Dark. Cold. 17 degrees when we woke up. The boys dropped me off with instructions to follow a barbed wire fence for a mile or so up the mountain (as the crow flies) and take a left and find a good vantage point. Music to my ears. Scary before sunrise by yourself. Real half-light Blair Witch Project-looking. Stranger in a strange land. My pack is heavy with emergency equipment, lots of water, food, extra clothing, and stuff to last a day in the elements. Fences there are held up by triangles of posts with boulders on top called "rock jacks". Posts can't be put into the ground because there are too many rocks to dig through.
I walked uphill forever with my Streamlight Buckmaster Camo Trident headlamp. The green light illuminates nicely with three different intensity levels and runs forever. My modified BLACKHAWK! pack is full of gear, and I'm carrying my Stoney Point shooting sticks with the optional Tripod Kit. My Weatherby is hanging on my shoulder by my outstanding, sticky and non-slip Butler Creek Comfort V-Grip sling and the gun seems heavier than it should be. Around my neck hung superb 10×50 Bushnell Elite binoculars (discontinued-too bad, they were excellent) held by the Butler Creek Deluxe Bino Harness. Climb up, up, up and up some more. Repeat. Small steps in granny gear. Don't look how far you have to go, just put one foot in front of the other. Repeat.
When I got to the top of the mountain there was just a hint of light in the East. As I peaked, the view made me giddy and drunk and took my breath away. A few miles away was another snow covered mountain top peeking through a mass of cottony clouds sucking the light from the sky to my right. The clouds were thick and low. To the West there were dark storm clouds and I could see the rain falling from them to the basin hundreds of yards below. The bottom of the basin was spectacular, and as the sun continued to rise I saw old growth pines with diameters many feet wide, giant skyward reaching intensely golden tamaracks, and giant craggy boulders shot long ago from volcanoes like the nearby Crater Lake. Only God can paint a three dimensional picture like this. You can shoot as far as you are capable of shooting from this perch on top of the world.
The terrain is some of the most geographically diverse I've ever seen. The terrain differed from the Cascade mountain range to the more arid desert land, and then changed again in the Blue mountains, where we hunted.
Our transportation for the four of us hunters and gun monkeys (we would meet another guest, Myron, at the lodge) was a pair of 2010 Suburbans. Lou was my travelling partner for the 5 hour ride (took us 7) from Boise to Ritter, Oregon, and back when done. Lou's a great guy and has some outrageous and spine tingling life stories. We absolutely proof tested and abused these new Chevys in snow and mud and frame-torquing rocky terrain. By the last day of the hunt they were lumps of mud with scratches and gravelly brakes. I think we ran over some cattle, too, unless Chevy has been having problems with calf hair in the undercarriage.
Our guide was the world renowned big game record book scorer David Morris. His lodge and porch was partially constructed of barn wood from a turn of the century building on his land. His grandfather built it with local help. These hundred year old buildings were put up with dowels and mortise and tenons and strange angles that get stronger with time. Many of the angles were fitted together and were marked with Roman numerals, so that when Dave took it apart he knew which ones went back together easily. The porch was maybe 60 feet long and included a hot tub. Some of the numerous animal mounts in his house were record book animals, and his lengthy hunting career started as he left the womb.
Some days, with Dave guiding, you could almost see him grinning from behind, and hiking ahead of us, pushing us on, and leading himself away from us even more, similar to a Mom with a bratty kid at the mall she doesn't want to be associated with. Actually, he took to us flatlanders really well, and was gracious and aware of our capabilities at all times. He cooks a mean grouse and backstraps. He used the drippings to make gravy for breakfast biscuits. His son Holt seems to be an apple off the same tree and is a nice young man to be proud of.
Inside the lodge we had nice beds, bathroom facilities, and our friendly host and all around sportsman John Vaca, a current international goose calling champion cooking for us. He is truly the Emeril of hunting camp. *BAM!* He was always up early making coffee or preparing something to fill our bellies before we left. His famous ribs were killer.
Before hiking up the mountain that first day I took off most of my outerwear to prevent sweat, but once again to no avail. I had to huff and puff and stop many times before I crested the mountain, and I was just dripping with sweat. Maybe you just can't prevent it, but God knows I try.
Other days varied in temperature and terrain and weather conditions. One day I just about had enough. It was probably the most miserable day I have ever spent in the field. Hiked a few miles with Dave and fellow hunter Ken and got sweated up and rained and snowed on. Dave told me to go over to a peak and sit in a good place. I was wet from the inside and outside. The snowflakes were ice balls and only went sideways except for the ones that adhered to my everything. I was really, really freaking cold. Bad, bad cold. I knew I could stand it for one more minute, though, and I did. Then another one. Then I couldn't do it for another second, but I convinced myself for another minute. And another one. I only had 8 1/2 hours to go. I wanted to scream on the radio for someone to get me the hell out of here NOW! I dreamed of a large heated quilt to cover me from my frozen head to my toes. I wanted a hot bath. One more minute, one more minute, one more minute. I told myself I was being a big baby and this is what I signed on for. I didn't expect it to be easy, so I got what I wanted. I hiked up the mountain side using my used up legs to get some circulation going. I wanted to make a fire but didn't. I kept thinking, "Have I done everything I can do to stack the odds in my favor? Is there anything more I can do?" The answer was no. I was doing all I could. I must've said, "This sucks!" to myself a hundred times, but I finished the day strong. Boy, am I stupid sometimes. Next vacation maybe I'll go on a tropical cruise with My Shirley, swim trunks, and whiskey instead. Just kidding. This is what I am supposed to be doing. But after two elk hunts in a row I think that that's enough and I will never do it again. Or until the next time someone invites me. Hell, I'm already looking forward to it.
Lou shot a nice bull that first day, (see gut pile, below) but none of us had a chance for the rest of the trip. The animals just weren't cooperating. I did get the opportunity to shoot two nice blue grouse with a borrowed Beretta 391. They were every bit as delicious as the ruffed grouse, sharptail grouse, and sage grouse I've shot before.
I didn't get to check zero on the Devil Gun until the last hour of light on the last day of the hunt when I exploded a game-bird-eating feral cat at about 80 yards offhand with a 180 grain Power Point from my .300 Winchester Magnum. Popped it like dust in a balloon. Never let it be said I don't do my part for conservation.
Some days were quite comfortable, with great views and good weather. My new boots were great. Good ankle support over rocky terrain, and no blisters. One evening I was laying comfortably on my back on a cliff and looking through my binoculars at a golden eagle soaring almost without motion in the air currents. It slowly changed locations until it had the backdrop of a dazzling full moon. What a stunning, unforgettable sight. I did take a fall going down a hill one night, and luckily my knee found soft ground to land on. Lucky. You don't get too many chances. I shouldn't have been hurrying. I could just see myself dragging myself backwards on my ass down a mountain to the nearest road for help. It didn't hurt, though, and I thought I got away with it until I got home and it doubled in size. Gotta get it bled and scraped out again, I guess. No fun.
The last evening back in Boise we hunters went out to eat, minus Myron, who had to leave early. Boise at 9PM is NOT the bustling metropolis. Good food and good company. Whiskey was involved and I was feeling a bit Navy, which sometimes scares me. But all in good fun.
So yes, it was a VERY satisfying and successful trip, although no elk died for me. I was glad to get home to My Shirley and Rad.