Bruce SmithhammerSeptember 4, 2012 at 10:39 pmPost count: 2514
So again begins this month of madness, of obsession, of some of the most sublime moments I’ve known.
Up before dawn, with 5 total hours of shut-eye in the sleep bank, and a little too much to drink last night. On top of it, I must have slept funny, as I can barely move my left arm. I come very close to giving up and going back to bed, but I know I’ll never allow myself to do that. The fog only lifts on the heels of the third cup of coffee, sipped while looking at the mountains behind the house, the first faint lightening from total black to deep purple-blue telling me to get a move-on.
Up into the hills in early light, something large spooks in the woods 20ft. away, in the exact same spot that I had a close-call with a surprised bear while scouting last week. Whatever it is, it isn’t coming at me, so I keep moving.
There is no bugling. Only the waking of birds, and cool air rushing down from the rafters of the Tetons, moving the aspens.
The mountains are very warm and dry for this time of year, at this elevation. Elk sign is minimal and mostly old. The spring where I always find reliable wallowing evidence is hard caked.
The lack of fresh sign, the lack of any bugling this morning, the myriad responsibilities and expectations I’m expected to be attending to – one could easily fall prey to the distractions and discouragement. And I almost do. But it is early in the season, and faith still burns, so I keep moving, pushing down into an area I haven’t explored much before, and there it is:
I get my nose close and drink in the fresh scent of shredded aspen and elk. They are here.
Scrutinizing the ground nearby more sign that upon closer inspection, can only be a few hours old:
It isn’t much, but it’s something. I sit and eat lunch, size-up different vantage points and shooting lanes. I find the trail they take down into the cool forest below the rim to bed down, and the water source below. Hope renewed.
There is this month, still spreading out before me, full of opportunity and certain to bring the unexpected, whatever that may be. This month where I make no apologies for unreturned phone calls, for cancelled social engagements, for generally appearing bleary-eyed and unshaven and unfocused on anything else. Those who know, understand. Those who don’t at least know not to expect much else of me.
Driven up the hill every morning and every evening by optimism, by dogged persistence, by a drive buried deep in my genetic code that leaves me little choice. As it should be. Bring it.
David PetersenMemberSeptember 5, 2012 at 1:50 amPost count: 2749
Beautiful, Bruce. Thanks for taking the time to share words and photos. I really can’t slow down that much in Sept. Still really early in the rut and way too hot, yet a squeaky bugler started the action last night and there were two tonight — likely the same two spikes I got on my cam a couple weeks ago before taking it down for the season. And some cows chirping. Things will get serious, with luck, around the 10-12 and then I too will lose sleep. For now I only go out evenings and mostly to monitor the rut’s progress.
More power to you, amigo. Dave
tombowSeptember 5, 2012 at 1:03 pmPost count: 103
You lucky some beaches! But, oh yes, my time draws near my brothers, as your’s arrives, to begin my pursuit for local whitetails and my first venison taken with traditional tackle. My day will come and I whole heartedly share in the meaning just below the surface of your words, that which you clearly explain but only a true bow brudder knows the real feelings that are expressed without words. I are the waiting, YOU are the doing it for real! Keep us posted and be rich in detail, we drink this deep. This bowhunting.
SDMFerSeptember 5, 2012 at 2:24 pmPost count: 54
Dave, I’m not sure why they aren’t cranked down in Colorado. I was out last weekend for two days and heard bugles all day and into the evening.
Of course, all but maybe one of the buglers only had 2 legs. The actual bulls I ran into were all still with other bulls holed up in some nasty country waiting for the Labor day weekend concert to end.
Mark TurtonSeptember 5, 2012 at 3:19 pmPost count: 759
Bruce, just read your post sat at my desk thank you for sharing your day so eloquently, out the window the sun is lengthening the shadows and a light breeze is gently swaying the upper branches in the trees, the leaves have a hint of autumn color in them.
The longing to be hunting in country like you have hurts, good luck my friend, I look forward to reading the next installment.
