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Title: Chapter Three - Discovering the Bow
Tags: Bow, hunting, elk, Oregon, Camping
Blog Entry: Chapter Three – Discovering the Bow I saw too often where an orange hat rested his thirty ‘ought six on the hood of a rig, peering down a high-powered scope to drop a deer a mile away. That ain’t hunting. It’s not supposed to be that easy. Someone once said that happiness is in the journey, not the destination. In this case, the journey is the hunt. The destination is the dead deer at your feet. Besides, there are just too darn many rifle hunters out there. Around every corner is a rig slowly driving up and down the road looking for the easy kill. On top of every unit is a parked car with a person peering out through binoculars. More than once, I would sneak along a ridge and spy an orange hat peering at me through the scope on his rifle. More than once I would sit quietly in a thicket overlooking a good area and have a hunter walk right by me not realizing I was there. Often, I would peer up at the mountains at night and see the straight line of a spotlight and get angry. Then I discovered bowhunting. Relatively few hunters are out in bow season, and those that are out are more experienced and consciencous. Bowhunters get closer to nature because they have to in order to succeed. They have to be smart about what they are doing. The have to be physically fit. They have to practice all year. Bowhunters have to study the area they plan to hunt and learn the patterns of the game far in advance of the season. They have to take care of their equipment so it doesn’t fail them when it’s needed. It’s not a two week a year sport. It’s an all year sport that culminates in a small window of opportunity. And if you do all that, you probably still won’t succeed. But remember, happiness is in the journey, not the destination. Let me tell you about an experience I had in my early years of bowhunting that converted me for good. Yep, another huntin’ story. Grab your popcorn and listen in. Practicing with my old PSE bow and buying a dozen new Beman ICS Hunter arrows which in my opinion were the best arrows on the market. Tipped with lethal Wasp broadheads . I was heading into the Ochoco National Forest for a three week hunting trip. I was going to live in my two man tent and focus on bagging my first elk. It was a four hour drive from Bend into the wilderness area. My beer-bottle-brown GMC packed high. I was careful to pack all the essentials I would need for a longe excursion. The tent (which, believe it or not, was the same tent my Dad and I spent a few weeks in at Whitehorse 18 years earlier), backpacks, clothes, food, tools, bow kit, a keg of Deschutes Black Butte Porter, three 5 gallon water jugs, two gas cans, and my lucky huntin’ hat. All wrapped up in a camouflaged tarp and tied down tight. My new wife, Kim, just shook her head and probably thought to herself, “who did I just marry?” I rolled into camp on the east side of Snow Mountain toward Whiskey Flats.  It was early evening. My cousins Nick and Shanna and their families were already there hunting the early season and were leaving the next day. I set my tent up in my usual spot. I buried the keg of Black Butte a few feet away with nothing but the tap showing and hung my hammock close to it for easy access on those hot afternoons. When all was done, I sat down and ate canned chili with my cousins and their families. We talked about how their hunt went, where the bulls were, and what areas to focus on. The next morning, they packed up and headed out. All the ruckus and noise of families packing camp was deafening. I helped pack, tie, and beat the kids. Just kidding. They headed out in a big plume of dust and noise, waiving goodbye and the kids yelling out the window, “good luck!” Silence. For the first time since I got there, I could hear the sounds of nature creep in. It was very good to sit in camp and let nature envelope me. I felt my stress go away. I feel more at home out there than anywhere else. There’s no politics, no office talk, no employees, no budgets, no planning, no idiot drivers, no criminals in the shadows… just me and Earth. I was home. Now that I was home, I realized I was hungry. Thinking I was fully prepared for anything, I strutted over to the cooler and pulled out a bag of frozen chicken breasts. The afternoon sky was growing ominously dark as a storm was moving in. Snow started falling and then blowing sideways. I wasn’t worried… until I realized I forgot to pack my cooking utensils! I had no pans, no spatulas, no nothing. All those months of preparation and I forgot the basics! Plenty of food, but no way to cook it. After about an hour of sitting in the new snow feeling sorry for myself, I looked over at the shovel I used to bury the keg. It became a long handled frying pan. I dug through a bag of trash I found and pulled out a large chili can. I peeled off the label and washed it out with soap and water. That became my sauce pan. Since I didn’t have any tongs, spatulas, or silverware I used my Gerber hunting knife to cook and eat with. I dug out my small Coleman backpacking stove that took both unleaded gas and propane. I had it for many years and it always came through for me, but of course, this time it didn’t work. I sat in the sideways snow pumping and lighting and pumping and lighting. Gas squirted out from the side onto my pant leg. A few minutes later the flame from my lighter caught it on fire and I jumped up and patted it out. I thought to myself, “Really? Did I just catch my pant leg on fire?” I finally gave up and dumped the gas out of the stove onto the wet wood in the fire pit and lit it. The temperature was dropping drastically as the storm took hold. My brain was numb from the cold and my leg was fried.  