People are questioning why I returned empty handed this year. To be honest I’m asking myself the same thing. With the amount of harvestable animals seen, I could have easily filled not only my Oregon General Cascade Buck tag, but also a Black Bear and even my Elk Tag. All said and done that’s a lot of meat in the freezer and three more “man badges”. Not taking those shots may haunt me till opening day of 2013; however, I’m confident in with my decisions to not pull the trigger and here is why.
The Ghost Part I
Around Mid-January 2012 I first spotted a buck that would become known as “The Ghost”. A mature buck whom I would like to think of as the main breeder on my side of the mountain. Thick neck, wide rack and a whiting face, this bucks seen more than most and for certain knew who and what I was. I did my best to follow and track the Ghost throughout the year and decided he’d be my Buck come October. Well… It didn’t happen that way. He went unseen the first two weeks and the distant sounds of rifles left me full of emotions, questioning his whereabouts and general wellbeing. Although I wasn’t seeing The Ghost, I did see smaller Bucks, and nearly ended my season early on more than one occasion. Yet each time I resisted temptation, holding out for The Ghost. I wanted to harvest a Buck that told a story, a Buck that showed how much work and effort I put into the 2012 season. I wanted the Ghost.
Splitting the Oregon Western Cascade General Deer Season is the Western Cascade Bull Elk Rifle Season. One week where the Deer get to rest and the Elk have to hide. Making the hunt tricky this year was logging. Being from a timber family I have nothing against logging, in fact I thought it would work to my advantage (which it kind of did). Opening morning I moved out hoping to fill my Elk tag and my freezer. My goal was simple for elk. Take a legal bull and do it quick. A busy workweek left me with limited time in the woods, and lack of necessary preparation made it worse. I started the morning near a popular watering hole full of Elk tracks and marks, but two prior days of heavy rains kept them away from the pond. Moving out I focused my attention on a deep thick draw where the Elk tend to hide, bed down and travel during the day. With road builders on the top and bottom of the unit putting in fresh landings I was pretty positive I could “pinch” a Bull in the middle.
Moving down into the steep draw I was confronted by tall old growth, and a tangle of thick underbrush, primarily Vine Maples and other nasty broad leafed plants. Prime Elk habitat. Pressing my way down, moving from tree to tree I could hear and sometime smell but never saw one. As the day went on the distance closed in. Finally, dialing in where the Elk were moving the logging stopped, as did their path. All signs began to point up, and of course they were moving in the next draw over. While cursing my way back towards the top heard him. My bull.
What began as the “clunky” walk of an Elk metastasized into a Bull. Dropping to my stomach I inched my way to the edge of a draw only to find him partially concealed by a patch of vine maples. I steadied my rifle and waited. He wasn’t huge, but he was legal and would keep myself, and my family happily fed.
Now here is where it gets tricky, I was faced with an ethical dilemma. Although I could make out my Bull, see his antlers, his rump and the outline of his body; he was still “concealed” by the thick underbrush. My first instinct was to aim in the direction that I assumed lead to his lungs and heart, and pull the trigger. I had to refrain. A leaf could change the trajectory of a bullet by just enough that it may not deliver the final blow and only wound the Bull. Soon my mind was racing with every scenario possible, what if I wounded him, what if I missed him, what if what if what if. We all know that to assume only makes an “ass” out of “you” and “me” so I did what was right. I waited in hope of the perfect shot. It didn’t come. Distracted by something he moved down, deeper into the maples only to somehow sneak past my hunting partner and I. The rest of the day/season was spent wondering where he went and what if.
The Ghost Part II
With Elk Season still in full force I was lucky enough to get one more evening in the woods. Knowing that my hide looked over a well used game trail I was hoping a Bull would pass through. Moving out in the pouring Oregon rain I made myself comfortable in my hide nestled under a few small Oak Trees. With no sign of an Elk and boredom kicking in I finally saw The Ghost. There he was in all his glory, wide in the open as if he knew he was safe, taking an Oregon shower. Of course I thought about taking the shot (who wouldn’t) but my conscience took over and I happily watched him.
Knowing that The Ghost was still alive I kicked off the second part of the Deer Season with much fervor and excitement. As a few days passed I anxiously awaited in my hide till one evening when he appeared. Like the clever bastard he is, The Ghost decided to appear at my hard left just before dark. Only problem was that I’m left handed and had to somehow raise my rifle, turn a full 90 degrees and shoot without spooking a wise Buck whom needless to say was staring directly at me.
My heart pounded and I began to sweat as I waited for him to look away or move into a better position. He didn’t budge. After what felt like an eternity I finally had my moment, he looked away, I moved, he spooked and began to take off. Jumping up in hopes to take a shot I had to hold back once more. Although he was in the open, the angle wasn’t right, and I couldn’t justify a half-assed shot on such a majestic animal. Needless to say I spent the rest of the season frustrated, waiting, searching and questioning my own ethics as a hunter.