Tod's Blog

Adventures with family & friends and other things I'm passionate about…

Archive for November, 2013

Eddie Would Go…and I Followed

Posted by todblog on November 12, 2013

November 4, 2013

Edson Martin is a buddy of mine from Kauai who is an admitted “elkoholic” and has spent a lot of time in Montana hunting elk. He contacted me about a year ago asking if I could “set him up” on an elk hunt in Oregon. He found himself spending a lot of time on the mainland and wanted to check out some of Oregon’s fall outdoor pursuits. I told him there were some opportunities to do some elk hunting but, I wasn’t sure how successful he would be. Edson was eager to go. He applied for a controlled hunt and was unsuccessful at drawing the tag. He opted to try a general season elk tag which was available without going through a drawing. It was the Rocky Mountain elk 2nd season spike bull hunt.

I told him that season was going to be tough because it was full of other hunters like him who failed to draw a controlled elk tag and now they were going to jump in and hunt this area for a spike bull elk. We’d give it a go anyway and enjoy a great time in northeast Oregon’s rugged Wallowa mountains, he would at least have an opportunity at an elk hunt. We would both learn something from our adventure.

We arrived at camp a couple of days before the opening day of the season and discovered numerous other elk hunting camps set up along the way. It looked like a lot of traditional camps and families getting out and having a good time reuniting over an annual elk hunt. You know the camps where some Uncle Joe makes the best baked beans and franks and everyone argues over who sleeps where because of Joe’s beans, snoring issues or late night card games, etc. It’s the stuff traditions are built on and the beginning of stories that last a lifetime.

Our camp was tucked away in the hills with all the necessary creature comforts which included a warm wood stove and good spring-fed drinking water.

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Outrigger Ohana Imnaha Bungalow

Ed cooked some awesome meals during our camping trip. There was never any fear of starving. He’s got lots of experience from previous elk camps and no doubt draws from his past life as a County Fire Captain on Kauai. I was worried about coming back from elk camp heavier than when I left home.

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You’ve heard of location, location, location. It applies to elk camp too. We had gorgeous views of the Eagle Cap Wilderness Area in the distance and no other camps within sight. However, the problem with our camp’s location was that it was located on top of an expansive flat and the elk were located below in steep timbered canyons. Not a good situation to be in once an elk is down. Packing is all uphill.

One day we split up to locate elk. I found some elk in a timbered draw close to the cabin. I tried my darnedest to put spike antlers on several cow elk walking in the timber. From over 600 yards it wasn’t easy to pick out spikes in the herd. Ed was finding elk too and he was able to confirm spikes but, no shots presented themselves. That night at the cabin, Ed told me that he had seen elk below in the roadless canyon. He was very excited and planned to go back down there the next day. I groaned inside and thought I better find a spike up high closer to the cabin before Ed finds one in the dark abyss.

Desperately looking for a spike elk close to camp

On day three of our hunt, Ed returned to the roadless canyon and I went back to the timbered draw with the cow elk in it. I was snuggled in a rock outcropping trying to protect myself from the wind gusts when my radio crackled, “Tod, I’m 90% sure I’m looking at a spike bedded down right now”. I quadrupled my effort to find a spike in the timber below me. It would save us untold amounts of calories compared to the elk he was looking at in the deep dark canyon. About a half an hour went by and I heard a shot coming from the next canyon over. Seconds later my cell phone was buzzing, it was Dan Warnock who I had just talked to that morning moving his cattle off the area. Dan reported that he and his son Ty had just seen a spike bull run across the open flat headed in the direction of the cabin we were staying in. Perfect. Ed is down below in the abyss and a spike runs by the cabin. Ed contacted me about an hour later, reporting that he had just taken a spike bull across the canyon from 540 yards with his .340 Weatherby Magnum.

Woo hoo. A friend who had traveled all the way to visit me and plunk down non-resident fees for an elk tag and license was now done hunting. I felt a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders. Only problem now, the weight would be shifted to my back!

