Did you know that according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation 14% of hunters hunt alone? Are you one of those 14%? I am!
I wrote an article a few weeks ago titled: Hunting Deer/Elk/Bear Alone – In the Glacier Peak Wilderness of Washington State, where I brought attention to a recent elk hunter dyeing while hunting alone near Mt St. Helens. I went on to explain how I had hunted alone in the Wilderness area several times for a mule deer buck and didn’t have any problems.
This story is about my friend Jim Williams. Jim is an avid hunter, having taken several deer, elk, moose and goat with a bow, muzzleloader and modern rifle. This story starts in early spring of 2011 when Jim wanted to go elk hunting in Montana for the first time. He bought $900 worth of tags for his Montana hunt. He was going to hunt with his bow, so he had a choice of either a cow or a big bull. Of course you know what he wanted! I must back up a little bit as one of his friends, Alan also wanted Jim to go moose hunting in British Columbia after he got back from his elk hunt in Montana. Jim had to shell out $800 for tags and $6200 for an outfitter to guide him on this moose hunt.
Jim’s elk hunt was to start in the first week of September but he thought he should go a little early, to get the lay-of-the-land. So he went four days early to scout and get a place to camp. He was driving from Western Washington to South Western Montana. He would take Highway 90 east over to Missoula, MT and then head south on Highway 93 to the Montana-Idaho border, around Lost Creek Pass and this is where he would hunt. The mileage from his house on this route was almost exactly 600 miles.
Jim drove around the hills and noticed a place where he thought it would be a good place to hunt. He drove some Forest Service Roads, but where he wanted to go was on private property. So he drove back to the nearest town and stopped at the local gas station to ask if they new who owned the property where he wanted to hunt. Sure enough they knew the rancher, had his name and phone number. Jim called and got permission to hunt on his land. The rancher said just check in with his ranch foreman before going through the gate. The foreman would also let him know where the best way to hike on the ranch. Jim thought this is great, I come to Montana, everybody is friendly and a rancher would let him hunt elk on his property.
Life can’t get better than that!
Jim had two weeks to hunt elk while he was there, but was eager to get started. He went to the ranch and talked to the foremen, he gave him directions and told him there was a swampy meadow area he would need to walk across before getting to the heavy timbered area. The foreman informed Jim he had seen herds of elk in the meadow only a few days before. Jim was ready for his dream Montana hunt. He went back to his trailer, which was about three and half miles from the ranchers gate and waited until the next morning…opening day!
Jim got to the gate before first light and parked his truck away from the gate in case the foreman needed access. It had been unseasonably warm the past few weeks and Jim knew he would be walking aways on the first day, so he just wore his low-top hiking boots, camo pants, coat and backpack, plus his bow. He started off thru the gate, wound his way across the cow trails through the swampy meadow and up near the wooded area. After he got to where he thought he could see aways, he sat down to listen and see any elk activity. Sure enough he had only been sitting there a short time when he started hearing cow and calf mews. Man this was exciting, early opening day and already hearing elk activity. He thought to himself, “this is great first day of a two week hunt and I am already into elk”!
As the morning progressed he started to hear faint elk bugles along with the cow calls. He decided to start cow calling himself to see if he could draw the bulls out to within range, or a least see them. The bulls were having none of it. They seemed to go farther away from him into the timber. Well, he said “it is early, so I will just follow them and see where they go, just in case I wanted to come back tomorrow”. So he played cat and mouse, with them most of the day. He actually could see some of the cows and calves from time to time.
By this time it was getting early evening and he thought maybe he should head back to the truck and start again the next day. Of course the elk had headed away for the meadow in a northwest direction from his rig. By the time he started back to his truck it was getting pretty dark, no problem he thought, I have my flashlight and I do know where I am headed. So off he went.
In the far distance he could see a camp light light. This was the camp of other hunters he had seen the day before. He thought to himself “well I can head to that camp and then at least walk back on the road to my truck, instead of backtracking the way he came back through the swampy meadow”. So he started off while heading for the camp light in the distance. As he went a little further he noticed it was getting a little swampy. He thought the original swampy meadow did not extend much past where he had originally parked his truck. But he had gone a few miles into the woods away from his truck. It was not only getting dark but the swamp was a little cold. He thought it himself why didn’t I wear my taller hunting boots instead of these lower hiking boots. He sloshed through the swamp until all of a sudden he sunk up to his pants pockets into a swampy hole!
