by Sid Marks
On the fourth morning of our hunt, Dave Greenwalt and I sat high above a deep canyon and, as we had done in the past, surveyed the sometimes-hazardous course down a steep hogback ridge. We felt sure there was a big old bull in the canyon below. In the past, however, we had only talked about hunting the deep valley. Common sense had always prevailed over our not-so-youthful ambition.
I reminded Dave that there were more accessible elk to hunt elsewhere. Dave however, had that bull-headed, old bowhunter look in his eye and something told me he meant business.
My mean streak was beginning to act up.
"Hey Dave how old are you anyway?" I asked.
"Fifty-three," he replied curtly.
"Wow, fifty-three and you're not getting any younger sitting here talking about it. Hey, why don't you go on ahead? I've always wanted to know what it's like down there. If you ever get back out, you can tell me all about it," I teased.
"Okay, see ya later," was his response.
Well, I guess you don't have to be 100% stubborn to go on these elk hunting trips, but it sure helps.
Dave had drawn one of Oregon's limited entry archery tags-and I was lucky enough to be invited along for the adventure. My role was to assist with the hunt, maybe call in a few bulls and be available to help when needed. Don't get me wrong, this was no sacrifice on my part. Just being there was its own reward.
Earlier in the hunt I'd had the privilege of calling a Pope & Young bull to within five yards, but no ethical shot had been possible. Dave had done the responsible thing in passing it up. If anybody ever deserved to take a big, recordbook bull it was my partner.
As Dave picked his way down the sharp finger ridge, I began a long hike to the trail head for a few supplies. I made a cell phone call to our friend David Chapman, who planned to take my place if Dave didn't fill his tag during the first week. Laughing, I told Chapman where Dave had gone and how I had chided him.
"You know he'll get a big bull down there," Chapman said. "Then you can laugh all you want and see that canyon for yourself with a meat pack on your back!"
On my return trip late in the afternoon, I had planned to pass camp by a couple miles in order to scout for the next day's hunt. As I approached the place where we go off trail to our camp, Dave had posted a note. It simply said, "Sid camp, Dave 1 - Bull 0."
At dinner that night, we celebrated with freeze-dried blueberry cheesecake and cubed grouse in mushroom soup as Dave told his exciting story. There had been no elk sign until Dave started up the other side of the canyon. Climbing side hill along a feeder creek revealed an abundance of bear and elk sign.
Still-hunting and stalking with his twelve year-old Golden Eagle bow have consistently produced elk for Dave. Except for the compound, he is an old fashioned archer, preferring to shoot with his fingers and without sights.
As he inched slowly toward a game trail, a bull walked up from the creek below. There was no opportunity for a good shot and Dave had already committed to take nothing less than a close, clean broadside shot.
Remaining calm and patient is one of Dave's greatest assets. His enjoyment of the hunt outweighs any pressure to succeed. This attitude really helps to avoid the pitfall of frustration that can drastically reduce your ability to stay focused.
Dave's attention shifted to the trail below as a cow walked into view. Then another and another, until ten cows and calves had passed single file. As the herd moved up the slope there was an intense splashing in the creek below. Dave calmly moved into position, knowing that the herd boss would soon finish wallowing and then follow in the footsteps of his cows.
At first glance, it was clear that the mere appearance of this muddy monarch would unnerve any challenging bull, or bowhunter, who was weak of heart.
I've seen Dave cool and in complete control, holding his bow unflinchingly at full draw while on his knees with a 900-pound bull practically breathing in his face. Dave remained focused.
The bull swaggered purposefully closer, his tremendous swaying antlers punctuating every bold step of his lordly stride. At 30 yards a razor sharp broadhead sliced through his heart and lungs. He walked away, stopped to bugle one last time, then stumbled down hill and died. A well-placed arrow had required only seconds to complete it's task.
Early the next morning I left with a light pack and two days worth of food. Dave had given me good instructions for finding his bull and I hoped to arrive ahead of the local bears.
It would take 26 hours for Dave to pack out and drive around to another ridge that we had never traveled before. Then, with his llamas in tow, find his way with a compass to our scheduled meeting place. As I approached the kill, a dark brown bear lopped up hill. It was then that I noticed a red marker ribbon indicating the location of the meat bags. Thankfully the bruin had not yet done any damage.
I was in awe of the 6 X 7 bull. His sword points were 22 inches long and the eye guards were 18 inches. His left eye guard had a very unique corkscrew type of twist.
Later, "Curly's" antlers were officially scored by Larry Jones and the net score was 369-6/8. This places Curly as the number two Rocky Mountain bull from Oregon to ever be registered in the Pope & Young record book.
I was busy cleaning and trimming meat when a jet black bear showed up across the creek only 75 yards away. This was the fourth bear I had seen in three days. I had a bear tag but we were already facing a difficult pack so I put an arrow on the string and laid my bow close by, hoping there would be no need to use it.
Occasionally, "Mister Bear" would disappear just long enough to make me nervous. At one point he crawled up on a log and sat down to watch. I hollered and waived my arms to no avail. He kept me company for over an hour as I contended with swarms of bees that fought with each other for a share of the scraps.
I was getting pretty edgy, so when "Mister Bear" crossed to my side of the creek I picked up my only defense. Assuming a shooting posture, I waived the bow and tried to sound threatening as I advanced toward the bear. He finally crossed back over the creek and out of sight. After a dinner of trail mix, power bars and Gatorade, I arranged some tree limbs to use as an air rack for the meat. In the evening the meat would be upwind from the carcass. Any bear following his nose would find plenty to feast on before reaching the bagged meat.
Next I laid rotten, porous wood all around the air racks and poured bear repellent (people urine) into the wood. Then using two feet of parachute cord, I made a siphon wick and cut three vent holes near the top of the plastic bottle which had been used to collect the "bear repellent." I placed the bottle near the top of a seven-foot fir tree and inserted the cord, leaving the other end hanging lower than the bottle.
That night, while watching shooting stars perform to a chorus of howling coyotes and bugling bulls, I thanked God for health good enough to enjoy such a trip, for good luck with "Mister Bear", and for the good fortune of my friend and partner.
My partner was well into a 42-hour period without sleep. He spent a cold, restless night on an open, windswept ridge with only saddle pads and a tarp for bedding. Before daylight he began the task of finding me. Once that was accomplished, we backpacked meat for a half-mile up a steep slope to where the llamas were waiting.
At first the pack string did well, climbing and jumping over logs as we toiled cross-country.
However, the llamas had not fully recovered from the previous day's work. It soon became necessary for Dave and me to leapfrog with the packs. We continued to switch off so that the animals rested while we packed. When they traveled, only two carried a load. We proceeded to alternate the packs in this manner for several hours until reaching the truck at 11:30 p.m.
Dave's "Curly" bull went down at 10:15 a.m. on Wednesday. The daytime temperatures reached into the 80-degree range. We got the meat on ice at 9:30 Saturday morning. With proper care there was no spoilage. We continue to be amazed at the tender flavor of such a mature bull.
Although exhaustingly difficult, ours was a hunting trip we will remember for a lifetime. One that only a stubborn, bullheaded, backpackin', bowhuntin', elk hunter could fully enjoy.