Close Search

Shot Clock Rosie

August 2020
Story by Steve Rakes
State: Washington
Species: Elk - Roosevelt

The coastal rainforest of Western Washington has been known for vampires in recent years. It’s also home to the Roosevelt elk, and during the November general rifle season, one is as elusive as the other. For this reason, I’ve applied for 18 years for a September “rut” tag, but with only two tags awarded, the odds have always been long. I was thrilled when Lady Luck smiled this year, but she’s got a sense of humor. My five-day season was enlightened nightly by a full moon and nothing but warm weather and sunshine in a forest normally filled with cold and rain. The Rosies stayed quiet, hidden, nocturnal, and high upon the erect mountainsides.

With old growth timber that touches the sky, it creates a canopy that blocks out the sun and one that the vampires love. This dark, wet, moss-covered forest is a combination of gorgeous and spooky. I privately expected Big Foot to appear from behind an old growth cedar at any moment. They say if you’re ever lost in the woods that moss always grows on the north side of the trees. Well, let’s just say that philosophy gets tossed out the window in the rainforest as moss surrounds every inch of everything.

The first four days of my five-day hunt proved to be a great weight loss program. A couple buddies of mine live in the area and advised when the bulls are quiet to simply look for fresh sign and attempt to track them down. I think my friend had on Captain America boots or something because they seemed to fly up these mountains. When I’d catch up, soaking wet, I’d be irked that they weren’t even sweating. As a rule, I’m always in shape come hunting season, and while round is a shape, I choose to change that every fall. I’m not one that “likes” to work out, but hunting is what drives me to get in shape. I’m so fearful of blowing a coveted tag that I force myself to climb local mountains, do sit-ups, and lift just to ensure I’m ready. Still, an extra 25 years and 25 lbs. keeps me a few strides behind my long-legged ally.

I’m not sure if a Fit-Bit works when there’s no cell service, but what did register was between 8.8-14.1 miles each day. I also got my money’s worth out of my belt as I got to use a couple new holes that had been very lonely in prior months.

On day five, the last day of my tag, something clicked. We were on a really nice bull first thing in the morning that had 10 or 12 cows. We had spotted them in a clear-cut as they were headed up for the timber and some secluded refuge. The wind was wrong, so we did a big circle to get up above them. It seemed everything was working perfectly, but the density of the rainforest is so compact that at one point we had every elk just 40 yards in front of us. All we could see was sporadic patches of hide and hair. We literally couldn’t make out a single elk! They were so close that I could hear leaves being ripped from their branches as they fed. This went on for 15 minutes or so and then they eventually vamoosed. They didn’t seem to be spooked, so we tracked them for a bit, but they headed for safety and went out of my unit. An immediate U-turn was required on our part, so we were back to the drawing board with the shot clock winding down.

My final day was fading fast, my legs were feeling a week’s worth of mountains, and there were only a couple hours of daylight left. That’s when we decided to take another look at a flat where we’d seen a number of cows earlier in the week that also had some nice scrapes. After a pretty good trek, we felt we were deep enough and my buddy, Derrick, let loose with a bugle from deep within his gut. A primal roar answered back immediately, and our eyes lit up like fog lights. D picked up a dead limb and swung it like a golf club, and it shattered up a big fir tree. He then raked the half left in his hands up and down the bark, slapped around some salal, and did his best intruder imitation. An echoing bellow thundered back at the commotion, and the bull was on a rope and looking for a fight.

The bull swaggered in looking for his foe like this was his domain. I had to exercise real patience to find a proper shooting lane through the thick canvas. The dense surroundings continued to block his vitals, and at one point, he stopped when all I needed was for him to take one more step. He swung the opposite direction I’d hoped for and the “Oh no’s” ran through my head. The swampy floor path he took dipped and lifted and was splattered with belly high ferns and the sky-tall trees. He finally stopped with his shoulder exposed between two large firs that crossed one another, and his shoulder was perfectly exposed within that V. My shot was true, and it was over before he knew his final encounter had even started. On my last evening, the day’s final rays of sunshine darted through the thick canopy and it was a breathtaking setting to a perfect ending of my long-awaited tag. With only a couple hours left on the shot clock, Derrick and I got to soak up the moment and reflect on the entire week’s accomplishment.

The smile in the photos encompasses so much more than the final few moments of a hunt – the five days full of sweat-soaked shirts searching for sign and response, the pre-season scouting, the growth in friendships that naturally occurs from time in the field, the belly laughs, the struggle, and eventual success.

I love a long drive home after a successful hunt when I can proudly and respectively display a trophy animal for all to see. I wondered the responses I might encounter, but I’m thrilled to report all I received were multiple thumbs up and congratulations. It can be disheartening when we encounter those who have become detached, disconnected, or even insulted from where meat really comes from. It was very encouraging to have so many positive responses. I even received backslaps from my non-hunting neighbors and multiple requests for elk steaks.

One of the great things about drawing a coveted tag is your buddies are eager to help. I’m thankful for my buddies, Bruce, Derrick, and Scott, for all they did. I appreciate it more than you know.