Bruce SmithhammerSeptember 5, 2012 at 5:04 pmPost count: 2514
Do you ever get used to hiking out alone, in the dark, in serious bear country? You wait till that last remnant of the gloaming has passed, knowing that, with the continued warm days, this is likely your best chance for the wapiti to reappear from their day beds and come within range. But you also know, in the back of your mind, that this will mean digging out the headlamp; resolving to spend the next hour rolling the dice on whether you’ll bump into something much less welcome in the dark.
The walk out always seems that much longer, dragged out by a familiar anxiety you’ve worked hard to lock away, and have come close to succeeding. But it’s there and there is no use denying it- you are in a place where large bears abound.
You remember how different it has felt in the past when doing this hike out at night with a hunting partner – awareness still keyed to the noise of suspicious movement, but covered over with excited talk of the bull that hung up on the edge of the meadow at dusk, so close and screaming his head off at you, but unwilling to close the distance. But now there are only your own thoughts; of what leftovers might still await in the fridge, of what needs getting done, and the jumpiness at every animal that you disturb on the way. Dried arrowleaf amplifies every movement beyond rationale, and squirrels take on epic proportions, based on sound alone.
But I wouldn’t have it any other way. Wild country devoid of ursids is a little less wild. Sometimes a lot.
Maybe the question isn’t do you ever get used to hiking out in the dark in bear country, but should you?
lyagooshkaSeptember 5, 2012 at 5:39 pmPost count: 600
I don’t like to be jealous of anyone for something that is available to me should I want it badly enough, but times like this, it is difficult. Good for you for living the dream and still being able to appreciate the true wonder of nature every day. I made my choices, and they involve car fumes, police sirens and the like. It made me who I am, but as I “grow”, I truly learn that there are things to appreciate that no amount of money could ever buy and no brand name label could be worthy of. What really gets me sometimes is that it costs nothing and is available to anyone at any time. I hope you all enjoy your season(s). Be safe. I know I will be cherishing every moment out there.
David PetersenMemberSeptember 5, 2012 at 7:43 pmPost count: 2749
Bruce — We are crawling with bears here, esp. down around the houses since this is a disastrous summer for fall bears foods thanks to late spring freezes and prolonged heat and drought, forcing them to look for unattended garbage, etc. But I never worry at all and in fact am disappointed when I don’t regularly see bears, sometimes really close. BUT, these are blacks, not grizzlies. A HUGE difference. Only time I even think about bears is when I’m out after dark alone and up to my elbows in elk guts. For those times, I do carry bear spray but in all the years have only had to take it out of the holster once, and even then the bear eventually ran away. I really don’t know how I’d handle hunting in serious grizzly country. A possibility of grizzly, however, adds an element of prehistoric excitement that’s priceless, though it cuts way down on sleep time when camped in a tent. 😈
wildschweinSeptember 5, 2012 at 8:25 pmPost count: 581
For me being in Bear country in the early and late hours is always un-nerving, all the more so since we have an expanding Grizzly population. But what gives me the jeebies more than Bears are the Wolves. I see Wolves far more often and hear them damn near every night during the Autumn. As far as the lack of documented attacks in North America goes, reading the tales from Europe are warning enough. And ever since that unfortunate surveyor was killed in Saskatchewan, those eery howls seem all the more menacing. More than once the howl of Wolves has made me look at my longbow and wonder “Why the hell am I carrying this silly thing?”
tailfeatherSeptember 5, 2012 at 8:43 pmPost count: 417
David Petersen wrote: A possibility of grizzly, however, adds an element of prehistoric excitement that’s priceless, though it cuts way down on sleep time when camped in a tent. 😈
You certainly pay more attention to every little night noise.:lol:
Bruce SmithhammerSeptember 6, 2012 at 12:22 amPost count: 2514
Thanks, folks. More to come, as I plan to have this be an ongoing journal of my experiences and ramblings throughout a month of chasing elk.
‘Schwein – the smoke factor has definitely improved in the last week. Still hanging around, but not as bad as it was.
