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Journal of a Traditional Alberta Muzzleloader Elk Hunt

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Dec 30, 2012
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Living in the Past
Journal of a Traditional Alberta Muzzleloader Elk Hunt - 2019

Sept 1, 16 days to departure...

Well September has arrived once again and very soon I will be headed off on our annual elk hunt. My buddy and I have been doing this hunt since 1994, so this year is the 25th. Throughout the years others have joined, and faded away, with this years attendance looking like five (ourselves, his son and uncle, my son-in-law).

The camp usually consists of wall tent set-ups, and will once again, however I will be bringing my RV due to my active chemo timing in hopes of making things a little easier.

We are hunting the elk in the deep river valleys of the Peace River area, where steep and thick is very common. These are not easy hunts. Many years we have left empty handed, but usually manage at least one.

I am the only person who hunts with traditional muzzleloaders to ever attend, and this year am bringing my Lyman GPH .50 caliber percussion with 370gr home cast Maxiballs, and am quite excited. I have allotted 2 weeks for this hunt, and head out Sept 16th (our season opens the 17th).

I am hoping to continue this as a journal entry each night of my own day at the camp. Each days experience, sights, sounds smells, etc. With luck I will also be able to record success!

I should also mention that there will be a black bear tag in my pocket and will be very high on my priority list. The cancer I am fighting severely impacts my digestive system, and as such I have not been able to digest fats of any sort for the last couple years. This has resulted in significant weight loss. So, my hope is that black bear fat will be an exception and thus allow for weight gain. This should also allow for potentially my recording more than one successful hunt within this “journal”.

Sept 13, 3 days to departure..

The hunt is getting closer. Grub is fully assembled and packed, as is the clothing. Hunting bag (I use an old canvas bag that I have hunted with since my father gave it to me at age 17) is loaded up with my necessary muzzleloader gear plus the essentials necessary in our modern world anymore (as an fyi, going forward In this journal I hope to make no further references to in a modern context). My leather shooting bags are just too small as I do not wear a pack when hunting. I do have a fine handmade skinning knife, as well a small hand forged neck knife. Should a fire be necessary, it will be lit by flint and steel, for the first actual time in my life. All thats left is to fill my water supply and slowly count down the remaining 64 hours until I pull out for the expedition.

I am having one problem however, my self built .54 Plains rifle is silently screaming at me for choosing to use the GPH .50 and maxiballs. It honestly is nagging at me so don’t be surprised if I make the switch prior to the hunt. It does seem right to use her as an elk is the only big game animal she has not collected. Her first was a nice little moose in fact. Them .530 round balls are very effective indeed!

Sept 14, 39 hours to departure....

Hunting partner just arrived in camp. Trail in is impassable with my “covered wagon” so time to make a mad dash and repack for wall tent again. Oh well, that is how an elk camp should be. Btw, the trail in is only 9 miles off a main wagon trail, but takes a minimum of 1 hour in good conditions, so it must be real bad this year.

Have not firmly settled on which rifle will join me yet, still pondering....

Sept 15, 11 hours to departure...

This day started two hours before sunrise as preparations for the trip had to be adjusted, however the gear is now all repacked and reorganized since becoming informed the “covered wagon” wont survive the access route into elk camp. I am forced to reassess all pieces of equipment and food supplies as there is limited space and weight for the “pack mule.” Only absolute necessities were selected. As the local water is suspect, ample water supplies had priority, followed by (hopefully) enough food rations for the maximum trip duration of two weeks. Also decided on sticking to the original plan of taking the .50 GPH. This rifle is yet unproven in making meat, so there is pressure on it to perform and earn a proper name before the expeditions end. Weather appears to be cooling down, and all signs indicate it should continue as such. This day ended with a good meal of turkey chowder and an early to bed. Soon I will be off...

Sept 16, day 1, departure day...

Rose before sunrise to finish the final packing and managed to hit the trail roughly 3 hours after sunrise. Clear with just partial cloud, cool and heavy dew to start the day. Long trip for the “mule” but around mid afternoon finally arrived. The trail in is indeed not good and the “wagon” definitely would not have survived! Lots of excitement in camp with the last party member arriving at supper time. Plans are being made for who will be hunting where come the morning, and a few social drinks are being poured. This group does not indulge, and in fact myself and another not at all, so social is indeed the case. Supper was a nice chilli, so both wall tents should be wonderful tonight!! The evening ended with two bulls sounding off within a few hundred yards of camp.

Bring on opening morning...

Sept 17, day 2, season opener....

Rough nights sleep, full moon shining and elk sounding off all night. We figure the closest was within 250 yards. High hopes to start the morning for sure!

Clear skies, light fog and a few degrees below freezing. Should be a good day.

After my morning medications and chemo routine completed, we boiled water for a tea and oatmeal breakfast, then everyone departed. Son-in-law and I headed North out of camp then turned East on an old trail towards the direction we felt most of the previous nights amorous activities had been taking place. Once we were about 600 yards from camp we stopped and I let go with my first bugle of the season. After about 10 minutes wait I let a second followed by a series of cow chirps. Almost instantly there was a response, just North and an estimated 300 yards East. We jumped up and closed the ground by half, sent another bugle and received an instant response. We closed roughly 100 yards further, set up about 50 yards apart from each other and I started cow calling. This bull started cranking the bugles and he was close!

