B&C Roosevelt with a bow!

BiG Boar

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Cherry Red Daggers

As we turned the corner on the dirt road a huge white beast with massive maroon antlers raced up and across the road in front of us. Three 20 something year old guys who had never seen a Roosevelt elk before, came to a sliding halt in the truck. We were flabbergasted at the size of the behemoth with those impressive antlers that had just appeared and like magic disappeared into a thick tangle of trees.

Fast forward 3 years….

On my quest to experience all of BC big game, and really find which hunt I like best, I put in for a Roosevelt elk draw this spring. I can never seem to wait for the results to come online, let alone in the mail, so at 9:30am one beautiful June morning I called the LEH office, knowing the draw had been run. Now I don’t mind traveling across the province to increase my chance of getting a draw and so I usually get draws as they are normally lower odds. Sheep, elk, and bison, are always ridiculously high odds though, and I really didn’t ever think I would win one of those. I gave him my hunter number and he told me I had gotten 3 draws. A moose, a goat, and almost in slow motion I heard him say “you got an elk too”! My heart raced like a school girl at a Beiber concert (apparently). This was way better than Christmas. Immediately I went to work on the planning….





Having never in my life thought I would get an elk draw I had definitely not scouted the area. In fact I had never even seen the area, though I have hunted on the island for black bears and deer a few times before. Instantly I grabbed my map book and looked at the area I was heading for. Seemed like good access, wouldn’t have to rent a boat, I would have to get over there and scout right away. Try to learn the habits of an animal I have never pursued. I really started digging, phone calls, emails and many PM’s were made to people who had hunted these creatures before. I definitely got a lot of great responses, and had a lot of great information on the area, but I had to get over there and see it for myself.

In July I made my way over from the mainland for the first time. We spent a couple days there and I really tried to soak in the place and see for myself if I could find elk. Soak-in I did as it always seemed to be raining. Even in July. We did find a herd of cows one day though, and a nice looking black tail deer still in velvet. At least I knew there were some elk there. What I did discover was just how thick and lush the place really is.

Having never killed an elk before I figured some books were a good idea. I started to read anything I could get my hands on in figuring out what the animals do. Of course that bull I had seen 3 years ago ran across my mind from time to time and I dreamt of not only taking a bull, but of taking A MASSIVE BULL worth putting on the wall.

As I have gotten into hunting, I have used all kinds of methods to hunt. This one would be done with stick and string. Actually a carbon fiber stick, and a few strings rigged up to be pushing that arrow at 320 fps. After using it to hunt water buffalo in South America this past spring, I rededicated myself to the art. I put in a lot of time practicing and tuning this muscle car of archery equipment to make sure I would hit my mark when the opportunity came along. Hundreds of arrows per week were flung, and I really honed my skills at some distance, even over 100 yards to make sure I could hit my target when push came to shove. Of course there is an ethical limit to shoot an animal. At 100 yards it will take that arrow almost a second to reach its mark, and in one second, a whole lot can go wrong.

A fellow with the same draw a month earlier than myself and I connected on the internet. I went to help him out in any way I could, as I would be there scouting for my draw. Hopefully he would have some insight for me as well. He was an expert Rocky Mtn elk hunter, who was also on his first Roosevelt hunt, and he really knew the animal’s behaviors. Going over there to hunt with him was a huge advantage. He had spent some time now hunting his tag and had really figured out their locations and habits. This man was pure inspiration in himself. Not only 2 weeks ago he had gotten off of crutches, after spending months in a wheelchair after a very serious snowmobile accident. Skirting death, many bones were broken including his back, and in some way, winning that draw for elk he said, gave him the motivation to get back on his feet and make his elk hunt happen. Elk hunting was a huge passion of his. And, he would be doing it alone. Near the end of his draw he did get his elk. I was thankful for the entire experience including the pack out as it was all great preparation for what I was about to embark upon.

The days flashed by again and opening day was tomorrow. I had made it to “camp”, and a luxurious camp it was, with hot showers, electricity and running water in my trailer. After setting up I shot a few arrows to make sure nothing had shifted or bumped on the long trek to get there. Things were perfect. In the morning I would find my elk and kill it. Just then the heavens opened up and the rain started to fall.



