My hunting partner John and I left town on Oct 26th. with elk on our minds and a storm on the horizon. My truck was loaded with my wall tent, wood stove, camp box, dry box , coolers, cot and personal gear needed for a 5 day DIY elk hunt. John's truck was full of his gear and a bit of spare room for bringing home our prospective elk. The drive was windy and the weather was moving in quickly. The area we were going to hunt was new to both of us and we hadn't the chance to recon due to a multitude of unforeseen happenings. We needed to set up camp asap and then we'd have a day before our hunt started to do some looking around for elk sign. It took us much longer than anticipated to get to our location for camp, although along the way we had already added a little meat to the pot. The rain was starting and the wind was whipping up stronger as the afternoon progressed. Several times we had to clear fallen trees from the road to continue on our way. Experience teaches one to never go into the woods without a chainsaw.
The area we were in has been devastated by the Pine Beetle. Entire mountain sides were completely dead and dying. Yet the woodpecker population is thriving and I saw a rare sighting of a Three Toed Black Backed Woodpecker. Absolutely beautiful with his stunning brilliant yellow cap ( the photo doesn't do him justice). The area was full of slash piles and chainsaws were blazing as it had just recently been opened up to firewood cutters, both commercial and private. Needless to say we had plenty of dry wood right out our tent. As we were heading to camp I came across several Blue Grouse at the edge of the road getting gravel. I hit the brakes and radioed to John the reason for the sudden stop, and we bailed out and managed to track down a few after they flushed from the road. We each shot one and my, they are sure big birds. We were quite tickled with our success and thought it boded well for the hunt to come. We knew we might run across Grouse so we had brought our shotguns and glad we did too.
About an hour later we arrived at the Blue Lake trail head where we made camp for the next 6 nights. The weather was intermittent rain showers and sprinkles as we rushed to get the tent set up and the rain fly on. Dark was coming fast and we made it just in the nick of time. John proceeded to fire up his chainsaw and cut up some rounds for the wood stove. I followed behind splitting them into manageable sizes and making some kindling as I went. We had a late dinner afterwards consisting of a homemade stew that my friend Larry had dropped off in the morning before we left town. It was delicious, consisting of italian sausage, elk meat, cabbage, curry and an assortment of vegetables. We ate heartily and then looked over the map one more time and made a plan as to where we'd scout come morning.
We got up with the sun and headed up the Blue Lake trail in the Gearhart Wilderness to see if there was any elk sign. The trail rose from camp at an elevation of 6420' to the lake at 7035' through a mixed pine and fir forest. There were rock outcroppings and several areas of large old growth Aspens thriving in narrow draws with small water seeps fueling them along the 2.6 mile hike. Beautiful landscape yet somewhat devoid of animals. We did cross some old elk sign of approximately 15 - 20 animals that were traveling through several weeks earlier. We never did find any fresh sign on our hike, yet it just looked to good to not have elk in there. Plenty of food, cover and an excess of water sources, surely making it a challenge to find the elk. We got back to camp just as day was turning to dusk.
John chainsawed a cribbage board before total darkness and I began to prepare the salad portion of our dinner. It wasn't long before the sizzle and smell of BBQ-ed grouse began to start my belly to rumble. John cooked those birds to absolute perfection. We then began our 5 night cribbage match. John being John, had a cordless drill and small drill bits in his truck. He's the kind of guy that can rig up just about anything out of pretty much nothing. He is fondly referred to as McGiver quite often.The following morning we got up early and headed back up to Blue Lake, this time creeping along and glassing as we hunted our way to the top. We crossed a couple fresh elk tracks about 2/3 of the way up. They wandered on and off the trail and eventually into the woods. They were small tracks and we figured a cow/calf pair. We had tags for bull only and opted to let them go.
A cold wind blew and it had a bite to it as we got to the lake and had a late lunch. It was raining one minute, hailing the next and then drizzling, basically typical Oregon weather. We were a bit befuddled by the lack of sign we weren't seeing, not even any fresh deer tracks. Although the lake was beautiful and there were birds on it. Specifically a female Common Loon and a group of very dapper Buffleheads. We ate and quandered then hiked a few more miles beyond the lake hoping to find some elk sign or maybe catch an in its tracks. John hiked around the N. side of the lake and I on the S. side and we met where the trails merged. After several more miles and no sign we opted to return to camp as the day was passing quickly into night.
We both commented on how long the hike up was and as we began our descent back to camp, John began sneezing and his sinuses were running like someone had just flipped the switch. I kept giving him a look of "hey can't you be a little more quiet, after all we are hunting"? His reply was non verbal and it was clear he was going down fast. And I'm not talking the trail here either. My goodness I have never witnessed anyone sneeze so many times in succession as he was. He certainly rivaled the energizer bunny. Back to camp and I loaded him up with cold meds asap and we had a quick and easy pasta dinner then turned in after several rousing games of cribbage. We decided to do some driving the next day in hopes of cutting fresh tracks. Though as morning came John was looking a whole lot worse for wear.
Pt. 2 coming soon
Women's Hunting Journal Integrity For The Hunt