But before long, I had a roaring fire. Warm but still hungry I cooked me up two frozen chicken breasts and a steaming bowl of Ramen Noodles using my shovel and chili can. Mmm… tasty. Hey, don’t knock it ‘till you try it. I call it “shovel chicken”. I spent that first evening basking in my bon fire drinking beer and listening to the wind and snow whistle through the pines. I thought about how peaceful this was despite the weather. How alone I was, and how grateful I was to be alone. This, to me, was heaven. Just me and nature. How man was supposed to live before we grew a brain and came up with stuff. My heart at ease, I settled into the two-man tent I’d call home for a while which brought back the memory of me and my Dad hunting at Whitehorse back in ‘82. The flicker of flame and shadow on my tent wall and the call of the coyotes just outside the firelight lulled me to sleep. I dreamt that night of the hunt the next morning. I was going to spend the first day scouting the region by road. In previous years, that was when we saw the most deer and elk, so I was excited to drive what we called “The Circle” early in the morning. That was what we called ten miles of jeep trail that circled around several units of logged off area, re-prod, and old growth timber on the southeast side of Snow Mountain Lookout. “The Circle” was thick with deer. Elk moved through there daily on their round trip between the top and bottom of the wilderness area. In years past, we found ourselves piling out of the rig and chasing down six-by-six bulls and trophy muleys. Fruitless to do such things with a bow, but every now and then a wild-eyed buck would stop just outside of 30 yards and look back. Just enough to make you think you might take a shot. Then it would take a few more steps and disappear. A rifle hunter would have his kill and be done. Bowhunters have a lot more work ahead of them. We would often drive “The Circle” just for those encounters. We knew we would not get a shot, but seeing those trophies motivated us to keep focused on our goals and work harder to get in close on the next hunt.  I didn’t see any on that first morning drive. It takes about 2 hours to drive the whole thing, so it used up the morning. I headed back to camp and shoveled me up some chow (literally). Scrambled eggs ala shovel. I got the map out and planned my hunts for the remaining week. The rest of my party would not arrive for a few more days, so I wanted to get in some good quality hunting before then. The night before they left, Nick and George had told tales of seeing the elk of legend down in the wilderness area. Over the years, we had all talked about getting a glimpse of this monster bull. So old that it no longer ran with a herd. But so powerful and smart that it still ruled the forest on its own.  Its bugle sent chills down your spine. A cross between a full grown grizzly and an angry herford. There had been sightings. Its body was darker than the normal elk, which is how it got the name Black Bart. Its horns were massive and seemed to weigh its head down as if under years of surviving in this harsh area. Some said it was eight by nine. Others laughed and said there was no such thing.  It no longer vied for a mate, or it had to work harder at it, so they say he was covered with mud. It likely ruled the herd for many years before being beat out by a young bull just a bit more agile. The trees and brush seemed to shy away as if in respect of this magnificent creature as it sauntered through. That next morning, I found myself sneaking along a shelf on the steep forested slope about 100 yards into the wilderness area. I wore full camo and face paint. Small drops of scent block on my boots and clothes. One step every minute or so, and only when the wind blew so it masked the crunch of my boot on dry twigs. Pause, look carefully around, listen, smell the scents. Take another step. I was essentially invisible. A few hours later I had almost made it to Utley Butte. The forest was thick and the ground was steep. I was down in a steep ravine that ran vertically from top to bottom of the ridge. I let out one solitary and faint cow call from the Hoochi Mama call hanging at my neck. THUD! CRASH! More thuds, more crashing about 25 yards away. I couldn’t see what it was through the thick brush and timber but whatever it was, it was pissed! My heart pounded and the hair stood up on the back of my neck. This thing sounded huge and was madder than heck. I had nothing but a stick and a string with the words PSE painted on it. Then it let out a hideous and gnarly throat grunt. I’m scared to death of bears because they’re big and smart and at this point I felt very