I'm back in front of the computer on this stormy Monday morning, working, following an abbreviated elk hunt. I returned to Bozeman - on the afternoon of day 2 of what was supposed to be a 4 day hunt - with nothing but excuses.
Things were going according to plan as I arrived in camp on Friday afternoon, a warm wall tent and a cold beer awaiting me. The alarm went off at 4am opening morning and after a hot breakfast we hit the trail, climbing high into some great elk country. We got to the top a half hour before first light and split up, making plans to reconvene at noon to compare notes. Over the course of the morning I covered a lot of country, making a brutal loop that took me up and down ridge after ridge. I was into elk, but passed up a very marginal shot opportunity at some cows nervously milling around in heavy timber after I sneaked into their bedding area.
On the way back to our pre-determined rendezvous point, I bumped a lone spike bedded at the upper end of some north facing timber. He made the foolish mistake of running over the top of the ridge and onto a big open slope, where he dodged no less than a dozen bullets lobbed from obscene distances by other hunters.
There was blaze orange everywhere, particularly along my ill conceived route near the western border of the National Forest, where unbeknownst to me, hunters were easily accessing the area from private land. I'd never been to this location on opening morning...and probably never will again - it was a circus.
When I met back up with my comrades, I learned that although they too got into elk that morning, their plan didn't work out quite as intended. Prior to the hunt they'd scouted a herd which was making use of a high saddle for two straight days prior to opening morning. Their plan was to ambush the herd at that saddle. Well, long story short they bit off more than they could chew with the hike to the saddle, and weren't there at first light. Other hunters beat them to it, downing a couple of elk at the saddle just minutes into the season...those guys had it dialed.
After lunch I elected to stay up high for the remainder of the day, too stubborn (or smart?) to give up my hard earned elevation. I was pretty worn out from my ambitious morning hike and decided to sit and watch an old burn for the evening hunt...nothing materialized. I arrived back in camp long after my hunting buddies, and they had good news and bad.
The good news: when we parted ways after lunch, they dropped off the divide into a rugged drainage where one of them harvested a nice mule deer buck. The bad news: a Forest Service employee had just stopped by camp and informed them that we had to tear down our camp and be out of there by Monday morning at the latest! I was livid.
We were aware of the fact that there was heavy machinery and new culvert material located a couple of miles down the access road. What we weren't aware of was the fact that the contractor had dropped the ball and didn't get the project done over the summer as planned, and he had the audacity to think he should commence the project (which would require shutting down this dead-end access road) during the general hunting season! But as much angst as I have for the contractor, I'm even more upset with the Forest Service. After the ranger stopped by camp on Saturday evening, we decided to hunt close to camp on Sunday morning and pull out that afternoon - we had little choice in the matter. No sooner had we torn down the wall tent and loaded up the trucks, a different FS ranger stopped by camp. His update on the road closure status was bittersweet. Apparently the agency had come to their senses overnight, postponing the project until next summer.
So here we were, Sunday evening with camp completely packed up and a cold, heavy rain socked in. I would have been all for erecting camp again, in the rain, and staying for two more days, but no one else even seemed willing to consider that option.
It was a disappointing way to begin the '10 hunting season, but fortunately there's plenty of time remaining.