Idaho Elk Hunting Adventure (part 1)

My friend Charlie and I had waited for this day since January, when it was decided to head to the Idaho wilderness and hunt elk with Wind River Outfitters.  October 7th came and we loaded up and headed west.  Out of Omaha you can average 75 mph along the interstate.  Once you clear Lincoln and past Grand Island, the traffic thins out and driving is a pleasure.  We made great time and arrived in Rock Springs, Wyoming for our first stop before evening.  Next day it was another 700 miles up to Riggins, Idaho where we spent the night. You could do this differently by leaving earlier from Omaha and driving farther, possibly up to Ogden before you spent the night.  Then an early departure could get you to Riggins and into the camp late in the day.  We wanted to see the countryside so that was the reason for our planning.

Out of Riggins and up Highway 95, we turned onto Banner Ridge Road and into some really spectacular country.  The scenery was the first reason we were here.  Two hours later we met Mike Branson, owner of Wind River Outfitters, transferred our gear to his truck and started into the Gospel Hump Wilderness on a U.S Forest Service Road.  The scenery just kept getting more beautiful, and the forests were really dense.  The road kept getting rougher, more rocky, with 700 foot vertical drops off the edge.
At a U.S. Forest Station horse corral our gear was unloaded.  A mule team was brought out from the camp and the gear packed on a skid and hauled into camp.  If you go to the website for Wind River Outfitters, the picture you see of the camp is exactly what you see when you arrive.  Everything is right there for your comfort in the wilderness.  If you need a shower, you can shower with hot water.  The tents are heated with a wood stove which makes it more comfortable to get ready for bed or dressed in the morning.  There is also a modern no flush toilet just a short walk out into the woods.

 Our first problem developed while we were sitting around the campfire enjoying the company.  Charlie mentioned he had some problems with his rifle getting it sighted in.  So we went to a place where we could test fire some rounds at a target.  Charlie could not sight it in.  The shots were all over the target after adjustments.  Mike then took the rifle and tried some shots.  The exact same thing occurred. Shots were all over the target with no correlation to the adjustments.  It was then discovered the mounting brackets were loose.  They were tightened, but after one shot would come loose and were not tightening down properly.  This gun could not be used.  You could load up and shoot all day and never hit a thing. Fortunately, Mike had an extra gun in camp for Charlie to use.  This was a good lesson.  Make sure your equipment is in prime condition before you leave home, and have your weapons checked by a reputable gun smith.

That evening we sat down to an excellent meal prepared by Mike’s wife, Jaylene.  Dutch oven cooking is her speciality, and all the meals she prepared were outstanding.  They were big helpings.  We were encouraged to go back for more and I did.  Then there was dessert to top off the evening meal.  Elevation at the camp was around 7,300 feet so I was feeling tired.  We also had a big day ahead of us, so it was time to retire. 

The tent had a wood stove that was fired up for us before bedtime.  The evening was beginning to get cold so that really felt good. During the night, if one of us got up, we would throw a log on to keep the coals alive.  In the morning Mike would fire it back up before we even got out of the sleeping bags.  The tent was always warm when we got dressed.  This was service. 

After a big breakfast, we picked up our sack lunches for the day and headed out with our guide Casey.  The woods were dense, but there was a marked trail that we could follow.  Casey carried a GPS with him that had a two- way radio as part of the unit.  He could be in contact with Mike or Jaylene if he needed to contact them.  Waypoints were periodically added as we moved along, so night or day, we could find our way back to camp.  We walked by and around several meadows where elk signs were everywhere.  Droppings on the ground and rubs on the trees were good signs of elk.  We also saw a lot of Mule Deer. 

This is the meadow.  You can see the pond at the end.  Wildlife signs everywhere

As we moved to the edge of a meadow, we saw a small pond at one end.  Casey decided to set up there.

Charlie and I were placed about 50 yards apart with our faces into the wind.  We sat down just inside the tree line facing into the meadow.  Our guide moved back into the woods between us about 30 yards.  After letting the forest settle down, about 20 minutes, he began to use his cow call.  He gave out some information to the resident bulls.  This consisted of, “Hello boys, I am here waiting to meet you,” or whatever they say.  He varied the call so that it would appear to a bull that there was more than one cow.  Then we sat still and waited.  After about 20 minutes, he would call again with varying pitches and sounds.  Then we sat still, listened, and waited.  We listened for a bull to answer or movement in the woods.  We sat very still as this process was repeated several times. The strategy was for the bull to come through Charlie and I and toward the guide.  This would give use the best opportunity for a shot.  After an hour we moved to a new spot.

We walked into an area that had been a forest fire site about 15 years ago.  We walked over fallen timber  into a meadow that was flat and was at least one acre in size.  It was a beautiful location with elk signs everywhere.  Finding a good spot was not a problem here as there was fallen timber all around.  We could get behind a downed log and sit on another and be almost totally hidden.  This made for great hiding.  The same process was repeated as before.  Casey called on the cow call and then we waited.  There were so many elk signs around that we waited here almost two hours and then moved on.  On the way back from the ridges we stopped and hunted it again.

This is a beautiful meadow, but elk did not appear.  To each side is burn area.  We moved to the left of the picture and out on the ridge.

From this beautiful meadow, we moved upon a ridge that was part of the burn area 15 years ago.   We broke for lunch, drank in the scenery, and just took a general break.  Casey moved to the edge of the ridge and glassed the valleys below and ridges across from our location for elk.  Then we moved on.

Now, I have some advice.  I am in pretty good condition for my age and work out daily, but I was not prepared for the altitude or the upslope walking I had to do.  When you go on your trip into the mountains start preparing several months in advance.  Walk up lots of steep hills.   Get yourself winded and your heart rate up. Exercise until your muscles ache a little.   Second, even though I have lived at higher elevations than we were at, I still failed to hydrate enough.  I got a little altitude sickness that consisted of low grade nausea and headache.  Drink lots of water.  From this point forward, I drank a half  a liter before we left camp and a full liter on the trail.  My water bottle was empty whenever we returned.  This did not include the coffee and oj in the morning, or the fruit drink packed in our lunch. I never had a problem after that.
It was almost evening but we stopped at another beautiful meadow close to the camp.  Elk had been seen in this location and the signs were everywhere.  We followed the same process.  First we found a good hiding place and patiently waited while the guide called.
After an hour, it was almost dark and we headed back to camp.  It was getting cool and I literally stumbled into the tent.  Mike had the stove all stoked up for us.  After another outstanding meal, we both fell into our sleeping bags.  I have never slept so well. 
Good hunting, good fishing, and good day.   Hank.
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