Tag soup is not my favorite meal, but as a hunter I will tell you I have had my fair share of it. Striking out as a hunter and coming home with no animal to show after a long arduous hunt can be very discouraging and hard on a sportsmen’s morale. I always dream of harvesting big game animals in different locations across the country, hunting in new locations is always fun and there is plenty of DIY opportunities through out most of the United States. I have had many aspirations to perfecting my traditional archery game on the beautiful animals that roam North America and beyond.
This year I decided to take an old commercial fishing buddy up on his offer to chase elk in Oregon with bows in hand. Kalen told me about Oregon’s over the counter tags for elk and deer, I said “I’ll bring my take down long bow and a quiver full of zwickeys headed arrows.”
We discuss plans over a fishermens dinner in port of Naknek Alaska, dreaming of big bull elk and possibly a mule deer in the mountains of Oregon.
Fast forward to August, the early archery elk season has begun and Kalen and I take to the woods. We meet up in Portland and begin the long road trip east, before long we had made it to a small sporting goods shop and picked up our elk and deer archery tags. Kalen had the drop on a few good locations from past experiences while hunting with family and friends, so we had a few places to start. (Thanks Mike and Jacob!)
Hitting up a new piece of national forest is always a little daunting at first, new territory keeps you on your feet and you must be aware of your surroundings or risk getting lost/in an emergency situation. I like hunting new areas because I have to be acutely aware of all of my new surroundings as I am at a severe disadvantage with my shooting distance, the animal sense of smell can detect me over 200 yards as they have evolved to survive. All of my shots must be under 25 yards or I risk missing or wounding a game animal. I am stepping completely out of my element of hunting the back country of Alaska, applying my skills to a new hunting area…….SOOOO EXCITING. This hunt is going to be awesome, about a week to get it done before I head off back to Alaska in search of bull moose and grizzly bears.
Hunting Alaska is no doubt one of the most physically, mentally, I repeat physically difficult hunt in the entire world especially if you are a DIY hunter who packs his own meat out. Exlporing, hunting, and harvesting all over the counter game animals across much of Alaska, I thought this Oregon elk and deer hunt would relatively be a piece of cake. Thinking nothing can be more difficult than a DIY moose or a grizzly bear hunt, I figured, “I’ll just slip in this (over the counter tag area) new territory in Oregon, put on the old slipideeedoooooo daaaa on an unsuspecting elk and harvest a beautiful bull”. “Then while I’m packing my elk out to my vehicle, I will see a mule deer buck right next to the car and tag out.” aha lol. All joking aside, I figured Kalen had a compound bow and an equal or better chance at harvesting an elk or a deer, so at least we would be successful. Even harvesting one animal out of all four of our tags, I would have counted the hunt as a complete overwhelming success.
We begin to hike the rugged mountains of eastern Oregon, we break through tree line and I feel at home again. Wind in our face dirt under our feet we marched to a prominent ridge with the plan to bivy out on our perch high in the mountains and in the morning we would catch the elk sneaking back into their beds in the thick timber below. Potentially we could run into an unsuspecting deer as we hunt for elk. Well our technique worked, better during the evening hunts than the morning, but we had encounters by staying high and hunting the elk herd above treeline.
We also saw many deer, one day as I began to do the old slipideedooo da and creeping whisper quite towards the creek ravine where we saw elk I was startled by an explosion from four yards away. Sneaking to stealthily for my own good, I managed to sneak unknowingly within 4 yards of a giant bedded mule deer buck. Kalen said “all I heard was thuda thuda thud thuda, booooomb” He could hear the deers hooves beat the earth before he could see his majestic framed bone white antlers take off towards Montana. We both watched the buck from different locations on the mountain, galloping across the wicked terrain with mind blowing ease and grace. Even though a shot opportunity never presented itself, seeing that deer bound across the mountain was a cool encounter one I will never forget.
We decided they were not coming to our calling set ups as the breeding season or “rut” had not kicked off yet and the bulls were seemingly un-interested. Thats not to say that we couldn’t call in an unsuspecting bull before the rest of the hunting community started throwing hoochey mama calls at them. We tried every trick in the book, we even went all “Cam Hanes” on those elk commencing “beast mode” on a least several occasions while hammering after elk. We ended up scaring the wapiti(elk) off in the next county with our aggressive tactics. We decided to completely switch up our game, we would set up mini natural ground blinds and wait for the elk to cross a pinch point. Pin pointing the elk herds movement to cross a saddle every evening on their way to a wallow, we knew exactly where to sit and await the ambush. Several days later after we had patterned the elk movements, Kalen and I split up, he would stay high upon the mountain top and I would go slide into the timber line and wait on the saddle. Like clock work the elk came over the saddle, and I was ready. I had also chosen the wrong game trail as the elk ended up crossing the saddle 80 yards away from me closer towards Kalen’s position. Kalen had the majority of the herd walking directly towards the rock outcropping where he was hiding. The spike and the branch bull we had spotted from our binoculars several days before was no where to be seen. There were two groups of elk feeding directly towards Kalen and away from me, a spike crested the the rocky outcropping just outside Kalen’s effective range. They ended being slightly curious of Kalens cow call, however they fed directly past his location with the spike elk not presenting anything but an extremely far shot. Walking out of danger an into greener pastures, that spike would live to see another day. Our tag team ambush tactic worked as we had a close encounter, although we were not able to seal the deal on an elk, I felt as if I had earned my moneys worth of the 500+ dollar over the counter tag. The exhilarating expeience of having several close encounters in a new DIY hunting destination was priceless and in retrospect the cost of the license was worth the hunt alone.
