In 1994, I moved to Chetwynd and quickly discovered the wonders and excitement of elk hunting. Up until then, I had never lived where there was an elk season and had travelled elsewhere to hunt them. Deer and moose were enough.
That all changed when my brother Greg introduced me to elk and the bugle. First time out, I got to within a few yards of two bulls. I could see bush moving and hear their chirping but the brush was too thick to see them. In those early days, I didn’t know how to talk them in. But as they quickly departed when the wind changed, I had the misfortune to run straight into our friend Pete, and we had elk for the table. It wasn’t until ’97 that Greg bugled one in for me, and I was completely hooked.
Hiding behind a tree and waiting in anticipation as one bugles their way through the forest is as exciting and good as hunting gets. Over the years, I’ve had some great encounters.
Once, I was out until the wee hours of the morning at a friend’s stag only to be picked up by Greg after a couple hours sleep, and a two-hour drive to the bush for daylight. Of course, we immediately had an elk bugling, so down the hill and across the valley I went as Greg stayed behind, keeping him engaged. Oh, how my head hurt. I got close, real close, and let out my own bugle and in one came.
It came so fast that I put my hand up to flag him down before he stepped on me as I was sitting on the trail, a 4-point in a 6-point season, so he was safe. But then he got mad, real mad, screaming at me in defiance a few yards distance. The herd bull must now come for his own look, and by this time my head was pounding, my brain telling me I will die if I must pack 600 pounds of elk out on our backs.
I put my gun behind the tree, no changing my mind, got out my camera, and then had a stare down at a few yards with one of the largest bulls I have ever seen. He must have understood, as he intently watched me alternate between taking pictures and bugling before heading back to tend his cows. Greg never did forgive me.
Another time, a young spike bull came wandering in with me sitting on the ground, fully camouflaged, in a small clearing. He circled behind me where I could only hear him until he got so close I could feel his breath on the back of my neck as he sniffed me. A bit concerning, wondering whether he would just whack me or depart, but his discretion prevailed and he quietly left on the same track as he came in on.
Last year, a quiet cow chirp by my nephew Shane brought a young bull elk on the dead run, hooves beating a tattoo on the ground, sounding like the horse in an old Western movie. He slid to a stop, his butt almost dragging on the ground trying to get some traction as he realized we were not the cow of his dreams.
Sometimes you wonder what else your bugle will bring in. A bear, wolves, a bull moose, or other hunters?
My good friend Guy, while bugling a bull for his friend, had a rather large grizzly quietly sneak in and stand up, 10 feet away — looking eye-to-eye until deciding he didn’t need to be there and quietly walked away. His friend gave him heck for stopping the bugle as he never heard or saw the bear. Yes, sometimes elk hunting can be too exciting.
Just as I was introduced to elk hunting, so too have I have done so with others. Five different hunters have been the beneficial recipients of my bugling and now all are hooked and avid elk hunters. Elk hunting is better done with others, as it’s much easier to get them into shooting range if one is bulging while another waits a short distance ahead with the rifle — and, given their size, some help with getting them home from the bush.
A September elk hunt is also a time to reconnect with lifelong friends and continue a tradition that started back in ’94 with November deer hunts and then converted to elk in 2014 when the deer populations crashed.
This year, my two lifelong friends, Ron and Barry, and I — almost 175 years of hunting experience between us — arrived at camp on Sept. 4. Shane, much needed youthful muscle, a few days later. Still use a tent, sleep on the ground, put up with the mice (our significant others tend to shy away from wishing that experience), get up early, go to bed earlier, drink less than we used to, and still eat like kings. A goal of two elk, anything legal, and meat coming first.
Up at 3:30 a.m., a quick breakfast, short drive, long quad ride, and at our favourite hunting spot by about 6 for daybreak. We park the quads and walk, and bugle and walk some more. If there’s no action by 10, we begin to work our way back to camp and rest, as there’s not enough energy to hunt until dark. We repeat the next day.
Some days there are lots of answers, some days nothing at all. This year, with warm, quiet mornings, windy afternoons, nothing wants to check us out, no matter how hard we try. They are out there, still talkative, just not moving.
So we tried a different approach, with Shane and I deciding to go after them in the thick stuff, dense alder with an understory of chest high thimbleberry. Really noisy, impossible to be quiet, but then that does the trick. A bull heard our thrashing and responded, we bugled back, and slowly up the hill he came. We now both bugle, pretending we are getting ready for the fight and that is too much for him to resist.
One well-placed neck shot at just over 20 yards and we have one of our largest bulls ever, a very mature 6x6, with fully dressed hindquarters weighing in at 150 pounds, the fronts nearing 180. And as is our practice, we cut a skinny trail to the scene, tug him to the closest trees, lift with the winch, skin and then quarter with a reciprocating saw, put him into the meat bags then onto the quads, and then back home into the cooler.
We came close to getting our second one but that wasn’t to be, and he escaped unscathed. This year, one large quarter each will have to suffice.
Time to start getting ready for next year.
Evan Saugstad lives and writes in Fort St. John.