1996 was a very hectic year. I had advanced in my career taking on a plethora of new duties and responsibilities, and was selling my home at the same time. This left little time for me to enjoy the hobbies and interests that I love - like shooting my bow. I had plans to attend all of the local 3D shoots that summer and made it to none. I had planned to take several weeks of vacation during the September archery season and was only able to squeeze four days of hunting into my hectic life! It was those four days that gave life back to my spirit!
Let me tell you about those few days. It started off by driving up to my favorite hunting spot, where I met my friend Vic Mason. Vic is the friend who first introduced me to the area we were hunting. I had not seen Vic for some time and it was wonderful to have the chance to talk. One of those days we spent the entire afternoon lounging near camp in the sun, just talking about old times and all the many different adventures we had experienced. The day was cool and the sun warmed our bodies as we renewed old friendships. I think back on those times with great fondness, sharing in the joy of a friends experiences, as we shared stories of our many different hunting adventures.
Our first morning hunting brought us to a ridge top mostly barren of trees or anything else for that matter. We left the few trees along the top with great caution since both of us had seen Elk here many times. We ventured out of the trees only a short distance to discover an elk bed in the dirt. I glanced downhill to discover three sets of eyes staring back at us. Two spike bulls and a cow were looking right at us. We slowly knelt down, and to my amazement the cow started walking towards us. Neither of us were prepared for this encounter, and could do nothing but sit back and watch. The cow would move a few yards towards us, look, eat a little grass, and walk a few more yards closer. Vic managed to knock an arrow, but I could not move since I was so much in the open. The cow came on until she was directly facing Vic at twenty yards. Well needless to say Vic had no shot, or one he did not wish to take. The cow stared at Vic for several long minutes and then with a huff she spun and ran back to the waiting bulls. Once the cow was re-united with these two small bulls they all bolted across the hill side. What a show we had just had. I could see every detail of this elk and watching her actions as she approached was a special moment.
Vic and I decided we would move in the direction they had gone along the ridge. The ridge we were moving down has many open areas, I wouldn't call them meadows since the only thing in them is dirt, rocks, and a few weeds. The patches of trees along this hill are spread very thin. At one of these small patches of pines we were stepping over a fallen tree when both Vic and I looked down the joining ridge. I think my jaw was caught up in the tree I was stepping over, so amazed at the sight I was seeing. The joining ridge had no trees to block the view, and it appeared as if the whole ridge was moving. There were probably over one hundred elk moving up to the crest of the ridge, with more emerging from the timber at the base of the draw. I had never seen so many elk together at one time before. Vic and I were well over 150 yards from them, and yet I could hear all those elk talking back and forth, mews and chirps resounding from the ridge mixed with the soft breeze and drifting to my anxious ears. I was mesmerized. It was a wonderful sight, but one that posed a great many problems to two hunters. How do you escape all those eyes, ears and noses? "We pondered." We decided to try and move out around them and position ourselves in front of their path. This was a good idea, but our judgment about how fast they were moving left a little to be desired. We ended up coming up right in the middle of them splitting the herd into two parts. We had elk all around us and yet we could not see a single one. I didn't see another elk that day but that didn't bother me, I had had a morning memory that will last me a lifetime.
The next day found Vic and I spread out in a small saddle in the late morning. We decided to separate a short ways and do some calling. I found a nice patch of mountain grass in the cool shade where I had shooting lanes in almost any direction. I had set my pack next to me and was digging into it when I saw a hawk gliding through the trees behind me. Nothing unusual about that since there are many hawks in this area, but the hawk made a sudden turn in my direction and like an arrow swooped down clearing my head by mer inches. By pure reflex I ducked my head, thinking I was being attacked. I slowly looked up so see that the hawk had landed in a tree just ten feet away and was about 20 feet up in the tree. I had a great view of it. I was thinking it would be great to grab my camera out of my pack and get a picture, but I knew if I moved the hawk would take flight. I decided I would just watch and take mental pictures. After a few minutes the hawk moved down to a lower branch. Now I had a really good view, only being about 15 feet away. The hawk kept looking at me turning it head back and forth, twisting and turning. I remained motionless. In one hand I held my grunt tube and in the other my release. I was about to try reaching for my camera when the hawk sprang from the tree to land on a dead sampling that was bent over, just three feet from where I was sitting. Talk about having a great view of a wondrous animal. I could see every little detail in the feathers, the eyes, the beak, and talons. This hawk was making me a little nervous though. It kept looking at my knee. I was sitting down, but had one knee raised into the air like an A. I was beginning to think by the birds actions and interest that he was preparing to use my knee for a sitting post. I decided it was time to curb this predators interests in me. I slowly waved my grunt tube. The bird took flight immediately, but surprisingly only went back to the original tree. I decided I would go for the camera. I took the camera out of my pack, unzipped the case, pointed the camera at the hawk and SNAP. The flash didn't even seem to bother him. We shared each others company for a little while longer and then he left, his curiosity in me satisfied.
Other special encounters I had on that weekend getaway, and although I never shot a single arrow I had one of my best hunting trips ever. The memories of that trip were and always will be, a special dose of medicine to my soul!