As many of our readers know, after 16 years of applying, Stan finally drew the coveted Wenaha Archery Elk tag in Oregon. There have been nearly a dozen scouting trips over into this country leading up to his hunt, and the gas bill alone is staggering! It’s truly a once-in-a-lifetime hunt.
Stan has been over in the Wenaha Wilderness of NE Oregon for the past week. Base camp is set up and he and our good friend Chris are getting dialed in some good bulls. We’re going to do our best to share the daily progress of Stan’s hunt here. Another good friend, Joe, is heading over tomorrow to join in on the fun, and finally, I’ll be heading over shortly as well. We are purposely staggering ourselves to keep Stan equipped with “fresh” help. This country is horrendously steep and deep with little water. Google it and you’ll see what I mean.
I’ll be posting up trailcam photos, video clips, and updates to the hunt as frequently as possible to keep you all up on the action. I have posted up some photos to our Facebook Page so you can always stop in, “LIKE” FreshTRAX Outdoors and keep current there too.
Check back for updates – stay tuned!
Stan and Chris were jolted out of a dead sleep as a bull came through their spike camp at 4AM bugling his head off. They later glassed up another nice 6×6 this morning and said they are seeing a LOT of nice 6’s, but still looking for something special. So today they are glassing ridges and covering country trying to locate some bigger bulls. He said it’s tough to be passing on 320 class bulls but it’s early in the hunt.
Later in the morning they called up this 6×6 who came in quickly before they could get the tripod set up…gotta love it when that happens!
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Chris wrapped up the first week and headed home today. Along the way, he likely crossed paths with Joe who is bringing over more food and some new gear to test, including a Benchmade Bone Collector knife, Alpen 20-60X spotting scope, among other items. Formal Product Reviews are a big part of what we do at FreshTRAX Outdoors, and we always put gear to the test under real-world conditions in order to provide our readers the most valuable information.
The Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness is full of game despite the vast expanses of sheer rock faces and grassy slopes that seem to drop forever into the canyons. Big mule deer bucks, mountain goats and bighorn sheep have been spotted on numerous occassions thus far, not to mention a couple “booner” rattle snakes and this cougar who wandered by a trailcam in broad daylight.
Yesterday evening Stan and Chris worked a big 6×7 down in a hole but it got dark before they could put anything together on him, so they backed out. They are seeing many 6×6 and better bulls daily but with the 95 degree temps, the bulls are holed up in the bottoms. The rut is heating up but it seems a bit early yet so Stan is playing the game carefully to conserve energy over the long haul. Most of the bulls seem to be very vocal at night as the temps are dipping down to the 40 degree mark. That is a daily 50+ degree temperate swing!
The strategy thus far has been to spike camp out from the wall tent camp for 2-3 days at a time and spend a lot of time glassing in order to locate a shooter bull. Mountain House meals are pretty tasty but when you’re living on them for days on end, energy conservation is key with the heat and steep terrain. Hiking into the bottoms doesn’t make much sense unless you know you’ve got good reason due to the toll it would take on your body to make the trip down and back in the extreme heat.
Chris will be back home soon and will be sending me over all the photos from the first week so I’ll get those up here as quickly as possible. Stay tuned!
Joe indeed arrived late in the afternoon yesterday. Stan met up with him and due the time, they opted to head out to a spot Stan had seen a couple good bulls instead of settling Joe into camp. They arrived to the ridge where Stan has been keeping tabs on a couple bulls. Stan broke out the new Alpen 20-60X spotting scope that he’s reviewing to get a better look, and after dialing in the scope, they figured one of the bulls with cows was a solid 350+ class bull! He was bulging a lot and putting on a show but it was too late to go after him.
The next morning came early and they were out of camp well before daylight. Stan bugled in the pre-dawn grayness and within minutes a bull started raking loudly not 200 yards away. Now, one thing about this unit – it is open for spike hunting with an over the counter tag, so Joe was packing his bow as well. The raking continued as Stan and Joe closed the gap. Moments later, not one but two raghorn bulls emerged like a couple of dumb teenagers.