I woke up to the sound of rain on opening morning. I sprung out of bed and threw on my phenomenal Kuiu rain gear. Grabbed my pack and fired up the truck. It was go time. One thing I hadn’t really figured out was how to hunt on the rainy days. Glassing is definitely the name of the game in this hunt. Get some elevation and spend time behind glass. After an incredible sheep hunt this summer, this wouldn’t be hard. But it was…. It was wet. Everything was wet. Clouds were everywhere, or fog, and you couldn’t see 200 yards at most times. Your binoculars would fog up, and have water droplets plaguing them constantly. The tissue paper I would keep in my pocket to dry the eyepieces would even be soaked by noon. You basically were forced at times to sit and wait for clouds to move. As I sat and glassed that first afternoon from where we got that elk the month before I suddenly caught a glimpse of what I had come for. Elk! There were those unmistakable maroon antlers flashing glossy rain from over 3 kilometers away. I threw up the spotting scope and saw what looked to be a nice rack.

Using google maps in my iPhone I marked his exact location in the cut block and found the old overgrown road that led up to the slash where he was with 3 other cows. I remembered then a fellow at the camp where I was staying, telling me to try and get above them and come down on them. So after getting drenched running through the alder overgrown road I got to the edge of the cut block. Keeping in the shadows of the old growth timber, I climbed to just above their position. When I caught sight of them I got low and headed straight at them, staying out of sight, and trying to be as quiet as possible in a very wet and slippery cut block. The cut blocks back on the mainland are like manicured lawns in comparison to this jungle gym of downed timber. You have to try to step on the wood so as to not make noise, but the stuff is so slippery, you need to use all 4 limbs to stay up right. One thing that did help is all of the running water. It really covered the noise.

It was about 3pm and I had all the time in the world, though the wind was now angling towards them. I got to my last point of cover, not knowing how close I was to them. Drifting in the air was a distinct musky odor of my quarry. I knocked an arrow and eased over a rock. There at less than 10 yards was a bedded cow, looking down hill. I slowly retreated and went up a rock higher. Looking over it I caught sight of those cherry red antlers, not 25 yards away. I watched and watched wondering what to do. It was a 4x4 rack. Do I take the bull and run? No more rain. Home in my bed after an already long season. He didn’t smell extraordinarily tasty, but I had heard he would be. It wasn’t a long decision. I shot him....



I shot him with my camera and green peaced him. Still, it was a huge rush! Plus, now I knew what was possible.

Many more herds of cows and young bulls were spotted, however I didn’t even stalk in on them. I would look them over, checking for big bulls, and then move on. I would see an average of two herds a day. Most groups having 8-12 cows and the occasional young bull. I wanted to hold out for at least a 5x5 antlered bull. That would be the smallest I would shoot at this point in the hunt. A 5x5 with a bow would have a good place on my wall.

About day 5 of the hunt I found a different herd that had 4 bulls and 9 cows. One of the bulls made my eyes a little bigger so I grabbed my spotting scope and zoomed in on him. Much to my delight he met my mark with 5 solid points on each side.
 
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BiG Boar

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I checked the wind and set up a stalk. Driving like a maniac to try and figure out how to get my truck down into that cut block I raced up and down the road. However each way in was blocked with massive cut aways in the deactivated road. Not one month ago there was a truck in here I was sure of it. But in that time the road had been closed. I would have to hike down roughly 700 yards through a brutal cut block to reach them. Using a water falling creek I slipped down to just above them. The wind was not good, but this was my only way into this block without being spotted by the herd. I figured if I could get to a certain log pile I would have a 50-60 yard shot. Then just pop up and my hunt would be done.

Two of the other bulls



I rose above the log pile with my arrow knocked. They were not where they were supposed to be. They had dropped over the bank and down, nearer to the cows. I got to the landing they had vacated and slipped off my rubber boots and my rain pants. I was going to be close. I eased over the embankment and got into position behind a small pile of logs.

Lifting the range finder I found them at 75 yards down hill. Easy-ish shot to make. I practice regularly at 70 yards, and I group under 7 inches. This would not be a chip shot, but it was definitely doable. I watched the 4 bulls as they locked horns and pushed each other around. As the two sets of bulls sparred with each other I had difficulty telling which one was the 5 point through the tangle of horns. Watching the bull spar was a treat in itself. I was almost mesmerized as if watching Lorne Green's New Wilderness in the 80's. He was definitely the biggest of the 4. He was perfectly broadside. It was his time....
 
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BiG Boar

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Then from the corner of my eye I caught movement at 30 yards. A black tail doe had come out of thin air and had me pegged. Five seconds later the doe caught my wind and bolted. The herd wasn’t one second behind her. Then they stopped with noses in the air at 140 yards looking for the cause of this problem. I froze, and for 2 minutes I did nothing. Then one by one they filed out, trotting slowly away from me, along with my hopes and dreams.




