First, the positives...I did get to see some animals in their natural habitats, they just weren't the right species/sex/maturity. Within 45 minutes of getting out of my truck to go for a walk, I had happened upon a trip of cow elk in some pine trees, and just for practice, managed to work into a very satisfactory firing position on them, before they trotted.
This put some doubts into my mind. I knew I had climbed up about the elevation where I could expect to find white-tails(I was at about 4500 feet) but all the sign I was seeing elk....no deer, and then I came across two mule deer doe's. They new something was up...one would stare at me while the other bent down to graze. Things continued like this for about 10 minutes, before I was able to get myself one sliding-step at a time, behind some cover. If there was a buck there, it would have been a pretty easy 75 yard shot...but, no buck showed up, just the two does, who finally had enough of me.
I was feeling pretty good by this time...less than two hours on the ground, and I had seen deer AND elk.
A short while later, I was feeling even better...at about 1:00, I stumbled upon a NICE looking bull elk(nice in my world is anything greater than 5X5...he was at least that. It really was almost a stumble too...I jumped him in his bed at about 40 yards, and we both kind of recognized each other at about the same time. He jumped up, whirled around and crashed off through some thick brush. If he had been a buck, instead of a bull, I don't think I would have had a chance at a shot.
Looking back, this would be the high point of the weekend. After that, the weather came into play.
It was drizzly all day, which didn't bother me much...I have a nice water proof outerlayer that will me dry against most conditions...but I wasn't ready for the fog. Other than a 2 hour period Sunday morning, at about 10, the mountains were clouded in the whole time. Visibility was between 50 and 100 yards. When I say I stumbled onto that bull, it was was because we just kind of materialized out of the fog to one another.
This picture was taken at 2 o'clock in the afternoon...somewhere out there is supposed to be a clearing...but how do you watch a clearing in that stuff? How do you enjoy the sunset, or watch the stars? That is some pretty monotone nature to try to commune in.
Spending the night in my truck was not my worst idea, but it would probably make the top 10 list. I hadn't counted on it being so damp and muddy outside. I thought I would be able to so stuff like stand outside to get dressed/undressed, not have to shimmy in and out of clothes in my front seat. Maybe sit on a log and enjoy the fresh air while I ate my tasty MRE dinner, not eat in in the same front seat. Another note to myself is to bring a spare lantern mantel next time...with a hole in the mantel, things get dark, unless you want to leave your truck running all evening. Luckily, I had a cheap Chinese LED flashlight that the lens/reflector come off of, so I was able to use that for a little ambient light.
The sleep was actually the least bad thing about sleeping in the truck. I was about 6-inches too tall to stretch out, but that only bothered me two or three times, when my abused legs yearned to be stretch out.
About 3AM, I was woken up to find the drizzle had shifted to a pouring rain. Ick...my spirit almost broke then...I was thinking, I can be home in time for a shower and nap before the Sunday football games start...but I toughed it out. By 5, the rain had died off, and by 5:45, I was heading back up to a nice meadow I had spent the evening at the night before.
Things actually cleared up for a while, and the views reminded me of why I wanted to go hunting up in the Blue Mountains.
An hour later though, the clouds/fog came back in...and by noon, I was feeling done with walking around. I hadn't seen an animal other than a bird or squirrel since 1:30 the day before.
So, I turned into a road hunter/explorer. It's lame to admit this, since I was hunting there, but I don't know the Blue's THAT well. I was happy with where I picked to hunt...I only saw one other guy on foot in a day and a half, and maybe 6 or 7 road hunters. That's not bad pressure for public land, but it seemed time to see what else was out there.
I decided to use my atlas to find a very scenic way back into Dayton. There should be a lot to see in the Umatilla National Forest....but mostly, all I saw was a bunch of grey, although along the way, I found a couple of interesting things. Not three miles from where I spent the night in my truck, there was a decent looking national park campground at Big Springs. 20 sites, only two of them being used. I figured those places would be locked up solid during hunting season...nothing fancy...fire pit, picnic table, and a pit toilet! Did I mention how much I hate pooping outside? Yuck.
I also happened across a few of the cabins/lookouts that the National Park Service has for rent. Some of these look very nice...The Clearwater Lookout Cabin would work for my family, or even the Clearwater Big House Cabin...it sleeps up to 10, and we could split it was a few friends...$60 or $75 a night split between two or three families is not bad at all.
Alas, in all that driving, I only saw one more deer...a doe jumped out in front of me in the fog, and that was the closest I came to bagging anything. If I had jumped on the gas instead of the breaks, I might have gotten her.
Not wanting to go home totally empty handed, I put my skills to gathering, instead of hunting. Earlier in the summer, when I took my wife and kids out to explore the hills east of Dayton, we found a few shrubs that looked like wild roses, with what might have been rose hips forming on them. Not wanting to kill the family, we went home empty handed. Internet research proved they were in fact rose hips, but it didn't seem worth a 4 hour round trip just to go harvest some. Since I was in the area, I did some harvesting this weekend. It felt like I picked a huge amount of them, but it really only worked out to 3 cups or so. Having provided, we'll see if my wife actually decides she can do something with them. Whether she does or not, the smile on her face when I gave them too her was worth all the little pricks I go on my hands.
It was a good time. I suppose I'm a quitter for not putting in the 2nd night in my truck like I originally had planned, but, I wasn't feeling it. It's supposed to be fun, and the more I thought about it, it felt like it would be more fun to make it home in time to shower and watch the season premier of The Walking Dead with my wife, then curled up in my truck.
My two big take aways from this, is that I saw animals...so, I'd like to keep that area in mind for next year...maybe even do some actual scouting. The other is that when I have some expendable income, I NEED to get a GPS unit...not a driving one, but one that I can use to say 'Here's my Truck', and here a few Forest Road Intersection Way-points. Now...I've been walking two hours...show me the direction to go to get to one of those places. I was soooooooo worried about getting lost out there, especially in the fog. When you can't see the horizon, or surrounding ridge lines, it's tough to get disoriented. A GPS unit would have made me feel a lot better about marching off into The Mist....