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Bonsai Hunting - Cameron Hanes
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Bonsai Hunting

Bonsai Hunting

I am not a big fan of the ol’ tag in tact syndrome. During a recent backcountry hunt in my home state of Oregon, I had arrowed a buck, but had been shut out on elk. I reasoned with myself, “Hey, you should be happy. You didn’t kill a bull, but you did arrow a good buck. A trophy.” And, then there is the always popular, “At least we got some incredible film, which means the hunt was a success.” Who was I trying to kid? My goals are seldom considered realistic and this was no different. I wanted it all. I wanted my buck AND I wanted a good bull. But, the hunt had ended and with it my elk season. Tapped out of vacation and with work waiting I only had weekends left to hunt and being that the elk woods near home were closed because of “fire danger” realistically, I was done.

Or was I? My only hope was to bomb back over, across the entire state, to the wilderness on a weekend Bonsai trip. And, this is exactly what I did the last weekend of season. This last gasp for effort for elk required me to leave the house at 2:00 a.m. on Friday morning, drive 9-hours and pack in over 10-miles to get into my elk country. I contemplated hunting a closer or a more easily accessible area but in the end decided to go with what I knew. I had no doubt that if I could put all of the logistical pieces of the puzzle together and get back into the wilderness I am so familiar with; I would have opportunities at bulls, even given the severely abbreviated schedule. Really, all a guy can ask for is opportunity. What you do with that opportunity is another story.

Immersed in full Bonsai-mode, before I knew it I was some ten miles into the wilderness with red-ringed eyes and a fatigued body. Pausing on the pack trail for a moment I heard a bugle and another and another. No surprises here it was just as I knew it would be. I dove off the trail towards the bulls, through the creek and up the side of the canyon. I traveled close to a mile. After pulling myself over cliffs and bouncing across creeks, I finally was in a position to ease over a handful of boulders and spy the elk I had long ago heard, but had yet to see.

 The first elk I saw were two bulls sparring. I came to full draw but deemed the quartering away angle too steep and he was out of “slam dunk” range. Did not want to force a shot now. They moved up the hill, trailing the main herd and I went wide and followed. Perfect wind. Neither of these guys were the herd bull. He was up the hill, trying to bugle, but was either too old or simply too bugled out to elicit even a halfway decent bellow. I closed and bumped two cows. Things were on the verge of blowing up when I saw the herd master. He was a big six-point that I figured would go over 330 P&Y. The cows stared intently and I moved forward desperate to capitalize before they’d had enough. The big bull was slowly ambling through the timber away from me at 50-yards. I ducked and strained trying to manufacture a shot. There were simply too many limbs and branches. Just then I noticed another elk coming my way. It was a bull and not a bad one, especially for the last weekend. I had already told myself that any five was in trouble.

Mud covered, he kept coming. At forty, I came to full draw and side stepped behind a tree. His pace was such that I felt if I hadn’t had drawn then, he might be on top of me before I could have. At twenty yards he stopped, completely unaware. I felt so confident the shot was almost like a formality. My arrow blew through him causing much and quick trauma. The bull didn’t even make it 30 yards and I watched him go down. It wasn’t even 5:00 p.m. and I had left the trailhead at 11:30 a.m. That was a long day that didn’t end until much later after breaking down my bull.

I still can’t believe it worked. A D-I-Y wilderness double in “perfect game” fashion as I released two arrows all season and tagged two animals, which traveled a total of about 80 yards. There is nothing quite like elk
season. Next September can’t come soon enough.

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