I love hunting. It’s not just a hobby, it’s a passion. I am usually the one that says, let’s check this one last ridge even after we’ve hiked five miles, or one last push through the brush when we’ve been hunting in twenty below weather all day. But I am not particularly fond of hunting solo.
Our kids are six and seven, almost old enough to start going out with us. We hunt mainly spot and stalk and do not have stands or blinds set up to where they can come along and sit and enjoy it with us. We usually hike miles in to hunting spots and they just aren’t ready for that, and that’s ok. So, if my husband, Corey, and I want to hunt together, that means a babysitter, and we usually save that for our big five day elk camp trip and a few quick early morning or late evening hunts close to town.
Since my passion for the outdoors is growing, I’ve decided to hunt solo more. I do try to be smart about it. I always make sure someone knows where I will be going, have designated check in times since some of the spots I go does not have cell service, and make sure my husband is working in town and could help should I get into trouble or need help packing an elk out.
This past season I had gone out by myself probably six times but there was this one particular area that we used to hunt and scouted in the spring and saw elk sign, which we hadn’t in a few years. There had been this nagging feeling that I just had to get in there and see if the elk were in there or just moved through earlier in the year. In years past, Corey and I had hiked the mile and a half in to the big meadow and up the ridge and put on fifty plus miles for about three years in a row. We saw some monster bulls in there. I was a bit inexperience and when he told me to go set up down the hill, he meant 100 yards down the hill, not ten, where I did. He called in and watched two bulls fight and come to the exact spot that would have been perfect if I had set up where I was supposed to. I also had a cow at forty yards that we joke I tried to rattle in, as when I went to knock an arrow I was shaking so bad, it rattled across the other ones and of course spooked her off. I heard my first “live” elk bugle in this area, had my first encounter with a bear coming to a cow call, captured two mountain lions in one trail camera picture and had a bear cross ten feet in front of us. So this area has been pretty magical to me and it pulls me in like a trance. I knew I had to go in, solo. I had tried once before last year, and only made it about half a mile to a little clearing, and almost ran the entire way back to the truck. So I was determined to make it at least the mile and a half to the meadow this time.
So I dropped the kids off at school and I drove the forty minutes to the gate, blaring rock music the whole way in the truck to pump myself up so I didn’t chicken out. Arrived at the gate, and there’s another truck parked. I knew this would probably happen since I wasn’t able to be there before daylight and other hunters would be around since it was rifle season. So even though I was disappointed someone was parked at the gate, it gave me hope that the elk might be back in the area, as we had come to believe that the predators had taken over. I decided to purchase a wolf and mountain lion this year just in case. The next day I tried again with the same result, so by my third attempt I was kind of shocked and unprepared for there not to be a vehicle. Thinking to myself, it’s now or never. I parked and loaded up with my game plan of which route I was going to take and what time I would have to turn around or which peak I would need to hike up to for cell service.
It had snowed about an inch the day before, perfect conditions to see what kind of animals had been through the area. The old logging road still gets the occasional forester vehicle in the summer, but the entire area is dense and “grown in” for the most part. So even though I was walking down an old road, you still are not able to see more than 75 yards unless you get to a clearing or meadow.
I get about 200 yards down the road, and there’s four sets of wolf tracks in the snow. Wolf tracks right? Yeah pretty sure. Well maybe they are mountain lion tracks. Thinking to myself. I can see down the road a ways and they (the tracks) are coming towards me and then turn off into the brush. I’m standing there, still able to see my truck and thinking to myself, this is a moment of truth. Do I chicken out or do I continue on? If Corey was with me I wouldn’t have thought twice about it and followed the tracks into the brush. But I was alone. And scared. I was confident they were wolf tracks, but found myself scanning the trees to make sure there wasn’t a cat perched up there.
It was about twenty degrees out, but I stood there with my loaded 30-06, in the middle of the road, 200 yards from my truck, for about ten minutes, scanning the trees and the brush, looking for any sign of movement. Determined to work up the courage to move.
You know that feeling, when your senses are so heightened that you hear every leaf falling to the ground, or a pile of snow falling off a branch and hitting the ground, that literally any noise could be an animal. Well magnify that by about ten, and you get my current state.
Finally, I took a step, then another. I walked about 20 yards, then would stop and listen. After a few hundred yards, I was able to walk quietly enough that I could be aware of my surrounds and not have to stop and make sure something wasn’t following me or waiting around the next bend, all the while, I’m following wolf tracks, well where they came from, not the direction they were going. So, was there a kill site ahead that they had moved on from, or were they hunting, moving through? For some reason I still felt the need to scan the trees, even though I knew they were wolf tracks, not mountain lion.
I had my rifle loaded and a bullet in the chamber, with the safety on and my finger off the trigger. But every squirrel and bird that I heard was in my crosshairs within a millisecond.
I finally made it to the meadow. Found a spot, listened and waited. Made a few cow calls to see if I could entice anything to come out, but nothing. Even though I probably wasn’t alone, I felt like I was comfortable enough to finally set my rifle down and use my binoculars. Now at this point I had walked in about a mile and a half, which took over an hour. My rifle was in a prone position the whole time, not slung over my shoulder. My arms felt tired but knew I still wasn’t comfortable enough to walk out without having it ready. I had made it to the meadow, but not a step further. The walk out was more of a normal pace, thinking that with each step I was closer to my truck.
Fast forward to that night. Being so alert and making every move so precise as to not step loudly on the crunchy ice/snow and having my rifle up like I was stalking, my entire body ached and I was mentally exhausted.
Three days later, I drove to another spot, about two miles away. There were no wolf tracks a few hundred yards down the trail, but I knew I wasn’t far away and it would be stupid to think that they weren’t or couldn’t be in here, but for some reason I felt much more okay with being there alone. Was it the wolf tracks that had me so freaked out, or did I just need to prove to myself that I could do it? I’m not sure the reason but I do feel a sense of accomplishment.