I just returned from spending a few more days in the forest searching for elk. On my first night out I was sitting quietly at a pass in a ridge, waiting for a few more minutes to tick by, when a coyote trotted by within 10 yards of me. It didn't realize I was there until it had passed me and got downwind, at which point he paused momentarily to glance back at me, then his pace quickened until he was out of sight.
Later that evening I was still-hunting further up the same ridge when I noticed a cow about 100 yards ahead of me, heading in the same direction. One cow soon turned in to three, and I was able to close the distance to about 60 yards. I followed them at this distance for a while, waiting for an opportunity to present itself for a shot through the thick pine trees. Eventually one of them saw me and the game was over.
A quick note on my tactics: the elk in this area were not bugling yet, so locating them via sound was out of the question, unless you already happen to be very close and hear them breaking branches as they walk. Dense forest covers about 100% of the area I was hunting, so spotting them from afar was out of the question, eliminating the common "spot-and-stalk" method. Given this situation, the only way I could find to locate the elk was to walk slowly and quietly through the forest until I saw one, hoping that I would see it before it saw me. I like to think of this as the "hope-and-stalk" method, but it is more commonly referred to as still-hunting.
The following evening, I hoped really well and my hope-and-stalking found me in the vicinity of two bull elk. Before I saw them, one of them barked, which is an undesirable sound as it means they've detected something suspicious. The bull that barked (we'll call him Barker) ran off, only to return a minute or two later when the other bull didn't follow. Barker continued to bark every few seconds for the next 20 minutes, all the while peering through the trees in my direction from about 60 yards away. I couldn't move with that much attention, so I hoped that by holding still he would forget about me and go back to feeding. He eventually did go back to feeding, but not without occasionally barking and regularly looking in my direction. At one point I drew my bow when Barker was headed for the one opening in the trees where I had a slight hope he would pause and present a shot, but he didn't and the shooting ally wasn't very good anyway. Eventually they fed out of sight, so I took my boots off, put on my extra pair of socks, and tried to sneak in for a shot. I got back to within about 60 yards when Barker's barking frequency escalated. I had been pegged. Eventually the other bull got on board with the looming threat that Barker had been barking about and they fled the scene.
The next morning I encountered a lone cow while hoping-and-stalking. This time I caught her completely unaware. I quickly pulled out my range finder, which read 42 yards. I then nocked an arrow, and with all my fidgeting the cow stopped walking and turned to look my way. Under normal circumstances, this would be a pretty easy shot. Yet once again, there were copious trees in the way. Where she stopped, I could see her vitals through a narrow, 3" gap in the trees, but I had to lean far to my left to take advantage of it. With the cow looking right at me, I was afraid to step to my left, so I came to full draw, leaned awkwardly out to my left, sighted for a 42-yard shot, and released. That cow will live to see another day, but the pine tree on the right is dead vegetarian meat.
I went back and forth emotionally between being upset at missing the shot (one I should have made), and thinking it was somewhat comical that I just shot a pine tree. I had visions of chopping down the pine tree, cutting it into small rounds, and stacking it in my chest freezer. Life goes on, for both me and the elk. Perhaps this shot error was a blessing in disguise. I've never hunted bulls during the rut before, and by the time I have another opportunity to hunt, the rut should have started. With the generous Montana archery season, I have confidence I'll be able to fill the freezer with something other than lodgepole pine.