Elk combo deer season was a blast in eastern Oregon, we closed the distance on a few elk and one branch bull however we couldn’t get closer than 80 yards of legal bull. We had encounters nearly every day and saw great numbers of cow elk and doe mule deer failing to find the antlered monarchs until we switched up our game. Finding what formula worked best for us on our early season archery hunt was difficult to say the least, but challenging in a very rewarding way. Not only did we find several new locations to chase elk and deer next year, but we will carry our new found confidence and early season tactics into the next elk season. Driving back to Portland was a very sobering moment, we hunted elk and deer as hard as possible for a week straight leaving with a better understanding of the public land bulls that make remote Oregon mountains their home. I didn’t have much time to dwell as I was heading north back home to Alaska in search of rutting bull moose and one of the largest land predators in the world (grizzly bear). Knowing very well that elk season and deer season were not completely over, and that eastern and western Oregon had open hunting GMU’s (game management units); there was a good chance that heading back to Oregon for one or two more shots at the venison or wapiti would be in in my near future.
Coming back to Oregon for one last shot at an elk combo deer hunt before the archery season closed, I searched out new areas to look for potential honey holes almost using these last few days to scout for elk and deer more than hunt. Late season public land hunting entails pursuing animals that have already seen a lot of pressure, I turned to the game regulations in an attempt to find areas with minimal hunting activity or something close to it. I found a few interesting areas in the Oregon game regulations that are traditional archery hunting only my co-driver, hunting partner, best friend, and fiancé Jordan P (who by the way is a dead eye with traditional archery equipment) Said “lets go there”. A traditional area makes sense as the majority of the hunters would probably be unsuccessful leaving scores of antlered beasts to chase. We did not find any elk so to speak, but we were treated to some of the finest deer hunting in the world. I saw 25-50 deer per day for the last couple days of the season, even having a few encounters with some Pope and Young giants, but no shot opportunities under 60 yards. The highlights of the trip was spending time with Jordan and our two dogs, they all were such awesome hunting buddies. Jordan would drop me off at the top of a National forest road and I would meet her at 1/2 mile increments every hour at the road, doing my best to still-hunt as much area as possible. Once again, we left the hunting grounds empty handed as no shot opportunities under 60 yards presented themselves. Again though, the cost of the archery tag for deer season had been well worth it, the over the counter tag provided me with a few animal encounters and an awesome date/mini vacation for my gal and I.
After contacting ODFG and confirming that my archery tag was indeed good for the western deer hunting season, I decided to give deer hunting one more shot. Only hunting in western Oregon is a completely different ball game. The area of western and eastern Oregon are completely different in regards to terrain and vegetation, and a hunter has the unique opporuntity to harvest a Columbia blacktailed deer what is said to be one of the most difficult species to hunt in North America.
The vertical line that divides the mountain ranges that separate eastern and western Oregon provides a unique habitat where blacktail, whitetail, and mule deer can coexist and potentially hybridize. That thought of all three species living in the same vicinity of each other blew my mind and is another awesome reason to purchase this hunting tag. For the particular GMU I targeted to hunt, the western season opened up November 16th and on the opening day I was gonna head out with stick bow in hand. I chose some national forest hunting land a couple hours outside of Portland, with a game plan to hunt an open area with access to “all” hunters. Being the very late archery season, post gun season, I knew that this hunt would probably be the most difficult hunt out of all of my Oregon archery tags. But I was not discouraged as I knew this GMU was an any deer unit, and hopefully with a little luck I could fill my freezer with a little blacktail venison back strap. Weather in the late season was a factor that came into play for my advantage, finally things are going perfectly right.
