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An Idaho Elk Hunt to Remember

Bill Bunch on Ginger in Idaho's Frank Church in late elk huntThis is a “short” story about a hunter/client/friend of ours who is part of a group of guys we affectionately call the “Cali boys”. His name is Bill Bunch and someone in his group has hunted with us consistently for 11 straight seasons. He is one of those guys that in my opinion is a true sportsman. Let me explain. He doesn’t eat, sleep and breath hunting, but he truly looks forward to his elk hunt each year regardless where it is. He is one of those guys who loves seeing the scenery and wildlife even if it is not the quarry he is after and best of all is always up for a new adventure and that is where this story begins.

I know that the “Cali boys” are coming this year because their default ring leader, Tory S., has kept in touch and since they have hunted many, if not all of the hunts we offer except this late season elk hunt, they decided this would be the hunt they will hunt this year. I talk to Tory and explain that I have discovered a new area within my licensed area in Idaho that I would like to explore and asked him if he has has bought his elk tags yet as Idaho elk tags are zone specific. Tory says he has and has purchased an area 27 bull only elk tag. I says no problem. About a week goes by and I get a voicemail from Bill that says he hasn’t purchased his elk tag yet and heard there might be a new area to try and would I call him.

I call him back and explain that I would love it if he would buy this tag and explained that if we hunted this area that we would be hunting in an area I had never been before at which comes a good belly laugh on the other end of the line with a comment to the affect “so what is new?”….Ok, so I Laughed a bit too and hung up with the anticipation of exploring a whole new area.

Fast forward to the elk hunt and the boys arrive and I have to explain to Bill that because he bought a different area tag than his partners had, he would be hunting with a camera the first day. In typical Bill fashion he just smiles and says “no problem, just glad to be here” and off we go. No good in that area so we move over to our lower camp and begin to “explore” what is out there. He rides some trails with each of 2 of my other guides who, by the way, have never been there either and come back with the report that one trail is almost impassable and the other is so steep that we couldn’t hunt it 2 days in a row with the same horses…not that great of Intel if I do say so myself. Well day 4 finds Bill and I on another 2 hour commute by horseback to his area allowed by the tag I talked him into. Too much coffee causing another pit stop and not one wanting to waste an opportunity to glass new country, I spot some elk right away and we see a bull in the herd so after a short discussion on how best to approach (in country we have never been) we set off on horseback until the country gets so steep we tie off and take off on foot. We find ourselves right in the area we last saw the elk and low and behold no elk….2 hours later…go figure. Knowing Bill as I do and seeing that the “top of the mountain” is within reach, I turn to him and ask “I wonder what is on the other side?” to which he responds in typical Bill fashion “I guess we won’t know if we don’t look now will we?” So off we go. The view is amazing at  which point  Bill begins to take some pics. Again a true sportsman in my opinion who just enjoys the opportunities our public land system here in America affords all peoples to enjoy. After a few pics and a short discussion about what we found,  we sit down, pour over the map and eat a couple of “saddle bag sandwiches” and ponder about how to spend the rest of the day.

IMG_7178IMG_7216Idaho lambs and ewessunrise over the FrankTwin peaks at sunsetAfter a short lunch we decide to follow an elk trail to “see where it goes” and as we are walking towards the trail, an elk bugles. We look at each other amazed as it is November 5 and this bull is bugling like it is mid September! We are in a wide open sage brush ridge so we sit down to start glassing where the elk are and we start seeing elk appear one at a time, but no bull ever shows, until finally he runs through the back of the clearing we are watching with no chance of a shot. So we sit there and discuss our options and we decide to go after the heard. We cow call and bugle off an on and the bull answers periodically and lets us know where he is. He is so close the last time he bugles, I swear we can smell his breath, but it was one of those circumstances that we just could NOT see him. We got a glimpse of a cow or calf once in a while but no bull.

After about 45 minutes to an hour of chasing these elk, they finally give us the complete slip with that final bugle that says “I’m outta here”. We walk back to the horse and ride back to camp in the dark completely excited about the events of the day. Now most hunters would be discouraged. Not Bill. He enjoyed the day as much as I did.

Well with the warmer weather…and a new tracked Polaris Ranger… we decided to try the upper country again which…well…left Bill to hunt with camera again. To which heAdded traction was completely amenable! While we were on top, I mentioned to Bill, “why don’t we try a bivy camp right in the heart of all the sign you saw the other day?” Guess what he said? You guessed it he said “ sounds great!”. The morning we were going to head in I talk to one of my guides and verbalize, “I wander if this is such a great idea” to which they reply. “ Bill is so excited to do this, you can’t back out!” so off we go. We load a mule with the bare necessities of camp…you know coffee and freeze dried food and off we go on mine and Bill’s first bivy camp adventure into new country that he had seen for  an afternoon and I had never seen except through binocs.

As we are riding in we spot a nice branch antlered bull lying in a clearing and we pull up and decide that since, 1. we were not sure where we were at, and 2. we had no idea where we were going to camp, and 3. that we only had about 2 hours of daylight left to decide the answer to the 2 problems above, we had better pass on this bull. We rode on a bit further, decided on a camp spot, found the spring for water we were looking for and Bill took off for the last rays of daylight to “scout” while I took care of the stock aIdaho elk hunting Bivy camp in the Franknd set up our Spartan camp which consisted of horse blankets for pads, manty tarps and our sleeping bags.

For November, the weather was simply amazing. We slept warm and morning found us without even a frost on the grass. So after a couple of coffee singles and a hot bowl of oatmeal, we are off for the morning hunt. It doesn’t take us long and we are in the elk! We spot a spike and as Bill would put it “he is kind of old, but I suppose I could shoot it”. You see Bill is a meat hunter and enjoys the taste of elk and he figures the younger the Bill with area Idaho spike elkelk the tastier the meat. So when the spike presents the shot Bill takes him and then the work begins.

We prepare and load the elk and then go load camp and begin the long walk back to camp leading our horses loaded with camp and elk meat. We arrive at camp thoroughly tired from the long walk out and also thoroughly satisfied in having enjoyed a couple of days on public land in the backcountry.

What a great hunt and memory. Hunting with guys like Bill is the reason we stay in this business…that and the big bucks…pun intended! Smile

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