You Are Never Too Old To Elk Hunt!

M.A.S.H. Unit Chases Elk!

A combination of: three hip replacements, one knee replacement, two shoulder surgeries, 10 broken ribs, punctured lung, broken leg 10 weeks prior to the hunt, pacemaker, and onset of rheumatoid arthritis, isn’t enough to keep these 70- and 81-year-old nimrods out of the elk woods!

An elk tag seems to be burning a hole in my pocket. I haven’t shot an elk in six years. Long-time friend Noah Wright, and I are sitting in the foothills of the Oregon Coast Range, looking at a herd of 60- to 65 Roosevelt elk. They stare back from the crest of a knoll at about 100 yards. First light is slowly pealing back the darkness behind them. Five branch bulls are silhouetted against a cold, gray dawn. The bulls tower above cows, calves and a dozen spike bulls. A sight that would send even the most seasoned elk hunter’s pulse pounding.

Our Challenge
Our herd is on private property. A neighbor comes by and says: “You boys elk hunting?” We nod affirmative. “Old Charlie would probably give permission to hunt, but he won’t show up until around eight.” 

We are left in silence to watch the nervous herd. A big, tan, lead cow starts pacing back and forth. They panic and vanish over the hump. We make it over the knoll in time to see them vanish into timber.

“I know where they’re headed,” Wright hisses. “There’s a heavily timbered plateau, about two miles. They always wind up there when they settle down.”

No doubt he knows what he’s talking about. He has hunted deer and elk in this area for more than 40 years. Year after year, he has shared pictures — and stories — of successful hunts with son Doug and friend Jeff. They consistently kill bulls in a short four-day season. Jeff once told me, “Noah has an unbelievable ability to know where elk will go when disturbed. We jump them today, he knows where they will be tomorrow.”

How It All Began
It started with a phone call from Wright. “Why don’t you put in for a cow tag up where we’re logging? Only 20 tags. Odds are not good, but who knows.”

“I’m just not able to man-handle the quarters of an elk any more,” I reply. “Hip replacement, surgery on both knees and shoulders, work on an elk would be pretty difficult for me.”

An Offer I Can’t Refuse
“All you have to do is pull the trigger,” he explains. “It’s a long season. We’ll wait until they move onto the ridge where we’re logging, and into an area where you can get to them. Doug and I will do the grunt work. If it’s close enough, we may drive the cat down and get it.”

By now this is beginning to sound about as easy as running a dating service for Victoria’s Secret.

I apply for the tag, and figure I will wind up with just a preference point. I was surprised when the computer picked my name in June. It is five months until season opens.

Hunt Is Over Before It Begins?
Two days before season opens, a tall oak kicks back and breaks Wright’s leg in three places. After operations and multiple screws to put things back in place; “No weight on the foot for 10 weeks,” the doctor said. It doesn’t look good for Wright to lead me on a hunt.

Ten weeks plus two days later, the phone rings. “Ready to go elk hunting?” came Wright’s familiar voice.

The herd disappears into the timber. “Want to go after ’em?” he asks, knowing my response.

“Are you sure you’re up to this?” I respond. I figure, he’s 10 years younger, but has only been walking on that leg three days. Maybe I can keep up.

The 81-year-old author and his 70-year-old friend hunted Roosevelt Elk in Oregon.

We head up an old logging road that runs the direction we want to go. A mile or so later an elk crosses the road 300 yards ahead.

“The herd scattered when they took off,” Wright whispers. “That one is headed back to join the herd. We’ve killed several bulls in that area.”

We reach the place where the elk crossed the road and see where several head have crossed.

“Ready to climb that hill?” he asks.

Into The Timber
Tracks are easy to follow in the soft, wet soil. I see why Wright is a successful hunter. His eyes are constantly searching for orange and black shapes in the heavy growth. He carefully picks each step, not making a sound, as we slip through dense clumps of second growth fir and alder. Tangles of vine maple and dead debris create frequent challenges.

Wright freezes as he peeks around a big fir.

His fingers curl slightly, indicating “come.” Too late. Only flashes of orange as they vanish behind thick brush.

“Three of them,” he whispers. “Probably go a half-mile before they stop.”

Exhaustion Sets In
I begin to notice more of a limp as we climb. It has become easier for me to keep up.

“That’s about enough for me,” he admits. “Let’s head downhill to that old road. It’s a couple of miles back to the truck. There will be another day.”

I couldn’t agree more. I’m exhausted and thirsty. We haven’t even stopped for a drink of water!

As we work our way downhill my boot comes untied. “Noah, let’s sit down on this log. I need to tie my boot and take a drink of water.”

We are in heavy timber looking across a small, running creek. Across the creek the bank rises steeply to a ridge that runs up the mountain.

More Elk
“Elk! Here comes elk, headed up the ridge!” Wright hisses. “Get ready.”

Glimpses of tan and black seem to be gliding through the trees.

I ease off the log to take rest over my knee. “See them?” Wright whispers.

“No. I can’t.”

“You’re too low. Get up on the log and use your binoculars.”

I spot patches of an elk through a narrow window between two trees.

“I can see a chin and some shoulder,” I whisper. “I can’t see the head.”

“They’re both cows. Better hurry. They’re nervous,” Wright said.

At 150 yards I need a solid rest. Best bet, hold the rifle against my walking stick.

Crosshairs settle briefly on the point of the shoulder. At the roar of the .06,

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One Response to “You Are Never Too Old To Elk Hunt!”

  1. David Vaughn

    What a Blessed hunter to have someone go the distance for and with him. My hunting buddy and I had been taking his father-in-law deer hunting for years and yes, we field dressed a few for him and drug almost all of them almost all of the way back to the truck. Maybe when we get in that age someone will take us along and help us fulfill another dream day in the woods. Cherish your time outdoors my friends for all things must come to an end. happy memories to all who take up the trail.