Oregon Coast Roosevelt Elk Hunt

Stan glassing a large clear cut in Western Oregon, 2009

September 16:

I leave tomorrow night for a challenging hunt in the Oregon Coast Range. Rain is predicted throughout the next week which will add yet another challenging dimension. As usual, I’ll be hunting with my hunting parnter Stan and Chris, another co-worker from Intel.

Contrary to popular belief, the weather is normally very hot this time of year in the Northwest. Yes, it rains a lot but typically from about July 5th through late September, you can count on 80-100 degree temps on a regular basis. Al Gore might even want to add this tidbit to his cool PowerPoint show on Global Warming!

We are using bike trailers to haul extra gear in addition to our panniers and packs. With three of us coordinating on gear, we are doing our best to avoid duplication. We will have our trucks well-stocked with dry clothes, food, treestands, and other gear. When an elk is down, we will tag-team the event to get the meat out and on ice. Once at the trucks we’ll re-stock supplies as needed.

So, that’s the approach. We are dialed in and ready to rock. Much of this game is mental. Waking up to pounding rain will test our attitudes for sure but I think we’re up to the challenge.

More to follow when I return…

9/25 UPDATE:

I’m home and it feels good.

I filled my tag on a nice 4×4 bull despite this hunt being one of the most challenging of my life. Facing driving rains, fog, and seemingly endless miles of biking with heavy loads in Oregon’s steep coastal mountains tested mental toughness and resolve to get the job done.

I’ll be back soon to share the story and a pile of photos of the hunt. We all had opportunities to tag elk this season, which was a blessing.

10/5 UPDATE: Hunt Details

It took us quite a while to get within striking distance of the herd master and his cows. With heavy fog and continual rain visibility was often nil, so we relied on our remote location and lack of hunting pressure to keep the herd content on their clear-cut bench until we could travel the mile loop around to the ridge.

I was hunting the steep coastal mountains of Oregon with my hunting partner Stan Woody and our friend Chris Combs, both of Portland, Oregon. Stan had located a small herd led by a huge bull the evening before and elected to leave them alone until morning. We determined that our best approach was to utilized the logging road network to close the distance and get the wind right, which required a long hike.

We worked our way around and once within ½ mile or so, I started checking the wind to ensure our final approach would not be spoiled. It turned out the only way to get down to the timbered bench was to drop into a large cut and as we made our way to the bottom, it was clear we’d have to move further downwind. Our plan was to drop into the big timber, descend the steep fern-covered slope to a point just above the creek, then start working our way into the wind and uphill toward the herd. With three of us hunting together, we had to stay focused on our collective movements.

Not 20 yards into the big timber, I spotted the flank of a single elk about 100 yards down slope to my right. As his head turned slightly I could make out the baseball bat girth of his left main beam. I alerted Stan and Chris but we were pretty much stuck given the wind and thick vegetation. Any further movement would likely tip him off. At this point we didn’t know if this was the herd bull or a satellite bull. Either way, he was a shooter.

He started moving down and across the hill below us. I lost sight of him but Stan and Chris, being 20 yards ahead of me, could see him. They waved me forward and pointed him out. At this time he began working over a 14″ diameter Douglas Fir tree, which really turned up the adrenalin! Stan stayed back as Chris and I slipped forward and down an elk trail that would angle us downhill and directly above the bull.

As the bull worked over the big fir, I dropped quickly down the trail to within about 60 yards. Chris stayed a little higher to watch over a small rise in case the bull circled away from my location. Once I had an arrow nocked and was ready I signaled to Stan to proceed with a few soft cow calls. Knowing this bull was a frustrated satellite bull, I figured the first indication a cow was nearby would pull him uphill to investigate. He looked and started to come up but something didn’t sit well with him and he never committed. I wish I had video or photos of him working over the tree. He was a P&Y class 5×5 or 6×6 but it was just too difficult to tell for sure given our focus was on setting up. He was a full-framed bull and that’s all that mattered!

We gave this bull plenty of time to sneak in but he simply vanished. Knowing we had a larger herd bull nearby we didn’t waste any time moving on. As we dropped further downhill we discovered the rub made by the satellite bull. While I was taking photos, Chris and Stan crept along an elk trail that ran across the hillside and would put us within reasonable distance of the herd. To the best of our knowledge they were still out in the cut or just inside the timber edge 2-300 yards ahead. We had the wind so it was just a finesse game from here on out.

Not five minutes later I spotted my bull feeding below us but it was clear Chris and Stan hadn’t noticed him. They had their eye on the prize ahead I think. I hissed to stop them because they were in plain sight of the bull as he ambled along with his head down. They immediately saw the bull and dropped to the ground. The bull snapped his head up but didn’t seem too bothered. I had several trees between me and him so like the Wile E. Coyote cartoon where he tried to snatch up feeding sheep, I snapped from one tree to the next, closing the gap to around 40 yards. As the bull kept feeding uphill in the swale, I readied for a shot. He took a couple full steps forward with his head down which put him in clear view. I eased back to full draw and he caught a bit of my movement. He stared in my direction for a minute or so as fatigue started degrading my focus. But he broke stride and turned quartering away and facing uphill. In a second I had my pin locked on his ribcage and released.