Now let me describe the terrain a little. This area is not the majestic western mountain meadows we all read about in books or hear about in stories, but rather dense boreal forest, with mixed pine, spruce, white/black poplar, birch, willow and alder. Lots of alder! Mix this with the 600’ high banks of a major historical river of the fur trade, and it is exactly like our ancestors would have seen it. Thick and wild!

Anyhow, this bull comes within 50 yards of my son-in-law but all he can see is alders moving as the bull continues my direction. He waits. At 25 yards I have a bull broadside, as the fog from the river settles in before I can ascertain if he is legal size. Old eyes, fog, vegetation and as of yet poor light do not make a good mix. As all elk hunters know, they don’t stick around long and this was no different, but with my son-in-laws excitement showing, the whole thing was worth it. He said, “I’ve never had a bull literally screaming in my lap before!” This whole time there were two other bulls calling in the distance so he says “lets go after another,” and we’re off. Several locate calls later we are in some thick spruce with willow undergrowth when I hear a step. We freeze. Visibility is nil and I know we pushed in too close. So I tell him to go off quartering ahead until he finds an opening and I start cow calling. Bull answers and moves closer, son-in-law raises his rifle and holds. I can’t keep the bull long and finally he moves off. Son-in-law reports he, “had him quartering towards but was not comfortable with the angle, I hoped he would shift a bit. He was a huge 6x6!” Excitement again, but still held his composure and didn’t try to force things. Gotta be proud of someone like that. By this time the sun is high enough the fog is burnt off. My guts were not good so we parted ways and I slowly headed back to camp to lay down.

Back at camp, and over lunch I hear that the son-in-law called in a spike bull to about 10 yards, one buddy had two bulls bugling but no visual, and another camp mate had a lone bull playing hide n’seek, but no bulls down. Good mood throughout camp. Very hot and flat calm afternoon though.

Departed camp about 2.5 hours before the end of legal light, back into the same general area but we split up this time. I slowly ventured into things, cow chirping the whole time but to no avail. With only 15 minutes of legal time left I stumbled upon a small bull at 75 yards. Both of us were surprised, with his reaction time much quicker than mine. Oh well. Wandered back into camp and found it had been quiet for everyone. Tired and sore its an early to bed.

Sept 18, day 3...

Clear star filled Alberta sky, hovering around freezing with a bit of a dewy frost. High fog that didn’t fully lift till almost noon, then another hot, calm afternoon. Great afternoon napping weather!

Once again, morning medical and chemo routine (last day however, for 2 weeks, yay!!) followed by tea and oatmeal then we’re off. Son-in-law wanted to work a loop so I headed off in another direction. Quite a cool morning with the high fog, and geese. Flocks and flocks of geese! All heading South on their annual migration. More than I remember ever seeing this early in the year. A sure sign winter is just around the corner.

I slowly work a series of heavily used game trails, stopping often to look, listen, and just absorb it all. There is the scent of the soil turned by the hooves of the animals, the beautiful fall colors of the changing leaves, the smell of the slowly decaying mushrooms and vegetative matter, and the ever present cranberry. I love the smell of those cranberries! That is the signal for hunting season...

Calling every so often had not yielded anything when suddenly the silence is broken by a single rifle shot, with follow up shots coming a short time later. It appears to be coming from an area one of our party said they were going to try that morning. It is a great location for elk, but very tough to retrieve them as it is deep in the valley. I ponder if I should head back to camp and see if he shows up requesting help, however there have been many times when it wasn’t us at all, but rather hunters on the other side of the river. I decide to continue on my hunt. Besides what can I do to help, with all that muscle waste from the cancer?

Hours later I have worked my way into the area I hunted last evening, where I sit and rest a bit. Suddenly there is an elk bugling a few hundred meters directly North. I let a few cow chirps go and he gives a confirming response. Up and quickly I cover 200 yards, closing the distance somewhat, where I set up and cow chirp again. Before there is time for a response a whitetail bolts away on my right, goes roughly 50 yards and starts to blow, and continues to snort/blow. I know the gig is up and the elk never makes another sound, confirming that fact. Darn deer! After a short, stubborn wait I make the return journey back to camp. Lunch is calling, at least thats what my stomach says anyway.

At camp I discover that the shot was indeed one of our party, and three of them had already completed the work. Not as much work as I had anticipated in fact as he harvested it just outside of the “real work” area. The use of a “pony” drug it right out. Its a very large bodied 7x7 bull, and his personal best. He is quite happy, as are all of us. He loaded it up and made the journey into town for the processor in attempt to beat the afternoon heat.

After lunch its nap time for me to try and recharge some energy, then an early supper and back out for the evening.

The evening remained clear and dead calm, with the temperature dropping in direct relation with the sun. I decided to head in a different direction for this hunt to just sit and cow chirp. This has worked before when they become call shy, and with it so quiet any walking would likely just spook game anyway. So I get to one of my favourite spots, which is a small rise above intersecting trapper trails, right on the edge of a bedding area, and start my patient routine. After an hour and a half there is an excellent little spike horn meat bull broadside at 51 paces, with an absolutely clear shooting lane. Unfortunately, spikes are not legal as this area must be 3 point or larger on one side. I snap a photo and he casually moves on. Completely unaware of his luck. Rest of the evening remained uneventful. Arriving back in camp, appears my spiker was the only elk seen.

