The Power Of Persistence - The story of Mike Blaschka's 2011 Archery Elk hunt.
I find no greater joy than to be in the field elk hunting in Oregon. I am continually amazed by the diversity of terrain in Oregon, from the lush, thick green of the coastal range to the wide open sage of the high desert. Including everything imaginable in between with plenty of steep every where you want to find it. Elk can be found almost anywhere if you work hard enough and look long enough.
My good friend and hunting partner Jeremy and I had been hunting five days straight without seeing more than fresh tracks. We were battling a full moon and clear skies. The elk were active at night, while we slept with increasing frustration over our lack of success getting close to any elk. Most of the hunters in our area were expressing the same frustrations. With the vast amount of elk range in Oregon, we changed locations for the third time with only two days left on our seven day hunt.
Saturday morning came early and I started hiking before light to an area we had seen some promising sign the evening before. A mile from camp nearing the edge of a canyon I watched the sky turn pink with an incredible sun rise. My revelry was interrupted by the unmistakable note of a bugle barely audible in the cool morning air.
Checking the wind and circling to keep it in my face, I arrived at the edge of the canyon and bugled my own challenge into the timber below. My heart leapt into my throat when several bulls immediately answered a quarter mile below. I closed the distance rapidly as the elk continued the bugling war I had started.
When I had approached as close as I dared I began a series of cow calls and was rewarded by movement below me in the timber. Watching the five point’s antlers approach through the timber I fought with my self to maintain my composure. The bull changed course and side hilled below me searching for the cow elk he was expecting to find. I identified the opening that would give me my opportunity for the shot and ranged it at 40 yards.
Shooting a steep cross hill angle, I cow called to stop the bull in the break in timber and settled my 40 yard pin behind his left shoulder. The shot felt perfect, right until the Broadhead buried into the tree marking the right (down hill) side of the shot opening. The bull wheeled downhill stopping 80 yards out, barking at whatever had made the loud smack in the tree not 12 inches in front of him. My heart sank as I could not call the bull back for an attempt to redeem my first shot!
Still sitting in exactly the same spot, analyzing what I’d done wrong with the shot that felt “perfect”, I realized that I had neglected to check the bubble level in my sight!
Shooting tournament archery has demonstrated to me the necessity to keep the bow level on uneven (side hill) terrain. The bow will always tend to tip to the downhill causing the arrow to follow the lean of the bow, missing to the downhill side of your target. Frustrated with myself at missing the shot after so much work over the previous week, I gave a long and “estrous “ cow call, feeling defeated, and was answered by the scream of a bugle 150 yards below me! I called and was answered again and YES the bull was closer!
Ready with arrow nocked, I watched as a second larger bull approached from below. I will never forget the sight of the steam of his breath surrounding his head as he screamed his bugle every 10 steps or so as he continued his approach. He was coming straight up the canyon but offset 15 yards to my right. The previous shot and miss had been to my left. As his head and eyes went behind a tree I came to full draw. Only his head and neck came beyond the tree which because of the approach angle was blocking his entire body.
With him staring right at me, looking for the cow he came to visit I felt my muscles start to tremble. Knowing that I was running out of time to hold at full draw, and letting the string down was not an option without the bull spooking at my movement. I turned my head and cow called out the side of my mouth hoping he would not locate me exactly. He took a great lunge uphill landing with his head and neck peeking around the next and thankfully smaller fir tree still looking my direction. I slowly leaned as far downhill as I could to expose as much of his vitals as possible on the downhill side of the tree. I settled my 20 yard pin AND centered my bubble releasing the shot! The unmistakable “crack” heard when the arrow finds its mark was immediately followed with the bull exploding downhill with my repeated cow calls echoing behind him. I mentally marked the spot where I last saw him as he disappeared back into the canyon. I hung my Montana Elk Decoy in a branch next to me to mark my exact shot location and checked my watch, 8:03 am.
He was favoring his right front leg so much as he retreated I was starting to doubt my shot placement, concerned I had hit him square in the shoulder. I decided to wait for 1 hour before I started to try and track the bull. With doubts about the shot starting to creep into my mind I passed time with my GPS checking my watch every five minutes and occasionally cow calling. 40 minutes into my wait, my heart exploded when at 25 yards to my right a bull screamed a bugle to my cow call. He had come in silent until he was in top of me. I turned to see yet another 5 point bull elk staring at me and my decoy hanging 6” from my face.
He turned and circled uphill around me and I instinctively picked up my bow with another arrow already nocked from the ground next to me. I swung around uphill and reached full draw as he stepped out broadside. Our eyes locked as I settled my 20 yard pin on his heart. As I let the down the string the bull turned and disappeared into the timber. I certainly hoped the previous shot was indeed good and not in the shoulder. I waited the remaining 20 minutes marveling at the fact that within the course of 45 minutes I had the opportunity to not only see three different bull elk but was at full draw on each of them!
Once on the trail of the bull, doubts of my shot placement returned as 15 minutes of tracking had turned up only 2 very small drops of blood. As it turned out if I had looked up from the ground at the last location I had seen the bull crash back into the canyon, I most likely would have seen him 40 yards downhill where he came to rest against a tree.
The shot entered through ribs 6&7 and the arrow stopped at his left hip. The arrow had gotten the right lung and the liver. Not the ideal shot angle, and with no pass through the blood trail was modest at best.
At 11 am I was back at camp with the antlers. Jeremy and I, packs loaded were ready to head back into the canyon and retrieve my bull. The steepness of the canyon dictated that aside from the antlers we were not going to carry anything out that we could not put on the dinner table. 7 hours later with the boned meat to the top of the canyon hanging in game bags, we started the mile back to camp with our first packs of meat to come all the way out. We slept well.
At first light Sunday morning with elk bugling in the canyon below us, Jeremy and I loaded the final packs knowing we had to get the meat out of the woods, having not enough time for Jeremy to drop into the canyon for a chance to get close to another bull.
With the sounds of elk bugling fading behind us, we strained against the weight in our packs smiling at each other. Between breaths Jeremy exclaims “only 340 days left until we get to come back and play with the elk again!