It took Ed a couple of hours to return to the cabin and fill me in on his elk hunting story. I was very happy for him. However, I knew the happiness would soon be replaced by good ole sweat and hard work. I was about to find out if the daily doses of glucosamine and ibuprofen would be enough to carry me through the arduous task of hauling elk meat out of a steep ugly canyon. That night as I lay in my sleeping bag trying to psych myself up for the next day, I kept hearing my friends voices in my head, “be sure you hold his bullets if he goes down there..”

The next day, Ed and I descended into the abyss 1,400 elevational feet down the hillside, across a creek and about a third of the way up the other side to retrieve his spike elk. About half way down to the creek, I remember breathing hard and sweating. I looked up from where we had just come and told Ed, “I’m sweating and breathing hard and I’m going downhill without a load on my back. I can’t wait to come back uphill with a load on my back!” It took 1-1/4 hours to get to the elk carcass. We spent another four hours at the carcass boning it out and packing the meat in bags down to the creek. From there, we cached two bags of meat in a tree and began packing two bags back up the hillside to the truck. The wind was cold and nasty as it drove right through our bones. It amazed me at how much snot a body can generate in cold weather. I kept thinking of the funny saying, “you ever think it’s funny when your nose is kinda runny but it’s_not?” We had to balance our clothing needs, trying to stay comfortable in the bitter cold wind while trying not to get overheated in the steep uphill climb. Wearing synthetic long underwear was key to wicking moisture away from my body followed by a layer of heavy fleece and a warm Elmer Fudd hunting hat with ear flaps. It kept me dry and warm and I remained flexible enough to negotiate the steep rocky terrain. I remember muttering that the weatherman should be fired, “8-10 mph winds forecast for Wallowa County..”. Uh huh, right. At times I felt the wind could hold me up if I leaned back into it. Something about falling backwards on a steep slope discouraged that decision. I was having a bad enough time fighting loose rocks and soil that made the climb up more challenging with a meat pack on. Ed’s philosophy was to go slow and easy and take lots of small breaks. We would try to huddle behind rock outcrops where the wind was at least partially blocked. It’s times like this when I remember the pain of Monday afternoon track practice sessions at Kalani High School. Mondays were always the worst days of the week. Long hard workouts running for time and if anyone exceeded the set time, we all had to run it again. There was always someone who had to ask the coach how much more we had to run. Wrong question to ask. It usually resulted in extra laps. I didn’t want to know. It was too painful to think about how much more there was to do. Just do it and be happy when it’s over. Kinda like now. One foot in front of the other, step-by-step, inch-by-inch get a little closer to the truck. Two hours after leaving the creek bottom, we were looking at the sweet sight of a Ford F250 parked at the end of the road waiting for our return.

Heading down for the first load of meat

Heading down for the first load of meat

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Happy Edson not thinking about the pack uphill

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Boning out the elk and packing meat bags

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View from the elk to the truck on top of the ridge

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Stashing the meat bags in a tree by the creek

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pack1upbreakwp Looking back at the hillside where we spent the last 4 hours boning out the elk

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Almost back to the truck 7 hours later

That night we had a good hearty dinner and couldn’t get to bed early enough. It would be another fun day of meat packing tomorrow.

The next morning I was greeted with tight calf and quad leg muscles but, thankfully no joint pain. The meds must have been doing their job. After a good breakfast, we bailed off the hillside and returned down to the bottom of the creek to get the last two bags of meat. This time it only took 2 hours and 20 minutes to make the round trip back to the truck. The weather was also more accommodating with light winds and partly sunny skies.

When it was over, I remember telling Ed, “I’ve got steep nasty places close to home that I don’t hunt. Instead, I gotta drive 11 hours across the state to hunt in a place like the ones close to home. You must be a good friend or I’m just stupid. How did you talk me into this?”

Lesson learned- choose your hunting partner wisely. If the person is from Kauai, be very careful as they are accustomed to hunting in steep canyons and cliffs!

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Elk running under the truck on our second day of packing

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Second day- heading down one last time

Getting the last of the meat in the creek bottom

Getting the last of the meat in the creek bottom

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All done packing meat

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The Wallowa Mountains take your breath away especially when packing up steep hillsides.

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