Many people are wondering how my summer and the elk hunting went so I am letting you know. If you don't give a damn, hit the delete button!!!! But then again maybe you would enjoy reading it anyway!!!!
I did several packing jobs for the USFS Seeley Lake Ranger Station this summer. I would pack in the trail crew's gear and equipment and then pack it back out in a week or 10 days. It was a small contract but was fun working with the crew and seeing new country. I still haven't been paid for all of the jobs but the check is in the mail, as they say. The money is good but it sure does take a while to get it sometimes!!!
Our rifle hunting season in the Bob Marshall Wilderness started on Sept. 15. We hunt for elk, deer and bear, if a person wants to. My good friend and high school classmate, Bill Haro, didn't draw a tag this year so didn't get to come. The first week of the hunt, my son in law, Scott Uskoski, went in with me. My oldest son, Jason was supposed to come also, but hurt his back so was out of commission for a while. It is 14 miles from the trailhead to camp and riding a horse with a bad back would not be a lot of fun. The weather was not good for elk hunting as it was raining and we even had an inch of snow at camp for a couple of days. Scott did see elk almost every day, but could not get a shot at a bull. We did, however, harvest a nice mule deer each. Scott had to head back to Washington with memories of seeing elk too far off and with hopes of a better hunt next year.
The next hunt started on Sept 29, But I did make 2 hay runs into camp while no one was hunting. Penny Blackburn, my lady friend from Cle Elum, WA, went with me on Sept 27 & 28. With the 2 hay runs, I had 15 bales of hay at camp so I would not have to make a hay run during the second hunt.
The folks on the second hunt consisted of Jason, as his back had healed enough to sit a horse for 14 miles, Darin my youngest son and Jon Keller, my adopted son, not really but he is of that age and we worked together at the Rich Ranch for several years and have become good friends. I called them"My Three Sons." It was a fun time for me just being with the three of them. Also joining us at camp by hiking in were Ryan Chapin and his brother Austin. Ryan also worked at the Rich Ranch with Jon and I. So there were 5 young fellows and one cranky old fart in camp!!!!
Austin was the first one to bag an elk. Ryan and Austin walked in 2 days before the rest of us were scheduled to go in. However, I was making the hay run with Penny on that day and would be headed out past their camp on Tuesday. Ryan bugled the elk within 25 yards of Austin only a mile from their camp. The bull was a nice 5 X 6, with good brow tines. The boys camp was several miles from my camp, but as I had told them, I was headed out that way. When I passed their camp about noon, I saw the elk hanging in a tree..... at least part of it. They had packed out 2 quarters, weighing around 100 pounds each, on their back that morning. Penny and I mantied the other 2 quarters up on an empty mule and started down the hill. We met the boys about an hour from the trailhead heading back up the hill to get the last 2 quarters. They were overjoyed that I had the meat and hide on the mule. Ryan and Austin turned around and headed back to the trailhead so they could deliver their meat to Jim Herncane, the meat cutter in Seeley Lake and the hide to Mountain Creek Taxidermy, owned by Robby Henrekin. Penny and I headed home to unsaddle the horses and mules and meet Jason so we could pack the food for the trip back into camp the next day, Wednesday Sept. 29.
The alarm went off at six o'clock Wednesday. Jon was to arrive at seven as he had driven into Missoula from Boise at two AM that morning!! We headed to the trail head about 9 that morning as Penny headed back to Washington. The trip into the hills was easy as I had Jon, Darin and Jason to load the mules. They are much younger than I so I told them that I was not lifting a pack!
We arrived at camp with some time for the boys to do a little hunting. I was a little pooped so stayed in camp to be cook. I cooked up a great meal of spaghetti. The boys didn't see any elk that evening but they ate up all the spaghetti anyway. Ryan and Austin had said that they were going to be at out that afternoon, but as we finished dinner, they were still no where in sight and it was dark. I was wondering if they had another elk down. They soon showed up and stated that they had put up their tents at a camp a mile up the valley. It was Howard's and his wife Barb's camp, they are from Kalispell. Howard was not happy when he saw someone's tents right next to his. Ryan had to explain that they had thought it was my camp so Howard calmed down and invited them to say for the night. Ryan and Austin respectively declined Howard's offer. They then had to pack up their tents and hike a mile down the trail to our camp. It was a trying day for Ryan and Austin after a day of hunting and seeing no elk and camping in the wrong camp!!!. The next morning we were up at 5 to feed the horses and catch the mules. The horses need at least 2 hours of eating hay and pellets morning and night to get enough feed into them for the hunting trips up and down the rugged Rocky Mountains.
Jon, Ryan and Austin walked out of camp, hunting right up the hill from camp which is too steep, rugged and cliffy for the horses. Jason, Darin and I saddled one horse and 2 mules, as Darin and I were riding mules this trip. Darin on Red Ryder and me on Willie. Three miles up the valley from camp, Jason spotted several elk and deer high on the side of the mountain in a snow slide area that is void of timber. They were over a mile away and most of it was up a steep hill. We spurred the riding stock up the mountain in the concealment of the deep timber. I knew we had to hurry as the sun was coming up and the elk would soon be melting the darkness of the deep timber to avoid the heat of the morning sun. Our riding animals were tired but I knew they could rest when we reached an area where we could stalk the elk on foot. We pushed them hard for over 30 minutes. As we grew closer to where we had seen the elk from below, we dismounted and tied the animals and continued on foot so the noise of our animals would not spook the elk. Jason and Darin headed side hill to get below the elk and I headed higher to cut off the escape route of the elk in case Jason missed his shot. Jason shot his elk from 250 yards and took the big 6 X 6 down with 2 shots. As he was shooting the big herd bull, 8 or 10 elk came out of the small subalpine fir just below the big bull. There were two smaller satellite bulls in this bunch. I took one of them down as they ran full tilt into the timber. It was a joyous time for dad and his two sons. Now the work starts.
