The Elk’s Breath by an unknown author, contributed by Eddy Chance


Fall 1998

It was a glorious piece of the Oregon Coastal range. Two small draws encased in a larger one. At the head, where the two small draws came together was a small section of fairly level ground that was rich with vegetation and crisscrossed in every direction with game trails. The walls of the large draw which encased the two, were steep enough to make any elk hunters heart pound.

I arrived at my parking spot about forty-five minutes before shooting light. I had originally planned to get in before shooting light, but after a long hot summer the Oregon rains had come back in force, and I decided it would be wiser to be able to see when going down the slippery slope.

Sitting in my truck in the darkness listening to the rain I remembered the final day of bow season last year when I “found” this area. I had sat at the top of the draws and watched a beautiful doe graze, bed down to take a late morning nap, then arise and carry on with her day disappearing into the dense forest below. I didn’t get a deer last year, but that was about the next best thing.

I stepped out of the truck into the pouring rain. I gathered my gear and began the mile hike in. It was a near perfect morning for hunting. The ground was wet and soft, which made for quiet walking and the drumming of the rain drowned out the occasional twig pop. Visibility was great as the clouds were very high, and the temperature was quite comfortable in the low 70’s.

I have some friends who will pass on days that it is raining or cold, but I adhere to my uncle’s philosophy, “There are only two times to hunt. When it’s raining and when it’s not.”

I dropped over the edge of the large draw just as shooting light was beginning to grow. The steep Southern-facing slope offered the best in-route since the foresters had cleared out much of smaller trees opening the visibility to a couple hundred yards. The ground was covered in small branches making walking slow and slippery. I cross-hilled most of the way down the slope until I came to a muddy game trail that headed straight downhill about 20 yards above the flat area at the top of the two small draws.

I stepped on the trail and turned downhill contemplating whether it would be wise to go down such a muddy incline, when movement caught my attention about 100 yards away on the flat. Instantly I knew – Elk Antlers!

I stepped off the trail and beside a tree trunk. I could only see the top 12 inches of one tine, but for certain he was headed towards me. A quick glance around found no other movement that would indicate a herd, nor did it offer me any better alternatives to my current location, without revealing my presence. I got close to the tree, knelt into shooting position, nocked an arrow and waited. I could see a small fork at the top of one side.

He was walking slowly and enjoying a good breakfast. Slowly he came through the trees and into view. Seventy yards away stood the most beautiful 6X6 Roosevelt Elk I had ever seen. Not the biggest, but absolutely gorgeous by any standards. He fed and crept slowly toward me. I figured I was in a good spot, about 20 yards below me the ground leveled and 3 game trails converged. I thought hopefully that he would decide to take one of the converging trails and offer me a good broadside view. He continued walking directly toward me taking his time eating.

Unfortunately the only thing between him and me was air. No possibility to move let alone draw a bow. My adrenaline was pumping more and more with every step, and I was glad it was raining, otherwise he most certainly would hear the pounding of my heart.

Finally he reached the trails juncture. My heart raced as he turned and took a couple steps downhill. “A perfect opportunity in about five steps when he goes behind a couple small trees” I thought. However life changed quickly when he turned back uphill and began walking straight at me.

Now that he was only fifteen yards away I could see that there were small 3 inch points positioned perfectly along the main beam a couple inches above the brow tine. A 7 X 7! What a remarkable creature! I had never been this close to a live bull before, and he kept coming. Now towering above me only five feet away, my feelings of elation and marvel were becoming mixed with fear because in one step he would walk right over me!

Suddenly BOOM, CRASH – only 20 yards behind me. The bulls head jolted up to look right over the top of me towards what I would soon learn were two blacktail deer coming down the trail behind me. Now any dog owner will tell you that dogs have expressive faces, but let me tell you about this bull. He looked at those two deer standing on the same trail as he, took a deep breath, scowled, and let out a hefty breath through his nostrils.

It was such a fierce expression of power I began to tremble. The deer must have felt the same because they instantly spun and bounced fifty yards cross-hill to my left. After a few minutes of chewing the bush in front of me, I sighed a breath of relief when he turned and walked beside me to the other side of the tree that I was crouched beside.

Unfortunately he continued to cross-hill away from me though the same line in the trees that I was in, never taking his eyes out of my view. Not that it mattered since I was directly in the line of sight between the two already wary blacktail and one grand elk, making any movement a mute point.

About 20 yards cross-hill the bull found a nice patch of bushes, which enticed his attention for what seemed to be an eternity. I couldn’t move, but at least he was standing broadside and offering me an exciting view! Eventually he turned downhill and moved quickly down the steep slope into the creek bottom of the first draw out of sight.

When the blacktail had moved far enough away, I got up and moved slowly down to the flats, where I was hoping to get around the bull into a good position when he went up and over into the second draw. He decided to get to the second draw much faster than I, and so the stalking chase began.

The remainder of the morning I spent trying to outsmart him, but he proved to be smarter. The last I saw of him, he was munching away at bushes and going over the top of the far draw. I didn’t get a trophy for the wall or freezer that day, but I got a trophy much greater. Now when people ask me why I hunt, or what I like best about hunting, I get to say, “I hunt so I can feel the elk breath on my face.”

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