The alarm goes off stirring the quiet dark trailer alive with action…barely. “Why do we have to get up at 3:45am?” gets asked in a whiny tone. “You know why” is responded from the top bunk. The coffee is ready to go, you just have to light the stove and wait. We’ll listen to the java perkulate like a snooze button as we lie half awake.
We’ve been hunting for six days already. Hiking all day, from dark to dark with very little action. By this point we’ve become deflated. Elk hunting can be a series of highs and lows. This was a low.
The mornings are the worst. We have to throw ourselves out of our soft warm beds. Beds that seem to heel and sooth our pain filled muscles. Once up, we stumble around the confines of the tightly spaced R.V.
Better eat something with that coffee. Last nights pasta dinner will make a nice first meal of the day. Next, huge lunches are made. Trail mix is good fuel. For some reason the carrot sticks haven’t been touched, but we’re almost out of chocolate bars and candy. They must be raw energy.
Once the grub is in the pack and the guts are full, it’s time to load in the truck and make our way to the base of the mountain. The truck seats are like the beds, soft and comfortable. Enjoy it while it lasts.
It’s still 2 hours before daylight.
The hike starts with a vertical climb straight up. It’s a hard push. We grab at any tree or shrub within reach. It helps if you can use your arms during the steep sections.
Bushwacking. There is no trail, just a forest full of trees, brush, downed logs, and any other debris you can imagine. The packs and guns whey us down as we work for every step. Branches are constantly slapping us in the face. You just have to accept it. We are going to get raked continuously for most of the hike.
It will get better when we arrive at the meadows, so there is hope. But until then we scramble and claw up the mountain in the pitch black guided only by our essential head lamps.
Finally, after an hour and a half, we have reached the promise land. As daylight slowly breaks we begin calling.
We take turns blowing as hard as we can down on a piece of pipe with a reed in it. The sound it produces is a high pitched scream that imitates an angry bull perfectly. The elk are in rut this time of year, so they are irritable to say the least.
The sound of the bugle stirs the peaceful air and fills the valley with it’s presence. Hopefully we can get an animal to answer and come looking for a fight.
Maybe he will present us with an opportunity for a shot before he smells our sent with his massive snout. If he gets wind of us, we’ll never see him and all will be lost.
Maybe we’ll spend our entire trip working hard everyday and still fail. That’s what happened last year. Disappointment.
We call, listen then wait.
Better give it another 10 minutes and call again.
I’ll give it one more shot before we continue trolling up the mountain. We sit and hope. Every call that is made is like casting a fishing line into water that may or may not have fish in it.
Once again I fill the valley with the sound of a screaming elk. We listen quietly for a brief moment. Suddenly the silence is broken with a faint whistle of a distant bull.
Our faces light up as we smile with relief and excitement. This is the first elk we’ve heard in days. If this where fishing, then we’ve just gotten a bite.
We take a second to prey. PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE call back. If we can get the bull “hot” and lure him into the meadow, that would be ideal. All of the hard work and weeks of preparation could pay off in the very near future.
This time I make a short blast as if to mix it up a little. While I call, my partner smashes a tree with a dead branch repeatedly. He sounds like an aggressive male thrashing the brush with his antlers.
This time when the elk calls back it’s twice as loud. The plan is working. We nod at each other with expressive faces. “He’s coming in!” I whisper. Dave pumps his fist like he’s just scored a goal. We can hardly contain ourselves. Fish on!
We go back and forth for the next hour. The volume and frequency of his calls increase as he approaches. The tension mounts.
In an effort to give ourselves a better field of view we separate. Dave moves into a forward position and over to my right by 100 feet.
The bull lets out another bugle. This time it’s so loud it feels like he’s all around us. The throaty scream makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck. This is one of the most exciting things I’ve ever been a part of. Experience tells me that we are seconds away from seeing this ghost of the forest.
Dave see’s him first, but not fully. He looks back at me and signals that he can see some of his target. I crawl behind a bush out of sight and watch my friend as he takes aim.
The gun rests on a tree while he views pieces of the animal with the cross hairs of the scope. Still no shot. He can see the huge rack of antlers as it slowly rocks high above some Alder shrubs. The trophy bull is almost visible, just a few more seconds.
A massive creature with an enormous crown of bone steps out from the bushes and into the edge of the open meadow in front of us.
Just then a man steps out from behind a tree and sucker punches the elk right in the face.
Stunned the animal falls back.
A Cadillac pulls up with tinted windows and Massachusetts plates. Two more men with leather jackets and slicked back hair get out. One of them is holding a phone book.
He walks up to the elk and slams it with the yellow pages again and again “You don’t listen so well, do ya Mr. Elk” He says in his thick Boston accent. “Where’s my five grand?…. Now I gotta teach you a lesson” They quickly load the beaten elk into the car.
Once inside the car one of the mobsters struggles to put a bag over the elk’s head. He fights with it over the rack.
Do you know how hard it is to get a bag over someone’s head when they have a set of antlers 4 feet high? It’s impossible.
“This is never gonna work” the man complains.
Just then the boss realizes something. “Tony you clown, you bought the wrong size game bags, It says right on the package these are for whitetail and mule deer. I shouldn’t have to tell you we need the large ones for moose and elk. Do I gotta do everything around here?” He says, as he shakes his head.
“Why can’t we just wack this elk and leave him in the meadow?” one of them says as he desperately tries to restrain the beast inside the back seat.
“He can’t pay us the money he owes us if he’s dead now can he?” The boss calmly responds.
“What’s that smell?” one of the men chirps. “God that stinks!… It’s burning my eyes” One of them has a moment of clarity as he realized what happened. “Boss, I think the elk pissed it’s self.”
Another unimpressed look from the boss. “That smell better not be getting rubbed into the carpet back there, I just had this thing detailed” He barks back.
The men from the city and had no idea that most times an angry bull will urinate all over him self during a calling session. It’s what they do.
The dirty animal was really doing a number on the inside of that Caddy as he thrashed around and kicked the seats. What’s worse was he was also getting hair everywhere. “Who’s going to clean this mess up?” I heard from the back of the car.
What where these guys thinking? Everyone knows it’s not a good idea to kidnap a 500 lb wild animal in the back of a sedan.
What they really needed were tranquilizer darts and a utility trailer, but this was no time for finger pointing. Chalk this one up to a learning experience. They defiantly had their work cut out for them getting their five grand back.
As for Dave and I? Looks like were going hungry again this year…