Sept 19, day 4....

Woke to the alarm clock a full hour past the previous mornings thanks to the routine change. Still didn’t want to get up though, lol. Exited the tent to find clear skies once again, but a light wind which meant not quite as cool. No frost nor dew this morning. A quick breakfast of a handful of raisins and two granola bars, then off on the hunt once again...

This morning I decided to head back into the area we were at on opening day. On the walk there is a rifle shot West-North West of me, followed by two quick shots. Not one of us. Someone’s day just became work! Came into my area from a different angle than previous, and set myself up for a calling session. An hour later, nothing, so I decide to move a few hundred yards deeper in and set up again. Another hour passes with nothing, then finally a lone bugle but with the slight breeze I cannot tell from where. It takes 45 more minutes before I hear a second bugle, and it sounds like its coming from my original location. I start to slowly work back to that spot, cow chirping periodically, nothing. Suddenly I glance downward and there they are, a little patch of plump and juicy blueberries. I know I shouldn’t as my digestive system does not do well with them, but I gotta try a few. Mmmm, they are good!! Maybe just a couple more... After I’ve had some I think its best not to push my luck, so I grab my .50 GPH and start on my quest again.

The wind starts to pick up a bit so I decided it might be time to slowly hunt my way back to camp, after all thats the direction the wind is from now so things might just work out. Alas, still nothing.

Arriving back at camp I find I’m the first one back. Huh? That’s unusual? I did not hear any shots recently? Oh well, wait and see I guess. Lunch of turkey sausage and eggs, and tea. Gotta love it. Finally son-in-law walks in and reports he only seen a bull and cow moose, but heard an elk bugle off in the distance. Then a third member arrives and also reports of only moose sightings, bull and cow with calf. He does have a very large mule deer shed in hand for me though. He says, “picked this up for you to make your buttons, and measures, and whatever other muzzleloader stuff you make!” Lol, I thank him and accept the gift. The last two members don’t arrive in camp until well into the afternoon. It seems as though the fellow who got the elk yesterday decided to try for a bear. Oh ya, I should mention that in discussions with the group regarding my plan of trying bear meat and rendered bear fat to regain some weight (I read somewhere that bear meat and fat are actually better for people with digestive issues) that four members of the party came equipped with bear tags. So... it turns out he manages to harvest an old black bear, roughly 200lbs in size. Very nice bear with a great coat and lots of fat. So now nobody but myself has ever dealt with a bear, so I hold a skinning school, followed by fat collection and lastly the meat breakdown. I am also lucky in that he wants to run both the hide and meat back into his place before anything spoils. God its good to have friends!

Well, now the rest of my day, and evening, is spent slowly rendering bear fat and canning it into a dozen jars. Should be lots to try and see if it works for sure, and if not, well I got TONS of patch lube!!

Hopefully more success to report tomorrow...

Sept 20, day 5....

Rain on the tent roof well before dawn, started light and slowly progressed to a decent little rainfall. A quick glance at the wood stove indicates it is still quietly chugging along and does not require tending at this time. “Good”, I whisper to myself as I settle deeper into my bag. I hope the rain stops as I have no desire to get wet, cold and sick. I cannot afford it! Back to sleep and wake up comes shortly thereafter. Time to rise.

Rain has stopped, partial cloud and warm wind. Not perfect but not bad either. Another quick breakfast and I grab my rifle...

On that subject, my .50 cal Lyman GPH (Great Plains Hunter) started life as a .50 GPR (Great Plains Rifle) flintlock kit. My entry into the satisfaction of “doing it yourself”. In all honesty I do believe I did a good job. After several years of frustration with a flint ignition, including the purchase an L&R RPL lock to try, I decided to convert it to percussion. So I drilled and tapped for a drum/nipple assembly and removed the frizzen and cock from the original lock, modified the pan to both fit and support the drum. I then forged a hammer. Worked like a charm, and still allows me to switch back to a flint quickly by utilizing the L&R lock. Well as time went on I stumbled upon a good deal for a .50 cal GPH barrel and followed that with the purchase of a L&R RPL percussion lock. Thus here we are today. Three options in the one stock. My self cast 370 grain Maxiballs were dropped from a Lyman mould I had picked up years ago, and I lubed with some old Wonder Lube I had laying around. They do seem to load easy so I check the barrel often each day for creep, but nothing so far. I had snapped 2 caps prior to loading her up the evening before opening day, and loaded with 90 grains of Pyrodex P. This load still sits waiting for the opportunity to make meat.