Hunting the opening morning of the western deer season provided provided me with several advantages, one was the fact that other hunters would be in the woods moving deer. Two the season opener had perfect blacktail deer hunting conditions misty, snowy, cold, and nasty. Oh baby, I started to feel really confident as the fresh snow gave me the chance to track deer in the Cascades Mountains. I drove a two wheel drive car deep into the national forest as far as the car could go, I almost got stuck going up a steep hill. The best decision was to turn around to avoid getting stuck and missing the season opener. I hung my head out the window until I found fresh deer tracks and decided to pull over. I parked the car, strung up my take town stick bow, and charged after the deer tracks. After about an hour of doing the old “slipperybob, slippideee kiiii yeaaaaa, not to be confused with the slippaaaruski, aka cat walking, #stealthy, #stillhunt, #spotandstalk, etc” Basically I was tracking what appeared to be a buck as silently as I possibly could, using the fresh snow and wind direction to my advantage. I noticed the animal tracks we extremely fresh, finding warm scat and recent wet (not frozen) scrapes. Excitement and anticipation began to build enormously, I slowed my already cat like approach to snail speed. After 20 more minutes of feathering my way through thick brush, tracking this buck through rabbit like undergrowth the tracks began to bound more than 10 ft apart. This only meant one thing, the buck had saw me before I saw him and he made a great vanishing act these houdini deer have been known for.
Switching direction towards other fresh tracks in the area, I put my nose to the ground and knew this tactic was going to work. “I could feel it in my bones” that a deer was very close to me and if I didn’t spook them that I could possibly get a shot. I followed the new tracks for a few hours, sitting down during mid day around 11am to take in some beef jerky and water upon a downed tamarack tree. Staying in the field on the hot new deer trail proved to be the final ingredient in having a shot opportunity under 25 yards.
The tracks surprisingly had circled back towards the national forest logging road I was parked on, and headed directly towards the first set of tracks I had followed. Commencing to snail speed I knocked an arrow and eased more slowly than ever towards a group of coniferous trees where the tracks had led. Using these trees to my advantage I slowly crept around the snowy branches being careful not to brush the limbs revealing the location of the heavy footed predator trailing the prey. Rounding the edge of the tree and stepping into another thick snow covered fern patch I noticed the arc of a deer back just 30 yards away. Not moving a muscle I stood frozen, the deer stood up keeping a tree stump halfway between me and it and began walking towards my location.
The stump keeping the animals vitals hidden I could only see a glimpse of what appeared to be a large, healthy, and unaccompanied blacktail doe with no head gear. Slightly curious the deer began doing the head bob back and forth, the “did I just see a shadow” “some kind of movement” ” what was that” “maybe I see another deer?” curiosity head bob. The creatures patience began to wear thin, she turned to walk away and took three steps up hill quartering away at 30 yards I could not take a shot as she was just out of my effective range. As the doe moved up hill, I fumbled in my pocket and pulled out a “Primos Doe esterous can call” and hit the call once as I simultaneously crept 2.5 steps closer to the stump separating me from the back straps.
The doe stopped in her tracks, turned and was curious as to what made the deer noise. She took three steps toward the stump once again and stopped at about 24-25 yards facing me directly. This was the closest I had been to any deer yet this season, as a traditional archer and longbow huntsmen I decided I was going to shoot if the deer was under 25 yards. The gig was up and she had had enough, turning her head to walk away was all of the distraction I needed. Instinctually guestimating the yardage to 25ish yards, coming to full draw, I picked a tuft of hair directly behind her shoulder releasing the arrow with impeccable form just as practiced thousands of times before.
This is where the witchery of archery comes into play with the traditional archer… “As I watched the arrow in what felt like super slow motion, I could see the archers paradox flexing the Zwickey shafted arrow bending and correcting itself to fly true.” The arrow’s trajectory sent the arcing projectile high above the animals back, silhouetting itself perfectly against the white blanketed back drop. The arrows flight was simply beautiful, in my mind I saw the arrow flying over the animal’s back, but in the last mili-nano second of slow motion the arrow lost forward momentum and began to fall as if guided by a higher power. The white and red fletched arrow flies silently as the wind and does not interrupt natures perfect harmony. Slicing through snow, fog, and mist connecting with flesh, blood and bone..
The arrow finds its mark, the doe trots off slowly and lays down for one final nap. Watching the animal lay down, I knew the deer had been delivered a fatal blow and it was only a matter of seconds before she passed. I slowly tracked the blood trail towards the location I saw her lay down. Still practicing the art of the hunt, I tracked the beautifully painted blood trail across the vibrant white snow.
Finding both halves of my arrow, I was ecstatic. The blood trail started to be on both sides of the animal, which means the arrow went completely through the animal or part of the arrow (hence the broken shaft). After about 80 yards of tracking this blood trail to the location where I saw the animal lay down, I could see the deer belly up another 15-20 yards down the mountain. She died on her feet completely unaware of what happened and slid about 20 yards down hill to the base of hemlock tree. There lay one of the hardest earn trophies of my hunting career, a beautiful public land blacktail doe taken with true stick and string.
Thanks to everyone who was part of the hunt this year, shout out to Jake and Mike M, Kalen K, and Jordan P I had a blast hunting with you guys this year and thanks for all your assistance.