On the subject of bears – I’ve spent lots of time in both black and grizz country over the last 20 years or so, and while I think there are certainly some generalizations that can be made based on species, I make no assumptions at the individual level, grizz or black, especially when it comes to a close-range, surprise encounter. I prefer awe and admiration from a distance. 😉
Clay HayesMemberSeptember 6, 2012 at 1:28 amPost count: 418
Looking forward to more Bruce. I know the feeling, having hunted and hiked many miles off the SW corner of Yellowstone. Priceless indeed.
Hopefully I’ll have some pics and story to share in a few weeks. We’re packing in on the 10th and will likely be out for 10 days or so. No griz, but the wolves are there. They don’t make my hair stand on end though…
William WarrenMemberSeptember 7, 2012 at 1:50 amPost count: 1384
Looking forward to more and wish you well on your season. I don’t have the experience you guys have but I did get a taste of it in Quebec during the bear rut. Leaving a stand at dark after hearing three boars roaring and popping their teeth at each other all evening was exciting to say the least. They did this all evening but never came in where I could see them. I waited until it had been quiet for a while and exited quietly. Some stands were known to be frequented by a sow and cubs and wolf tracks were everywhere. Yeah I traveled the trails quietly but in a hurry too.
Don’t know why I thought I was safe down by the road 85 miles from nowhere waiting on my pal to come by in the truck. So quiet there the skeets where the loudest thing around.
Bruce SmithhammerSeptember 7, 2012 at 12:53 pmPost count: 2514
This morning they were hanging down low – much lower than I was expecting. I busted them on my way up. The bull let out two thundering barks to say “everyone up and out, now!” and they exploded into the dark forest and disappeared. I kicked myself for not expecting this, for being too focused on getting to “my spot” up above and not paying attention to the details along the way. Probably a life lesson in there somewhere.
Silence continues to be the order of the day. There has been no bugling yet, except for the painfully obvious two-legged variety. I’m tempted to go track them down and tell them that they’re not helping anything, that no elk is going to be fooled by what sounds like a fart channeled through a trumpet, that they’re only encouraging the elk to go quiet and move on to more peaceful places. I want to tell them that they have passed right by me on their ATV, in the crepuscular hours, never knowing I was 5 ft. away from them. That I know they have two perfectly good legs and to ask them why they don’t want to use them. Instead, I head the other way and push deeper into places they won’t go.
Yes, nothing is happening yet, but I still love the hours of sitting and waiting, “doing nothing” as some might see it. The birds and ground squirrels come right up to me. A goshawk rips through the understory at lightning speed, coming within a few feet of my head with a rush of air following. We surprise each other, and he lands in a branch a safe distance away to try and figure out just what the hell I might be.
The light on Mt. Taylor fades to orange and then purple and it’s time to start moving.
I’m always amazed at how much sound carries up from the valley below, carried across surprising distances. Dogs barking. Kids playing. Cars commuting home. Tomorrow, I’ll be one of them.
Bruce SmithhammerSeptember 9, 2012 at 3:52 amPost count: 2514
It would have been easy to not make the hike up the hill behind the house tonight. I had just gotten home from work, and laziness was whispering in my ear. Next thing I knew I was pulling the bow out of the guest room, grabbing the backpack and jumping in the truck. Plenty of time to be lazy when I’m dead.
I deliberately decided not to hike too far in this evening, and instead stay down low, where I had bumped the herd a few days ago. Got there early, did a little scouting, found no fresh sign, and sat for two hours.
I’d forgotten to eat lunch today, and by 7pm, hunger was driving me to distraction. I almost called it and hiked home to a warm meal, but again, something told me to deny temptation and kept sitting, waiting, listening. And then, right at dusk, it happened- the first bugle of the season, right where I had hoped he would be holed up, on the other side of a thick stand of aspens. I started moving toward him, doing a little cow calling. Stopping, waiting, moving slowly again. Another subtle mew call. Next bugle was closer. The one after that closer still.
