June 30, 2013

Elk Scouting + Bonus Goats!

Due to changing hunting regulations in the state of Washington, I will need to learn to hunt a new unit.  Consequently, I'll be trying to get out a few times prior to September to learn a few new areas and try to up my chances of being successful during the all-too-short Washington archery season.

I left work last Friday on my first of such scouting trips.  I selected a location based published maps and Google Earth images.  While driving there, I saw a cow elk crossing the road as well as two deer: a good sign that the elk I was looking for had already migrated up into the mountains where they should be in September.  I started hiking up a sizable, steep slope at about 8pm, with the intent of setting up camp when it got dark at around 9:30.  At about 9:00, I came over a small rise to see a 5-point bull elk about 10 yards off the trail and only about 20 yards from me.  I froze in my tracks and was surprised to learn that the bull had not yet noticed me.  I watched him feed for several minutes.  At one point, he was as close as 15 yards from me.  This time of year, their antlers are covered in velvet, making them appear much bigger than they are.  By the time I managed to retrieve the camera from my pack, it was too dark to capture a reasonable picture.  About 10 minutes later, the bull fed away from me and I moved on, remaining undetected.

I awoke the next morning as soon as it was light enough to see and continued up the slope to gain a prominent ridge.  When I reached the ridge, I began glassing the basin on the other side.  After finding no life with my binoculars that didn't classify as vegetative matter, I set up my new spotting scope for the first time.  I was amazed at the clarity and ease of use of my new scope/tripod setup.  I soon spotted a cow elk lying in the grass on the shady edge of a meadow.  I watched her for quite a while before moving along the ridge to gain a new vantage point.

A short while later, I spotted a bull in the same basin, a few hundred yards from the cow, with my binoculars.  I quickly set up my spotting scope and watched him feed for about 30 minutes.

Photo taken through the spotting scope

Photo taken with 18x optical zoom camera

Another one with the 18x zoom

This was a nice 6-point bull and the largest one I saw on my scouting trip.  I'm not sure how much more his antlers will grow, if any, but there's a chance he was pretty big for the area.  Alas, I will be hunting cows and spikes, so he's safe from me for at least another year.

As I continued across the ridge, I was heading down a slight snow slope when I saw the top of a goat's head moving toward me over a small rise.  I quickly ducked back out of sight, tucked in next to some trees and rocks, and got my camera back out.  The next several minutes consisted of a herd of goats (about a dozen in total), slowly moved toward me.  With goats as close as about 8 yards, I was able to get some great shots.  At their closest, I grew slightly nervous as I remembered stories of a man gored to death by a goat recently in Olympic National Park.  Once I moved to give away my position (I thought this would make them run away), the goats seemed to become very curious and got even closer before growing nervous themselves.

They're coming right for me!

This little guy just couldn't get enough of the snow

The most adorable kind of kid and its mother

Oh, hi.  Didn't see you there.  May I help you with something?

The basin where I'd been watching the elk is in the background

Shortly after continuing on, I spotted another herd of goats on the same ridge moving in the opposite direction.  I ignored them as I was on a mission to learn as much as I could about elk in the area.  I began an off-trail descent of the steep, forested slope a couple of miles from where I had come up.  Shortly after leaving the main ridge and getting back into the forested zone, I jumped another bull.  He saw me first, at about 25 yards, and only stuck around for a few seconds.

I had no idea how much it would work me by the end, but the 3,500 vertical foot bushwhack descent with plenty of dead fall and pretty much no flat ground to stand on, even for a short rest, left me exhausted by the time I returned to the car. . . a terrific end to a successful scouting mission!

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