Monday, October 6, 2014

Sometimes birds don't matter

There's nothing more exciting to me than watching my dogs work. Seeing them do what they love, searching for birds with their nose high in the air and then suddenly lock on point is as exciting as it gets for me. But, chukar country offers so much more than just bird hunting and today I was lucky enough to observe one of the mountains wonders.

I wish I could put words together like the "Noisy Plume" can to describe my encounter or had a telephoto lens to snap pictures with to let you see it, but I don't, so you'll have to trust me when I say it was spectacular.

I'm sure many of you have seen rutting elk in the past, as I have, but this was the first time I just sat and watched them for an hour and a half before they disappeared over saddle. The last time I saw rutting bulls like this, I was hunting them so I never got to appreciate how hard a bull works to keep his harem.

As Jake and I ascended the mountain range, I thought I heard a distant bugle, but didn't give it much thought since it seemed so far away. Fifteen minutes later, the roar of an elk stopped me in my tracks. It was so loud, I thought he was withing fifty yards of me. The hill side was wide open with nothing but Jake on it. I looked across the canyon and there were about a half dozen cows watching Jake covering the country. I'm talking domestic cows. I'm starting to think my hearing is really screwed up when another bugle blasts me. Then, I see him about 200 yards away and about thirty yards below the cows. I've seen a lot of elk, but never the real big ones. Those that score 350 plus. This was as good of a six point as I have seen in the wild. I would guess around 320 or 330. Through my binoculars, the big boy gave me every possible view I needed to judge his magnificence.

As I sat there watching, more and more elk appeared, until there were about 50 head intermixed with 8 domestic cows. Some of the elk watched Jake running back and forth with curiosity and when he came and sat by me they went on with their browsing. There were two other five point bulls keeping their distance from the big guy but trying to intermingle with the cows any chance they got and a couple other rag horns and two spikes that kept their distance. Every once in a while a couple of the cows or yearlings would stand on their hind legs and punch at each other as if they were sparring.

The big bull worked the cows like a cowboys horse would work domestic cows. Although I know of no water holes in this area, his right side was solid mud. Every time one of his harem would wander off he would stretch his neck out and make a sprint to move her back with the herd. Afterwards, he would stop and grunt, showing his dominance. Only twice more did he let out a full blown bugle. At one point he had more than half of the ladies pushed up along a fence line running across the hillside. He slowly walked about twenty yards above them as if he were counting them.

Elk must not be able to count well. Over a little rise from the main herd, 8 cows and calves started walking in the opposite direction with the two five points in pursuit. The two younger bulls put on a display of their own. They never bugled but would trot back and forth on the hill side paralleling each other and seeming to be sizing each other up. Twice they stopped and faced each other as if they were ready to duel but never got it done. Eventually those ten elk disappeared over the ridge.

Meanwhile, the main herd finally got over the fence. The cows would just stand on their hind legs and almost step over the highest strand. The calves were a little less sure of themselves and paced back and forth along the fence line until the distance between them and their mother's gave them the courage to make the simple jump over the fence. At this point the big bull was showing less aggressiveness and feeding as he mingled out in front of the cows. The two spikes were now with the cows and the big bull seemed to be okay with it. The two rag horns still kept their distance.

As the sun started hitting the ridge where the elk were they started dispersing more and the bull started moving towards a shaded canyon. His interest in the cows was gone. Two coyotes came over the ridge and walked among the herd as if they belonged and the elk hardly even acknowledged their presence. The elk slowly spread out, feeding their way over to the shaded draw. The two rag horns were now with the herd and feeding. The excitement of the morning rut was gone. The heat had sent the elk to a cooler spot, just as it sent Jake and I back down the mountain to come back on a cooler day to find the birds.

Although Jake and I ended our day as just a sight seeing tour, I still have Conner out there putting meat on the table. This weekend he managed to shoot a 15 inch antelope as well as shoot 1 pheasant, 8 quail, 5 pigeons and 2 doves on the youth pheasant opener with his dad. With all that he still had time to play linebacker in his optimist football game, which they won. I hadn't even held a gun when I was 12.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The boy is following in Grandpa's footsteps. Good to see you enjoying your outings.