They bailed and moved quickly to another area Stan and Chris had been monitoring previously. They glassed one good bull with a handfull of cows and located a groaner of a bull that they couldn’t get a look at. He was down in a hole with timber so they noted the location as an option for tomorrow morning. This evening they planned to check out another hole that looks really good. This will give them two options. The rut is definitely ramping up despite the fierce heat. Stan and Joe will leave in the morning with loaded packs for a 2-3 excursion from base camp so it may be a couple days for another solid update.
Chris returned and sent me a bunch of photos. I will add these and a bunch more photos to our FreshTRAX Outdoors Facebook page.
So picking up where we left off on the evening of the 4th, Stan and Joe decided to drop into this new “hole” Stan had his eye on. They worked side-hill around the upper slopes where it wasn’t too steep for covering ground. It wasn’t long before they spotted a herd of a dozen or so cows with a nice bull. They had to move to a spot where they could set up and get a good look at his antlers. They decided he would score around 315-320”, which isn’t quite what Stan is looking for.
They dropped down over the side and worked down toward some of the timbered creases in the landscape. Two 5×5 bulls were down in there with a pile of cows. Stan and Joe waited it out to see if there were any bigger bulls in the mix but never saw any before darkness fell.
Stan was up for a surprise when they returned to the wall tent. His wife sent some Omaha Rib Eye steaks along with Joe, who cooked them up with some spuds for dinner. (Sounds like a real nice man date to me, boys!) Stan told me he’s been living on freeze-dried meals since he got over there, so it was good to load up on real protein.
The morning of the 5th, they decided to head back into a good area where Stan has seen a number of nice bulls thus far. At first light they glassed a smallish 6×6 with a pile of cows and another 350-class bull. A little further in, around 7:30 AM, they encountered another herd of nine cows under the thumb of a monster 7×7 that would push 370” – a definite shooter.
The bull was on the move to bed, pushing his cows as they dropped down into the canyon. Stan and Joe moved quickly and got closer but there was no way to cut them off. The thermals are transitioning at that time of the morning which makes closing the gap even more difficult. So, the plan is to keep tabs on him and see if they can identify where he is bedding down. When these elk are up and moving in this steep country, it’s nearly impossible to keep up on the side-hills. They simply move too fast and the country is not conducive to circling around in front of moving animals.
For the evening hunt they were possibly going to check another area but I have not heard back from Stan yet…stay tuned!
I was just heading to lunch yesterday when I got this text message from Stan. It stopped me in my tracks!
“Well you are going to call me crazy but we moved in on a bull that sounded huge down in a nasty canyon. Worked in on him as we usual do – Joe hung back and worked the cow calls and bugling while I stalked in on him the last 100 yards. I played it perfect and was at full draw at 10 yards from a 350 class 6x 7 with huge fronts. He was really big on his 6 pt. side but he wasn’t huge on his 7 point side. I passed because it is only a week and a half into the season and that other 7 point we saw was bigger. Biggest bull I have ever had a good shot at AND I PASSED! I can’t believe it!”
Now, I’ve known Stan for over 20 years and I trust his instincts but holy cow. I know he and Joe are spike camped out, and I expect delays in getting updates but now it’s killing me because I’ve not heard a thing since! I know he was wanting to get back on the big 7×7, and I can only hope that’s what they’re doing. I’ll post another update as soon as I hear from them…
Stan was able to call me today and fill me in on the past couple days. He also sent over a new batch of photos to share. It’s been insanely hot but the bulls are very active early and late. The mid-day hours are more quiet but they’ve been into multiple in the timbered ridges almost daily.
After Stan let that 350-class bull walk on the 7th, they regrouped and headed into a new area Stan hasn’t spent much time scouting ahead of the season. Almost immediately they located a gorgeous, perfectly symetrical 360+ 6×6 herd bull. They didn’t know how big he was at first, or that he had a small collection of cows. The situation was dicey with a large opening between them. There was no hesitation; Stan pushed the envelope and quickly closed the gap to about 40 yards as Joe hung back hoping to catch the remaining glory moments on film.
