Story and photos by: Ryan Clairmont
Elk season was finally here and this year I was headed to Idaho to hunt with my dad and brother.
We were headed to an area familiar to us, an area my dad's hunted since the late 70's. My brother Kenton discovered this particular drainage on his own a few years back and we had hunted it for the last couple of years. We always had numerous encounters in that drainage but had yet to place a tag on a bull. My dad was going to pick me up at the airport while Kenton had a couple days of obligations before he could break away to join us.
Arriving to the trailhead, it was a welcome site to see no other vehicles. Once we got everything loaded in our packs and changed into our hunting clothes, we hit the trail and hiked into spike camp. A few hours later, we arrived under headlamps. I remember the hike being more difficult that year than in previous years, maybe because I wasn’t as fit as previous years, just getting older or the fact that I was carrying about 85 pounds in my pack; probably a combination of all three. After getting camp set up and taking a few minutes to just enjoy the clean crisp mountain air and my dad’s company, we decided to hit the tent and get some much needed rest before our first day on our hunt.
That night, I slept as good as I would expect, like an eight year old on Christmas Eve!! I heard several bugles that night and couldn’t wait until it was time to get up. I must have checked my watch 15 times that night, but morning finally came. I got up and dressed as quickly as I could. Giving my old man as much rest as he needed, I started boiling hot water to get coffee ready for both of us and doing some last minute preparation. As my dad made his way out of the tent, I had a cup of coffee waiting for him and we started to discuss the plans for the morning. Not long into our planning, nature called and my dad had to make a dash away from camp…..coffee was working its magic! I continued drinking my coffee and thinking about our morning hunt when I heard my dad start yelling my name.
"Ryan…..Ryan!……RYAN!"…..each time getting more intense and urgent. My mind raced to a bear holding its ground and treating my dad as an early morning snack. I quickly ran toward him, ready to help him scare off a bear. When I got to him, nothing was there. Dad’s eyes were as big as softballs. I asked him, "what’s going on, did you see a bear?" He started laughing and said, "you’re not going to believe what I saw."
"Holy shit…..yes, I will believe it because I already imagined you being mauled by a bear, so what was it?"
"A fricken bull elk just walked right up to me while I was squatted down!" he said.
"Yeah, I heard something coming up the hill and before I could think about what it might be, I saw a set of eyes looking at me with my headlamp pointing in his direction. He took a few more steps toward me and stopped under 10 yards from me, and just stood there."
Dad knew nobody would believe him so he slowly reached down to his pants pocket, retrieved his cell phone, turned it on, touched the camera icon, and began shooting pictures of the bull.
When he figured he had enough pictures, he started calling me over to him hoping I would sneak over and see the bull and well, you know the rest of that story. It was an unbelievable start to our elk hunt and a memory that we both will not soon forget.
The hunt turned out to be one our best, harvesting two bulls in just four days. The chance encounter with a curious bull turned out to be a good omen as the elk woods were magical that year.