This is article was written
to give some additional details and insight into my 2010 hunt in the Blue
Mountains of Washington State. Because of the size restriction for my article
in the OBH magazine, I was not able to give all the details of the hunt, along
with my comments and suggestions to those that might be considering putting in
for a draw, or are lucky enough to be chosen for a tag. Before this year I had never
hunted in the Blue Mountains of Oregon or Washington. Since my hunt, I have
had conversations with other hunters that have also experienced hunting in the
Blues. They too have formulated some of the same opinions I now have regarding
hunting in this rugged part of Washington. I believe much of what I
experienced in Washington would apply to this state also.
If you have not read my
article in the OBH magazine you can read it here.
I would like to start out by
saying that dreams
do come true! Frankly, I was totally unaware of my chance to be selected for the
particular permit I was awarded. By nature I am one that is tidy and timely. So,
reporting my Washington State hunting results by the deadline was not an issue.
In fact, I usually get this task done immediately following my hunt, when the
information that is needed to report is still fresh in my mind. My advice to
you, report your results before the deadline! Hopefully you are aware,
reporting your hunt, successful or not, is now required for Oregon hunters.
According to ODFW, only 39 percent of tags purchased in 2009 reported results.
Oregon has a reward system for reporting your results too. Unfortunately,
unlike Washington, Oregon currently has no consequences for failing to report. I found this hunter reporting information extremely
valuable when trying to determine my area to hunt. They even report the size
of the antlers on the animal that was harvested!
Once I had received news of
my draw and narrowed some of my choices for an area to hunt, my first task was
to contact the district biologist for the Blues. What a great idea! Why have I
never considered doing this for my Oregon hunt? These people know the animals,
know their habits and can give you a good deal of information. I was able to
meet with Pat Fowler, WDFW District 3 biologist. (This past month Mr. Fowler
announced his retirement. I wish him the best.) This District encompasses the
entire southeast corner of Washington. He was most gracious and gave me a
great deal of input for areas to scout and hunt.
I made three separate trips
to scout the area I had chosen. I feel confident in saying that I would not
have been as successful if I had not put in the time and made this effort. Had
I not been able to afford the time to put into scouting trips, I would have
used a guide/outfitter service. To go into this hunt on my own, without
developing a plan based on some sort of prior experience, would have been
foolish and a waste of valuable hunting time. I know there are many hunters
that put in for draw hunts and have never stepped foot in the unit. I am one
of those guys. Lesson learned. I will never again apply for a unit unless I
have some experience in the area prior to applying or have a plan to get
assistance from someone who does have the knowledge. I have heard that there
are people that draw the Washington Wenaha permit only to find out they are
not physically able to hunt the unit. After two days they go home with an
empty permit in hand. The unfortunate part about this, they have deprived someone
else better equipped for the hunt from getting the tag.
The Washington Wenaha units
are thick, steep and remote. At this time the West Wenaha is restricted by the forest
service for commercial use. That means guides; outfitters or packers are not
allowed in this unit. There are no roads and very few trails in this protected
wilderness area. The Dayton unit has more road access but still has some very
steep and wide canyons. I only explored the west boundary of the Tucannon unit
which borders the Dayton unit. There is a lot of old burn areas in the Dayton
and Tucannon units that provide good feed for the elk.
I was not able to hunt the
Mill Creek Watershed, but had the opportunity to view into this
"Hellhole" from the upper end. My fathers great quote, as he peered
down into the abyss, "Wholly cow, if you threw a rock off the top it
would take twenty minutes to hit the bottom!" From my observation of the Washington
state unit, I am
not sure how you would hunt it, unless you had access from the bottom
end or from a private land owner. Entering this unit is only allowed from one hour before daylight
to one hour after dark. Anyone wishing to hike in there, shoot a
bull, and have to pack it out should plan on being in outstanding physical
shape. Also, I believe you are allowed very limited assistance from hunting
partners. If you are considering this tag you better understand the
I hunted the first
six days of September, followed by the last week and a half of the month and
into early October. There was not a day, morning, afternoon or evening, when I
did not hear bugles. Physically, I could not have hunted as many days,
if I chased the bugling bulls. I was in good shape from pre-season workouts as
well as the scouting trips, but hiking up and down the steep canyons day after
day was not an option for me.Most
of the bugles I heard were
coming from the river bottoms. The river bottoms are anywhere from 1000 to
2000 feet down from the ridge tops. In addition, the river
bottoms are very thick, full of alder brush and thick green vegetation. Once
you get to the bottom it is very difficult to see anything, similar to hunting
the coastal units. My strategy was generally to spot and stalk. The difficulty in
that, most of the bulls that you spot are not possible to stalk! They are just too
I choose not to hunt during the archery permit season where I was
required to use a bow. While shooting a nice bull with a bow would have been a
real treat, I had not seen but a few of the size bull I had hoped to take. In
addition, up to this point in my hunt I had not experienced enough close
encounters to use my available time for hunting. I decided to save that time, energy and
commitment from friends to assist me to use after the archery permit
season when I could use my rifle.
There are lots of nice bulls
in these units, but for one to draw a tag and immediately presume they will
shoot a bull over 375, I feel, is pushing their expectations. A few really big
bulls are harvested each year, but shooting a bull in the 325-350 range is more
realistic. This is not Arizona! As good as these units are, the archery success rate is still only around 35%. Rifle hunters experience
a better success at 89%, however, many of the bulls harvested are smaller 6x6 and 5x5's.