So my rifle and I head out for the morning hunt. I decide to “play my cards close to my chest” as I have no desire to hunt in the rain considering my compromised immune system, and should wait to see what the sky shows. So I start by staying close to camp area. Of course this plan just is not possible, and soon I am following a game trail that just keeps getting more heavily used as I move along, until it is about 20” wide and bare dirt. Just have to see where this leads! Moving slow, surveying and scanning yields nothing, and calling is out of the question with the wind, so I continue on my exploration of a trail that is totally new to me, even after 25 years in this area. Well eventually I pop out on a trail I recognize as “Rylend’s Loop”. There is a nice vantage point here so I decide to sit and try calling. Likely futile with the wind, but why not try? Exactly as I suspected, no responses nor activity, so I start to still hunt my way back towards camp, as lunch is once again calling.

Back at camp shortly after noon, and almost everyone is around, just my son-in-law still out. My rather successful friend has returned after dropping his hide and my meat into his freezer, excited as he bought himself new boots. He also picked up a whitetail license just so he can keep hunting. Although I think he is actually more interested in pursuing Ruffled Grouse as he also returned with a small caliber rifle. My suspicions are confirmed when he leaves camp only packing the little caliber for the evening hunt. He also reports a heavy influx of other camps in the area with the coming weekend. It’s a very warm and sunny afternoon, which has chased us all into the shade for a few hours. I notify everyone we will be having moose steak for supper, as they have thawed, so return hungry boys!

I struggle with where I should head into for the evening hunt, even as I gear up. My thoughts are that the area where the action was on opening day has likely been hit so hard that they have moved off. Just prior to departing camp I discover that nobody is going to sit at “The Perch,” a spot that has paid off for us almost every year! It seems that someone has sat there each morning and evening since season opening, with only a single cow elk sighting, and nobody wants to waste anymore time there. Well now, we can’t have that! So I have my evening hunt planned...

“The Perch” is nothing more than an opening in the forest, with a heavy transition trail crossing through it. It is about 1/3 of the way down into the river valley with a trapper trail access, so we can utilize a “pony” to recover animals. You sit likely 45 feet higher than the clearing and trail. Its a great spot that I seldom get to sit as I always let everyone select their area first. Perhaps tonight I will finally harvest something at this spot...

As I sit, quietly and patiently waiting the passing by of an unsuspecting bull elk, I can’t help but marvel in the fall colors in this valley. The yellows, reds, greens and browns of the changing leaves meeting with the blue sky, capped off with the splashes of red on the thin clouds as the sun slowly lowers. Life truly is marvellous. I don’t think a painting could even replicate what I’m seeing. There is a faint odour of black bear resonating from my jacket, reminding me of last afternoons skinning, and I am hoping its not so strong as to disturb the game. Then reality sets in as I remember that it has been 5 days since my last shower and two since a sponge bath. Tomorrow I will fix that.

Sat until the end of legal light, with the only sighting being an owl that passed through. Oh well, those moose steaks are waiting.

Back at camp, and over supper I learn that two cow elk were seen, with nothing else. The pressure is mounting for a few of the group as their trip is ending Sunday.

Sept 21, day 6...

Woke almost 2 hours before legal shooting light to find the stove almost out. Just a few coals and embers still glowing as I feed the wood into it. I crawl back into my bag to try and grab a bit more sleep...

People often ask why we do this hunt? Why do we work so hard to get an elk when we don’t have to? Why do you guys camp with bugs and mice? You see, my best friend, and the fellow with whom I’ve been hunting beside for 25 years, has a sister and brother-in-law who farm and ranch nearby, lots of land that is covered in deer, moose and elk. We have been told we can just sit over access trails on their alfalfa and collect our animals. Same story for myself, with a half dozen friends also owning land, being told the same thing. “Sleep in the house,” or “Bring your wagon and park right in the yard,” is relayed annually to us. Yet we continue to come here. Why do we do it? Its because it is not about the collection of the animal. Do not misunderstand, we all want the meat and work hard to both gain, and preserve it. It is about the whole experience. The sights, smells, chilly morning air, scream of a bugle, howl of a wolf, rising and setting sun, laughter and camaraderie, great friends, good campfire and warm tents. This becomes a stark reminder when my friend remarked to nobody in particular this morning, as he sat gazing into the clear, star filled northern sky, “I really love this place!” Nobody replies.

We all know that our presence, coupled with the four(?) other camps around us, is a lot of human scent and traffic for this tiny little corner of crown land, sitting in a finger as the river bends around us on three sides. We are aware that in all likelihood the elk have moved into the deepest, toughest and gnarliest gullies this place has, and with every passing day our odds of success drop further. We could venture into those areas, but we don’t. Elk also need their sanctuary. Yet the group returns, with high spirits, new gear, open excitement and always a big hug from old friends each and every year!

I depart camp headed for an old trapper trail that runs directly East. This trail has not been utilized in years, thus not maintained, there are many blowdowns and much undergrowth. It really slows your pace down, which makes for better hunting. I follow this right to the edge of the river bank, which is almost a sheer drop 600’ to the river flats. There are elk down there, I know that but you’d have to eat it there too! That or build a raft and float it out. I then turn South. This new path will bring me near the Perch, on the East side by roughly 600 yards. My thoughts are that perhaps if I slow hunt through here, make the turn back West on the trail that passes through the clearing below the Perch, I may gently move an elk past the sitting party member. However rather than completely walk through that clearing, I will cut back North on a different trail, roughly 200 yards shy of the Perch, and slow hunt my way back to camp. Now, this does present a wee problem. Being just over the river banks means rolling hills and draws. Also, as this is old growth aspen, with 36”-60” high undergrowth, there are moments of high spots where visibility is way beyond my self imposed 80 yard shot limit, followed by visibility near zero. This will continue as I pass around the natural bend in the river right up to almost the Perch. With the only change being some clearings. However the scenery is beautiful so I will chance it. As I slowly follow the trail around I suddenly hear the soft purr “putt putt putt” of a grouse. I lower to the ground as my eyes search. There it is, a nice size ruffie sitting under a small spruce right on the edge of a little spruce bluff. I watch as he slowly moves away, his head bobbing with every step before I continue. I do not wish him to flush and put anything close on edge.

