When people apply for a trophy elk hunt, places like Utah, New Mexico and Arizona come to mind. Oregon is not known to be a state that holds trophy elk, but with some research one can find a couple places that would easily compete with these states. Oregon has two trophy units that hold some good bulls, the Wenaha and Walla Walla located in the northeastern portion of the state. These units are the cream of the crop and take many years before you are holding the coveted tag.
In order to hunt in these units, each hunter is required to draw a limited entry tag, which is split up using a point system. Any state that offers tags to specific areas using this system and it's no different for each border you cross. Put in for the tag and if you donšt draw it you gain a "preference point" for that species.
I had been putting in for a certain elk unit for nine years. On June 20th I opened my mailbox and pulled out the postcard from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and noticed the fine print of "Archery Walla Walla Bull Elk successful!"
I drew the tag I wanted and I couldn't believe my eyes. The tag I had been waiting for was mine, and I planned to make the best of it. This unit is tailored for big bulls. Granted, you might find a 360-inch bull but more commonly are the 280 to 300 inch bulls, and a 300-inch bull for Oregon on public land is a good bull, especially with a bow.
I had been training for the Portland marathon, which would take place in October. I had seen some pictures and heard some stories about the terrain. I hoped my training would be enough. I made a trip over to do some scouting and I was able to see the country for myself. I had one good piece of advice before I left to scout, "Roads on the top, Elk in the bottom". A good friend of mine, Fred Walasavage joined me on the trip. I noticed one deep canyon. "Have you ever hunted down there?" I asked Fred as we peering off the top of this ridge. Fred shot me back a look as if to say "Are you crazy??" and then replied, "No, I stick to the ridges and havenšt needed to."
Good enough for me, if this guy can pull elk off the ridges then I know Išll do fine on the ridges too. Fred is no stranger to working for his elk, and our hunting styles are very familiar. Get away from the crowds at all costs to fill your tags, and if that means dropping to the bottom of the deepest canyon, then so be it.
I kept busy by studying maps and making sure I knew where I was at all times. This country was very rugged, and if you were not prepared, you could find yourself spending the night in the bottom of one of these canyons in some miserable conditions.
Before I knew it, it was September 7th and I was driving the 7 hours to the unit. I took the time to set up a comfortable base camp and load my backpack with three days worth of gear. Water is scarce in this region, so the heaviest thing I was carrying was one gallon of water split between two hydration packs. I did not carry any food that needed water to be added. Instead, I made myself sandwiches and stored them in indestructible plastic containers so they would still look like a sandwich when it was time to eat them.
Go time! I parked on the same finger ridge where Fred and I had our discussion about the canyon. It was a two-hour walk to the middle of the ridge with a loaded pack. I reached my destination with about an hour of daylight left. I knew that the elk would be on the move and getting a bugling response would be better. My instinct was correct as I let out a bugle and was greeted by six bulls in two separate canyons. 'Perfect" I thought to myself. I sat down and glassed some elk on an opposite ridge. I was in an ideal location. By turning 180 degrees I could see down two canyons and glass each side. I kept me Gold Ring binoculars busy that evening. As the daylight faded and the sun slipped behind the trees I made a bed for myself next to a downed log. This would protect me from the winds that seem to begin every night about 8pm. I was expecting the temperature to dip much lower at 5500 feet, but surprisingly it stayed in the 60's all night. Too warm for hunting or sleeping, or so I thought.
As daylight broke, I opened my eyes expecting to hear bugling bulls in every direction but the air was silent. I gathered my things, strapped on my pack and walked to the edge of the ridge. Giving a long bugle in an effort to solicit a response, I was greeted with four bugles. Each one, in the bottom.
I had heard one bull the night before that really got my attention, but when morning came, he was not to be found. Lucky for me there was another bull and every time I would bugle he would answer. This is a great sign. Down I went towards the creek bottom stopping occasionally to make sure that his interest had not ceased.
It took me an hour and 45 minutes to reach the creek bottom. I gave a soft cow call and the bull could not resist, I knew he was mine. I moved to my left 20 yards and never made another sound. Another bugle ripped through the air and I caught some movement. I noticed these long sword tines coming through the brush. "Good Bull" I thought to myself. He came in closer and I could glass his antlers. I waited nine years for this tag; I did not want to blow it on a smaller bull that I would later regret. As he closed the distance I noticed that he was a perfect 6x6 with four-inch cheaters off each sword tine. My mind wasn't made up to shoot yet as the bull stopped 28 yards away.
One more time through the binoculars and I noticed a two-inch extra point on his left antler directly above his first brow tine. My mind was racing as I pondered what to do. This was a great bull, the bull of a lifetime for many archers, but it was the first day of my hunt and I had two other bulls screaming around me. I took another look through my binoculars. "An eight-point, I donšt know too many people who have shot an eight-point bull before, if he gives me a shot, I'll take it".
He started to walk off and I figured I had blown my opportunity, I gave a soft cow call and he spun around looking back into my direction. I brought my Diamond Liberty to full draw as he slowly worked his way back. As his leg moved forward another soft cow call stopped him in his tracks and the Innerloc Stainless Steel Extreme found its mark directly through both lungs. The bull was indeed mine!
Wil with his bull prove the wait was well worth it.
I'll never forget the feeling of finally wrapping my hands around his antlers. As I looked at the size of this enormous animal, I don't know how I could have even thought of passing on him. His body was enormous; I had never seen an elk this big before which is what made his antlers seem smaller that they actually were. We snapped some photos and it took some work to climb out of the canyon. Luckily I was not alone on the second trip out. I had three friends with me and we scaled the canyon wall to the ridge where it all began in two and one half hours. It was an exhausting climb with loaded packs that never seemed to end. Back in camp I put the tape to the bull's antlers. He taped out at 320 inches, a good bull by any standard and a great hunt that I would never forget. I put my bow and Innerloc Stainless Extreme combo to work a few days later as I filled my archery deer tag on a 3-point mule deer buck.
The adventure was incredible and this was definitely one of the toughest hunts I have ever had the pleasure of taking part in. I would do it again in a minute. As for the marathon training, I think it worked. I ran the marathon in October and it was a cakewalk compared to climbing out of those canyon walls.
I have been shooting with Innerloc Stainless Extreme for over a year. Excellent!! Perfect every time!! I have taken turkey, boar, two elk and two deer with them. I got rid of every other broadhead in my bow box after I started shooting them.