The drawn tags in Manitoba are issued to specific hunting areas, or GHAs (General Hunting Areas). When I applied I selected a GHA where some people I know hunt elk and moose and where I have also hunted white tail deer in the past. My friend Tom(who I have hunted with and mentioned in previous posts), his son Robbie and I went up the first weekend the season opened to scope out the situation and see what we could find. It was a tough scene as most of the land in the area is privately owned. We were cruising around in the truck just looking for signs or animals or whatever we could see when, lo and behold, through the treeline skirting the fence, we could see a herd of about 30 elk grazing in the field. I am aware that, to some, this may not be a lot of elk, but for Manitoba I believe it was a fair sized gathering. I, having never seen wild elk here before, was in complete awe. Robbie and I had our binoculars glued to our faces and could see three different bulls, one of which looked to be a pretty nice size. Tom suggested we try a call to see if the bulls were actively calling yet. I should add that this was the first weekend of September 2011. I tried out my Hoochie Mama cow call that I had just picked up and surprisingly the bulls responded almost immediately. This was also awe inspiring for me as I had of course never heard the sound of a screaming bull elk before. It must have been a first for Robbie too since we both stood there wide eyed for quite some time listening to these bulls yelling back at us. They eventually figured out that we were not actually stray cows and took off into the bush.
We continued on our cruise and ended up stopping by Dennis' house, a friend of Tom's who lives in the area. We told Dennis what we were up to and what we had just seen. He informed us that he had permission to hunt on several properties, one of which was where we had just seen the elk herd. To my surprise and excitement he offered to guide me and take me into some spots he knew of. It was at that point that I decided to focus solely on elk hunting, for the time being, and if I happened to get a shot at a deer I would take it.
As we sat around talking about all this, we suddenly realized that we were way behind in getting out to hunt and if we were still going to make it before dark, we had to go IMMEDIATELY. Tom and Robbie let me grab what I needed from the truck then took off back to the hunting shack. They were headed for a tree stand they had set up near a nice looking deer trail. Dennis and I jumped into his truck and sped off towards the area we had seen the elk earlier. We were losing light fast but he seemed convinced we still might see something, and he wasn't wrong. We pulled up to a wire gate, opened it quickly, drove into a rolling grassy field, followed a bumpy, rutted trail through a clump of trees and parked it before we hit the next clearing. Still having a ways to walk, we were trying to motor, but trying to motor and be quiet can be a challenge. We had been walking for a while when we rounded a bend, Dennis ducking into a bluff of trees that jutted into the field. I, not having known our exact destination, overshot this corner and stood at the point, watching elk butts disappearing into the trees. It happened so fast and with the quickly waning light I wasn't sure it had actually happened. One look at Dennis told me it had, as he was struggling to stifle hysterical laughter into his sleeve. I had stomped around the bend and spooked them all off. From what I could tell, those elk butts would have been very near to if not within shooting range. Oops! I joined my guide in the natural blind of the bluff and we attempted some cow calls to see if we might bring in a curious, lingering spike bull. To our surprise, bulls were responding immediately and they did not sound far away! Nor did they sound like young spikers. This was the closest I had heard bulls calling and the sound gave me goosebumps. Never the less, the sun was setting and as the last rays of light faded, our only sighting remained the disappearing rumps.
My guide and I both work Monday to Friday jobs and on top of this he does some farm work, which frequently overlaps with the weekends, given that it was early fall. This made finding time to hunt a challenge and trying to map and pattern the elk very difficult. Over the next several weekends, Dennis and I made several attempts, in the mornings and evenings, to bring something in. We tried various spots he knew of, some littered with elk tracks, droppings, beds and even rubs. More times than not we were very successful with our calling and I found it tremendous to just be able to listen to these great creatures and know that they were so close by. Calling as they were, we headed into a spell of hearing lots and seeing nothing, that lasted for what seemed like an eternity.