It was time to pick a spot with good cover and hole up, let him close the rest of the distance, which he did. I called again. Suddenly his scream exploded just 40ft. away, on the other side of a dense stand of shrubbery. I couldn’t see him, but he was right there. Adrenalin flooded through me and I had to work consciously to get my heart to slow down.
And then the next bugle I heard was farther away. The one after that made it clear he had turned and dropped down into the next drainage. It was too dark now to risk a shot anyway. I simply stood there, savoring the rush that I live for all year long. It’s on. How the hell can I go to work tomorrow?
David PetersenMemberSeptember 10, 2012 at 3:04 pmPost count: 2749
Bruce — you actually WORK in Sept.? Foolish man! I long ago figured that one out and arranged my life around it. Of course I haven’t had a new car in more than 40 years nor a “real” house as my wife points out. But who’s complaining! Her, perhaps, but not me. 😛 Rather than the smiling faces of co-workers and the lovely piped-in musuc of the workplace, here is the sort of thing I’m forced to look at — and smell! 😯 — every day this month. Poor us, eh? Best luck, amigo. You deserve it.
Bruce SmithhammerSeptember 10, 2012 at 4:23 pmPost count: 2514
pothunter wrote: Did you go to work today?
Unfortunately, yes. Which is where I’m cruising the Trad Bow forum right now, btw…:wink:
Had another intense experience with a bull last night. Did a couple cow calls at dusk, and he must have been sitting on the ridge top right above me because I could hear him coming in immediately, and silently (not bugling). He hung up on the other side of a tree, just 20 ft. from me, and began raking his rack back and forth across the branches, shaking the whole tree. But I was pinned down, and was afraid he would see any attempt to reposition myself for a shot, and he also wouldn’t move out from behind the tree to reveal himself. After about 10 very intense minutes of that, he walked away, no doubt pissed that the sexy cow wouldn’t come the rest of the way to him.
Kill or no kill, it’s experiences like that that keep me addicted to this game.
And I’m leaving work early today and heading out till dark, with the next two days off, and 5 days on the calendar for the last week of Sept.
David Petersen wrote: Bruce — you actually WORK in Sept.? Foolish man!
Arghh. Tell me about it. I need to figure out a line of work that allows me to take all of Sept. and Oct off. Best of luck to you too, compadre!
Bruce SmithhammerSeptember 12, 2012 at 11:13 pmPost count: 2514
In the predawn murkiness I hear the engine, coming my way. I step off the trail and immediately blend in as the ATV whizzes by. I hear it fade up the hill, and resume walking quietly. Within 10 minutes of that gawdawful cacophony passing, the bull bugles, a mere 50ft. away. No doubt he thinks that the danger has past. But a semi-competent hunter, who may only amount to a threat on a lucky day, still lingers.
I crouch in the bushes and give a little cow call. He bellows again, and I hear him moving my way. But then he hangs up, just on the other side of some dense shrubbery from me. I hear him continuing to move around, branches snapping loudly under his girth. But still he won’t come any closer. We continue this standoff for what seems like an hour but was probably only 15 minutes, and then I hear him moving away; melting back into the dense aspens where I have no chance of continuing the chase undetected.
Public land bulls with a trad bow. I don’t need to tell anyone who’s done it what a hard game this is. There are no shortcuts, no substitutes for putting the time in, doing the work and knowing the land like the back of your hand. And despite the guy I see almost every day using 4 wheels to do what his legs are fully capable of, there really is no cheating in this game. As I did this morning, I’ve watched him many times motor right through an area full of elk, completely oblivious and struck deaf by the sound of his machine. I want to tell him that, despite the common assumption, choosing to use an ATV isn’t making the hunting any easier – for him or for others around him. Instead, I avoid him at all costs, opting to slink into the forest – partly because I’m not out here to make small talk (or any talk, for that matter) and partly because my blood boils every time that infernal machine shatters the tranquility, the sacred quiet, of this place. Part of me wishes he would just get his damn elk already and leave this place in peace to those who still value boot leather and working for it. But mostly I hope he finds no reward. Or gives up and go somewhere else.