The hard part about this hunt isn’t finding elk. It’s finding big elk! I had 4 trail cams set up from the month before, and had caught on it all kinds of cool things; from grey and jet black wolves, to cougars, black tail deer, and black bears with cubs. The one thing that gave me hope though was a nice 5x7 dark horned bull. Many a morning I didn’t feel like getting out of the warm bed and into the wet wilds of Vancouver Island, but I did. I did end up sleeping in a couple mornings just to break up a hunt of this length. Day after day can make it hard to keep motivated sometimes. Being in that kind of cold sleety wet rain is pretty brutal. Walking in the thick second growth timber, peeling ferns and salal from around you to keep quiet is a whole different puddle of H2O. It’s no wonder they call it a rain forest. That’s the perfect way to describe it. It was relentless, with plenty of snow storms, and sleet to make sure you were uncomfortable. But that big 5x7 bull kept me motivated.





 
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BiG Boar

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I did have a few people tell me I was crazy for not taking a smaller bull when I could have. I replied that I would be crazy to not hold out in the situation I was in. This wasn’t a weekend hunt. This was a once in a lifetime draw, and I had everything right there at my disposal for the full pull. I had to give it my best.

I was encouraged to meet and talk with the other hunters with the draw, a father helping his son. They also saw lots of elk and even turned some down at the beginning of their 9 day hunt. Al who had the draw was a very serious hunter like myself. It was good to see someone win it that would really put a good effort in. He had also won a sheep permit this year and had come very close to completing that. He had taken a couple elk in the past and so he really knew what he was doing. I would meet up with them every few days and we would encourage each other with what we had seen, and what we were learning from the hunt.



About day ten I was nearing the top of the mountains on my quad. It was snowing heavily and I couldn’t see 100 yards ahead of me. I figured I knew where the herds were down low, but a friend of mine who I had been corresponding with during the hunt had told me to look higher up in the hills. The big bulls would be separate now, and would be way up top forming bachelor groups.

With no goggles I was moving slowly on the quad. I looked up by pure chance and there at 70 yards was a nice lone bull. Surprised, I shut down the quad and grabbed my bow. He didn’t even wait for two seconds before he disappeared into the second growth timber. I would have to track him down. That I did. It took two hours. I don’t know how I out walked an elk, but he hadn’t even stopped once. I caught sight of him going up the side opposite of the creek I was dropping into...

But there were too many trees in the way and he wasn’t stopping. I couldn’t even get a great look at the antlers. However he was big, and this had been my first real chance. I soon gave up as it was getting dark, as he was dropping elevation like mad. I pointed my iphone to the place I had left the quad and my two hour walk in, was a straight line thirty minute walk out in the almost dark. On the way back down the mountain I cut his track crossing the road and noted the block he was going into. I would have to try for him in the morning.

That next morning I woke up to….you guessed it….rain! It would be snow farther up the mountain, I had to get back onto his track and check that block. Six kilometers away I cut a frozen track of a lone bull from the night before heading down hill. Not even really thinking this would be the bull I followed that track three quarters of the way up the mountain before deciding this WAS likely the same bull. Back down I raced. I found his last direction and turned onto a road that he should have crossed.

Going up the mountain his tracks got fresh. But then I noticed a tire track that was also REAL fresh. There was some logging going on up this hill so I just hoped that’s who it might be. Turning a bend about 3 kilometers up the road I saw the other hunters truck pulled over with one head in the passenger seat. He rolled down the window and told me his son (Al) was stalking a good bull they had just tracked down and found bedded. The only thing I could do was turn around. So I headed back to the area he had been the night before and set up on his trail thinking that he might head back that way, if this hunter didn’t connect. Sitting there in the cold for 2 hours I soon gave up.

That afternoon I went way back and way up high. I found another group of 10 or so with a few medium bulls in it. At this point my trigger finger was getting rather itchy. The wetness really takes its toll on you mentally. I almost made a play on these bulls, but settled on giving it a couple more days.
 
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BiG Boar

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I also ran into a group of hunters as I was doing some spotting. "What you lookin' at through that spotter?"

"A black wolf." I replied. To which I showed them the wolf through my spotting scope at about 900 yards.



After talking to these other (deer) hunters for about half an hour, I got a kick out of hearing one of them say, "See Doug, I told you we should have brought binoculars, thats SUCH a good idea!"

Sunday morning I slept in, just to give myself some refreshment and rejuvenation. The 9 days had come and gone and the father and son team were leaving empty handed. I had grown to like them and even had them by for dinner one night. When they weren’t sure if they would be able to make it back to hunt again, I asked them for the last direction that big bull had headed. We parted ways and I headed up to the last place he was known to be. With about six inches of snow I thought maybe I would cut his track and find him bedded or out feeding in a cut block. Needle in a haystack I just kept thinking to myself. This is BIG country.
 
