I don't know how else to state it. This hunt ranks down there as one of the worst trips ever. I hired a guide for this hunt which is something I have never done before. There were several reasons involved in this decision. I don't have a hunting partner(s) at this time and my wife actually worries about me when I am in the backcountry alone. I have yet to be able to reassure her with statements like, "I won't die for lack of firepower." or "What the heck is a partner going to do anyways? He can't really can't carry me. I guess he could call and tell you I was dead" or "At least I will die doing what I like to do." She just seems to get more agitated and displays nervous ticks.
I am unsure how many more times I will go elk hunting as the fun really does stop when the animal drops. There used to be a group of us that would all put in for elk. The deal was that everyone went whether they were drawn or not. Everyone pitched in when someone got one and made short work of it. We would split up the elk meat amongst the group. People eventually scattered to the four winds and the group was no more. Elk are a lot to handle by yourself so I thought that it might be nice to get an "expert" to help with finding a nice rack and help tote. I should have stuck to looking at "racks" in magazines instead of hiring a guide.
The online site has reviews for previous clients. I know now that these must have been carefully selected for publication. Either that or they are complete fabrications. There was a questionnaire to be filled out prior to the hunt. It was missing some very important questions such as:
- Are you able to see well enough by flashlight to march through the woods at 4 AM for miles?
- Are you able to leap tall boulders in a single bound?
- If you see game, are you able to run faster than it does? (Keep in mind that an elk will walk at about 5 MPH).
- Are you able to see game while rapidly walking before they see you?
- Are you ready to march all day on six hours sleep for days on end?
- Do you fit in a Suzuki Samurai?
The night before opening day we were going to go glass. He told me to jump in his Suzuki Samurai - right. Keep in mind that I am 6'7" tall and there is not going to be any jumping in. I found that I could get in if the seat was all the way back, reclined a bit, put my left foot in first, held onto the grab bar and door, leaned in, sat down, put my feet just so to get the right leg in, and leaned off to one side to shut the door. I could only describe it as uncomfortable at best until we actually did some rock crawling then it was miserable. These vehicles can be worked over to become quite capable off road machines however I do believe that they were designed by a Japanese gentleman was who considered to be exceptionally short for his race.
We drove about two miles from camp and were glassing a hillside across the canyon above a tank. There were a few other vehicles parked in the vicinity doing the same. I let him know that there was a bull on the hillside. There were actually quite a few elk on the hillside. I figured that it might be a good idea to get on the other side of the ridge where we saw the elk on opening morning. I also figured that a few of the other hunters were going to be parking in the same place and heading that way. They could move them to us.
Such was not the case. We left camp opening morning at 4:30 AM so that we could drive 45 minutes and get to another spot before daybreak. The area actually looked pretty good. Lots of older beds and sign. I only found a pile or two that was fresh within 24 hours. We marched around in a big loop with minimal time spent glassing. Heck, he would go a couple hundred yards without pause prior to taking a quick glance around. Glassing was reserved for special occasions. He said that he could always spot the elk before they saw him even while walking. We saw nothing.
That afternoon we went back to where we had seen elk before and got around to the next ridge over. We saw a nice 6x5 a little over 300 yards out. I was tempted to try to take him but it would require a stalk to get in at less than 200 yards. Keep in mind that this is muzzle loader hunt. The ft lbs of most of these weapons is getting very marginal when past the 150 yard mark. He asked how far I could shoot that thing and was informed that I did not even know the drop at 300 yards as it is not a clean kill distance for this weapon. I looked up the muzzle loader data again for my load. I sighted in for 150 yards which is at 973 ft lbs. Most consider 1,000 ft lbs to be the lower end for elk hunting. At 200 yards the drop from this setup is 13" (762 ft lbs). 300 yards gives 42" of drop and 445 ft lbs.
It was almost dark and I felt that a stalk would be difficult at best trying to get down the rocky ridge line without getting spotted. I was informed that it wasn't that nice of a bull anyways and that he could put me on a better animal. I should have tried the stalk as it was the last decent thing we saw. Heck we did not even get on a spike after that.
The following morning found us on the next ridge over, marching along as usual. We saw some elk crossing a saddle that joined our ridge above us. He took off up the hill like a jackrabbit, jumping from rock to rock, and waving for me to follow. I am not a talus runner. There were three elk, we think, of unknown sex. No identification was possible nor was there any opportunity.