No, there is no substitute for putting the time in. And so, when the bugling has long dissipated this morning and the elk have found shelter in places where no one can get to them without raising the alarm, I still sit on the edge of a meadow, watching a sharp-shinned hawk send the warblers and robins scattering with fear.
jmsmithyMemberSeptember 13, 2012 at 12:18 amPost count: 300
Bruce. Some incredible posts my brother!!
I gotta also tell you that shadow picture of you and your bow is truly awesome. Needs to be a screen saver or something!
As for all the bear comments, my 13 y/o and I just got back from Maine. He scored but was upset it was with a rifle! Outfitter had a spot where they were seeing one regularly but set up as a rifle stand (hunting baits,with dogs and some glassing VERY unique place for Maine!). Anyway,he got his first blackie at 13! ( I was 29!). And good thing too. The rest of us saw NOTHING but still a tremendous amount of sign. We spoke w other outfitters as well as local shop owner and everyone reported same thing. It’s like they went underground. Not seeing them in the fields or even on the baits. I did get “picked off” however and this is why they are amazing critters. About hour before dark I was in stand, perfect wind. I don’t think I moved but you know that feeling that your not alone?:shock: well about 30 seconds after I had that feeling and subsequent hairs standing up a virtual explosion went off not 15 yards away and I heard the pounding of what must’ve been a 5000 lb animal bolting then all quiet… Then hiked mile down trail in the dark very wide eye’d to meet my outfitter 😯
Ben M.September 18, 2012 at 2:18 amPost count: 460
Been thinking and wondering about you, Bruce. Hoping for an update soon. I really enjoy the way you live and the way you share.
I got a great gift from my wife yesterday: the gift of understanding.
I texted her at work, “I’d like to do a floating/hunting/overnight trip down the river before it gets cold enough to need a fire in the stove.”
Her response: “Sounds good.”
So it is. She’s dropping me off a few miles upstream tomorrow morning and I’m taking a two-night-unless-I-get-a-deer solo trip down the river.
Bruce SmithhammerSeptember 19, 2012 at 2:28 pmPost count: 2514
The hills have gone silent, the elk somewhere else. The past three evenings have been still and calm; the kind of conditions that should allow one to hear an elk bugling even if it’s miles away. And still nothing.
No fresh sign; only old tracks embedded in dry soil leftover from the last rain. Scat that is a desiccated testament to their former presence.
Just last week, it was as though someone had flipped a switch, and the rut had turned on, and bugling was heard every morning and evening, several bulls were called well within shot range, and everything seemed right in the mid-September world of elk and hunter. But that has all evaporated.
We search for clues – but there is no fresh wolf sign to be found anywhere in the area either. Check that reason off the list. There is just this persistent dryness looming, with no precipitation in the forecast, as the likely cause.
We sit tucked into the aspens at the edge of a small clearing as night gathers, listening. And then, there is the cracking of a branch and the sounds of something large moving through the forest. Anticipation and possibility are renewed. A large, spindly cow moose emerges and ambles into the middle of the clearing, head and ears erect, alert. She walks straight toward us, no idea we’re there. Passes a mere fifteen feet away as the final light is drained from the forest and we dig out headlamps for the hike home, to that other world of pizza and beer and friends, but the elk and their mystery never leaves the back of my mind.
Bruce SmithhammerSeptember 27, 2012 at 4:09 amPost count: 2514
Last night’s welcome rain softens the crunch of recently fallen aspen leaves. We cruise uphill in pre-dawn light, whispering our excitement. The evening before, solo, I almost stumbled upon a big bull moose bedded down in the meadow. I hunkered behind a tree and watched him as the light faded, and heard another large animal entering the meadow. “Probably his girlfriend,” I thought.
And then the 6×6 rack emerged.
And then another bull bugled close behind me.
After a week of little activity, it was on again. The big bull walked out into the meadow, and met the gaze of the moose. He turned, and headed back the way he came, silently. Shortly thereafter, I could hear the bull bugling from the direction he’d headed, down the hill. I tried not to spook the moose while starting to head in the direction of the bull. The moose got up an did the same. He cut me off, and I dared not get closer to a large bull moose at this time of year. I conceded, knowing the elk would likely not move far before morning.