It is becoming quite late in the morning, the sun is high and packing heat, with me walking a south facing slope, which means openings and lots of exposure. My canvas bag has a single water bottle in it and I am thinking of breaking it out. The trail takes me into the shade of some trees, where I pause to enjoy the coolness. Laying on the ground right there is another water bottle! It is unopened and cold still from the previous evening. Well, can’t be leaving garbage hanging around so I do my part and pick it up. There is also no sense in packing the extra weight of the water, and pouring it on the ground doesn’t seem right, so I guess I’ll drink it. Yup, tasted good and did the job! I arrive at the Perch area having decided to push past the early trail. My guess was there probably wouldn’t be anyone there this late, and I was not wrong. A little rest then start the hill climb back towards camp. The sun tells me its lunch time.

As we eat we talk of the morning experiences. One seen some moose, cow and calf, as well as a deer. Another seen a mullie buck and a couple whitetails, while a third seen a nice little whitetail buck. No elk were sighted. Again, the afternoon sun is quite hot, and we are forced to the shade. Way too warm for napping in the tent. I keep my promise to myself and have a good sponge bath, complete with a hair wash. It always amazes me how good one can feel after getting cleaned up. Discussions of old hunts, lost friends, farming and future ideas are abound. Its a good day...

Evening finds me gearing up lost in puzzlement of where to try? What to do? Finally I decide to just wander out of camp headed West. Isn’t that the saying? “Go West old man!” or something like that? Nobody hunts the area directly west of camp, its thick and dark, and never really showed signs of elk. Lots of moose sign, but not elk. Perhaps though with all the pressure??

I enter on an old trail and follow it generally westward, the wind is once again blowing fairly strong and every so often a dead pine tree falls. They do make a noise by the way. Pine beetles tore through here many years ago and there is standing dead pine everywhere. There is also lots of deadfall to step over. A lightening strike at the wrong time would be devastating. As would an irresponsible camp fire. The wind is creating a swirling effect in the forest. One moment its in your face, next at your back. Oh well, cannot control that. Onward!!

Working game trails ever westwardly I pause often to cow chirp, with only the odd soft bugle thrown in. Never hear a response. Lots of sitting and watching for motion in a sea of windy motion. Feels futile at best, but better than just sitting in camp. I stumble on another mule deer shed, this one older and badly rodent chewed, but has great mass and indications are had some good tine length. Wonder why I’ve never seen anything bigger than a forkie running around? Oh ya, they are smarter than me! At one point I slowly enter an open area with low underbrush. Trees are all white poplar and spaced several yards apart. Close examination shows the underbrush all nipped roughly 36” off the ground. Moose! Major moose browsing area for sure! I am not sure if elk will browse like this, I don’t think so but I carefully scan throughly. CHATTERING right beside me, scares me bad enough I jump. Damn red squirrel is sitting on a limb, ear high and only a few feet away. Apparently he wants me gone, and wont take no for an answer. Eventually I oblige as he wont keep quiet. Continuing my journey I start to swing North on trails to eventually end up at the main trail, where I rest and wait on my son-in-law, whom I know has to go by me on his way back to camp. Darkness sets in as I remove my percussion cap and secure the gun while waiting on him. Once again, nothing sighted by myself. Tomorrow???

Sept 22, day 7...

Camp time this morning. A little extra sleep was welcomed as well. Lord knows the hips and knees are sure deserving of a little rest. My son-in-law went out on his hunt this morning. He has a new family with two young children and really can use the meat, as such he is the most committed of us all and really putting in the hours. The rest remain in camp to start breaking most of it down.

Did not feed the stove last night as the tent I am in is coming down today. Wasn’t necessary anyhow, it was a very warm windy night. Three of our party are pulling out this morning so most of the camp has to come down, then resetting for just the remaining two of us. Working at a relaxed pace should easily have things done within a couple hours. First however, a hot tea with a splash of honey!

Upon arrival at camp last night I learned there is a new party set up roughly 200 yards from us. We do a rough count and figure there are now 6 camps in the area. Too many. I hope the newcomers become discouraged and move on next year. This is something we have faced before though.

