An Elk Hunting Heritage, Part 1: Legacy

An Elk Hunting Heritage, Part 1: Legacy


My brother and I log many hours throughout the year hunting and fishing for whatever is in season. But, there is nothing we look forward to more than two weeks in September when our true outdoor passion is realized hunting for elk with bow and arrow. A small part of the eastern Oregon landscape has been our home away from home for the past 26 years. It is a place where we can find solitude, where special memories have been made, and for a brief period of time, where we become as close to nature as is possible in our modern world. The “elk woods” as we call them were as special as ever in 2018 and culminated in perhaps the most memorable hunt in nearly three decades.

Our season started much as usual with Ron and I meeting in our small eastern Oregon town. We unloaded gear at our small cabin and compared inventory of food and hunting equipment, as if it was the first time. Ron had drawn an archery antelope tag and planned to hunt the first three days in the sagebrush flats and then join me in the hills chasing elk. So, we each prepared our packs for the next morning hunt making sure we had every item for a successful hunt; water, food, headlamp, game calls, sharp knives, game bags, and other personal effects. We spent the evening talking about where we planned to hunt, what we hoped to see, and when we might check in with each other.

The weather was relatively cool but conditions were unusually dry with no rain in the forecast for days to come. I spent the morning hiking a long timbered ridgeline above the sagebrush flat where Ron was hunting below. Mile after mile, saddle after saddle, knob after knob, the elk sign was lacking but anticipation was high so I pushed on expecting an elk to be around the next corner. Eight miles later, I had made a loop to a meeting spot back in the valley bottom and Ron was there to pick me up. Neither of us had much luck finding elk or antelope, and over the next 4 days my experience during both morning and evening hunts would be the same. Ron’s opportunities were much different however, and on day three he connected with a small buck (a story for another time!).

With Ron’s antelope tag filled, the time had come for the two of us to venture into our most remote and best elk hunting areas. We awoke at 3:30 am, fixed a hearty breakfast, and took a 45-minute drive to the parking spot near what we’ll call “Mahogany Mountain.” The elk are consistently found in the several deep draws, thick mahogany and pine stands, or open high mountain meadows. There are no roads here and the hills are steep. The hike to the tops of ridges is challenging and takes nearly an hour, so we always hike in the dark to where elk are often found at first light. We split up on different sides of Mahogany Mountain and trudged uphill in the black of early morning.

I arrived at a small meadow when the glow of first light appeared on the horizon. As I rested, I could hear the birds beginning to greet the morning light, a coyote in the distance, and then suddenly the unmistakable high pitch of an elk bugle which was seemingly very close! My heart started to race again but not because of the climb. I moved uphill to take advantage of the cover of dark and placed myself near some small trees at the base of the meadow. There, through the murk of dim light, I could make out three elk feeding across the meadow about 120 yards above me. All three were spikes, but I could tell there was a bigger bull somewhere above me and that’s the one I wanted to go after.

We hunt with bow and arrow for multiple reason. Archery hunting is extremely challenging, it allows us to become totally immersed in the outdoors, and connects us with the game animals we pursue in ways that are hard to explain. But ultimately, we hope to put food on our tables as has been the legacy and tradition in our family for generations. Our elk tags allow us to harvest any elk and shooting any elk is a challenge. Taking a big bull with bow and arrow is the most difficult accomplishment and we always hope to have that chance, but mostly we are opportunists. My decision this year was to hunt only for a branched antlered bull during the first week, so off I went to chase the unseen bull.

I disappeared into the woods from the meadow and moved across the hill towards another small meadow surrounded by thickets of mahogany. The bull was now bugling regularly and he was encouraging the spikes to join in, and there was at least one other further around the hill in the opposite direction. I was in my element! The edge of the small meadow had several head-high fir trees so I crept up behind them and scanned the area with my binoculars. I could see a cow elk in the mahogany above the meadow and could tell they were moving fast. At the risk of being seen, I moved across the meadow going from tree to tree until I got to the mahogany thicket. The small 6-point bull was now just 50 yards above me but there were no shooting lanes in the thicket. He was moving towards another small opening and my only chance was to hustle up the outside edge of the thicket before he made the opening. I moved as quietly and quickly as possible, but only arrived in time to see him cross about 60 yards above me and move into the next thicket. My last chance was to cow call aggressively hoping that he would think he’d left a cow behind. It worked momentarily as he took several steps my way, but when the cows above him broke out in chorus, he turned and followed them over the hill.

I continued to make my way around Mahogany Mountain looking for other elk, but as soon as the sun came up and the temperatures began to rise, the bugling stopped, and so did my luck. Ron and I met back at the rig around noon. He hadn’t seen any elk but found tracks and fresh antler rubs. The rut was on and we knew that our chances for success would be good here, so we headed back to the cabin tired but excited about our prospects. As is our tradition, we decided not to pressure Mahogany Mountain that evening or the next day. So, we hunted other areas, but on the morning of the 7th day we headed back to try again.

Click HERE for the second part of Richy's adventure, and find out if he discovers the bull.

Click HERE to learn more about how legacy plays a role in the Work Sharp brand.

Written by Pro Staffer Richy Harrod