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Tearing Up the Brush – A B&C Audio Adventure



By Kenneth R. Adamson
19th Big Game Awards Program | From Legendary Hunts

There were a thousand thoughts zipping through my mind as I crouched in my makeshift blind, straining to hear a hint of sound that would let me know that I was not all alone here in the woods. Thoughts such as, did I blow it? Did the wind spook the bull? Should I just pack up and leave quietly and return tomorrow? Should I have tried stalking the noises I had heard? Will I hit a branch if I get a shot? Is this hunt going to be one of those that end up as a good story, but no meat?

I felt the bull was still in the vicinity, and I wanted to be ready if I got a shot. So, I checked the pulley wheels of my compound bow for obstructions, checked the sight pins, drew a couple of times, and checked to make sure my broadheads were tight and aligned. By this time, I was as ready as I was going to get. I figured the elk, if it was an elk, should be settled down enough after a half hour to forget the sound and/or scent that had spooked it.

My previous bowhunting for elk hadn’t produced anything in the way of meat or antlers. The Oregon bow season had opened the last weekend in August, and I had hunted for a full week with family and friends. We saw elk, but didn’t manage to bring home any antlers. Since then, I had managed to hunt four evenings, with the same results.

Most of my hunting is done on private land, owned by the timber company that employs me as a forest engineer. So, I do have the advantage of being in good elk hunting areas several times throughout the year. My best friend and hunting partner, David Showerman and I have been hunting together for about 15 years. We have taken several elk and deer, but we were still waiting for the “Big One.” Unfortunately, he was not along on this hunt.

Saturday morning, September 7, 1985, I left home before daylight and spent a couple of hours bowhunting with no success. I had promised my wife and her brother that I would attend the grand opening of the building where her brother works. That took up most of the midday, but if I hurried, I could still get in a couple of hours of late afternoon bowhunting. I wasn’t about to pass up that opportunity.

I had seen several herds of elk on a 300-acre tract of land owned by our timber company earlier in the season, so I figured this would be a good place for the evening hunt. My wife, Theresa, and two kids, Jeramy and Leslie, hopped in our four-wheel drive pickup, and we all headed for the hunting area 50 miles west of Portland.

We arrived at 5:00 p.m., which would still give me three hours of good bowhunting daylight during the best part of the day. The sky was cloudy and completely overcast, with the feeling of rain in the air. For this country, rain is a pretty common occurrence, and I knew my wool hunting clothes would keep me warm even in a downpour. Theresa agreed to pick me up along a logging road (about a mile away) in three hours, so I headed for the woods.

My favorite method for hunting elk with a bow is still-hunting and stalking, as the cover is too dense for good glassing. There is plenty of feed for the elk in the logged-over areas, so they seldom venture into the more open meadows and parks. I spent lots of time practicing my bugling, using a Jones diaphragm call and grunt tube. But with all the bowhunting competition in the area, the bulls are cagey and seldom answered a bugle any more. Over the past couple of years, several bulls have responded silently to my calling, catching me completely by surprise. To date, I had not bugled-up a good bull to get a shot, but that didn’t stop me from being ready.

I hadn’t gone far down an old skid trail, when I began to see lots of fresh elk tracks in the trail. It had rained the day before, so I knew the sign was fresh, and that elk were in the area. I try to stay on good trails when hunting, because it is much quieter and easier to move through dense vegetation. I had traveled about a half-mile during the first hour, and I was seeing more and more fresh sign, when I heard brush breaking in front of me. About the time I heard the racket in the brush, I spotted a huge track in the muddy trail that I was sure had been made by a large bull. The huge track and breaking brush combined to get my adrenaline pumping, and I had to force myself to slow down.

I eased forward and could definitely hear what I took to be elk, moving through the heavy brush ahead of me.

I eased forward and could definitely hear what I took to be elk, moving through the heavy brush ahead of me. The wind had been in my face since I left the truck; but, as luck would have it, it was now swirling around in several directions. I tried to move off the trail and circle to see what was making the noise, but I couldn’t because the underbrush was just too thick to get through. The only route open was a direct approach, which I didn’t particularly care for. The decision was taken from me when a stray breeze blew down the back of my neck and I heard branches and limbs breaking, as whatever was ahead of me moved off.

