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Author Topic: Morning of The Elk - Mike Douglass  (Read 2312 times)

Offline Terry_Green

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Morning of The Elk - Mike Douglass
« on: September 04, 2003, 06:03:00 PM »
Morning of The Elk

by Mike Douglass

     It was the morning of September 4th, and there was a slight warm breeze blowing downhill as I started my descent into the drainage that I knew held an elk herd.

It had been unseasonably hot for this time of year in Northern Idaho and as I started down, I thought to myself that the breeze felt like a tropical warm wind on some unnamed isle, instead of the high country.

About halfway down the ridge, two deer, both does, made several jumps before stopping to look at me and my headlamp as it cast an eerie glow upon them and made their eyes light up like two supernatural beings.  They never moved as I walked by and I thanked them for showing themselves to me.

This was going to be a good morning.

It began to get light, that surreal time between darkness and light when objects are not yet discernable, but you know they are there and the world is bathed in grayness.

I began to slow my pace, as I knew just below me was an old logging road and an old logged area that had openings and patches of timber interlaced through a two square mile area that held plenty of browse and grasses for the deer and elk in the area.

 The sun, which had been hidden behind the distant ridge, began its slow assent upwards.  There was an eerie glow to it and its orb was blood red, caused by the distant fires in Montana and the central portion of Idaho, sending the smoke into the area from a prevailing southeast breeze.

 As I stopped to remove my headlamp, check my gear and bow, I immediately heard the far off mews of cow elk, about a quarter mile directly south of me and level with the logging road I was on.  I began slowly walking in their direction, checking the breeze with my “smoke in a bottle” puffer, making sure it was still drifting downhill.

After approximately ten minutes of walking, the morning stillness was pierced by a raspy bugle from a bull elk, coming from just ahead, around the bend in the road.  It could not have been more than one hundred yards and I was caught in the open on the road!

I immediately checked the breeze again and could hear the click and clacks made by hooves on the road and several mews from the cows as they approached.  I had a herd on the road with me!

 An uphill hiding spot would have been perfect, like a low tree stand, as the slope was steep and there was a twenty foot embankment, but the wind was all wrong.  I quickly assed the situation and my only option was to dive off the road downhill and using a tree to break my outline and roadside weeds to help hide me, I waited, giving two short cow calls from my call.  I had a steep uphill shot and there was a branch partially blocking my view of the road, so ever so quietly I reached out and broke off the branch with a muffled snap.  I gave two more calls and started to sink to me knees.  As I turned to look down the side of the road, there he was, an immature spike bull at 20 yards, with his ears straight out and looking directly in my direction.  I was had!

He had come in silently, like a sneaky whitetail buck, tip-toeing in to find this “new cow.”

I crouched there, half way between kneeling and standing, ignoring the burning that was beginning to travel up my thighs.  My bow lay at my feet, with an arrow nocked, waiting for its master to pick it up and put to use the months of practice all summer.  What seemed like an eternity and actually was several minutes, we stared at one another.  I, wishing he would just walk away without spooking the herd and he, trying to figure out what this small “cow” was doing.

Finally he turned to the side and began a downhill circle that would eventually put him downwind of me and the game would be over.  As I watched him out of the corner of my eye and tried to keep tabs on the approaching herd, I heard another bugle from the ridge top I had just descended down!  Now I knew there were two bulls in close proximity to me!  This was getting good!

All of a sudden, I saw the spike lift his head and flare his nostrils, the jig was up.  He was now downwind and getting ready to bolt.  He made two huge jumps, then stopped again, still within bow range of 30 yards, then turned and trotted down the swale and into a patch of timber, crashing as he went, but not a headlong flight of a truly scared animal.  Maybe there was still a chance for me!

I gave several cow calls and silently knelt, picking up my bow and balancing it on my knee, my thighs sighing in relief.

Another, more raspy and throaty roar from yet a third bull on the road.  Now I have three bulls close to me!  This is the most exciting morning I have had in a long time!

Now I see two sets of ears as they make their way along the road, feeding and walking slowly.  I am ready this time and they will pass by me at 12 yards!  The two cows step into view, I’m now at full draw and they stop broadside, slightly quartering and begin to drink  from a seep, that flows along the other side of the road and under, draining down hill, under my knees that are now soaked.  As I begin that final push-pull just prior to release I notice horns moving above the roadside grass and brush, walking towards the cows.  Oh, what to do.  The old saying about a bird in hand comes to mind as I let down and watch as the cows now turn their butts to me to continue drinking.  I can hear their “slurps” as they drink.  I tell myself I’m going to regret this.

Here comes the bull, without a care in the world, a nice 4x4 that will fill my freezer and end this season early.  Just two more steps and he will be mine!  I start to draw, but he catches the movement and freezes, just a half a foot more.  Then he turns towards me and steps to the edge of the road and looks directly at me at 10 Yards!  He is looking down at me, I at him and I’m at half draw holding…and holding…and HOLDING!  I’ve got to let down!  My arms are screaming at me to let down.  I can’t let down!  He puts his head down to nibble at some grass and I let down ever so slowly, my bow shaking badly as my muscles scream at me.  Oops, he catches the movement.  Again, a stare down between an animal and a man.

 Primordial instincts kicking in, raw animal instincts kicking in, the two of us stare.  The wind is from him to me, I can smell him.  His nostrils flare, trying to pick up an errant shift of breeze, I notice how beautiful an animal he is.  His eyelashes are long and he has the look of a curious child.  His summer coat has turned to the fall saddle tan and is sleek and unmarred.  His right ear has a notch in it from sparing or a branch of a tree.

 I shall always remember that face.

 He turns away and follows the path of the previous spike, picking his way down the embankment towards the swale and timber.  He picks up my movement as I pivot my body at the hips, bow up, trying to will him to stop for a broadside shot at 20 yards.  He does!  As his head goes down to nibble at some grass, I draw, reach my anchor and release.  Whack!  My bow tip hits a branch as it’s energy is released, sending my arrow into the ground at the bull’s feet.  He jumps straight into the air and lands’, looking around as if trying to fathom what that sound just was.  Then as if to add injury to insult, urinates on the spot, then just walks down the hillside as I frantically try to remove another arrow from my bow quiver without  him noticing the movement or the two gals above me who have finished their drink.

Sure enough, just like the spike, he winds and crashes off as he reaches the magic point below me.

The cows just continue walking down the road without a care.

Now I see numerous ears and a large set of ivory tipped antlers “nosing” after a young cow.  Hear we go again!

As they approach, I take a very long and needed breath as I have been holding it for too long.  A magical calmness comes over me as I prepare once again for the set up, bow up, fingers on the string.

An old lead cow, very large, almost as large as the 5x5 she is shadowing stops just prior to the last patch of weeds that hides her body from my broadhead.  She is very old and very wise.  Something is wrong, but she can’t smell danger, she can’t see or hear danger, she just knows!  The bull stops with her as do the other five younger cows in the group.  Trusting to the old matriarchs instincts.  They are right there!  “Just come a little farther” I say to myself as the old herd cow steps off the road, not following the same path as the spike or the young 4x4 with the notched ear, but farther back, using trees and brush as a shield between her body and that of the unknown “presence” that is just over there.

The other cows and the bull, follow her lead and as they catch that ever errant shift in the breeze and trot off down the mountain, as if saying, “Humph, that was just not right.”

I look at my watch, 7:04 A.M., as I start back up the ridge, not wanting to spoil that precious and magical moment I have just experienced, as I’m sure, others have before me.  
I will not hunt again today, as I have to be back to share my wife’s birthday and I want to write this story down and tell my boys…

About “The Morning of The Elk.”

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