Well as most things work in life, I didn’t even get time for a tea before a shot rings out, followed by a second. I have a strong feeling that my son-in-law just harvested his first elk. Not long after it is confirmed, he has taken a little meat bull, 3x2 that is legal, by a few inches only, but legal non the less! He is very happy and all five of us go to help. Upon arrival we get the story, “So, I decide to sit here as there is a bunch of fresh tracks crossing right over there. I give out a bugle, glance downward and shift a bit, look up and there are two bulls standing broadside right there (roughly 30 yards away). Right away I can see the one is only a spiker, but this guy looks legal, so I raise my rifle and sent one through his lungs. He went straight down! I reload and put a confirming shot right behind his ear, just like you guys say to do.” Short and simple. Why aren’t my elk like that? The recovery is easy as he dropped right on the trapper trail, and the “ponies” came right to it. He is also one of those that has to head home today, so this is truly a last minute success story.

With the elk dressed, loaded and my son-in-law packing for his trip home, it’s back to breakfast than breaking camp. Things flow smoothly and we still have the camp broke down by noon, with things repositioned for just the two of us completed also. Finally I get my tea, and sit down while enjoying it.

Today is overcast, thus a little cooler, yet still warm. The wind is still present and out of the West, but nothing like yesterday. Myself and the last remaining party member sit and talk of old stories till mid afternoon. We make a pact, should one of us be successful and get an elk, we will split it and our hunt will be over. It’s just too warm to hang something in camp, and unwise to be here alone anyhow. Soon we decide to gear up and head out for the evening hunt. Just as we are about to exit, the members of that camp set 200 yards from us pull up. It looks like they are leaving. Said they have to go back to work. Seem friendly enough but I suspect they wont be back. I think they feel the area is too crowded.

As we walk to our respective hunting areas, I decide that it might be a good evening to sit the Perch again. We part ways and wish each other luck. Upon arrival I settle in and once again start my patient calling, watching and waiting routine. This time the valley looks different. Oh the fall colors are still abound, but the sky is overcast with no rays reflecting off the clouds. It is still early in the evening however. An hour into things the wind has died completely, and an eire calm sets in. Roughly two hours into my sit the rain starts. It is light at the moment so I decide to continue the hunt. I tuck the rifles lock up under my arm and nestle in. My calling seems to generate what sounds like footsteps both behind, and below me, with the odd sound of a stick cracking. Something big is moving around... then I hear it, coming strong and getting louder as it nears. The wind is back, and not alone. Rain starts to intensify until it is no longer light, but a steady pour. This I cannot sit through, so I grab my bag, tuck the rifle and start the climb.

Back at camp I find my partner is already there, being driven out as well. He is 20+ years my elder and has the same concerns. Together we quickly secure things against the moisture then start supper under our tarp. Tea and coffee wash a simple meal of sausage on bread down, and we are content to listen to the rain on the tarp...

Sept 23, day 8...

Nature is calling, and badly. Must be time to rise. No time to dress as mother nature is demanding precedence. Outside I gaze at the sky, it has cleared overnight and is cold. Stars are shining in the black night sky. Wait a minute, black sky? I look around, no sign of a coming sunrise to the East. Back to bed I go. Probably shouldn’t have had that last tea..

Breakfast, granola bars and raisins again, along with the tea of course. Still clear and cool, rain had stopped sometime in the previous evening but not before ensuring that the bush was soaked. I resolve to remain on the main trail systems this morning in attempt to stay as dry as possible. Immediately upon leaving camp there is a cow and bull elk track in the sandy trail. Sometime in the night they walked within 100 yards of camp. Likely spit at us as the passed also! I work my way in a West-Northwest direction when I hear the soft moaning wail of a cow moose, followed by the constant grunting of her impatient, and ever demanding male counterpart. Soon I can hear them also walking as they get nearer, when I suspect she smells my presence. I do not think the bull is even aware it is dawn yet, being so lost in his quest. She leads him off still grunting his pleas. Once again I continue onward until I come to a familiar spot where the trail passes close to the rim of a small bowl. There I sit to watch and call. 30 minutes into my routine there is a single rifle shot from the general direction of my partner. Part of me hopes it is him as he is so excited to take a bull, having only had cow draws in the recent past, however another part is not yet ready for this adventure to end. I guess I’ll find out around lunch.

I continue with my patient game, cow calling often but bugling very sparingly. Another hour passes and I am considering moving when there is another shot, followed by a second. Both these from the same general direction as the first shot an hour ago, only appearing more distant. Oh, oh. Either this is not my partner, or we are in for some serious work! I decide to shift locations and try some more. Same results. My thoughts wander to the load in my rifle, no doubt brought on by the rains last evening. Did I do enough to protect it? Will it be reliable when called upon? Will it even actually be called upon? Give your head a shake! It will be reliable and it will get the opportunity, you’re just a little off tilt from the lack of elk action the last few days! I take a moment and relax. Things will come around. Finally I concede another morning to the elk and slowly work my way back to camp.

Upon arrival I find my partner still out. Perhaps that was him? I break out the pan and start frying up onions with potatoes which I will follow up with four fried eggs. Breakfast is my favourite meal as eggs are easy on my system. I am finished eating before my partner arrives. He fixes himself a strong black coffee and enlightens me on the shots. It seems there were two different parties, one hunting from the river that fired the first shot and the other two shots came from a party hunting across the river. He didn’t see anything either, but tracks showing lots of elk activity. They are still here, just better at hide’n seek than us..

