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Hunting365: Elk hunting conundrum

6/30/2008

At this point, I'm tempted to break into a chorus of "Gloom, Despair, and Agony on Me."

Because after staring at my blank computer screen once again, the old country and western ditty seems proper to describe the fact that if it weren't for bad luck, I'd have no luck at all.

Problem is, after coming up with yet another series of goose eggs in my annual pilgrimage to draw one of the West's premiere archery elk hunting tags, I don't have time to moan and groan about my misfortunes.

Plan A is a no go this year, so it's time to come up with Plan B.

And quickly, I might add.

Problem is that I'm a little sparse right now in the Plan B department.

And to quote adventure king Indiana Jones from one of his earlier flicks, when asked exactly what his plan of attack was, he responded: "I don't know — I'm making this up as I go."

Indy, I feel your pain.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the first thing for yours truly to figure out is exactly where I'm going to play my elk hunting cards this fall.

Do I go back to the same OTC unit that I hunted to no avail last year? After all, being deposited via horseback nearly 10 miles deep in a wilderness area, our trio of bowhunters glassed, hiked, and hunted hard for nine days without sighting another hunter.

Problem was, we didn't sight many elk either.

In an area lousy with elk sign — and the occasional monstrous mule deer sighting — observing wapiti on the hoof was rare and bugles were virtually non-existent during the mild first week of the archery season.

Do we dare go back and try the same area again?

After all, it was huge country and I'll be the first to admit that I'm an elk hunter wannabe, so perhaps the bulls were just a few ridges away from the ones that I searched.

Or maybe they were buried even deeper in the dark timber than we thought, occasionally venturing into a waterhole we didn't find, refusing to betray their early season presence until autumn weather forced them do so.

And despite the tough week of hunting, there was that tawny colored Pope & Young bull standing on top of a big rock across a canyon as the last rays of sunlight glistened off his rack…

Sure, we could go back this year and be up to our elbows in elk. Or we could try the area again and come up snake bit again.

Hunting buddy Dave, his legs still aching from our backcountry adventure last fall, tells me that he has discovered a private land opportunity to chase elk in a lower, kinder, gentler alpine setting.

That sounds good, as does his report of a good number of animals on the prowl in the mountains surrounding this place.

Trouble is, it's on private land and the price tag... well, to be honest, it may be out of my price range this year.

Either way, thanks to the greed of whoever keeps driving the gasoline price tag through the roof, it will be a stretch to make an elk hunt of any kind happen, especially one where I'm depending on the services or land of someone else.

So is this the year to suck it up and go for the DIY version of broke — backpacking my backside as deep into a wilderness area as my own legs can muster?

It sure is looking that way.

Plus, if I'm being truthful, this is really the way that I prefer to hunt in my ongoing quest to take my first ever bull elk.

Call me strange if you will, but tough odds or not, I want to earn my first bull by the sweat of my brow and the soreness in my body's muscle groups.

I want to challenge my ailments, challenge the mountain, challenge the conditions, and challenge the alpine king himself, a mature bull elk bellowing his lungs out while decrying his lusty intentions to any cow that will listen.

Because in doing so, I'll do far more than tag or not tag a bull elk. Success or not, I'll find out something about myself in the process as I refuel my soul with the medicine that only the Creator's high country can provide.

I'll have to face and overcome fatigue, doubt, fear, and a host of other emotions and conditions if I'm to be successful.

And in my book, isn't that what an elk hunting adventure is supposed to be about?

I think it is and I'm apparently about to find out.

And so are you — if you will, join me over the next several weeks as I detail a blow-by-blow account of a do-it-yourself elk hunt from pre-hunt planning to physical conditioning to gear preparation to actually — I hope and pray — pulling off such an extreme goal in the lofty country of the American West.

If opportunity and technology allow, I hope to even be able to update readers of H365 as to my success — or failure — in the mountains come September.

Perhaps by the times the aspens are finished quaking in a few weeks, I'll have some antlers to show and some elk meat to share.

But even if I don't, I'd still bet that I'll have some kind of story to tell, good, bad, or otherwise.

After all, a trip to the rugged spine of this continent to taste the very marrow of real hunting adventure, rarely — if ever — disappoints.