At about 38 yards Stan was once again drawn on a monster bull and needed the him to take another step forward to clear his chest. Unbeknownst to both Joe and Stan this bull’s cows were just below them – downwind. It wasn’t long before the house of cards crumbled with thundering hooves pounding the sun-baked earth. Any veteran elk hunter has lived through this scenario across the west, but that fact offers little relief.
More and more rubs are appearing as the rut heats up.
With two 350+ shooter bulls inside bow range within a few hours, they were pumped…and soaked with sweat under the mid-day sun. They backed out to give this bull a rest and moved up to one of the upper ridges they’ve camped on. It was so hot and there wasn’t any bugling action at all. They used the time to rest and decided to set up camp for the night.
This morning they dropped into an adjacent area where they glassed some elk and heard at least three bulls bugling repeatedly. They headed back into this area tonight and will be spiked out for the next two days. They are pretty stoked about the game plan for the next two days. They have at least three bulls located in this deep canyon. Stan told me to expect a 2-day delay in any updates, assuming he doesn’t kill a bull.
They have found a lot of dry and wet wallows, and will be putting some time on one of the more active muddy wallows. When I head over on the 15th, I’ll be taking a variety of treestands so we can set up for long mid-day sits with the camera. Again, assuming Stan doesn’t tag out by then.
As you can imagine with the extreme inclines and heat, scent control is always a concern. Keeping your body and clothing clean and as fresh as possible is a priority. There is very little water around unless you drop into the very bottom of the canyons. When they do find water, they filter & fill their hydration bladders and get cleaned up.
Here Joe pretends to slurp from a funky spring. We never drink unfiltered water. Ever.
Stan using the mid-day lull to catch up on laundry.
On the morning of the 11th, Stan and Joe were working a herd bull in the timber. He was really carrying on and tearing up trees as they closed the gap. He obviously had cows so they used the thick cover to carefully close the distance but he was up on the steep slope above them across a small creek, if I’m not mistaken.
They kept him excited and continued to make him feel the pressure of another bull encroaching on his harem. It worked and they could hear the bull coming down toward them.
Joe got the camera set up as Stan moved ahead to set up. Joe was set up perpendicular to the path the bull was on, so if you think about a “T” shape, the bull was coming left to right across the top of the “T”, Stan was on the right side of the “T” and Joe was on the bottom leg.
Stan watched the 330-class bull for about 10 minutes as he entered the opening and began to rake a tree a mere 30 yards away. Joe couldn’t see any of this from his location. Then the bull just marched right in, leaving his cows up on the side-hill to lay down the law with the intruder.
If you watch closely, you’ll see Stan’s head is located toward the right side of the frame about ½ way up. It’s a blob that looks out of place amongst the vegetation. The bull was inside 15 yards but Stan felt there were better bulls in the area just as ready to pose for him, so he let him walk.
Joe left on Sunday for home so Stan has been doing it alone since then. As of last night he had four bulls going nuts around his bivy spike camp. He’s been in nearly every bottom, hiked every ridge, and otherwise covered the wilderness area in search of a special bull. There are about four bulls that he’s after. I will be driving all night to join Stan for next week of excitement. I fully expect we’ll be closing out this hunt with the heavy weight of a great wilderness bull on our backs. We will do our best to provide updates from the field but it will likely be a few more days to see any update. In fact, we may have more luck providing Facebook updates, so be sure to “Like” FreshTRAX Outdoors to see and hear about the final act in this epic DIY bowhunting adventure!
Just got a text from Stan so here’s a real-time update: “Got into two bulls this morning neither of which panned out. Saw five other bulls on the opposing ridge one of which is a clear shooter! We will get it done I am very sure. See you soon!”
Sorry for the long delay in posting an update. I met up with Stan last Thursday morning (15th) after driving all night. We organized our gear and got ready for a 2-3 day pack in. It was raining and cool, which was a major change in the weather up to this point in the hunt.
We hiked in about 7 miles into one of the major drainages in the Wilderness area, then hooked upstream into one of the feeder canyons where Stan and Joe hunted several days prior. Stan was eager to show me the series of fresh wallows that littered the canyon bottom, and it wasn’t long before the amount of fresh sign increased dramatically.
