Here We Go!
Here we are with the first blog post from Team Bad Decision of any substance. I wasn’t really sure where I wanted the blog to go when we conceived the idea that we should have one, but it is such an open-ended medium that allows for quality interaction and discussion that it was a no brainer. I sincerely hope you participate in the dialogue. Scott and I are certainly not experts in anything other than having a great time in pursuit of our passion, so take what you read here with a grain of salt.
That being said, I would like to talk a bit about the process we’ve been through the last few months.
Holy shit, I wrote a book.
It’s been a ton of fun accompanied by a truckload of work. Sometimes I can hardly believe that I’m getting ready to launch a book, which is something I’ve dreamed of doing since college. We had started simply enough with wanting to catalogue our stories so that we could help preserve our memories and have something our children and grandchildren could read years down the road when we were old men with shot knees and broken backs.
Going from a few stories meant to be written and read in private to putting your work out for people to read, judge, enjoy, hate, burn, cherish, or frame, is a terrifying endeavor. But it has really turned into a project of love. I love the experiences I have had. I love the adventure, the success, and even the failures. Hunting the backcountry has fundamentally changed me as a person, and I think that’s worth sharing with people.
But I honestly could not have done any of this without the community of support I have around me. I’ve had massive amount of support from alpha (and soon beta) readers, editing, cover work, website design and content accuracy. This book would not have happened without that support.
I plan on sharing my random thoughts on topics strictly related to hunting, the hunting industry, short stories that didn’t make the book, upcoming plans, etc. I also hope to have some guest writers on topics share their thoughts. I will kick off our first blog post with a short story that didn’t quite make the book about the end of our 2017 hunt that ended in muted frustration. These stories are unedited and with shortened content, so expect a few errors on occasion.
Enjoy, and feel free to shoot me an email about anything you would like to see or questions you might have. I would love to run an open mailbag to discuss topics people care about!
Six days, forty miles, twenty-four thousand feet of elevation gain, one giant glacier phased bear, and one buck.
Not a single freaking elk.
In our previous years we had seen fifteen to thirty bulls over the course of a trip and well over a hundred cows. But the snow-covered ground wasn’t even yielding a track. I sat on the ridge overlooking the yellowed aspens that contrasted the white from winters early presence. I let off a bugle into the basin, and listened as it echoed off the basin walls and into the timber. Silence was my only response.
I turned to Scott, “Think we should head to the north basins?”
“Fuck, I don’t know,” he replied.
I nodded. Equally confused.
We were unsure what happened, but something had caused the elk to move completely out of the country. We toyed with the idea that it had to do with increased pressure, but the amount of people we had seen didn’t lend credit to that. The other guess was the weather. Despite our best efforts, all of our evening whiskey sessions had been done inside the tent, without a single fire for company. Snow and wind had pelted us over the last week with relentless abandon. The snow, one would think, was a good thing. But unfortunately, the snow also confirmed our fears when we did not cut a single track during a ten-mile circuit.
We made the hard decision sitting on that ridge to change locations.
We packed up camp and began the hike down and across to move into the northern section of basins with the hope that the elk were holed up down in the dark timber sheltering from the weather. We were running out of time, and the few minutes of service we got informed us that the weather was getting worse. Forty to fifty mile and hour gusts and scattered rain storms would be waiting for us over the next two days.
With camp relocated and dark closing in, we began to plan for the following day. The basin we were camped in had a large lake in the bottom, by which we were camped. From nearly the lakes edge up towards the top of the basin was a snarled mess of avalanche strewn trees. We had been through it before in years past and fun was not a word I would use to describe it. But once you exit that mess, a small pass leads into the next basin where we previously had good luck finding elk.
We were surprised that we were the only camp as that location tends to be moderately popular not only with hunters, but with the occasional hiking or backpacking group. We filled our water and sipped wine in our sleeping bags while the wind whipped and shook the tent. Our moods were sour, but the wine helped.
Morning greeted us with sun and a moderately less aggressive wind, which gave us a momentary respite on our negative outlook. This hunt had proven to be one of the more mentally challenging hunts we had been on in years with the lack of game and intense weather. It almost felt like we were back hunting public land in Washington…
We began to pick our way carefully up through the avalanche graveyard, hopping up over tree stumps, and navigating the sparse paths.
