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Ghost of the Mist

By Bob Anderson

This was to be our first elk hunt, both for me and my fourteen year old son, Mike.  It started with stories of herds of elk in Eastern Oregon and in the rainforests of the coast by my brother-in-law. He had mainly hunted the eastern part of the state, but had never been successful.

Mike began asking to go during the Christmas holidays and it soon became the topic of discussion at the office as well as at home. One of my associates expressed interest going and offered up his parent’s summer cabin at the coast. That took care of the argument concerning where to stay as my “tent” was only a one season tent, summer. This also narrowed down, dramatically where we were going to hunt.

Since I had never hunted elk, let alone hunted in a rainforest; I decided that it would be necessary to do some research. Since this was before the internet and cell phones, it was done the old Oregon Coast Huntingfashioned way, leg work and libraries. I talked to old loggers, game commission people, old hunters who had hunted the coast their entire lives. Basically I found out a few basic principles and that they liked to hang out on ridges with a northern exposure.

The next stop was a map store in town that specialized in USGS topographic maps. I bought up all the ones for areas around where we were to be staying and began to study them.  I was looking for accessibility, water (in a rainforest, go figure), north facing ledges, food and shelter.  I was able to identify three areas that held possibilities and we began to plan on when we could scout out these locations.

The first weekend we drove to the cabin and then set out to locate the first spot that I had selected.  Mike, Dan and I drove up into the mountains and down miles of logging roads until we came to the spot. It turned out to quite easy to find, since it was surrounded by permanent “elk camps”. There were tables, fire pits and beams mounted to hang your game from. This location would be a small city in November. We then drove over to the next one on the map and found pretty much the same thing. I was beginning to feel discouraged, but decided to find my third location.

That afternoon we sat out on Dan’s deck and drank a beer and grilled hamburgers and watched fisherman on the river pursuing salmon.

The next morning we had hotcakes and eggs and coffee and being properly fortified, headed in the other direction to locate our “ideal” hunting spot. About a half hour later we crossed a river and turned up a logging road. Following this stream for several miles, we came to an old, abandoned logging road. I parked my old Scout, got out the map and Mike and I proceeded up the road. 

Everything, all the trees, stumps, logs and the road were covered in a thick layer of moss. It was like walking on a carpet and we seemed to be completely silent as we moved. This was confirmed when we came around a sharp bend and there, before us, were a cow elk and her calf feeding in the road. They were facing the other way and had not heard us. We stood there for the longest time and they continued to eat and ignore us. I then detected some movement to my right and quite high up on the hillside. The woods right here were alder and growing quite close together with lots of low branches that were dead and the ground level was brush to about waist high.  I didn’t dare move, so I just moved my eyes and concentrated on the movement. Even though it was summer, this early in the morning, Oregon Coastthere was a hazy fog hanging over us.  Visibility was about a hundred yards, but with all the trees and limbs it was difficult to see anything with true clarity. That being said there was no doubt that it was an elk. I was unable to make out antlers, but was fascinated by how it moved through brush and timber and didn’t make a sound. It was either a bull or a large barren cow and it continued to come down the hill. Then, without warning, still silent, turned and moved back up the hill from where it came and the cow and calf trotted off down the road, not looking back. When I turned to go back there was a game warden standing behind me. He had walked right up behind us and we not heard him, but the elk on the hill had seen his movement. I had seen enough and we decided that this was where we would hunt in the fall.

November arrived and we had put together all of our equipment and were ready to head out. Friday morning we loaded up the old Scout picked up Dan and headed for his cabin. We arrived just after dark and fired up the wood stove first and then proceeded to unload and get settled in. We had a late dinner and enjoyed the warmth of the stove and then turned in.

Morning came at 3:30 a.m. I had made oatmeal and sausage and fresh fruit for breakfast. The coffee was hot and black. The drive was long, rainy and dark to where we were going to leave the truck. 