Afternoon brings a social visit from a neighbouring camp. It’s a real good friend and his brother, who established their camp spot 10 years ago, and approximately 8 miles from ours. Years ago we agreed upon an unwritten boundary between our camps so that we don’t mess each other up when calling. They report on their level of activity, including the success on a large 7x7 bull, and listen to ours. They too are seeing quite an influx of new hunters in the area, along with a word of caution regarding one group in particular, and their “hunting practices.” We then spend the rest of the afternoon retelling the same old hunting stories of past years. Finally its an early supper, the last of the moose steaks and potatoes with carrots wrapped and baked in the coals of the fire. Came out excellent!

The evening again finds me at the Perch where I call and watch. I only hope the rains stay away this time. It has been cool and overcast all afternoon, but high cloud so it should be good. The wind never fully dies but the clouds disperse and it looks like it will be a clear cold night once again. At one time the river ran high on these banks, way up high where I sit. The rocks in the soil are all very old river rocks, and I spy a flat one roughly the size of my open hand. I pick it up and examine closely. It is extremely smooth and my curiosity arouses as I pull out my forged roach belly knife to see if the rock will hone the edge. This is a very good knife made by a fellow goes by “Two Feathers,” and was used on both the bear and the son-in-laws elk, and held an edge throughout. I did touch it up after each animal but it is the best knife I’ve ever owned. This rock however did not treat the edge well. I toss it aside and vow to retouch my knife again tonight in camp.

Darkness comes and I’ve seen nothing. I start on the trail back for camp and find where two elk have crossed behind me this evening. Foiled yet again!!

Back in camp my partner is already there. He reports no sightings as well.

We spend the evening in idle talk around the campfire. Both knowing our trip is coming to a close, and we are striving to get as much time in as possible. Friday morning will be the last hunt. Then I will head over to spend a day or so with my grandkids before heading home.

Sept 24, day 9...

Quite warm and cozy in the tent last night thanks to my partners aging bladder. When I step outside I discover it is cold, almost at freezing temps. Tea and breakfast then off for the hunt.

By this time there is little of our regular haunts which I have not spent time in, and we formulate a plan which involves the area around the Perch. However as we slowly walk that direction we come across fresh elk tracks headed East. We change the plan to him sitting at the Perch with me pursuing the elk tracks. These are on a trail I know well, in fact one I hunted a few days back. I will follow the same route and eventually pop out just below the Perch, where we will walk back to camp together. Plan made and we are off our separate ways.

Only a few hundred yards into my trail, the elk venture off on a thin side trail. I hum and haw as I weigh the options and consequences of following or not. I have spent time in the area these elk are headed. It is thick with lots of blowdowns, dense underbrush and curse words. I’ve never heard so many curse words as the last time I ventured through those woods! I do remember that upon exiting, a vow to never again enter. Now here I am exactly one year later. Am I really that dumb? Yup, here we go again..

I start in on the thin trail and break through the thick wall of aspen shoots/alder/rose hips/willows that are all competing for the limited sunlight available at the forests edge. Not too far in, and once past the thick edge vegetation I discover this thin trail is actually very heavily used. Maybe 16” wide and bare dirt. Wow! This area is exclusively mixed poplar with a few spruce as well white birch. The undergrowth is a steady blanket of hazelnut bushes, as is the entire area not covered in pine or spruce. The wind the last few days has likely removed 25% of the leaves, and visibility has improved greatly. I slowly work this trail, eyes probing and ears attentive. The light wind is perfect, in my face and steady. I cow chirp and sit often to just observe. Nothing, so I continue on, repeating this routine. Off in the distance to my North, I hear the grunt of a moose. Mustn’t be too far with the wind as it is. Oh if I had the moose draw I think this fellow would be sizzling in the pan very soon. Bull moose rifle season opened this morning for those fortunate enough to be drawn, and I wonder how many rifle shots I will hear. At one of my rest spots there is an old fallen poplar log, limbs still holding it perfect hight for a chair while I call. Ten minutes in one of the limbs break and my chair drops eight inches while my heart jumps a foot! I guess nature is telling me to get off my butt. I will listen and oblige, and off I go. Suddenly I hear the sharp crack of a step. I cannot see the source as it is in a shallow alder choked draw 60 yards to my left quarter, but my wait is not long. A cow elk breaks out and bolts across in front of me headed southwest. I wait, rifle ready for the bull that never follows. She was alone. I continue onward, same routine. Soft cow calls, watch and wait, move then repeat, ever working southeast. There is another moose grunting to my South now. Nice to hear the forest alive in the cool morning.

As the day progresses the wind starts to pick up as well. The sun is getting higher in the East as it starts its crescent to the South and eventually will fall into the forest directly West. There is not a cloud in the sky. I continue with my slow travel, call, wait and watch routine. You know, I have not heard one cuss word! These elk have that thick stuff figured out, and the trail system in here is huge. “The animals must be evolving,” I think to myself. “When I was younger this style of hunting yielded more game for me than it does now. Now, I hardly see anything nor hear anything! Darn smarter animals.” I continue until my quest leads me to the trail below the Perch. My partner is sitting where he said he would and reports there was no activity. We slowly work our way back to camp as our stomachs are doing more talking than we.