Jason's bull was dead on a steep hill side and was big and very hard to move to process the meat. I left Darin to help Jason as I headed the 4 miles back to camp to saddle 4 pack animals so we could haul the meet back to camp. Upon arriving back at hillside where Jason's elk fell, they had him all skinned and almost ready to load on the mules. After gutting the big bull, we put the quarters into game bags and loaded it on the mules. The loading part was a little tricky as the hillside was steep and covered with slippery bear grass which usually covers the snow slide chute areas in this part of the Rocky Mountains. Shania and Jody were the 2 mules I selected to haul the big bull. They are both out of Percheron mares and are big rugged mules built just for this kind of work. The hill was so steep that I didn't want to load the big head so Jason had to pack it down to flatter ground were my bull fell, a distance of 400 yards. After skinning, quarting and loading my bull, we headed the 4 miles back to camp. This time we had both heads and hides top packed on the mules. That was a great relief to Jason as he thought he may have to carry the big bull head all the way back to camp! We arrived back at camp at 5 o'clock, a tired but happy lot!!!!
After arriving at camp, we unloaded and cleaned the quarters to ready them for transport out to Jim,the meat cutter, the next day, Friday. While we were cleaning up, Ryan and Jon came into camp and said that Ryan had harvested a nice mule deer at the top of the mountain. The next day Darin and I would haul the 2 elk out of the hills on our 4 pack animals and Ryan and Jason would ride 2 horses up the mountain and pack the nice mule deer down on one of the riding horses. Jon and Austin would hike up the hill on this day to see if the could get close enough to an elk that Austin had seen the day before to get a shot at it.
Darin and I delivered the two elk to Jim and headed back into the hills. We arrived at camp tired but still smiling as we got a first look at Ryan's big 4 X 4 mule deer. At dark Jon and Austin came into camp with Austin having a small mule deer slung over his back like some kind of mountain man!!! Blood all over him and telling us that it took them all day to harvest this small buck. I thought they had a screw lose( which I still believe to be true!!), but they were just telling a story to set the stage for them telling us about the 4 X 4 bull elk that Jon had shot way up the mountain, just below Goat Peak. It was Jon's first elk harvest so we were all happy for Jon.
Five o'clock on Saturday the alarm clock was ringing again as we had to haul Jon's elk out of the basin high on Goat Mountain. Jon and Austin had hiked straight up the steep hill side to get to the elk, but I knew a horse and game trail that was much longer but easier for the animals to reach the basin. We were also looking for a deer for Jason. After helping Jon load his elk, he headed back down the hill with the 2 mules and elk while Jason, Darin and I stayed up in the high country looking for a deer for Jason. Seeing none by noon, we headed back down the hill also as the deer will bed down in the deep dark timber during the hot part of the day.
We had not seen Ryan or Austin since early morning when they came into camp with another big 6 X 6 herd bull that Ryan had shot from 40 yards, 2 1/2 hours walk south from camp. Now we had a real problem as all the boys except Jason were to head home the next day and it was already three o'clock PM Saturday and we already had all the pack animals filled up for Sunday. Ryan decided that he and Austin could walk 2 mules, as the country was too steep and rocky to ride horses, up to the kill site and camp over night and come back early the next morning so I could have the pack animals to get Darin and Jon with his elk out to the trail head. Darin had to go back to work and Jon had to head back to grad school at Boise State.
Ryan and Austin came into camp at 10:30 with only 3 quarters of Ryan's elk. A bear had stolen one rear quarter and the hide during the night as they slept only 300 yards away. They were a little spooked but were happy that I had made them carry a rifle the day before. We quickly unloaded Ryan's elk and loaded Jon's elk so he could take it out to Jim. We also had to haul out the two deer the Chapin boys had shot. The trip to the trail head with Jon and Darin was uneventful except for one exciting moment. Jon was in front with Darin right behind him leading 2 pack animals, I was behind Darin's pack animals. All of a sudden Jon jumped off his horse and started throwing rocks at a tree. With about the 5 rock launched from Jon's grip, Darin yelled, " You got him," at which time Jon ran to the base of the tree and grabbed up a grouse and rung his neck. Jon then started throwing rocks at a tree on the other side of the trail. By this time Darin had joined in on the rock throwing at a second grouse. It didn't take very long and the second grouse came tumbling down. Jon brought the two dead grouse back and put his latest kills in a pannier on my lead mule. Jon said he would have them for dinner! Upon arriving at the trailhead we unloaded the gear and meat into the pickup. I bid Jon and Darin farewell and headed the 14 miles back into camp with 7 animals in tow behind my riding horse. Jason and Ryan spent the day cleaning up the deer and elk heads for transport to the trail head the next day, Monday. Austin also headed for the trailhead on Sunday but on foot.
Monday morning we were up early again as Ryan was headed out with his elk, at least the part the bear didn't get. Jason and I had a restful morning after getting Ryan on the trail. After lunch Jason and I headed up the hill to do some evening hunting for a mule deer. We saw none and arrived back at camp a hour after dark. Ryan arrived just before we did. We were all tired and hit the sleeping bags early as we had to break camp the next morning.
Taking down and packing camp takes 2 or 3 hours, but with Jason and Ryan to help, it was an easy task. We hit the trail for our final trip out of the wilderness this year at 10:30 Tuesday morning headed for the trailhead four hours and 14 miles away.
It was a hunt of a life time for all of us. Me, my boys, the land and the animals!!!!!!!