When we arrived, it was still raining. Not that pounding rain you get in the south, just that steady light rain that , in the Northwest, can go on for days at a time. I donned a drover coat and broad brimmed hat and grabbed my rifle and off we went. The walk up the old road was silent as before and in the dark there was an eeriness to being there, like we were infringing on the spirits that inhabit the forest.  We continued to walk up the road to a point indicated on our map, where we needed to leave the road and begin climbing the hill. Thankfully, there was a small game trail so we didn’t have to break trail.

When we got to the top, I took a compass bearing and headed north about a quarter of a mile and we found ourselves standing on the forward slope of the hill and hopefully the shelf indicated on the map was right below us. The three of us spread out and settled down to wait for dawn. While sitting there in the darkness and the quiet drizzle your mind begins to wander and I began to hear things as the forest began to awake. I could hear a splashing sound to my left which I thought might be animals walking through the tiny creek. Later, with a break in the clouds and the moon shining through, I could see it was salmon spawning in the little creek next to me. I also picked up elk noises from out in front of us. The elk were there and making small noises, secure in their location.

Finally, light began to break and we could see a little, but between the rain and the cloud that lowered over the top of us, visibility was limited. The mist seemed to be everywhere. Finally it cleared enough to allow us to see about twenty animals in the timber ELKbelow us, but not clear enough to see antlers. And then as if by some unheard command, they all stood and began to slowly move to our right.  About fifty yards to right of where they had spent the night, was a tree farm with firs about ten feet tall. They silently drifted into them and the mist and were gone.

The three of us got up and slowly moved to our right also and were soon in the firs also. This continued for about two hundred yards and then we broke out into a clear cut area. I got there just in time to see that last of the elk disappear into the woods about five hundred yards down the hill.  Mike and I set up a stand where we could watch most of the hillside and Dan continued around to see what else there was , hoping to jump a single animal. By noon we were not only soaked, but our spirits were dampened also and it was time to go back to the cabin.

I have hunted from the back of pickups and from tents, but this is the first time I have had the opportunity to use a cabin. The luxury of being able to strip off your wet clothes and hang them by the wood Clear Cutstove, take a shower, have a glass of cognac and sit down to a plate of elk stew is indescribable. We had an incredible evening talking about the day, enjoying the food and planning for the next day.

Morning came early again and this time it was sausage, eggs, fried potatoes and fresh fruit. The drive to the hunt was dry this morning and we got there sooner. When we reached to the top of the hill and started down towards the ledge where the elk had been the day before; Mike and I headed to where we had been the morning before and Dan continued on through the tree farm and took up a stand in the clear cut. It was not as dark because we now had light from the moon and the beauty of the forest, even in the gaining light was something to behold. There is a magic in seeing a day being born in the wilderness. No horns, tv’s, radios or people yelling; just the wonder of seeing things come to life when they are touched by the morning sun.

This morning was not accompanied by the sound of Salmon spawning or sound of elk chirping, but it was still a wonderful thing to behold. Then the peaceful moment was shattered by the crack of Dan’s 300 win mag. Mike and I hustled over and to where he said he would be and found him standing on a stump. When he saw us, he pointed to Ghosts of the Mistwhere he had his elk down. Climbing over down logs and other debris wasn’t fun and we finally got to where his elk lay. It was a nice spike and it appeared that he either just stood up or that Dan just noticed him, because, from the sign, he had been there for awhile. I let Dan dress him out and tag him and I rounded up a pole to put through his front legs.  When we finally got him to the Scout, our faithful game warden was there and we showed him our licenses and tags and he helped us put it on the roof.

Back at the cabin we decided to hang the elk and spend another night. This time it was a festive evening and we prepared antelope backstrap cut into thin dollops like silver dollars for an appetizer, elk roast, potatoes and gravy and sour dough biscuits. We stayed up late and cleaned our gear and got it packed away.

Morning came and along with it a new day. Mike and I hadn’t gotten our elk, that would come later; but we had gotten the real trophy that weekend. We grew closer together as a father and son and in the years that have followed, that relationship has grown and prospered.