Elk season arrives, and with it the excuses

By JAYSON JACOBY, Baker City Herald November 07, 2008 12:00 am

The elk hunt commences one day hence and I have been hard at it, gathering my woolen garments and my excuses.

In this way I hope to protect my skin as well as my ego, although I’m too pragmatic to expect much as to the latter.

I do own a closetful of coats — enough insulation, probably, to keep several versions of myself toasty in all but the most frigid weather. Except probably it will just rain.

As for the actual hunting, I lack anything like the creativity necessary to conjure tales that would diminish, in any meaningful sense, my incompetence.

To begin with I’m not what you could call stealthy.

I can usually stay upright, even on uneven ground. The trouble is I tend to snap twigs and kick stones and snag low-hanging limbs with my sleeves and in general upset the normally tranquil woods with the sort of cacophony which not even the most naive elk will tolerate.

Last fall I didn’t see a single elk. I don’t know if this is because there weren’t any elk around, or because I made such a racket that all the elk heard me before I was close enough to see them, but I suspect the second theory is a lot nearer the truth.

I had binoculars with me, too, so it’s not as if I had to get close enough to nuzzle a bull behind his ears.

Despite my bumbling about I manage to cover a fair amount of territory and so there’s at least a small chance that I will come across an elk. Or that an elk will come across me.

Elk mainly try to avoid such encounters during hunting season — the heavy-caliber rifles aimed at them and all — but I don’t pose as serious a threat as most hunters.

I’m no crack shot, at any rate.

Also I’m prone to buck fever, and not only when I’m sighting in on a buck. I quiver when I’m trying to knock a beer can off a fence post, so you can imagine what a six-point bull would do to my aim.

A lot of hunters complain that you can’t hardly find an elk in this country these days. Some people blame the Fish and Wildlife department but I don’t believe this is a fair allegation.

I think quite a few of the agency’s critics are just sore because they didn’t get a tag this year, but that’s an altogether different thing.

The elk population has dropped in some places, to be sure, but the number of roads has in the same span risen everywhere except wilderness areas. The road mileage on the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, for instance, has more than doubled in the past half century or so.

It used to be that a hunter had to trudge through some tough country if he wanted to bag an elk, but nowadays you can get to most places, and get there much earlier, on a four-wheeler.

Elk are awfully crafty, but — and I don’t mean to dispute some really good campfire tales — they can’t make themselves invisible. Fish and Wildlife can juggle only so many roads and elk and hunters who move at 25 mph and are much better marksman than I am.

I’m not knocking four-wheelers, though.

I’ll be riding one myself this weekend, although I don’t expect to see any elk within half a mile of the machine.

The four-wheeler is equipped with a muffler, however.

I can’t say the same for my boots.


Jayson Jacoby is editor of the Baker City Herald.