I had just stepped up over a stump onto a small flat when I heard a grunt behind me. I turned to see Scott grabbing at his ankle and grimacing.
“I’ll be fine.”
I shrugged my shoulders and continued the climb, noticing that he was not exactly fine, but it wasn’t life threatening. Over the years I have seen Scott take a variety of slips, trips and falls but none had resulted in serious injury. But this little twist seemed to have him in quite a bit of pain.
We made the gap with little fanfare and thankfully no additional injuries. Scott shook his foot out again as we glanced down to find the same scene that had played out for us all week. Zero elk. Nada. Zilch.
I ripped off a location bugle, and waited.
We sat down for a snack and looked over the maps. What little sign we had seen was down low, and so we decided that we should move down onto the timber benches to try and locate elk. Our time was short, and we were grasping at straws to try and make something happen.
As we moved further down the basin towards the waiting timber line, the wind began to pick up in intensity and seemed to lack direction, swirling with reckless abandon. We walked along uneasily as the trees swayed, rocked and groaned with each gust. The wind also made it difficult to call as it limited the distance the sound would travel, and masked a return bugle. We were creeping along an old creek bottom towards a large flat that appeared to hold water and hopefully elk.
Every hundred feet or so, I would stop and sound out another location bugle. Down, down, down we dropped. Nearly two thousand feet as we worked further out of the high country into the dense woods. Pine and aspen were everywhere, but this was an old forest and the floor was relatively easy to navigate with the sparse underbrush. A bend in the dry creek seemed another good location to sound a bugle. The wind whipped it away and swirled again, bringing with it a strange high-pitched moan.
I cocked my head and turned to Scott.
“Was that a bugle?” I asked.
Scott shrugged and we left the creek bed, hiking up one of the steep embankments onto the flat above. We peered through the trees, looking for movement when suddenly we could see down below us the top half of a monster bull trotting along towards us.
“Here he comes!” Scott whispered.
Everything was happening quickly. Days without seeing a single elk, and all of a sudden, we were having a shot opportunity. The bull came up off the game trail he was following and began to walk towards us on a string, crashing through brush with his nose up in the air hunting for a scent. Another fifteen yards and he would clear the timber and Scott would have a shot.
Scott knocked an arrow.
The wind howled as Scott got ready to draw, everything beginning to slow down.
Then the wind switched.
The bull locked up mid step, and blew a large snort as he immediately turned and sprinted full speed in the opposite direction.
We both slumped to our knees shaking with adrenaline. Holy shit that was cool, and understandably frustrating.
A downed tree lay nearby and we sat on it to eat lunch and try to reconcile what had just happened. As we were replaying the events, trees crashed around us in the forest and we watched with a sense of unease. Then suddenly another crack sounded from above us and an aspen about eight inches in diameter slammed into the ground about thirty yards away. We decided that lunch hour in the swirling vortex of death was over.
The lunch break did not do Scotts ankle any favors as it continued to stiffen. He shook it out and walked with a limp without complaining. We crawled back out of the timber, trying to keep a wary eye out for widow makers and suspect trees. The wind continued to howl and the trees continued to fall. It was an eerie walk out, wondering if our number was going to be punched.
But soon we emerged from the timber, and left the falling trees behind and only had the annoyingly persistent wind to deal with. As we trudged up out of the lower section of the basin at an easy pace, I noticed a black spot about a hundred yards above. I pulled my binoculars up and the black spot resolved into a bear. He was a younger boar, and curious. He stood on his hind legs trying to wind us, but it appeared the wind was not cooperating for him either.
He eventually decided that we were likely a threat and turned tail and ran up onto the basin wall, then turned horizontally and began side hilling. We watched as he moved with uncertainty back and forth and finally exited out the northern edge of the basin.
We eased up the basin into the saddle and down through the avalanche slide back towards camp. Scotts ankle had continued to stiffen up on the walk back, and with the continued high winds forecasted for our last day, we decided to pack out a day early. As we walked out, we were overcome with a sense of confusion and frustration. We had decided that we finally had that area figured out in our third year hunting it, with a notched tag and multiple opportunities in years past. But now?
Now we had been humbled by the mountain.