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BiG Boar

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I got to a high position to look over many kilometers of cut blocks and do some glassing. I hadn’t cut his track on the way up. He was probably long gone. About 30 minutes of glassing later, I lowered my binoculars. As I lowered them I just happened to glass through some thick second growth timber. Through the trees there was a small rock bluff, and bedded just below it was a massive bull elk.

I worked quickly, grabbing out my spotting scope and centering it on him. He looked alone, and he had big horns. That was all I needed to know. He must be a good one. Now how to get to him? He was in the middle of the timber, on a sort of ridge, just bedded below a mound of rock, with a cliff on his far side. If I could get to that cliff and get up it I would have a shot on him at no more than 40 yards and the wind was blowing steadily in the right direction.

I slowly made my way into the timber, trying to be as quiet as possible. The salal was covered in 2 inches of fresh wet snow, that slopped off with each step I took. Lifting twigs and branches out of the way I made my way down and behind where I thought he would be. The forest was alive with the sound of wet snow dropping from branches all around me. After close to an hour stalk I looked over the first knob, I was unsure if this was the right spot. Which it turned out not to be. Then I saw what I thought might be the cliff just up the ridge from me. The rock face was about seven feet high and straight up. I put my bow up on it and used a tree branch as a foot hold. I ever so quietly dug my fingers into the snow and climbed up.

As I peeked over the edge my heart almost exploded as I saw what I had hunted so hard for. There, not 25 yards away was a gorgeous set of deep maroon and ivory tipped antlers. I eased up and very slowly crept five yards to the next rock in front of me to where I thought I would have a good shot at the bedded bull. Each knee step forward I took in the six inches of snow seemed to make the noisiest compacting sound I had ever heard. There I was, kneeling, with my arrow knocked; wind in my face, bull bedded facing away a mere twenty yards away. This was one of, if not the most challenging stalks of my life. I could see his heavy antlers heaving with each breath he took. His ears were pinned straight back in my direction. I rested my bow lifting arm and breathed deeply, calming myself. After what seemed like an eternity, but was probably closer to a minute I saw the falling snow swirl ever so slightly towards the bull. On command he rose to his feet...
 
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BiG Boar

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Kneeling I drew my bow and put my 20 pin on his chest. He looked me in the eye and I squeezed the trigger on my release sending 400 grains of displeasure charging into and through his chest.

Like a heroin junky as the needle plunges I felt a rush of adrenalin that really can’t be put into words. I was more than excited. I was breathless and shuddering, frozen in a moment of absolute achievement. I had just shot a giant bull elk with my bow. The shot felt perfect, I picked my spot, I hit my spot, I felt like I was on top of the world. And for a minute I was. That all came to a screeching halt as I found my arrow 25 yards away. Caked in blood I lifted it to my nose to smell the unmistakable smell of gut. My heart plummeted like a skydiver without a parachute. `When in doubt back out’ rang through my mind. And I did just that. It would be dark in 2 hours, so why not just give it 4 hours, I thought to myself. There was good blood covering the arrow. But I didn’t need to make any mistakes at this point. So I headed out and back to camp for dinner dragging my feet in the snow so I would be able to find my way back in as it was snowing pretty good.

Dinner was great. The caretakers of the place we were camping at had made us a feast of salmon that night, but I could barely eat. I was so worried about my elk, and getting it out in the dark. I even phoned a good friend back home as he said he would be willing to come and help me out if I thought I needed it. He canceled his appointments and headed towards the ferry. That is a good hunting partner right there. He re assured me it would be dead and we would have no trouble packing it out that night or early in the morning. Thirty minutes later I called him back to tell him not to come. It was my mess and a long long way for him to come. He turned his truck around near Burnaby after receiving my phone call and headed back home.

We finished dinner and our incredibly generous host volunteered to help me go find my bull in the dark. Back we went 5 hours after the shot. We found my tracks which were already snowed in, and followed them up to the site of the shot. Instantly we were on good blood. We followed his tracks slowly shouting “Hey bear!” on the way in as there is an incredibly large population of black bears in the area. At 70 yards of easy tracking with lots of blood we found his bed. There was no snow in it but it hadn’t hit me yet. We followed on further until we came to a white strip of snow. Shining my light ahead I saw the snow covered road and the tire tracks our quad had just made. Then I connected the dots. We weren’t following a dead bull….