*I know some of you are going to be wondering why we didn't go after these animals and stalk them. I told this story to someone and he said, "If you can hear them, they are close enough to sneak up on" and I don't doubt this. However, as I mentioned earlier, the area is a tough one to hunt with properties divided into quarter mile sections and the sections we had permission to hunt on were not all adjacent to one another. Call this what you will, an excuse, cop-out, whatever, the fact remains that we simply could not access all the areas the elk were going.*
Several weeks had now gone by and we were looking at mid-October. Not only did archery elk/moose season close very early in November, but archery deer season closed at the same time. I had not yet had a chance at an elk and hadn't even tried to get at a white tail. The elk had nearly stopped calling or had moved off to locations beyond our realm. On Thanksgiving day something cool happened. We were driving down a gravel road and saw a bull moose meandering through a farmer's field. This was the first moose I had ever seen up close in my life. I was able to get a few pictures but this was nowhere near where we had permission to hunt so we simply watched him as he took his time strolling back to the trees. The bull looked stiff and sore and we suspected he had likely taken a beating from another bull at an earlier time. Moose seasons have been cut drastically in Manitoba over the past few years due to significant drops in population so I really was not upset that I didn't get a chance to shoot this moose. I was thrilled to simply lay my eyes on it.
From this point on I decided to reverse my original plan and focus on trying to arrow a deer rather than trying to call the now seemingly nonexistent elk. There was a particular field where we had seen deer grazing several times so we decided to give that a try. We headed over late in the morning to find a spot to set up in later. We ended up making a gorgeous little natural blind just off the edge of the field where there was tall grass and thistles amid tall trees. All we really had to do was clear away the grass where we wanted to stand and snap a few overhanging branches from the trees I was to stand behind/between. It seemed like the perfect spot.
The sun was beginning to set, slowly. Time dragged on as we continued to stand there waiting for something that seemed would never come. I could tell Dennis was getting impatient. He leaned over and asked me, in a whisper, if I wanted to head back for the truck. I was pondering it. We started whisper-laughing and joking about our bad luck, "Where the **** are all the animals?", "What kind of guide are you anyways Dennis?!" etc. Meanwhile, I can only assume by some inherent instinct, I was still scanning the area in front of us. I had been looking far to the right and was slowly turning my head to the left to say to Dennis "Yeah okay let's get out of here" when I had to whip my head back around for a double take. I stared at them for a good couple seconds before my brain was able to process that there were two cow elk both with calves walking down the middle of the field towards us. I hadn't even seen them come out of the bush. I turned to Dennis and said "There are elk like, RIGHT there" and pointed. They were only eighty or ninety yards away. He looked, saw the elk, and his demeanor immediately changed. This was serious now. Without seeming to move he was now clutching the back side of a tree trunk peering around it. I tried snapping a photo before they got too close and still can not believe I didn't spook them off when my flash horrifically went off unexpectedly. One cow looked but only briefly before they continued their jaunt. Relieved, I slipped the range finder out of my chest pocket and began taking range. They were getting closer and they were big! Then I realized there was a bull too. He was dark, unusually dark. By the waning light of dusk I could barely make him out against the opposite treeline about 80 yards away. I think he was a 6x6, not huge, but nice, I was more interested in his nearly black hide. The cows and their calves were now grazing around the 50 yard mark and I was faced with a couple dilemmas. First was that Dennis, the property owner and I had previously come to the consensus that I should shoot for a bull of any size, or a dry cow. Second, which is probably more important than animal selection, was that I wasn't sure about shooting at 50 yards. I had practiced up to that distance but wasn't comfortable with my consistency and also wasn't sure what kind of penetration a 50lb bow on an elk at 50 yards would be like. Another thing scratching in the back of my mind was that these guys; the property owner and my guide, Dennis, are strict rifle hunters who like their animals to drop in the scope. I was the first bow hunter that had been allowed to hunt there in many years so I was more terrified than usual of making a poor shot and wounding an animal. With all this going through my head and the previously elusive elk standing right there, I was having a savage internal battle and nearly drew my bow several times. But I did not. We simply watched these magnificent creatures walk up a hill and out of sight, the calves frolicking playfully at times. This would be my last elk hunt for the year.
|They are hard to make out but you can see the two cows and one calf.|
During and after hunting seasons many of my non-hunting friends and family ask me how my season is going. The conversation usually goes something like this: "So, did you get anything?", "Nope, not yet!" "Oh, that's too bad." It makes me laugh. These people clearly don't understand why I, and so many others, hunt. It really is not 'too bad' that I didn't get an elk. I enjoyed every moment hunting these animals, even when it was just listening to them calling in the distance, or investigating their tracks and droppings. All of this was brand new to me and I gained valuable knowledge during each hunt. I have absolutely no regrets about not taking a shot at one that final day (Even though I did make some really good shots at 50 yards at a 3D shoot later on). To me, hunting is all about the experience; getting out there, trying new things, seeing and hearing new things, and above all learning from it all. So, elk or no elk, I feel I accomplished all of these things during my first season elk hunting and look forward, with excitement, to the next chance I get to hunt these incredible animals!