Remember what it was like to dance in the rain? A soft steady rain on a late summer day became the perfect reason to toss socks and shoes aside. Bare feet splashed carelessly through puddles. Water sprayed upwards and clashed with raindrops descending down, a collision of pure joy. This mixture of mud, rain, and the smell of it all somehow brought an uncontrolled smile to the dancer, and in a way cleansed the soul. That is kind of what it is like to hunt elk in the rain. I'm brought back to those moments of carefree dances, and a smile slowly creeps over my face. I can't help it.
There were plenty of moments last season when the rain had us wanting to throw in the towel, and exchange cold, wet camouflage for dry clothes back at camp. While huddled under a pine tree it is tempting to complain about getting wet, but those are also the times I often reflect back on. It is the pivotal point where the story is unfolding. The magical moments in the rain collide ... the smell, the sound, the struggle; and produce hunting opportunities that hold us captive. A pine branch offers temporary shelter, redirecting the rain until it can no longer retain the water. Drip. Drip. Splash! The hunter is then left with a choice: wait for the storm to pass, call it a day, or maybe, just maybe .... hunt in the rain.
In other words ~ Step in the puddle, get a little muddy, and dance.
This is where we found ourselves this morning. More rain was heading our way. We weren't held captive yet by a mountain storm, huddled under a tree, but with the possibility of that becoming our reality, a decision had to be made. We could either hunt close to camp, or don rain gear, put on mud-caked boots and journey back down into the canyon. After experiencing the close encounter with a bull and a few of his cows down in the DMZ yesterday, the allure of trying again was just too great. Our legs were tired, but our spirits where high. Once again, we ended up climbing down the mountainside, while constraining the thought that it meant climbing back up at the end of the day. Like a magnet pulling us down, we yielded to the force of the elk.
Half-way down we stopped and decided to glass the hill-side to make sure our efforts were not made in vain. It didn't take long for Troy to spot movement. Sure enough we found our elk! Since they were one more ridge over from the spot where the cow practically licked Rudy's neck yesterday, we decided to move fast and get in a good position before starting to call.
The heavy mist in the air began to roll through, and gave the appearance like something out of a dream. It was frightening and beautiful at the same time. At any moment we were sure that an elk would step through the fog, let out a screaming bugle and scare the snot out of us.
Choosing our footing carefully, we traversed the beaver lands. Threats of revenge on the flat-tailed critters that caused this mess of downed trees, were voiced as we pushed our way through. Sections of logs and branches reaching heights taller than Troy and Rudy, had each of us momentarily disappearing into the beaver mess, only to pop up again into view as the next section is crested. Up and Over, Down and Up we went. The thought on all of our minds ... what are we going to do if we end up shooting an elk down here!
Finally, we reached the first clearing of sorts. Two large pine trees sat prominently on a hill, marking a section that opens up leading to a pond just above. Beyond that, just a couple hundred yards away, a large bowl filled with pine trees reaches up to a mountain ridge ~ a secluded elk sanctuary.
Troy broke the silence and let out a bugle. An answer was received! From what we could tell, it sounded like the bull was in the pines lining the bottom edge of the elk sanctuary. He had to be close! After a few more attempts to figure out exactly where he was, we realized it was probably time to put some pressure on this bull. He was still a little too comfortable. We hustled to the next section of pines. From this vantage point we could see the cows on the slope. They were just above a slide. If we played our cards right, this bull might just come down and take a stand to defend his ladies.
The clouds became thicker and the rain began to fall. It was honestly beautiful. Slowly and steadily it came down. All three of us were now huddled under a solo pine on a hill that overlooked the entrance to the elk sanctuary. I wish I would have taken a picture of this tree. It had a perfect hole through the center of it. I'm not joking. A round window seemed to be carved out of the trunk just for us, for the single purpose of spying on elk in this moment of time, while the rain fell down around us.
Finally we couldn't take it any longer. As we watched the bull circle round and make his way up to the cows, we ditched our packs under the tree with the looking window and made a dash for the pine trees at the base of the mountain. Troy ripped off another bugle as loud as he could. It worked. This bull was mad and came screaming down the hill. Troy was positioned at the bottom of the hill and I was 20 yards behind him to the left. He ran the ridge just 60 yards above us, bugling and straining to see his challenger below. With only an incredibly steep angle shot presented, Troy made the decision to pass this time. The bull worked the ridge-line back and forth, but wouldn't commit to coming any further.
He finally decided to check on his cows above and we then advanced up the ridge-line after him. For some reason, our communication broke down a bit here, in the midst of the excitement. Rudy and Troy followed the trail up, and I stayed down half-way on the trail and continued to cow call. Then another bull showed up below us! I don't know what happened, but I spotted Troy motioning me to get back down the slope and try to get in position. We had elk running everywhere! It was actually a bit comical thinking back on it. In all the commotion, I'm not sure if the bull saw me or something just didn't feel right to him. He was mad and running back and forth bugling, but never came back in close enough for a shot.
In the end, we were wet, tired and sore. Our gear was scattered all around the entrance of an elk haven. Stomachs were empty and growling in protest of forgotten dinner. Arrows had yet to be released from our bows, but smiles were permanently planted on our faces. We had just danced with elk in the rain.
From the Draw
A website devoted to sharing bowhunting stories. From the draw in the mountains to the draw on paper, the moments live on.