We once again backed out till first light. In a situation like this, you sleep about as good as a first time mother with a sick baby.

I don’t know how I managed to sleep, but at dark again I was on the quad with my incredibly helpful caretaker friend and my wife in the truck. There was some snow in the camp site. As we climbed the mountain the night’s snow got deeper and deeper. At the top where the bull was, there was over a foot of wet heavy snow. The quad with the dif locked in, barely made it up the hills. At times my friend had to sit on the front rack to give it enough traction.

The Elk tracks would be gone due to the heavy snow. So we made our way up and above the cut block that he had last headed into. Maybe his tracks would be on the road above, just faint or something. Hopefully we could glass down and see him lying dead in the cut block below. But an hour later we had nothing. I guessed he was heading for a small thicket with twenty foot tall cedars about 100 yards into the cut block.

The cut blocks are so deceivingly hard to walk through. One minute you’re on top of the snow, the next you are nipples deep in snow, with your feet wet in a creek. You just can’t tell where to step and where not to step. We searched for 3 long hours. It was tough going. But I wasn’t one to give up that easily. I finally decided we should head back to where he walked into the cut block and see what the easiest line for him to go would be.

About 5 steps into the block, my wife Cory trailing me saw that I had kicked up some blood almost a foot under the surface of the snow. Keep kicking and digging I told them. “Here’s more! Over here, found some more!” With my heart racing I pushed on, kicking down in the snow and digging with my hands! I couldn’t believe this was actually working. He had originally headed for the small stand of trees but then had veered off. Seventy yards later I came around a bushy cedar and let out one of the loudest Rick Flair “Woooooooooo!” you could have ever heard. The other two lit up in yells as well! Then out of the corner of my eye I saw its head turn to look at me….

Back to the quad I raced, motioning and whispering to the other two to look and listen for movement fifteen yards ahead of where I had been. On the way to grab my bow, I broke through and plunged into the icy waters of the creek with one foot. That boot filled right up. I didn’t care. I just about had my elk at this point.

Coming back to the elk I moved slowly to within seven yards of the dying giant. He could barely move, he was lying there, nearly covered in snow. It was not something I would have ever thought possible. I didn’t think a lying shot would be a good shot so I waited and coaxed the 1000 plus pound monster to its feet. Slowly he rose. Not having the strength to even walk I could not believe he had made it through the night with the amount of blood he had lost. He stood there almost threatening with those ivory tipped daggers pointed right at me. However, I could almost see in his eyes what he was asking me to do. I drew and sunk an arrow deep into his heart and lungs. He stood there for two minutes, as I walked away and let him bed down, one last time.








 
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BiG Boar

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I learned a lot from this hunt. Coming from a rifle hunting background, I have always aimed just behind the front leg a few inches, so as to not waste any meat on the front quarter. It’s been programmed into my mind to shoot behind the leg. I put the arrow exactly where I would have shot a deer with my rifle. But I only got part of one lung and the liver. The lesson learned is that, it is simply a little too far back for an arrow to do its massive hemorrhaging.

The second arrow ended its life very quickly. Not as instantaneous as with a rifle, but still very effectively. I did feel awful for not making a better first shot. Even at the 3D archery competitions I shoot at, I always program my mind to shoot for the 10 spot, which I believe is not in the correct spot a lot of the time. It’s something that I will have to work on in practice more.

I also have a new respect for the strength of elk. I have heard they are a big tough animal and have stamina to go for miles once being shot, but I had yet to experience it myself. I did do the right thing by backing out both times, and not pushing the animal further. The story is a little disappointing in the end to learn that this magnificent creature was not killed as effectively as possible. That is something every sportsman I know tries hard to do every time. It doesn’t always happen the way things are supposed to happen unfortunately. But I feel the real truth in this story will give people more respect for the power of these animals, and maybe they can learn a thing or two from it as well.

The pictures were taken and the elk was packed out not fifty steps to the road. What a blessing that was. Roosevelt’s are the biggest bodied of all the 4 species of elk. This one was probably close in body size to that of the 48 inch moose I had shot last year. It will definitely top up the freezer and it’s probably a good thing I come from a big family where I’m sure it will be enjoyed.

Sitting here looking at the horns I can’t actually believe I have done what I set out to do. I knew this was probably my best chance at getting a B&C animal and I held out a long time. A massive effort was put in as I hunted hard each day alone. I definitely had a lot of help from a lot of generous people who guided me in the right direction with ideas and suggestions of how to best go about getting my first bull elk. To those people, thank you so much. I can’t tell you how you carried me and inspired me in times of despair, alone on the cold wet west coast.

 
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