After lunch I build a fire with my flint and steel. Start by gathering some real dry Old Mans Beard (the mossy stuff in old spruce trees) along with small dry spruce branches, until I have a handful. Next larger branches, followed by even larger. I do cheat and use char cloth, but two strikes, a little gentle air and we’re off to the races. I have gathered some dry punk wood and will take advantage of this fire to make up some charred punk. Got to always replenish from the inventory. Taking from the bank without putting back will leave a man destitute!

There is a single rifle shot only a couple hundred yards from camp. A few minutes later a follow up. I suspect there is a dead moose close by. Confirmed, my friend that visited yesterday got the bull that I believe was with the cow I heard yesterday morning. I had told him where he could find it while he was here. Season opened and closed in one day for him. Now his work begins. I offer our assistance but he has help in the form of a wife, father and two brothers already on route. They make quick work and are off to care for the meat.

We head out for the evening hunt, and the wind has once again picked up. Swirling like crazy in the bush and calling will be futile, so I decide to slowly stalk various game trails, trying to keep my nose to the wind. My partner has opted for a stand being his knees are sore. Still hunting, as I am doing, involves only a few steps followed by lots of looking and listening. Listening is out of the question due to the wind, and movement is everywhere, but the plus side is mine is masked as well. You need to focus on seeing an animal’s parts, an ear, antler tine, face, rump, etc before they detect you. You will not see a whole animal in the bush. I am proof of that, as I definitely can’t see them! Lol. The wind dies and I start cow chirping. Now I can hear, and what I hear is a large animal moving off to my left. I search hard for movement with no success. It continues on so I take a chance and work that way, cow chirping as I go. It does not stop and I come to the trail it was utilizing. There the track is obvious, lone cow elk was just moving through. Success in the fact she didn’t recognize me as human at least. I push on. The sun has now set below the forest and there is only a few precious minutes left before my iron sights cannot be seen. I enter onto a main trail I know well and figure to start hunting my way back to camp. Wonder how my partner made out? I did not hear a single shot this evening, however the wind was bad for a while.

Back at camp with sore legs and tired feet. Lots of walking. Partner had no success either. Bring on tomorrow...

Sept 25, day 10...

Nature calling once again, darn tea! Wind is still blowing, actually quite strong, and overcast sky. Appears it rained a bit at some point. Does not seem too cold outside. Back in the tent for a bit more sleep.

Breakfast and tea again. Wind has died right down and the sky has cleared. I am in a state of uncertainty as to where to head this morning. My partner wishes to sit the Perch again, so I tell him I will “head that way,” as I point in a sweeping motion from North through East until South. He laughs and says, “Ok. Good luck,” and we’re off. I start out on a trail Northward from camp then jump on one headed East, after a short distance there is a pretty good trail that takes off to the Northeast, which I pause at and ponder. My original plan was to follow this Eastern trail to near its end then cut Southward on a fairly well used game trail. I have intersected elk in here before, and the breeze would be favourable for sure, however something is nagging at me to jump on this other trail. I decide to follow my gut. Slowly I work along, not yet calling as I feel I’m not far enough from camp. Besides, I need to get somewhere the breeze is not against me. Silently I walk along, I hear a bull moose grunting again to the North, and more migrating geese headed South high overhead. What am I doing? This breeze wont work for this trail? I gaze up at the geese, they are high and definitely not stopping anytime soon. Our neighbours to the South should have an excellent goose season this fall, there have been a bunch this year! As I am lost focusing on the geese I hear a step, followed by another. My eyes scan. This animal is close and walking parallel to myself. What is it? Dark front, tan hide, light butt, ELK, and close! My eyes search ahead for an opening, there, I wait and it finally walks through. BULL, lets see, one, two, more... yup legal but has now moved past the lane. I silently sneak ahead several yards, another lane and this one a little bigger. Up comes my rifle, silently cocking as I raise and I wait. I can see sporadic tan movement and know he’s still coming. Finally he slips into the opening, my eyes confirm its the same animal, “snick” and the trigger is set. The elk freezes at the sound, still unaware I am even here, full broadside, eyes straight ahead while his ears rotate seeking and searching for the source before committing to another step. Sights settle tight behind the front shoulder, BAMM! There is no hesitation in ignition, thus confirming I did my part in properly protecting the load during the rainfall a few days back. Smoke hangs in the air as the elk bolts, crashing through the underbrush. I quickly cow call, and again. The elk stops and I hear the loud struggle for air, then a crash. I reload carefully as I do not wish to rush and make an error. I start counting the paces to where the elk was at the shot. 26 paces, and blood confirming the location. I slowly start to follow the easy trail, 42 more paces and there he lies, no need for a follow up. I pause and give thanks. Then start to admire my trophy. Not anything to brag about, a simple little 5x4 raghorn meat bull, but my trophy non the less. I am proud.

After a bit it is time to start the work, and isn’t long before my partner shows up to assist. Together we make short work in taking the elk down and securing the meat. Then back to camp for a good meal and to start breaking it down. Too warm to hang so now our trip is over.

A mere couple hours later things are all packed in our “mules” and goodbyes are said, along with promises of seeing each other again next year. I reflect on the trip as I pull out, and my friends statement one cold morning. “God I love this place!”

Bring on the grandkids...


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