The arrow got near full penetration as the bull lunged uphill. He only made it about 60 yards before tumbling back down and coming to rest at the base of a tree. Incredibly, my arrow was intact protruding out the opposite side for easy removal. I figured with all the rolling, the arrow would have broken off immediately.

So, that’s the story – another Oregon bull on the ground. The big guy still roams for another day.

Much has been written about special hunting partners over the years. The most common theme has something to do with “unselfishness” and though I hesitate to do the same for fear of watering down the cliché, it simply fits. My hunting partner, Stan Woody (Portland, Oregon) and I have been sharing bowhunting adventures for nearly 20 years now. We’ve wallowed in sweet success and fought tears of pain through some tough times in the woods. This was a tough hunt for many reasons but we made it happen and enjoyed another elk season making memories. He does virtually all the scouting for our Oregon hunts and he spends countless hours biking roads and researching hard-to-reach hunting grounds. He’s tagged a lot of bulls as a result but he’s always putting me first at every opportunity, and I can’t thank him enough.

Laying out my gear. I packed for a foul weather bike hunt but to stay flexible we also planned for truck camping to hunt some other spots, just in case. It adds up to a lot of stuff!

Preparing for the added load in my panniers and the additional load of a full trailer, I opted to start the trip with Slime tubes. They are heavy but worth the weight.

Laying out food – planning and packing is half the fun!

The Oregon Coast Range is as rugged and steep elk country as you’ll find anywhere in the United States.

This blowdown served as an adequate tarp fixture.

Our modest camp on state land consisted of tents and tarps as we planned for a full week of rain.

After a night of little sleep due to monsoon rain and wind, we implemented plan “B”, which was a large A-frame style tarp roof. This worked out much better but I couldn’t help thinking about trees falling on us each night.

It rained and it rained and it dumped rain. Chris’ Jet Boil was our only form of comfort because it could turn freeze dried meals into home cooking under the nasty abandoned gray tarp we dragged up from a log landing.

Water poured from the skies but obtaining drinking water from creeks was nothing but hard work and a lot of hiking. So, with simple downspouts made from string, we collected several gallons of water from our tarps and then filtered it for drinking. Worked great!

Chris hard at work filtering rain water from our tarps into our water jug.

This photo pretty well sums up this coastal hunt and challenge it provided. Stan’s poncho is inflated as a gust of wind howls up the clear cut. One minute you had visibility; the next you were engulfed in pea soup fog.

Chris and Stan (L to R) on our hike around to where Stan spotted the big herd bull.

The bench that is dead center in this photo is where the big bull and his cows were feeding. If you look closely you can actaully see a couple elk in this photo (click on it to enlarge).

Making our way around meant traversing clear cuts. Wet logs and many obstacles to navigate.

Here’s the monster rub created by the first satellite bull. Watching him make this rub was something else!

11 miles from the truck; probably 2-3 from camp. Nothing but hard work for 24 hours following this photo. I would never have shot a bull this far back in without the help of Stan and Chris. It simply would have been irresponsible because one guy could never get the meat out before it would spoil.

After we pulled my bull downhill to a better spot, Chris and Stan surveyed the edge of the cut. The herd and his cows were still there!

Immediately upon removing the quarters and backstraps they were hung to cool. If I am not removing all the bones from the hinds, I always split the hams to aid in cooling the large muscle mass. If you don’t do this, bone sour will likely set in causing your meat to taste gamey and/or spoil.

My girls made me “good luck” bracelets a couple years ago. I take them on every hunt and take photos with them hanging on tines so I can show them when I get home. This year, my 6-year old Kate drew me and Stan a couple elk drawings to keep with our tags.

The Badlands 2200 in action.

The Oregon coast consists of two extremes – uphill and downhill. Pushing heavy loads is no picnic but you can see a shadow on the ground. We were grateful to have a short break from the rains for the big haul out!

Stan and I with my entire bull out in one long 11-mile ride.

Bike cam – almost down to the truck!

You have to have a well-thought out plan to deal with success. For us it means having coolers in the truck full of ice, ready to go. I bring extra sleeping bags and cover the coolers for added insulation.

On the ride back into camp late that afternoon we came upon a hillside chock full of huckleberries. We took a break and chowed.

An endless supply!

What a day, over 20 miles of riding out and back. As the evening wore on, we were blessed with an amazing sunset.

Just before sundown.

The next day was a new day. One elk on ice, two more tags to fill.

Chris spotted a bull with cows down in this cut. I hung back with a Montana Decoy. Can you find Chris? The elk are just out of frame over that crest of the hillside. They gave us the slip but we could easily follow their tracks across the road into some big timber.

The elk trails are cut up and easy to find in the timber.

Chris next to a large rub. We’ve found bigger…much bigger.

A convenient wallow. This one had me a bit obsessed. I kept visualizing hearing a bull splashing about and using that root ball as my cover to stalk in and shoot him at 5 yards. It never happened but the daydream was as etched into my brain by the end of the hunt.

Dumping rain, loaded up for the 13 mile ride out. The close of a great week with good friends in the mountains.

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