little and stupid. It let out another grunt and thrashed more limbs. I mentally made a multiple choice list of what I should do next: 1. Run 2. Pee my pants 3. Skinny up a tree as fast as possible 4. Hunker down and hope I don’t get killed. I chose option 4 and hunkered down. It got quiet all of a sudden. I thought I might actually get out of there alive. Then the beast let out a shrill cry that sounded like a moo cow but then ended with a growl. That was when I realized I was dealing with none other than Black Bart! I began picturing this prized elk hanging back at camp when the rest of my hunting party finally showed up in a few days. Oh how sweet that would be. The legendary Black Bart bagged and tagged. Me, laying in my hammock drinking beer. I let out another cow call and got some more thrashing and grunts but sounded as if it was heading out away from me. Did I do it wrong? Did it smell me or see me? Frantically, I let out another mew on the call. Black Bart responded with its half-bugle-half-growl. I pinpointed his location. He was circling me. Then I heard a twig snap on the opposite side of me and whirled around on my knees to see what was up there. I spotted movement through the brush and was able to make out the shape of an elk. A few seconds later, it stepped out from behind a tree. It was a spike elk about 35 yards up the hill from me. Moving in on the ruckus of what it thought was a cow calling to Black Bart. It was carelessly biting at small green limbs as it meandered forward. Black Bart let out another bugle-growl, this time much farther out. I worried that I would lose him so I let out another cow call, while keeping my eye on the spike above me. As soon as the mew sounded, that spike elk looked me straight in the eye across 35 yards of brush and timber. Our eyes met, and at that moment we spoke the same language. He said, “I see you. You are Man, and you mean to kill me. I’m outta here!”. I might as well have been standing up dancing the Macerana. He had me dead to rights, and in less than a millisecond it went stealth and silently disappeared into the trees at high speed. I spewed forth a few more cow calls hoping either the spike or Black Bart would come back and visit for a while. I had more things to say. But they were both gone. Now normally after an experience like this, I would get up, gather my things and stomp back to the rig thinking everything has been scared out of there. Not this time. I was very pleased with being able to put the sneak on the legendary Black Bart, so I wanted to exit the area very carefully and quietly like I did coming in. I climbed slowly out of my spot and snuck up the steep forested hillside to the top. Taking considerable care to move slowly and quietly. Once at the top, I continued the sneak. Only take a step when the wind blew through the tree tops. Take one or two steps then stop and look and listen. I kept thinking this was futile and I should just trudge back to the rig. But it was good practice, so I continued for about an hour. I saw what I thought was a tree branch moving in the wind but something made me think it was different. Not normal. Maybe the wind didn’t blow when it moved or it moved the wrong way. I stopped and observed. There it was again. About 30 yards away, it appeared to be a branch moving. Then it jerked back and forth. Then my knees went weak and my adrenalin kicked in (again in one morning). It was about a 3 point bull elk browsing on grass and brush. It was intent on feeding and did not know I was there. I knocked an arrow. After all I experienced this morning I was determined to get my first elk with a bow. Should I move up closer? Should I draw and take the shot? There was considerable brush in the way and I would have to compensate. Suddenly out from behind a brush pile to the right about 10 yards away, a full grown bull elk with probably six on each side pranced slowly in between me and the 3 point. Its head was way back and nose straight up trying to catch my scent. Broadside to me its antlers touched its hind-quarters as it strutted across the clearing. So close I could smell the urine and mud and see the flies buzz around its ears. I could hear its heavy breath as it walked. To be this close to such a magnificent creature in its own habitat was amazing. I simply watched in awe as it pranced across. My knees were wobbly and I couldn’t feel my hands as I raised my bow to take a shot. I didn’t want to mess this up. This trophy bull was mine! He saw me as soon as I started to raise my bow. He let out a snort and lit out of there. All of a sudden I heard snorts all around me! Cows and smaller herd bulls and calves all sounded their alarms and looked right at me. Somehow, I had managed to sneak my way into the middle of a full blown heard of about 25 elk! They were in front of me. They were to my right. They were to my left. There was even a dumb one behind me! You should have heard the woods come alive! Branches crashed, limbs broke, logs got pushed, the ground thumped, animals snorted, squirrels ran for cover, birds took off, flashes of brown and white moved everywhere as they all headed out. I just stood there and tried not to wet myself. So, why do I bow hunt? I don’t know, you tell me!