We set up our bivy camp (dumped the packs and laid out our bags) and headed up canyon for the evening hunt. We located a bull on the crest of a smaller ridge and decided to pop over the top and work him. He was a talker but not all that interested in closing the distance. In this country you’ve got to work on bulls who want to come in and play otherwise you can expend too much energy chasing “recreationally vocal” bulls. So we pushed up the bottom and hoped it would open up. But it didn’t. It got tighter and tighter so as the sun began to sink, we elected to lock in the hubs and climb up and out. As it got darker, we traversed across the ridge until we crested its back, following it back down to our meager camp.
I was pretty well dead to the world after a full day of hiking on the backside of no sleep the night before so I don’t remember much after climbing into my bag. I was jolted from my coma as Stan flopped across the ground in his bag, trying to kick me into consciousness. Turns out we had a bull bugling from about 10 yards away! He bugled twice and just walked on by.
After the next morning’s hunt and deciding to move our bivy camp upstream a mile or so, Stan and I worked on several “meaty” sounding bulls over the next two days. But as vocal as they were, they were not willing to commit to closing the gap, even when we got inside 50-75 yards. Frustrating to say the least.
We hiked out and headed back to the main wall tent camp where we met up with my good friend Matthews Cook. He came down from Pullman, Washington for a couple days of glassing and scouting, and it was good to spend some time with him. He killed a really nice bobcat in Washington the day before we met up with him and we discussed bobby backstraps for dinner (as Stan was sorting through his stash of Mountain House meals).
The next couple days Stan and I worked a bunch of canyons and located quite a few bulls. I cow-called in a really nice 350-class bull that came on the run from one side of an open canyon clear across to our side (.8 mile as the crow flies on the GPS!) only to have him hang up inside 50 yards just below Stan’s set up, bugling his head off. We set up in the thick stuff to force him to come into Stan’s shooting lanes but our set up also prevented us from seeing him as well. So we couldn’t move. We threw the book at him trying to force him to commit but he stood firm and eventually moved back down slope. We pushed hard on his back-trail but he wasn’t coming back up.
I worked several good bulls that behaved similarly – they’d come in hard, barely giving us time to set up. We’d set up and get the camera rolling, and they’d just stand there screaming at us. I captured some killer audio on a few of these set ups. We decoyed them, I backed away cow calling, we raked (and they raked), and it just started to get old after a while. Lots of talk, no action. Naturally, we had to watch the wind carefully, especially when our set-ups wore on. Heck, I worked two solo bulls for nearly two full hours, keeping them vocal so Stan could try to sneak in for a shot. He got to the bulls and at 50 yards let out a couple soft cow calls. They just bugled more but showed no interest in investigating.
On 9/20 we dropped down the spine of a long ridge to locate bulls in a deep perpendicular canyon. A couple miles in, we got out to the crumbly rocky outcropping overlooking the big canyon. I let out a few cow calls and the place erupted with bugling. It was a nasty, loose, and very steep drop-off into the canyon – the GPS indicated it was ~1,800 vertical feet in just a quarter mile. With five bulls sounding off and a known herd in the bottom, the decision was easy. The hard part was making progress without sending loose rock crashing downhill, which would only spoil our efforts.
We closed the gap on the nearest bull and within minutes found ourselves in the midst of a herd that was being pressured by another bull in the bottom. As the cows filtered up through the steep ravine, we got ready. A 4×4 bull was staring holes through us at 30 yards so I popped out the Montana decoy and held it between us to calm him. It worked, and we were able to walk past him in the wide open without any issues.
The herd bull screamed from below as a satellite bull raked a tree up to our right. I could see the tree swaying violently as the bull stripped it of its limbs. Stan moved forward hoping to get between them as I cow-called frantically. I wanted the herd bull to become enraged and charge up the draw toward Stan but instead he moved his cows up and over a ridgeline out of bow range. Bulls screamed all around us and while it would seem almost easy to slip an arrow into a bull in this circumstance, it wasn’t. They moved so much and the wind was swirling all over. It was hectic to say the least.