The next morning found us driving to the other side of the unit. We saw a really nice bull about 5AM in the headlights. I guess that was the better bull he could show me. Personally, I would have gone back to the area where we saw elk before but I am not as experienced and have these novice thoughts. We saw nothing that day.
The following days were no better. I have not hunted like this before. Hike an hour in the morning, in the dark, to get to the "good" spot. Spend maybe 5 minutes there after it is daylight. March around hoping that the animals don't see you first. If you do see something, go like heck to try to get in front of it. I was not able to keep up being a flat lander now at 7,000 feet in elevation, I found it difficult to catch my breath. I was then informed that if I wanted to see anything that I had to keep up. I was working hard just to try to keep this a**hole in sight.
He had one of his partners with him one day. They would walk ahead, softly talking & laughing, and with waving their hands with great animation the whole time. The guide had a pair of natural elk skin choppers on. You know how new choppers are yellow and shiny bright. Once in a while they would hold up for you. It sure was nice that they were getting paid to visit with each other. I was wondering if anyone would discover the bodies. We never did see anything that day either. Probably had something to do with marching, paying no attention, and waving those bright gloves around while talking.
I informed him that I had never hunted this way before. He did not like that comment and wanted to know what I really knew about elk. I actually do know a bit about them but thought that this ought to be fun. I responded that they were a lot like deer. Well, I got the 15 minute lecture about how they were not at all like deer which lead into his description of what they were like. He proceeded to give a prefect description of mule deer habits without even realizing it. There is one strong difference. Elk travel further than mule deer when you bump them which is mainly because they can travel those distances easily.
Something dawned on me after a while. They do lion hunts and he is permanently in lion hunting mode where you are always chasing the dogs. I was also starting to believe that he was using my hunt to scout for other purposes.
His idea of accommodating this old man was to wait up every so often and then take off as soon as you caught up. I would continue to stand there waiting for my heart rate to stabilize. He would turn and see me still standing there and stop with a disgusted look on his face. I let him know on the fourth day that I was no longer going to try to pretend that I could keep up with him. I was struggling to maintain a reasonable heartbeat and that this would kill me if I attempted to keep it up. I was very tired from the previous days which made it even more difficult. I told him he could slowly take me back to the camp and that he was relieved of his obligation. This did not go over well as he was probably thinking that this was not good for his reputation. There are no refunds nor was I asking for one. I just figured that I could ditch him and go hunt by myself. He did not want to let go. The last couple of days were more enjoyable as the long marches were over. We even stooped so low, in his opinion, to watch a tank in the evening but no elk was seen. He claims that you don't see elk sitting that you have to be moving. What a crock.
This was the least amount of elk I have seen when fortunate enough to get drawn. I have been drawn four other times. I shot a 5x4 and two times have passed on spikes. Only one other year did I not have an opportunity. I should know better by now not to pass on spikes or anything else. It does not seem to matter whether I am deer or elk hunting, if I pass on any animal that it will be the last shootable game seen.
Camp wasn't even fun. The very early mornings combined with not getting back to camp until well after dark only left time for dinner and bed. You might be able to hustle up dinner and be able to get 6 hours sleep.
Things I learned this hunt:
- Don't ever, ever, ever bother with a guide unless someone you know has used him. The rest falls under truth in advertising - not!
- Try the stalk when game is seen. It is better to get busted trying than to not try. I am still kicking myself for not trying. 6x5 antlers would look good next to the 5x4.
- I hate Suzuki Samurais.
- I did see some country I haven't been in before. I know where I want to be the first couple days of the hunting season if I can get drawn for 6A again.
- Bifocal glasses are a poor choice when trying to hike in the dark with a flashlight. You pretty much have to keep your head down to be able to see over the lower lens. Get another pair of glasses without the bifocal. I used to have a regular pair but neglected to do so with the last pair. It's not like your going to be reading much. You can take them off if you can't see the map well enough.
- I really like my Big Buddy heater with a 20 pound bottle as it lasted 5 days.
- Cut morons like this loose earlier. You can't get your money back anyways, so why make yourself miserable because you paid for it.
- Just because your paying someone doesn't mean that they actually know more than you do.
- Repeat this to yourself as necessary.