-last day of season!
This doe sniffs around, paws up some dirt in the scrape, and urinated there before heading down through the creek and up the other side to feed in the clear-cut beyond. She didn't spook, and the elk rather ignored her altogether, other than looking to see what the commotion was about before returning to their evening meal.
Returning my attention to the elk on the hillside, some had changed positions slightly during the time my attention was distracted by the doe, and it appeared that I had an extra elk on the radar-scope than I did previously. Once again, the frantic one animal to another in looking for bones... still that one mystery elk with it's head away from me wouldn't give a clear view. By now light was fading fast, as it was nearly five o'clock and by ten-after five right now, it's REALLY dark. I'm still making maximum use of my binoculars, thankful that I'd brought my full size Nikons with me, and that the temptation to only bring the compact Burris was resisted before I left home. Right then I needed all the light gathering I could muster.
Suddenly the big mystery elk wheeled around in the brush, and at the same time I heard heavy, fast hooves behind and above me on the ridge to my back. Just as I swiveled my head to try to view what was making such a racket in the brush, an average whitetail buck was airborne, sailing directly over my left shoulder! He'd launched off the road embankment above me, headed directly towards the scrape that had just minutes before been visited by the distracting doe! This buck's hooves were only about eighteen inches from my face! At the same instant I saw him, he saw and recognized me for what I was, and man, that buck literally began running full-out in mid-air! He hit the ground about eight feet in front of me, then charged straight down the skid trail leading to the clear-cut! This ol' boy rocketed within two feet of the nearest cow elk in the creek bottom, spooking her into a full retreat from something she didn't even know what was!
With both the whitetail buck and this huge cow elk charging through the brush and timber into the clear-cut on the other side of the draw, the entire hillside erupted with the sound of an avalanche! Elk were going everywhere! There were far more elk in that clear-cut than I had managed to see through the timber, and the last animal to pass through my only open window of vision to that hillside was my mystery elk. As he shot through that brief opening, I watched his antlers reach nearly to his tail as he held his head back in full retreat up the hillside beyond my view.
Although both my deer and elk tags remained unfilled, and no acrid smell of gun smoke filled the air, my sense of fulfillment and satisfaction of a successful hunt propelled me down the mountain and back home marveling at the eveningís outcome, and thanking the Lord for such an awesome hour in the woods. I was so stoked coming home that Iím not even sure I touched the ground, my adrenaline rush was as intense as the encounter in the creek. No, I didnít make it out for the closing day of season, but I had perhaps one of the most satisfying endings to an Idaho elk season that Iíve experienced in many years!
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