Once we got the chance to move ahead, we quickly dropped into the very bottom where we hoped the wind would stabilize, and it did somewhat. Moments later we had a nice chocolate sow at 25 yards looking at us. Her cubs were just over to the right a bit so we weren’t too concerned about her becoming aggressive. A neat encounter and I’d have loved to have filmed them, but we kept moving to keep tabs on the herd.
I cow-called hard and sharp to get a reaction from one of the satellite bulls. Just above us, the “canyon crossing” 350-bull from the previous day roared back. His bugle was very distinct and today he was hot! We found a place to move up the steep dirt bank that lined the creek. As we scrambled up to the small bench 20 yards above us, we could hear him moving through the brush. He was coming so we quickly got set up. But unfortunately we believe he winded us shortly thereafter because he went silent on us in the following minutes, followed by his bellows of frustration from further down the creek.
As we assessed the situation, we decided we needed to start heading back up and out of the canyon. It took us several hours to get back to the truck but at least we were able to complete the steep climb out without headlamps. It was slow going with some tricky steep spots that would have been dicey at night.
This hunt was coming to a close and it was not looking good for Stan in terms of tagging a mature bull. The bulls were hot but I had to head back, and Stan had to start thinking about his Montana tag. We spent the next morning (21st) taking down the wall tent camp, discussing solo strategies, etc., and then I was on the road home by 1:30.
The rut was in full gear and Stan was on his own now. The rain subsided after I left and the hot late summer heat returned. He hiked into another area with a full pack and located a bull down in the canyon but the bull kept distance between them so Stan hiked out to try another area. He saw a 300-class 6×6 near the crest of the ridge but had no shot opportunity in the fading light.
The next day Stan returned to an area where earlier we’d located a gnarly sounding bull a few days prior. We never got an eye on him but he sounded and behaved like a mature bull. Stan got him talking but it dark on him before he could put anything together. He slept on the opposite side of the canyon and worked him at daylight the next morning. Just as it was getting light Stan had him at 50 yards, and a 4×4 came out of the periphery of the herd to his calling. The young bull came inside 20 yards but Stan passed on him. The bull was confused and started barking causing the big bull to move off. Stan continued to call to the big bull to keep tabs on him when a 5×5 came in through the trees. He coaxed the bull into 15 yards and given the season was all but over, he decided to take him with a well-placed arrow. Stan packed him out in the heat down through a huge ravine. The ground distance was over 2 1/2 miles each way. I wish I was there to have helped him.
I wasn’t able to get a photo of Stan’s bull before he left for Montana so I will add it once I get it. In the meantime, I want to say “thanks” for following along on this adventure.
In closing, I have to say that DIY elk hunting with a bow in the Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness of NE Oregon is quite difficult. It’s a fallacy to assert that a premium tag is a slam dunk on the bull of your dreams. If you choose to forgo the road systems of the National Forest land and dive headlong into the wilderness, you’re doing it the hard way, and the reasons for doing so run deep. The steep, unforgiving terrain would bring many otherwise “fit” bowhunters to their knees after day 1. No amount of exercise can prepare your muscles for miles of steep incline hiking with a pack. Unless you train in these conditions, you simply can’t fully emulate it with a workout. Stan has hiked over 300 miles of this country since the summer – much of those miles in 90+ degree temperatures with a full pack – and though he was holding out for a big non-typical bull, it just wasn’t in the cards.
Yes, he passed on some great bulls, and that is a personal decision every hunter must make at the moment of truth. It is often a difficult moment because we all know the risks. But hunting is and should remain pure and personal for each individual. Stan got to experience one of the west’s most incredible places with good friends, a bow, and an elk tag. He came to this place a stranger and left with a deep connection to all of it – the ups, downs, and shared memories. Personally, knowing Stan the way I do, I found it quite fitting that in the final hours of the season, he once again found himself alone; deep in a canyon, doing what he loves most – bowhunting elk one on one, and getting it done. Some measure success by antler size, and that is fine. To each his own. I measure success by the intrinsic value one derives from the entire hunt experience, and in this case Stan enjoyed wild success!