Amongst hunters there is a sense of adventure and spirit of camaraderie that occurs. For untold generations hunters have gone into the woods and fields and streams together to work as a group and harvest their own meat. This is my story of a unique elk hunting trip in Washington State.
In addition to myself, Griff had also invited his friends Wes and Jayson to go elk hunting. Wes is an outdoorsman and writer, lives in LA, and grew up in England. Jayson started a local taxidermy business after leaving the Army and guided backcountry elk hunts for a few years.
This became one of the best parts of the trip for a number of reasons:
- Everyone was fit enough to keep a pace in the mountains
- Everyone had a base understanding of land navigation and communication/no comms plans
- Jayson was able to teach us and guide us in a personal way we wouldn’t typically have access to without paying tens of thousands of dollars each
- Everyone was interesting as hell (except for my vanilla ass) and was genuinely somebody you wanted to hang in the woods with for a long weekend. #Bromance
Riding Out to Hunt Elk
The ride out was a great laugh and honestly flew by. We drove a few hours from Seattle and headed into the eastern part of the state. After a few stops, we made it to camp and met up with our local knowledge. After some drives around the area we were to be hunting in, we tee’d up a few glasses of bourbon to kick off the weekend. We deemed this the best time to start planning the next day’s affairs, which was simple: we would drive as high on the property as we could, park the truck, then walk as high as we could and try to glass the herd of elk as they moved into a bed down site. We’ll fan out along multiple ridgelines to get the best views, and text the group once we have sight of a herd.
Seemed simple, and the best plans always are.
That night we heard elk bugles as they moved past our camp to find water and food for the night; an incredible sound for those of you who have not heard it. For us it was an affirmation that we were in the right place.
Day One of the Elk Hunt
The morning came early and we moved about as quickly as any group of guys who are ready to get after a hunt. Bows in hand, we jumped in the truck to drive as high as we could get.
About 15 minutes in, we almost hit an elk.
That’s right, the morning of our hunt we literally almost downed an elk with the rental. Epic as that may have been, we weren’t terribly interested in dealing with the cost associated. The elk ran off the left side of the road into the sagebrush and quickly gained a couple hundred yards of distance between us and them.
We kicked two of us out, myself and Wes. Moving to the left side of the road afforded us some concealment in the sagebrush. While we tried to get in close enough to take a shot, we just couldn’t close with the elk spooked. We ended up getting in to about 100 yards on them before taking off back to the truck.
Excited as we were, the elk were headed in the exact direction we had expected they would. This was a good sign and further inclination that we may not be complete buffoons in the woods.
Another ten minutes up the dirt road and we spotted a single mountain lion cub on the edge of the road. He scurried out of cover and up the road, with a small sibling in tow. Not wanting to get into a fight with their mother, we watched for a bit then pressed on for high ground.
Within the first half hour of daylight on this patch of dirt we had seen multiple elk, two mountain lion cubs, and still hadn’t even looked through our optics. For anyone who has spent some time in the woods, you know this type of thing just does not happen outside of Disney movies.
Spotting Our First Herd of Elk
Getting to the high ground we decided to split the group. Jayson and I went left, Wes and Griff went right. After a few minutes of glassing, Jayson spotted a few elk on a far ridgeline, about a mile straight line distance. He also saw a large herd bull at the base of our hill in a gully.
Since I had binoculars and he had a spotting scope, we decided that he would reposition and try to spot the rest of the large herd. I would keep an eye on the animals we had already seen and watch for them to bed down. After about fifteen minutes the first herd a few ridgelines over began to bed down in a group of trees on a steep hill. Jayson moved back to me and let me know there was a large herd about 300m down the hill below us.
We texted the other guys and formulated a plan. I would push over to the furthest herd, about 3 miles around the other herd and over a few draws. Jayson would be one ridgeline closer to them. Griff would hang on the high ground, and Wes would set up an ambush where they were most likely to come up the hill if spooked.
I told them I needed about an hour to get around the hills and get into place to put on a stalk. They gave me two hours before they would get in on top of them and try to get a shot on some of the closer herd. If we lost comm’s we would meet back at the highest vantage point which was marked by a single tree. Worst case scenario we would all meet back at the truck before dark then find any stragglers as a group.
Moving Into Position...
I worked my way across the ridgelines, careful to conceal my movement with the terrain and sagebrush. It took me a little over an hour to make it, consistently stopping to glass the herds and make sure they either didn’t see me or I was completely out of view. I was careful to ensure I was moving in a way that the wind wouldn’t carry my scent to the herd. I knew the tree line my target herd was bedded down under, it was a the top of a hill just before it crested. If the winds were right, I could creep up on the back side of the hill and get close enough for a shot before silhouetting myself above the ridge.
At 200 yards I started moving one step at a time. After every step I would look, listen, smell while I paused for a few seconds. Only stepping if the wind was blowing strong enough to cover my noise, it was a slow process with long pauses.
When I got to about 150 yards I started low-crawling, again moving only when the wind was blowing.
At about 100 yards I realized I had no need to low crawl, and aside from feeling like an idiot, I had wasted precious time. As I crept up to the herd, I was careful to move methodically, stepping on rocks and live grass as much as possible. Every step meant listening for a few seconds after to let everything settle.
As I looked through the grass with my rangefinder, I could see the outline of a female elk’s head and ears.
I crept a little lower.
A few more steps and another turkey peek with the range finder. This time a big bull came into view and I checked my distance: 26 yards.
We will be releasing his hunting journal as a serial over the next month, stay tuned for more adventures to come.