The water and the mud had him stuck. He thought “no problem” I can get out of this. So he threw is bow up on the bank. He found some pussy willows in front of him. So he started to tug himself out of the hole. The mud had formed a suction around his legs and boots. He thought “ heck I can just yank by left leg out, pull on the pussy willows on the bank and I will be out”. Well it did work but as he pulled his left leg out he felt a twinge of pain. He was now wet, muddy and getting cold. He thought to himself, well I can stay here and get colder or walk to the camp he had seen. Being the hunter he is, off he went towards the lantern. By the time he reached the elk camp it was now 11:15 pm at night. There were two fellow hunters there, one of them was just finishing setting up his tent. Jim told him the short version of his story and said he would be moving along to trek the three and half miles back to his rig and camp trailer. The hunter who was just finishing up on his tent said, “no way that is too far to walk and your leg is hurt”. Jim said, but I am all muddy (he had mud in every pocket on his pants, plus around his legs and you know what swampy mud smells like! The fellow hunter said no problem as Jim hopped in the truck. As Jim was telling him where to take him, the guy said “you must be that hunter from Washington”! (Jim has an special Washington Elk Plate on his truck)
They arrived at his camp. By the time he got out of his muddy cold clothes it was now after 1:00 am. He soaked his foot in cold water as after he took his boot off it started to swell and hurt a lot. He was more tired than he thought so didn’t get up until around noon. He thought those other hunters had been so nice to him he should go back and thank them. He remembered he had a bottle of good unopened whiskey in his trailer and thought it would make a great gift. Jim drives a 3/4 ton Ford Extended cab diesel truck with a canopy. His truck is also a five-speed, manual clutch.
You know how hard those clutches are to push in? Since his left leg was injured he would have to push the clutch in with it. He tried it and could get into gear, so he started off to their camp. He arrived about 3:00 pm. When he got there they were not there so he started to write a thank you note to them. Just then they pulled up. So he got out to thank them, as he limped over to their tents. They had mentioned they had gotten a nice cow elk and were just letting it lay for a while until they would go back to clean it up. Jim thanked them, gave them the bottle of whiskey and now headed back to his camp. By now it was Thursday afternoon and he thought if his lower leg wasn’t better by Friday morning he would have to head for home.
Well you guessed it, by Friday morning it was a little worse. He thought he better start for home with the 600 miles and about 13.5 hours of driving time. But first he had to hook up his travel trailer. He thought no problem, he has done this hundreds of times before. But wouldn’t you know it the trailer was on a slight decline from the back of his truck. Normally he would back up, leave the engine running, put on the emergency brake and get out to see how close he was. Well not this time. He found he could not push in the emergency brake with his left foot, so he would have to put the truck in gear, shut it off, as he was getting out push in the brake with his right foot and get out and check where the hitch was compared to the ball on his truck. I won’t include the words he used here, but it did take a lot longer to hitch the trailer than it ever had before.
He thought he should call his doctor back in Washington to see if he could get in so they could look at his left ankle. After the 13.5 hour drive and 600 miles he made it back late Friday night. He got up on Saturday and made to the doctors office, with the help of a friend, for X-rays. Sure enough he had broken the left leg bone just above the ankle. They said he would have to go home and wait until Monday so he could see the orthopedic surgeon. On Monday the surgeon looked at it and said he would have to wait until Thursday before he could operate. On Thursday the doctor got in there and found out it was worse than he thought. Jim received a plate and 7 screws in his lower leg.
He wore a cast for 3 weeks, with crutches and then has worn the boot as you see in the picture for 4 weeks. He also has to go to physical therapy three times a week.
So I asked Jim if he would be going hunting alone again. His first words were yes, but he said he would stay out of swamps this time and head back to his truck earlier in the day as he would have many days to hunt. As I mentioned earlier, JIm spent $900 on out-of-state tags, plus around $800 worth of diesel for his trip. He also missed his moose trip with his friend Alan and forfeited his $800 moose tag and the $6200 outfitter cost. When I spoke to Jim he hadn’t gotten the clinics or doctor bills, but he thought they would run several thousands of dollars.
This was an expensive hunt for Jim. But he is a elk hunter and he will be back at it next year.