By Dan Baughman
In 1986, we did something different. Dave found a spot while trail riding several years earlier. Dave, Sue and I rode into Bull Creek that summer to look it over. The trail had a few bad spots but for the most part it was pretty good. I didn’t count on all the wet weather that was to come. Anyhow the area looked promising so we decided to hunt it this October.
We left Friday night during a heavy rain. It seemed like it rained all during the month of September. We arrived at the end of the road and camped for the night. It was still raining with snow mixed.
The next day we loaded everything on our bikes and started in. The trip is about eight miles with the first three being an old logging road. The road goes up to a high pass, 6,400 feet, where it turns into a trail. From there, it drops down to Bull Creek, another three miles. We started hitting snow about a mile from the top. It got deeper as we climbed and at the top it was about six inches deep. From there, we dropped down to the creek. The rest of the way was fairly level, but with numerous bogs. With all the rain and snow, the trail was extremely difficult. Dave didn’t have any trouble but I did.
When we arrived at the spot we had picked to camp earlier, we found to our dismay, a sheepherders tent already set up. So we started back the way we came looking for a place to camp. We finally found a spot off the trail next to a small creek.
We were cold, wet, and getting a fire started was the top priority. Unfortunately, all the wood was wet, and starting a fire was next to impossible. Finally Dave spotted a dead tree with one side that appeared to be dry. We chopped out pieces of dry wood and managed to get the fire started. We then preceded to set up the rest of the camp.
While setting up camp we could hear what sounded like two bull elk bugling in the creek bottom below us. This went on for about 30 minutes. Then one of the bulls sounded like he was getting closer. Every time he bugled he sounded closer. We started out on an interception course, through a tree studded meadow, where a 150 yards from camp, we sat down to wait. We didn’t wait more than one or two minutes before a 6-point bull came bugling his way through the meadow. He walked within 50 yards of us, not realizing we were there. The bull would stretch his neck out and give off a spine- tingling bugle as he picked his way through the sage brush. We watched him for the next five minutes until he disappeared among the pines and aspen. Somehow, the cold and wetness were forgotten as we walked back to camp knowing that when the season opened in 5 days we were in a good area.
That Tuesday afternoon, we were glassing the hillside above camp when we spotted our first elk since our encounter with the 6-point. They were easy to spot against the snow. We watched all afternoon and counted eight different bulls and numerous cows. We knew where we were going in the morning.
In the early morning darkness, we made our way up the hill through thick buck brush, Dave on one side of the ridge and myself on the other. The snow got deeper and the brush thicker as we made our way to the waiting elk.
As daylight slowly eroded the darkness, gunshots sounded off to our left. I increased my pace, trying to get through the undergrowth. Another gunshot, but this one much closer.
It was Dave taking a long shot at a large bull heading for higher ground, hitting nothing but snow.
I fought my way to the top of a brush covered knoll, my lungs gasping for air. Looking around I spotted what looked like a 5- point bull standing next to a snow covered pine, about 250 yards away. I frantically looked for a gun rest but there was none to be found. I kneeled down but the brush obscured the bull. I stood up and tried to steady the crosshairs on the elk but my ragged breathing wouldn’t allow it. I waited for my breathing to subside, hoping that the bull would continue to stand there. He started moving before I could catch my breath.
Dejected, I continued up the hill, still fighting the brush still trying to catch my breath. I scrambled another 25 yards, when another 5-point appeared. I squeezed off one shot before he walked up the hill and behind a large tree. I scrambled up the hill hoping to see him again when another hunter appeared just to the right and below the tree. The trotting bull emerged about 25 yards from the hunter which turned out to be Dave. The elk ran right in front of him presenting an easy shot. Even at that close range it took three shots to bring him down.
The next day, Dave went back for his bull while I went on the opposite side of the canyon hoping to find another elk. On the other side of Bull Creek, the tree covered slope rises at a very steep angle. A very steep angle. I followed the top of the ridgeline where you could have one foot on each side of the ridge at the same time. I thought I heard an elk bugle but the wind was blowing so hard that I couldn’t be sure. I dropped down off the ridge out of the wind and continued on. The sound became more and more distinct until I knew that it was a bull. When I got to within about 200 yards from the bull, I stopped. The snow was crusted over so that getting close to the elk without being heard was impossible. Because of the trees, there wouldn’t be any 2-3 hundred yard shot. I had a decision to make; continue on and hope that I could see him before he heard me, or try and bugle him to me. I decided on the latter, but since I didn’t have my bugle , (I can’t bugle anyway) I elected to leave the bull undisturbed and come back with Dave (who can bugle) tomorrow morning.
We were half way up the hill when dawn broke. Fortunately we found a well-used game trail that side-hilled back into the canyon. The snow was beaten down so that walking was easier and not as noisy. We followed the trail for about three quarters of a mile without seeing anything. Then, there was movement through the trees. Three cow elk stepped into view about 150 yards away. I kneeled down and searched the pines through the scope, looking for the bull that I knew to be there. The cows must have sensed us for they started to trot up the hill. Afraid that the hidden bull would spook with the cows, Dave pointed at his grunt tube. I nodded yes and he put the tube to his mouth and the woods was filled with the sound of a bugling elk. Our phantom bull didn’t let the challenge go unanswered as he responded immediately. He stepped from behind a clump of trees searching for the intruder. He must have seen or sensed us as he peered in our direction. He started to take a step as I pulled the trigger. He disappeared before I could get another shot. There wasn’t any sign of him being hit. We searched the snow for blood but we came up empty. I had to face the fact that I had missed again. The crosshairs were right on the front shoulders. I couldn’t believe I missed that shot.
We split up and continued on up the canyon. We hadn’t gone more than a hundred yards when Dave shouted, “here he is”. I went down the hill to see the 6-point bull laying on a clump of buckbrush.
Not one drop of blood did we find. The bullet blew up inside and never exited. We were extremely lucky to find him.
We got the front quarters out that day. We made a mistake, dragging the animal down the hill towards the creek. It was choked with brush and deep ravines. It was a real mess. We took the hindquarters out Saturday morning. According to the map, we had a pack of two miles. It was the hardest pack we ever had. It was so hard that we came up with an appropriate name for the canyon which I won’t write down.
The rest of the day was spent getting the elk and camp to the van. The horses made the trail worse than when we came in. Dave rode the trail to the summit where we exchanged loads. I wasn’t able to ride the trail with a heavy load. Dave got the last load out Sunday morning.