The last few days in May of 2013 had me back out scouting one of my core hunting areas. This is the same general area that I had made my first scouting trip to in mid April and we will go ahead and call it “The Bench” for future reference. This is a summer range area that goes from about 7-9 thousand feet depending on where I go. The hills are tall and I park at about 6000 feet. I have seen deer, elk, bear, and goats all from this one parking spot. The steepness of the terrain keeps the pressure very low, it takes about a 1000 foot gain per mile hiking ability. The first 1000 feet get you started, the next 2000 feet are where the hunting is. You also have to carry enough water for the first day and night. These are some of the ingredients that lead to a great hunting area where Bucks can grow to old age. Elk on the other hand, have a tougher time here because there is an Archery Rut hunt. This opens the door to calling, which in my opinion, combined with rut crazed bulls makes harvesting big Bulls comparatively easier than harvesting big Bucks in this area. The best I’ve seen in 2 consecutive years is a 5 point Bull running the herds. This may change however, as I’m bringing a trail camera to set up in one of the high elevation large parks on this trip. Maybe I will learn something new about the Elk quality in this area.
I arrived at the parking area, threw on my pack and headed down the trail. The trail is unofficial, but from what I can gather it used to be maintained and went somewhere. Now it just goes about 2 miles and is mainly used by day hunters and migrating game. It ends abruptly at a half mile long glacial boulder slide. I got frisky and hiked it one time, it goes into a basin that holds a 1 acre lake with cutthroat trout so tame you can hand feed them. I have since found the best access is via the opposite ridge, it’s another “Hell Hole” and not worth a 5 point Elk to me. I still glass it from the ridge every year though, because you never know, and I’d most definitely pack a 180 buck up and out of there! Towards the end of the trail I started my cross country trek up a mountain to get on a finger ridge that’s reminiscent of a long bench, hence “The Bench”. Its a steep accent if you go straight up, so I usually switchback along various game trails to make it a little easier. During the hunting season when there is a chance that other hunters might be on the main trail I bonsai straight up to get out of sight as fast as possible so no one sees where I’m going. This is a common OTC Public Land tactic, that and not using a light when hiking at night is good practice in some areas.
I got to the bench around 1 PM and started glassing over to where I saw the 170ish Buck last year. I called this Buck the “Rolling Stone Buck” because it was so steep and loose on that hillside that he couldn’t walk without sending rocks rolling down the slope. This is mainly what led to a failed stalk on him last season and I still don’t know how I’m going to get to him if I have another chance this year. I spotted a Doe and her fawn below the rolling stone buck’s haunt near the bottom of the slope. Both the Deer and Elk spend a lot of time feeding this time of year and are out in the open a lot more. Its not uncommon to see them feeding in the middle of the day like this, especially when there is cloud cover.
Farther up the ridge and towards the top I spotted a Sow with 2 Cubs feeding on the hillside. Bears are mostly vegetarian this time of year and are constantly eating to restore body fat and keep up with their energy requirements. The brown cub is easy to see, the black one is just above in the bushes.
I then moved along the ridge a little ways and got a different angle on the bears.
After watching the bears for a while I continued on along the ridge to my predetermined camp spot. There is a nice flat spot in about the middle of the ridge that makes a great centrally located camp. From this ridge I can glass 3 different directions and correspondingly 3 different slopes, it’s an efficient area and one of my favorite ridges.
After setting up camp I hung out in the Supertarp and ate pouched tuna with some other random goodies. Some dense dark clouds rolled in and it started to heavily rain, hail, then snow. After about an hour and a half the sky cracked open and the evening sunlight dried things out a little. It was time to start glassing again!
I ended the evening by watching the same deer and bears until dark with no new animals spotted.
The next morning I packed up camp and headed further along the ridge glassing along the way. It wasn’t long before I hit the snow line.
I didn’t see anything this far up the ridge and so I headed up higher into the park to set out my trail camera. I found a spot, set it up, and took a look around the park. There where some big Elk tracks in the snow from a few traveling Elk, a possible Wolf track, and a definite Bobcat or Lynx track. I hung out for a while, replenished my water, ate, and then started heading back. There wasn’t a whole lot to see up here yet being that the animals were down lower where the spring growth was. I was ahead of them again.
The hike back took most of the day and I got to the bottom of the main canyon around 3 PM. I stopped at a creek crossing and made some cup noodles. While eating I saw a Doe at about 200 yards away come out and start feeding in a small timbered meadow. I have noticed that both the Deer and Elk in this area like to feed at about 3 PM. I finished eating and headed down the trail only to find a group of Does and Fawns, then 2 bucks. The Buck in the back was big bodied and possibly the Rolling Stone Buck. He just seemed to be lacking a little on antler growth.
Another half mile down the trail, I jumped another 2 Bucks close to the trail. It quickly became apparent that the deer were just now showing up to the area and still in the bottom of the main canyon. I was probably the first one in there to see them. Both of these Bucks looked pretty decent with the one behind the log being a little more spooky and having more antler growth. It’s almost like he recognized me, he trotted off purposefully and without hesitation, maybe HE was the Rolling Stone Buck!
Either way this area looks like it is going to hold some Bucks again this year and I will be back later in the summer when they get more growth to try and find them. It also looks like there was good recruitment this year. I saw more deer altogether and more fawns than last year.