And after a restless night of recounting the evening in my head, and the size of the bull I laid eyes on not 50 yards away, I enlisted a friend to head back in this morning to call for me.
We got on some bugling bulls early on, but couldn’t entice them. Spent the rest of the morning and half of the afternoon scouting new territory along the Wyoming border. Headed home for lunch and a nap. Woke up late afternoon, brewed coffee and headed out again.
An immature bull could be heard keening on the hillside below. We moved toward him…and then the primary bull bellowed from the aspens below, ending in a few deep, guttural coughs to leave no doubt in anyone’s mind about who he was, or what he was about. We set up and called. The big bull kept wailing from thick cover, but then a silent, satellite bull emerged into the clearing. A few mews and he began working toward us, the big bull bellowing in the background all the while. The wind shifted just as it became too dark to shoot anyway, and the satellite winded us and bolted back into cover.
We stood on the hillside, watching the orange and purples of day’s end fading into dark over our town in the valley below, serenaded by continued bugling. Neither of us wanted to leave, but it was now dark, and warm food and spouses awaited. “One more bugle, and then we’ll go….” And it came, and we did.
Bruce SmithhammerSeptember 30, 2012 at 4:31 pmPost count: 2514
The elk woods were absolutely and eerily silent last night. Have they moved on? I doubt it, as we’re close to two reliable water sources and good cover, both of which are at a premium in this extremely dry September. No, I believe they are still here, somewhere in thick cover, laying low and keeping to themselves. Maybe its the full moon? There are a whole host of theories on this, but in the end, what are you going to do, not hunt, when you only have this one, precious month?
But the woods did give up one of their own, and I’d be lying if I didn’t say if felt good to come home with something for the larder:
5am comes way too early on the last day of my archery elk season. The first 20 minutes uphill, following the spot of light from my headlamp, involved quelling a minor rebellion from my lactic acid-filled legs. A month of this is beginning to take its toll, but the alternative will never be an option as long as I can help it.
A few faint bugles in the distance. Another grouse that flushes as soon as I nock an arrow. The sun pulls itself up over a ridge on the Wyoming border behind me, and golden aspens light up, infused with brilliant color. Coyotes caterwaul at the edge of a farm far below. Thoughts turn to what I might do differently tonight, on this last evening of the season, if anything.
strait-aeroSeptember 30, 2012 at 6:30 pmPost count: 350
Here’s hoping your last day is your most fruitful one,Bruce.:wink: My white-tail season has arrived and I plan on sitting this afternoon in my blind to see what that part of the woods is going to reveal. What’s next on your wilderness’ pursuits? Wayne
Bruce SmithhammerOctober 1, 2012 at 3:50 amPost count: 2514
It ends with the sun setting over the Big Hole mountains. A Sharp-Shinned Hawk swoops in, landing on a branch close to where I’m sitting. It isn’t sure what I am, but it’s very curious. It takes wing, flies in a circle around me, and lands on another branch, closer this time, staring at me intently. It goes on like this for ten minutes or so, this magnificent little predator just a couple arms lengths away, and then it alights in search of something tastier.
As the sun sets, I can hear shod hooves clacking on the trail, as a family that horsepacked in for the weekend heads home. Incessant bugling, of the obviously two-legged variety, booms from the meadow above, driving everything else into silence.
Yet I wouldn’t trade this month for anything, and while no elk were harmed in the making of this thread, the hunting was never, ever a waste of time.
I worked hard. I sweated, and at times had to stop and catch my breath. I came home dirty and honestly tired and slept like a rock.
On an almost daily basis, I felt blood and oxygen pumping through my body with an urgency I sadly seldom experience throughout much of the rest of the year.
I spent time in very close proximity to elk, bear, moose and the many other occupants of the land behind my house. I spent many hours just sitting and listening. How many people can say that anymore?
I mostly succeeded at pushing the distractions away and focused.
I felt alive.
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