In my experience with Roosevelt’s elk, I have found that if they get a whiff of human scent, they will move off but usually not leave the area. They do stay on the alert, and movement or more scent will put them in high gear. However, if the hunter backs off and lets things calm down, the elk can usually be approached again, with caution. I moved back 100 yards up the trail, where I decided to build a blind to hide from what I was hoping was a bull elk. I draped bracken ferns from alder limbs until I had an almost solid blind facing the direction where I had heard the brush breaking.

After half-an-hour of planning and checking equipment, the time had come to do something. I bugled and grunted to the best of my ability. Almost immediately a bull came running into the small clearing on the trail that I had just vacated. My blind was too good, as I couldn’t see much of his antlers through the hanging ferns. But, I could tell by his body size that he was not a small bull. He looked around for a minute, and then crossed the trail and went back into the heavy brush and timber, where he proceeded to tear up the brush with his antlers. I waited through another 10 to 15 agonizing minutes of silence, trying to figure what he was up to. I bugled again, and glimpsed the bull as he moved cautiously through the trees and up a small ridge, where he again started tearing up the brush.

I was beginning to wonder if I shouldn’t just pack it up and go home. I didn’t seem to be gaining anything, and I was sure I had spooked the bull to the point where he would never come close enough for a shot. My blind was no longer in the right position, so I slowly moved up the trail until I could get around a small bend and out of sight. I bugled once more, and once more the bull started tearing up the brush quite a distance above where I crouched. A few minutes later, I heard a sound in the opposite direction and more brush breaking. The bull had circled around and seemed to be stalking me from the opposite direction.

I figured I had only about 20 minutes of good shooting light left, and I knew I had to do something to get things off dead-center. I found a limb and started thrashing it through the brush, at the same time squealing for all I was worth with the diaphragm and tube. The bull went berserk as he headed my way, tearing and thrashing the brush and limbs. He was about 75 yards away and coming steadily, so I eased out onto the trail and came to full draw. He was moving through the brush, looking around, while I was concentrating on all the things a bow hunter should do at this point of the game. I argued with myself as to whether I would try a shot through the brush. I figured if I couldn’t get a good shot, then I wouldn’t take any.



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The bull took a couple more steps, stopped, and then moved into a small clearing at about 40 feet and stopped again. He turned his head slightly, and as he did, he took one more step forward with the front leg on my side, giving a perfect “behind the shoulder” angle. I put the 20-yard pin half-way up his chest, and about 10 inches behind the shoulder, then lowered it about four inches to allow for the short distance, and released. The bull jerked, and then trotted about 30 yards, where he stopped and stood looking at me. I remember wondering, as he stood there 40 yards away with the arrow embedded up to the orange vanes, why I hadn’t shot completely through him as I had supposed I would at that range.

I don’t know how long we stared at one another before I thought to myself, “Man, get another arrow into him if he’s just going to stand there.” I got another arrow on the string just as he turned and started off. I let go with a bugle, hoping to stop him for the shot; but all that did was scare him into an all-out run for heavy timber. He disappeared in a second, leaving me standing there with a sinking feeling, wondering if I had really hit him as well as I thought, or if I would have to track him all night or maybe lose him in the rain that was just starting to come down.

The light was fading fast when I got to the spot where I last saw him, but there was still enough light to see the quantities of blood that seemed to be everywhere. Another 20 yards and I could make out his huge form lying on the forest floor. What an elk! His body was so big that I really didn’t take a full look at the antlers before heading back to the truck to tell my wife and kids and to get all the help I could to get him home.

We were able to get the truck to within 150 yards of the bull and take him out whole. He measured 12 feet and four inches from hind feet to nose and would have stood 5½ feet tall at the shoulders. The meat weighed 580 pounds, which would have put his live weight at somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,200 pounds. His massive rack was six by six, with a couple of little extra points, and a score of 353-4/8 points. 





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-Theodore Roosevelt