My point is, the opportunity is there to harvest a trophy, just don't expect
it. I assumed hunting with a rifle in the rut in these terrific
units would be a "slam dunk" for a 375 or bigger class bull. While I did miss my opportunity,
there were only a few. Maybe if I had a younger set of legs and was willing to investigate
every big sounding bugle, my opportunities would have increased.
One other interesting
observation. The bulls were very elusive. Even in an area where there was very
little hunting pressure and the rut was in action, the bulls kept themselves
in cover. It was not very often that you would catch a bull exposed in
openings. You would hear a bull bugle, but still you could not get your eyes
on him. Or, even more frustrating, you would finally spot a nice bull and he
would be across the drainage, a couple hours hike away.
What about cougars and bears
you might ask? During one of my scouting
trips with my son we had a cougar encounter. We parked the truck and walked to
a closed gate. After returning to the truck I looked up. I could not believe
what I was seeing. A pair of cougars were walking right up the road from where we
had just come! I believe it was a male and female. They were now 25 yards from the truck and still coming! My son
wanted to try and get a picture. I turned on the ignition switch to roll the
window down, this activated the fuel pump. One of the two cats looked up and
changed direction, the other eventually followed. After they had left, I got
out and went to their position and looked back at the truck. The sun was on
the horizon and completely blinded anything from seeing the white pickup. I am
sure, if I had not turned on the key, they would have walked right up to where
we were parked! This was the only time I saw a cougar or cougar sign.
There are lots of bears. On
every scouting trip I was able to spot bears. The first trip I saw at least
one every day. I did see bears during the hunt but they became very elusive
once the hunting pressure began. I saw a few nice bucks in velvet but no
trophies. I did not see any wolf sign and I was told that there are not very
many in the Washington wilderness, yet. In fact, before the hunting season
started WDFW tried to locate wolves and were not able to do so. My belief is
that the biologists for this area are very proud of their elk accomplishments and are not
excited to contend with wolves.
The one thing I was not
expecting, and caught me totally off guard, was the amount of road hunters
looking for an archery buck and rifle bear. As I mentioned there are not that
many roads, so the few that were there became very heavily used. I also ran
into a few people scouting for upcoming rifle elk seasons. It seemed strange
to me that during this time of the season you could hunt a bear with a rifle but had to use
a bow for a cougar.
One of the greatest pleasures
of hunting is having the opportunity to encounter new people with a similar
passion. I was able to meet several archery big bull permit holders. We all know
that the chance of drawing these units is very slim. In addition, there are so
few hunters in such a large area. I found that among us hunters with permits, the
sharing of information was pretty open. Other hunters with prior experience in
these units were willing to share information and make recommendations also.
Interestingly enough, several of the hunters I met were from the Vancouver
area, close to my home. While returning from an
evening hunt one day I met a local Dayton business man and his son who were
passing time spotting for elk. We visited for awhile and he offered any help I
might need. A week later I needed a place to store my motor home rather than
drive it all the way back to Portland. I gave him a call and he let me park it
at his business. This is how nice people can be! I still remain in contact
with most of the new people I met.
I totally enjoyed my hunt and
time spent with friends and family. If I had to do it again, I don't think I
would do anything differently (except shoot better!) While I did not end up
with the 400 bull I had originally set as my goal, I am completely happy with
the final outcome. I gave it my full physical effort and used the time I had
available to the best of my ability. The self-satisfaction of hunting without
professional help, getting a shot at a trophy and tagging a great bull was
more than I could have asked for.
There has not been a day go
by since I returned from this hunt that I don't recall and relive my missed
shot. I think that most hunters that have hunted long enough encounter a
similar situation and can appreciate that terrible feeling. The only
satisfaction is that I was able to confirm that I had not wounded such a
magnificent animal. Having to live with fatally wounding an animal and not
recovering it would have been a disaster for me.
It was fascinating to see
what great game management can do for the wildlife. Many hunters get
frustrated with the game department but remember they are not the ones that
establish tag sales and ultimately determine the quality of our hunts. It is
the legislature and game commissions that determine what happens.
The monetary greed of the legislature are what drive the tag sales. It is my opinion that they are not managing our elk and
deer populations from a biological standpoint.
In addition, the forest service policies can greatly effect the quality of the
unit. After hunting Murders Creek for many years and stumbling over cattle and
seeing the devastating effects of over grazing and stream erosion it was quite
refreshing to hunt in an area where this was not an issue.
I am not totally against cattle grazing on our forest service land. I am against
improper management of this policy and feel all cattle should be removed
before the hunting season begins.
In closing, I will say that a
real treat of this whole experience was being able to see the country change
as the seasons moved forward. During the scouting trips I was able to see some
of the beautiful flowers that I have never seen during the hunting months. I
remember one meadow covered with red, white and blue flowers. Even the change
from the first of September to the month's end was fun to watch. The quantity
of green vegetation this year was unbelievable. I can see why there are so
many bears in this area with all the berries to choose from.
I hope someday I will have
the opportunity to hunt again in the Blue Mountains. Perhaps I will be able to
return the favor of helping someone else hunt this magnificent country. Thanks
again to all the friends who helped me and for your time to share in my experience and thoughts.
Mike McManus, Your OBH web
administrator and Lifetime OBH Member