Elk Hunting with Dinkess Envy Outfitters

I had a fantastic hunting trip this past weekend with a friend, Harold, and his wife. I left work early Friday around 1:00. Harold had already gone ahead the day before and set up his camper. Kelly, his wife, and I caravanned out to the Strawberry Wilderness to meet him.

We had gotten to within 10 minutes of camp when Kelly had a blow-out. So I changed her tire and we pulled into elk camp around 5 pm. I quickly set up my tent and got my stuff organized. Here’s a photo of elk camp. We were at the very end of the road before it turned into the wilderness area.

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We had dinner and talked about our morning strategy. We figured that Kelly needed to get her tire replaced on Saturday, because there might not be any place open on Sunday. So we decided to do a morning hunt, then come back to camp. We would take the blown out tire to John Day in my truck. There is a Les Schwab tire shop in John Day. We went to bed around 10 pm, excited for opening morning.

We woke up at 4:00, had a quick breakfast and headed into the wilderness. The area we wanted to hunt was about 3.5 miles up a canyon. We started out in darkness using headlamps. We frequently heard animals running off through the trees, but we could tell they were deer not elk. There were deer all over the place in the lower elevations where we camped.

That morning hike is a tough one. I woke up freezing because it was much colder than I thought it was going to be. So I put on a camo shirt, a sweatshirt and a jacket. I finally started getting warm just as it was time to head out. But after 10 minutes of steady climbing I was starting to sweat. So we had to stop while I took off a couple layers. After about an hour and a half of steady climbing we reached the area we wanted to hunt. There was a big bowl at the top of the canyon that I was sure held some elk because they were in there when we hunted it last year. Here’s a photo of me glassing a hillside. Notice how well my camo blends with the burned trees.

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On the way in we saw lots of fresh elk sign. We hunted the east side of the canyon for a couple hours but didn’t get into any animals. Around 11 am we decided to head back down to camp to take care of the tire issue.

Back at the bottom Harold and Kelly asked if they could take my truck (we didn’t want to move Harold’s truck because he had the camper supports all set and leveled) and go to John Day while I hunted some more. I was game for that. So while they went to town I headed up another canyon. All of these canyons have large burn areas from a huge fire that swept through the Strawberry mountains a few years ago. This second canyon was no exception. Very lush and green at the bottom, then a mile and a half of desolate, burned area. As I got to the north end of the burn things started turning green again. Here’s a photo of a creek running through the burn with lush vegetation around it. Elk sign was everywhere so I was moving carefully, glassing as I went.

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The further up the mountain I went, the more beautiful it got. When I finally came out of the main burn area I was shocked at how pretty it was. There was a small lake at the very top surrounded by lush meadows with creeks running all through it. Here are a couple photos, 3.5 miles into the wilderness, almost as high on the mountain as you can go.

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Just over that ridge on the far side of this bowl is a 1,600 foot cliff that drops into the Slide Lake Basin. This is literally at the top of this part of the Strawberry range. The strange thing was that even though I saw elk sign all the way in, there was very little sign at the very top near the lake. So I decided to head back toward some of the lower areas where the sign was more prevalent.

As I descended I saw lots and lots of deer, but still no elk. I hunted my way back to camp and arrived just after dark. Harold and Kelly had dinner ready. According to my GPS I put 13 miles on the boots that day.

The next morning we headed back up into the first canyon to check out the bowl a little more thoroughly. Kelly stayed back at camp to relax. Here’s a photo I took from up on a rock where we could see the burn we had come through. This is looking toward the south, toward where our camp was located 3 miles down, just outside the wilderness boundary.

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The northeast corner of this bowl was incredible. Fresh elk sign all over the place. We found several bull droppings that were still all wet and slimy, so we knew they were in there. We moved very carefully. We found this wallow that showed signs of use. It’s hard to tell how big it is because I’m standing on a big knob above the wallow, but that wallow was about 8 feet across.

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We staked out the wallow for about an hour and did some calling. I did hear a bull raking a tree down the hill from us, but he never came in. As we pulled out of there we could see very clear mountain lion tracks in our boot tracks. It had followed us in but we never saw it. That was a bit eerie as we knew it was very close, but we didn’t know where.

We found some well used game trails and followed them to where they converged on a creek. We staked out the area where three game trails met near the water. We had been there for about an hour when I heard what sounded like a freight train coming through the trees. I jumped up and got my bow ready as a herd of elk came thundering right past me. 4 bulls and about 6 or 7 cows, breaking branches, knocking down small trees, just clearing a path as they ran past. We never did know what scared them so much. We think maybe that mountain lion made a move on one of them and the whole herd bolted out of the area. We could hear them coming from probably 400 yards away they made so much noise.

A little while later another herd came through, this time moving much slower. When they got to within about 50 yards of me I cow called and they all stopped. They stood still for quite some time. I had a cow standing broadside to me, right at about 50 yards. I had my 50 yard pin on her chest but didn’t pull the trigger because there was a big bull standing right behind her. If she would have taken two steps forward I would have had a clear shot at the bull and was ready to take it. But just then another bull chuckled from back in the trees somewhere and they both turned and ran back to where he was. I was still excited because they were heading straight for Harold and I was sure he would get a shot.

I snuck in and found Harold about 20 minutes later and he was really kicking himself. He had several cows walk right by him, but he was waiting for a bull. As the cows left he went to set his call down and dropped it. It bounced off a log and when he stepped over the log and bent over to pick it up, a huge bull (6 x 6) stepped out of the brush about 20 yards from him. He was bent over looking sideways at this huge bull that stood there, probably not sure what he was looking at. As Harold tried to move to get his bow up the bull took off. He said if he had just stayed still another 30 seconds he would have had a clear shot at the bull as it stepped from the brush. So we both blew very good opportunities. Here’s a photo of where some of the action took place.

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All total we saw close to 30 elk that evening. Plus mountain lion tracks, bear tracks, and lots of deer. We headed back to camp for some dinner and some much needed rest. According to my GPS I put about 8 miles on the boots that day.

The next morning we were just too tired to get up at 4 am, so we slept in and got up around 7 am. We had breakfast, then Kelly and I broke camp and headed back to Redmond around noon. Harold is staying out there another week. Hopefully he’ll get another opportunity at a bull.

Overall it was a very exciting weekend. I’m sort of sad that I didn’t take that cow and fill our freezer, but I’m also excited that I still have 4 weekends to hunt elk again.

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About the Author

Tory Allman

Tory Allman

Tory Allman is General Manager at Cent-Wise Sporting Goods & Hardware in Redmond, Oregon.