First and foremost, I want to give a big shout out to all the successful hunters from the opening bang. Also, I want to give a big high five to the fisherman who trudged the weather to catch a nice bag of fish over the weekend. I have seen some great photos and heard some awesome stories from the field and also on the water so kudos to all you outdoor studs getting it done!
Friday afternoon, dad and I headed to the woods with childhood butterflies bouncing in our stomachs anticipating opening day. Although the butterflies still tumble in our stomachs, the way we hunt opening day has changed. We used to hunt a popular area with a good population of elk and a lot of hunters. We always had the most success in this spot due to dad’s knowledge of how to hunt the area. In fact, I think we killed bulls and double bulls multiple years in a row on opening day. You are all probably thinking, “why the hell would someone change that?” When I was a kid the action was everything, as I have grown older I long for adventure and wild places. There is something about seeing another man track in the woods that makes me want more. I am absolutely enthralled with the feeling of being in remote places or where few men have ever hunted. The only problem is the chance of harvesting an animal decreases but the satisfaction of the hunt greatly increases which carries me through. Hunting in these remote places is quite the adventure seeing more mountain goats than we do elk tracks.
As we were going to bed Friday night we started going through our phones listening to different ringtones for the morning alarm and I came across a tone labeled “Air Raid.” As I clicked on the tone, it was that alarm that starts quiet and continuously gets louder like in the movies when an air strike is called in and people are sprinting for the bunkers. I instantly got the best idea I have ever had…although I would probably get shot for it. Already laughing so hard I had tears coming out my eyes; I tried my best to explain to dad what was so hilarious. I managed to get out how funny it would be on opening day in the area we used to hunt so heavily populated by hunters to release the “Air Raid” song into a giant megaphone from the top of the mountain about 30 seconds before legal shooting. By now, I had snot coming out my nose from laughing so hard thinking about the idea and dad wasn’t far behind. Then to make it worse, I told dad after the “Air Raid” was over, I could in a very loud and clear voice broadcast this into the megaphone. “Attention all elk, rifle season has officially begun…RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!” At this point we were laughing so hard I couldn’t breathe and the next thing I knew I was awakened to the alarm of an “Air Raid.”
As we began our ascent up the mountain we were so graciously accompanied by pouring rain!!! Making it to the area we wanted to start hunting at daylight we were about half an hour early. With the rain tattering our faces we quickly looked for a big spruce for cover. While the next minutes passed we huddled together for warmth and comfort from the pouring rain. As the morning progressed, the rain slowly diminished and the sun began to pop over the forested ridge casting an orange illuminating glow over the ground. It was so gorgeous that I had to stop for a second and take it all in…just an absolute perfect morning in the woods. We hunted up a ridge with broken parks until about 10:00 am and then started pounding the timber. By the time mid-day had rolled around we hadn’t seen the slightest sign that elk had been in the area and our wet gear was chilling us to the bone. Miles from the truck we decided to enjoy the comfort of a fire and hunt the afternoon out.
It’s funny how some of the best and most vivid memories of hunting come back to sitting around a fire. Not the kind of fire you sit around with beers (although that’s damn nice) I mean the kind of fire you sit around miles from anything to warm your core and unthaw your toes. The kind of fire you look straight in the eye and get lost recollecting the morning hunt and forestalling that giant set of antlers walking through the lodge pole forest. The kind of fire that makes that crackle that brings me back to when I was six years old miles back in that dad built for me after he killed an elk. There has just always been something so special to me about building fire in the mountains and gazing into its flames…it’s almost as the world stops and I am frozen (unthawing) in time.
As we stopped fueling the fire, we collected handfuls of snow and churned the coals to make sure it was completely out. Even though the ground was covered with snow the fire danger is still very high because of how dry it is. We picked up our packs and away we crept with feather footsteps and the turtle walk. Killing bulls in timber comes down to the old saying about the “Tortoise and the Hare.” Slow and steady wins the race when hunting elk where your maximum shot is fifty or sixty yards. My father has taught me to go as slow as you can then go slower. Although I don’t have a picture from this hunt to prove this tactic, I have a photo album of its proved triumph.
The next couple days were similar to opening day with magical hunts although the woods seemed void of game. In three days of hard hunting we never saw a big game animal. This is where it is easy for the average hunter (and avid) to get a little discouraged. Actually feeling a little discouraged myself, I got a text from my best friend who killed a nice bull opening morning. He said after he shot his bull that seemed to appear from nowhere, he remembered something I once told him “the neatest thing about hunting is you just never know.” And that is exactly right, the same goes for fishing and it makes sense because they are the two things in this world I take to with vigorous relentless pursuit!
So if you’re ever feeling a little discouraged after working your butt off for a weekend or the whole season…remember, IT CAN ALL CHANGE IN ONE SECOND!
-Trevor Johnson of Kit’s Tackle