- The Blue Mountains, SE Washington. "The Blues" as you can see get their name from the blue hew that surrounds them. I have hunted elk in this spot for the last 40 years.
There are four sub species of Wapiti (elk) still in existence in North America. Rocky mountain, Tule, Roosevelt and Manitoban. The Eastern and Merriam's subspecies have been extinct for at least a century.
Species vary as to antler shape and size, body size, coloration and mating behavior.
Elk are large animals possessing an even number of toes on each foot, similar to those of camels, goats and cattle. Elk feed on grasses, plants, leaves and tree bark. During the summer, elk eat almost constantly, consuming 15 lbs. of vegetation daily. In North America, males are called bulls, and females are called cows. Bulls are some 40% larger than cows at maturity, and can weigh up to 1300-1400 lbs.
A hunter must be in good shape and have lots of stamina to pack an animal of that size out of the mountains to The nearest road.
The gear needed to hunt elk is not that much different from what you would use to hunt deer. In my pack I carry two sharp knifes, folding saw, rope, Para cord, flashlight, lighter, trail tape, rubber gloves, wet wipes, and game bags, some jerky, candy and a water bottle.
Although the rifle caliber of choice for hunting elk has been debated over and over, my deer gun and my elk gun are two separate tools. I have killed elk with a non-magnum rifle, experience tells me that "bigger is better". My rifle of choice is a light weight, synthetic stocked 300 win mag, NIB it weighed in at 6 1/2 lbs. before I added the 3x9 scope and sling.
A few things I like to keep in mind when I'm elk hunting in the mountains are,
1. Elk will hunker down in dark timber during rain or snow storms.
2. Wind, elk have very poor vision but their sense of smell and hearing are exceptional.
3. Elk can travel a great distance in a short amount of time, you cannot chase them around a mountain.
4. consider where and what time of the day you shoot your elk, it gets difficult packing after dark.
5. Patience kills more animals than all the mastered skills.
Bull elk will shed their antlers every year and in the late summer use saplings to scrape the velvet off their antlers and mark their territory with sent.
Elk are susceptible to Chronic Wasting Disease and Elk Hoof Rot. Since 2008, reports of elk with deformed, broken, or missing hooves have increased dramatically in southwest Washington, with cases in other areas west of the Cascade Range. Now known as treponeme-associated hoof disease (TAHD)
Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) hunters should take precautions to avoid consuming the brain, spinal cord, eyes, spleen, pancreas, or lymph nodes of harvested deer and elk, since the CWD prion accumulates in these tissues. I advise hunters to avoid harvesting any animal that appears sick or is behaving strangely, to wear rubber gloves while field dressing game, and to thoroughly wash hands and equipment after processing the animal.
Elk droppings are much larger than a deer's , the best way to tell if elk have been in the area recently is to squeeze one, preferably with gloves on. if it is soft and warm, you are on the right track.
The discussion amongst the group of elk hunters while we were packing the camper for our annual five to six day trip into the Northern Blues was "where are we going to camp if we encountered snow", We thought the weather girl was crazy when she called for snow in the higher elevations. As our caravan made its way into the Asotin creek wildlife area and across the cattle guard at the lower hayshed we could see a skiff of snow up in the Wenatchee National forest, at the middle hayshed it started snowing hard, we pulled up to the Black ranch where we stopped the vehicle's and made the decision not to attempt pulling the 28 ft camper any farther up into the mountain's, We were still ten miles from the old dead snag on the Smoothing Iron Ridge where we have made our elk camp for the last 40 years.
- It was just to risky, the gravel ends at the house and turns to dirt with steep hills and a narrow windy road yet to come.
No hunters ever camped down at the house before, it is just to low in elevation and the elk are always up higher above the tree line. There is a huge gravel parking lot with signage explaining that the DNR bought the property from the Schlee family for conservation purposes, a map of the Asotin Creek wildlife area and descriptions of the wildlife that abound.
We set the camper up in a corner of the parking lot, and got the camp fire going in the barrel stove, then it stopped snowing so we decided to drive up the mountain scouting out our favorite spot we hunt at. We stopped by our old friends and drank some hot coco with Fuzzy and Itchy at the Blue Mtn Inn, Their 12x20 custom wall tent has more amenities than home, "they hadn't seen any elk" but they did see a UFO Two nights ago, we saw some empty Jack Daniels bottles laying around.
We returned down out of the tree line and got back to camp after dark, We stoked the fire pit and put a pizza in the oven, after devouring the pizza, I stepped outside to get some fresh air and enjoy the camp fire.
I heard something over the crackle of the fire on the hillside above the camper,
it sounded like clicking of hooves in the rocks, all of a sudden a "bull bugled"
I went running back inside and told everyone to come out and listen to this.
The four of us listened at the sound of hooves clicking on the rocks, Bulls bugling and cows calling for a half hour as the heard of 120 (give or take) came off the hill behind us and crossed the road 100 yards from our newly erected camp site,
We were positive no other Hunters in the mountain's saw the herd or even thought they would come down this low.
- Our game plan was at first light elkroy was going to walk up the road, pig-pen was taking the fence line up, sweet pea's swinging up and around the hill, and beer belly going down the road, then up.
The adrenalin was in us all, it was hard to get to sleep it felt like buck fever only worse. We made the steep rocky climb up the side of the Smoothing Iron Ridge, spread-out, flashlights flickering, knowing we would have the herd of elk surrounded and all the escape routes covered.
- A few vehicle's that were headed up the road before daylight probably had a good laugh seeing our lights bouncing up the rocky hillside, then seeing our vehicles and camper parked at the old house, little did they know the elk were there, and i thought to myself "were going to have the last laugh"
The sun was slow to rise, I buried myself into a rock pile when I got to the top of the hill, listening to the bugles and cows calling, I kept looking at my watch for legal shooting time, shooting light finally arrived. I peered over the rock to have a look around then heard one of the two 300 Remington ultra mag's... BOOM... THUD... the RUM's echo bounced off the Devils Tailbone ridge like a synthesizer in a rock band, After no other shots were fired, I knew we had an elk down, the sound of the THUD was definitely a solid hit.
I started walking towards the shot thinking the herd might turn and run towards me, I was ready. Instead the second 300 RUM went off just to my left, OK maybe elkroy and sweet pea both shot an elk. Now I'm really thinking this huge herd is coming my way. I moved to the fence line and found a solid post for a rest. For what seamed like eternity went by before I heard another bugle, the elk were crossing the road below me going back the way they had come the night before. I hooked up with beer belly on the 2-way radio and we had a good laugh about how we should let elkroy and sweet pea hike up the mountain while we stayed down at the old house and shot elk from our camp chairs.
The Two elk slid down the hill with relative ease and right into the pickup we had backed up to the bank. It was another successful elk hunt.
- Sweetpea with his 2 X 1 rocky mountain elk.