–This is my submission for the Sportsman Channel Writing Contest for Hunters hosted by the Outdoor Blogger Network.–
As everyone knows there are four Jacks in a deck of cards, and that drawing two Jacks in a hand is not at all unusual. But, drawing both one-eyed Jacks is a rare feat in the same hunt, er.. hand. That’s why this story is my favorite hunt.
My long time hunting partner, Paul (The Bear) Nicholson and I were hunting our favorite area on the Wallowa Whitman Forest in Northeastern Oregon. Jake, Paul’s teenage son, had accompanied us. Jake had been hunting with us ever since he had been old enough to get his hunting license. In Oregon the archery season typically runs from the tail end of August to the last weekend in September, which many years means that we suffer hot and dry weather through much of the season, just as we were this year.
We have gotten to know this area extremely well. The plateau we hunt has gentle topography, but is bounded by some of the most fearsome terrain imaginable. One boundary being Hells Canyon, the deepest canyon in North America. We camped in our usual spot, which after many years feels like home. It brings back memories of many thrilling hunts and time spent with great companions.
By day two of our hunt we had ascertained that the bulls were reluctantly bugling and only modestly active due to the warm dry conditions. But, as usual, the number of rutting bulls in the vicinity was way above anywhere else we had ever hunted. So, while conditions were far from ideal we were excited by our prospects.
On the evening of day three Paul and Jake planned to hunt a spur ridge to the east of camp. I spent a fruitless evening trying, unsuccessfully, to elicit a response from a bull. I knew they were there, but they just refused to talk to me. I returned to camp shortly after dark to find I was the first one back. I had removed my boots and was relaxing and enjoying the quiet darkness when my partners appeared with headlights glowing, tense with suppressed excitement. I waited to hear their story, not wanting to interfere with how they planned to tell about what was obviously a successful hunt. The smell of elk musk was unmistakable. Paul inquired whether I wanted to put my boots back on and help pack out his bull.
He always goes for the understated approach. Well, as the story came out it was obvious that he once again had some really good luck. I’ve never figured out whether he has the luck of the Irish or, God just blesses him because he is so humble. As it happened, they had only gone about half a mile from camp when Paul stopped and gave a cow call, not really expecting anything to happen on what was a very warm evening. But, within moments he and Jake heard a soft sound from close by. Looking a little down slope and beyond a large fallen Ponderosa Pine they saw the tips of a rack of uncertain size moving towards the open. He was only about 25 yards away. Paul drew his compound bow to full draw and waited for the bull to emerge from behind the downed tree. He stepped out and stopped. Paul’s release was immediate. The shot was as usual right on the money. He was a very nice five point satellite bull. There was no build up to this event, only a very few seconds of blood pounding adrenaline before it was over. We had him hanging in camp by midnight. After hunting these critters for more that forty years I’ve come to believe that any elk taken by a bow is a trophy. Score one trophy for the camp!
The next morning, while my partners slept in, I wearily headed out hoping to replicate their success. All during the morning I had several responses as I tried to lure a bull into hooking up. But there hadn’t been any takers. The morning cool was giving way to another warm summer like day. I was heading in the direction of camp, not far from where we had labored in the dark the night before hauling out Paul’s kill, when I stepped out onto a rock promontory and gave a bugle. I was surprised when there came a full throated response from the bottom of the draw. Initially I was dubious about the bulls interest, in part because of the late morning hour, and because of the lukewarm response’s I had been getting all morning. I gave several more bugles and the forest resounded with thundering replies. After some internal debate, whether I wanted to chance loosing about eight hundred feet in elevation, making the effort to quietly wade through a very dense understory, and inadvertently spooking him, along with the strong likely hood of him going quiet, I decided to go for it. This decision was to result in the most thrilling encounter with a bull elk that I’ve ever had.
I quietly moved down into the draw until I was sure I was below and downwind. I started with a bugle expecting to switch over to cow calls if he was still responsive. He immediately answered with a fury that was unusual in its intensity. I decided to stay with the bugle. For the next twenty minutes we countered, bugle for bugle. It was extremely dry and thick with dense dog hair so I was reluctant to move for fear of alarming him. I could hear him moving about, but was not able to see him even though we were only about twenty-five yards apart. Finally, he began to move away, bugling as he went with me following. He stopped after about a hundred yards and we repeated the bugling scene. We did this twice more. Nearly an hour had elapsed by now and I was beginning to wonder if I would ever see this fella. He had been moving up the north side of the draw toward a more open old growth Ponderosa Pine park and nearer to the ridge top. In an attempt to keep up with him I scrambled up over a rock outcrop just in time to see his hind quarters disappear around the slope. I was about to take a step when I saw that he had reversed direction and was coming back. I dropped down behind a two foot tall Snowberry bush as he strutted to a spot directly above me and stopped. He was chuckling, salivating and urinating in a classic confrontation display. What a sight he was! I didn’t have enough cover to draw my Martin Lynx Bow without being spotted. My heart was thumping wildly about where tonsils are supposed to be. The best part of this encounter was still to come.
He began to thrash an eight foot tall Elderberry bush while pointing straight down at my location. In an effort to terrorize me, his opponent, he began raking this bush with his antlers, bugling and chuckling, slobber pouring out of his mouth no more that twenty yards up hill from me. He kept this up until nothing remained of the Elderberry. This incredible display lasted for about ten minutes. I have been silent, the longest silence since this encounter stared over an hour earlier. So he is maybe thinking that he has intimidated me into submission and turns and begins to walk across the slope above me.
I draw and aim in line with the front of his chest anticipating that my arrow would arrive in time to strike behind the front shoulder. At the sound of the release of the arrow he instantly, stops and then erupts into a full charge, and is out of my vision within a couple of lunges. The flight of the arrow, his stopping, and lunging are only an indistinct blur in which I am not sure what really occurred. Did my arrow hit him? If so, where? Did he run because he was spooked or because he was hit? These questions tumbled through my head in the first few adrenaline crammed seconds after he shot out of sight. I made my way to where he had begun to run and looking out the trail I saw two large streaks of blood on either side of his tracks, and a few feet further two more bloody streaks. I instantly understood what my arrow had accomplished. By his stopping at the sound of the release, the arrow had sliced through both Carotid Arteries. He was piled up forty yards away.
Giving thanks first, I then examined his rack. To my utter amazement he was an exact duplicate of my partners five point of the evening before. We had scored “a pair of one-eyed jacks”. Hours later I sauntered into camp smelling of elk, and wearing a lopsided grin. Paul and Jake were enjoying the peace of our great camp spot as I inquired as to whether they wanted to put their boots back on and help pack out my bull.
Popularity: 11% [?]