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As we dropped off the precipitous ledge and descended into the valley below, I looked back at the azure eminence sky above the Jersey Mountains that enveloped us. I said to my guide, “This is God’s country, a place with vast and unforgiving mountains.” Looking around, we could see the tall golden grass shimmering in the wind and leaves drifting rightly to the ground. The brilliant sunshine was great for hunting, but it would help in delaying the elk rut. It would confirm to be a challenge on our part just to get a bull to answer our bugle.
Riding in on horses a few days earlier, we saw several old gold mines in these rich and historic mountains. They were dug during the latter part of the 1800’s. The town of Dixie, Idaho was started in 1862 when gold was discovered along the Crooked Creek. The town had several thousand residents during the gold rush peak. Today there are about a dozen year-round residents.
Camp was a 5-mile ride in from the Silver Spur Lodge. It took just over an hour to get to camp. The trails were well marked from the years of horses packing in hunters and packing out elk meat. Huge elk antlers secured to the backs of horses and pack mules from hunters that find what they are hunting for are often a common site. Winding along ridges and down through gullies that often crossed small creeks was an exultant journey. It had been 45 years since I had climbed into a saddle but it proved to be the adventure that I was expecting. Riding along, we would admire the landscape of mountains, creeks, trees and bushes of all kind, and the numerous animals of different species, sizes and colors. It seemed to me the horses knew where they were going, as I found out, I did not need to use the reigns to guide the horses.
I was hunting with Silver Spur Outfitters and had hunted with them on two previous occasions. Taking a nice cinnamon black bear two years ago using a pistol. My plan was to use the same pistol, a Magnum Research 45-70, in taking an elk. It was now the fifth day of a seven day hunt and we were going to an area that a shot could be taken out beyond 150 yards, choosing to leave my pistol at camp I shouldered my Model 700 Remington rifle in 338 Caliber. In addition to the cinnamon bear, with the shot at 27 yards, I was successful in taking a black bear at 32 yards the following year, using the same Magnum Research 45-70 pistol. Both black bear hunts required sitting over bait.
The name “River of no Return” is intriguing in itself. Located in Northern Central Idaho. We are hunting in the Jersey Mountains surrounded by the Gospel Hump Wilderness and the Frank Church River of No Return. In addition to elk hunting, Silver Spur Outfitters offers moose, deer, black bear, cougar, wolf, and big horn sheep. During the off hunting season, you can stay in the lodge for summer horse trips and during the winter, they have over a dozen snow machines for rent to ride the miles of groomed trails.
As we descended the steep ledge, Randy Wagner, my guide, gave a call on his bugle; we waited, with no response, and continued navigating the steep downhill terrain. Taking a caricature trail, we would plot a route around rock formations, deep ravines, creeks and the big old growth trees that were in abundance everywhere, this was an adventure in itself. Checking my Leupold GPS, we had traveled close to ½ mile down, still about ½ mile above the valley floor below. The Salmon River lay at the bottom, about mile to the waters edge from where we started the steep descend. I was ready for the long plunge. However, I was hoping we could make contact with a bull elk before dropping down much farther. Off in the distance the mountains looked wraithlike, as they seemed to reach into the heavens above from the surrounding valleys below.
The Salmon River offers a different kind of hunt. You can book a spring black bear hunt and do a spot-n-stalk hunt out of a jet boat. Riding along in the jet boat, navigating the Salmon River looking for black bears feeding along the hillsides is a different kind of adventure. Stopping to eat lunch in a small cove and relaxing out in the wild with no human contact is one of the many advantages you will have over other hunters.
Pine trees all around have died from the invasive pine beetle. Nevertheless, the other types of trees and scrubs make up for their loss. Heading down, we crossed through a large area that was cleared from a past forest fire. Yet, the grass was shinning from the sun overhead. We paused for a few minutes to glass the area. Taking out my Leupold binoculars from my Crooked Horn Outfitters backpack, I scanned the area and admired the beauty of the wild outdoors. I found myself looking through my binos at the distinct mountains covered in snow. I am one of the lucky ones, a hunter that can enjoy what Idaho has to offer. These rugged mountains offer many things besides the elk that inhabit them. Rugged rock formations, the fauna and flora to swampy areas are always captivating to me.
Below us at around 100 yards was a growth of fir trees. These trees have been here for eons and reach well over 100 feet tall. This untouched wilderness is untouched from any machinery made by man. The area is only accessible by horse or the adventurous hunter that is willing to walk for miles to stand where we were.
As we entered the patch of timber, Randy gave an estrus call, immediately off in a short distance a bull answered with a resonant chirp. Looking at each other, we just smiled. Quickly making our way forward about another 50 yards, stopping at a spot where we could call again and set up for a shot if needed. Giving another estrus call Randy said, “Get ready, here he comes” as the brush exploded when a bull came charging in. The bull was closer then I anticipated, I dropped to the ground just behind a tree and got ready. I was elated to see a nice bull appear out of the thick brush. His curiosity dominated his caution as he looked for the cow. Wearing my Scent-Lok hunting attire and using my 3D Evolve Field Spray from Dead Down Wind I knew the bull could not smell our presence.
NOTE: Bowhunting for over 30 years and now doing more pistol hunting, I know the challenges when stalking to get within bow or pistol range to make an ethical shot. I have tried several scent eliminating sprays, candles and incense to help get close enough without the animal catching my human order. The best product that I have found and use is Dead Down Wind. For clothing, I use the E1 Scent Prevent Laundry Detergent. Making sure all clothing is thoroughly washed, including my cap. Then I will put all clothing in a bag after spraying everything with the Evolve 3D Field Spray and store overnight. I shower using the Dead Down Wind 3D Broad Spectrum Body & Hair Soap. After getting dressed and before going into the woods, I will again spray all my clothing using the Dead Down Wind 3D Evolve Field Spray. Plus, I will use the spray on anyone who will be hunting with me.
Because I am such stickler on scent control and because I use Scent Elimination products from Dead Down Wind I have been to have more success in the field and have been able to get within just a few feet of animals without them knowing I was there. On one occasion, I even had a coyote walk just 10 feet from me and in another, a bird landed on my bowstring while I was standing motionless looking for elk.
There was no question about taking the shot as the bull stopped and looked for his estrus mate. At 28 yards the thought went through my mind, “I wished I had brought my pistol.” As I squeezed the trigger there was no recoil as my thoughts were on the bull elk. A Hornady slug was on its way. We could hear the shot echoing though the valley floor below. The bull turned to run but the shot took its toll. As he went to jump a large downed old growth, he fell over backwards as his hind legs gave out from under him, dropping where he stood.
We crossed over to see a nice 4 X 5 bull elk and I knew the work that lay ahead of us. But that is part of the hunting I enjoy. After skinning and quartering the beast we covered it with fresh pine bows. It took close to 90 minutes of climbing up hill to reach the trail back to camp. It would be a joyous 5-mile walk back to camp as darkness began to fall around us making the shadows grow longer and longer. As we walked I was always aware of my surroundings, you never know if a grizzly would appear out of the darkness.
The next morning it would take us just over an hour to ride in on horses to the bluff above the steep down-faulted valley. It was there we left a rider with the horses and continued down taking two pack mules with us. Wrapping the meat and loading them on the mules, it was then I stopped to reflect the wilderness that surrounded our location. We were hunting in the Gospel Hump Wilderness, Frank Church River of No Return and the Nez Perce National Forest. This intriguing area offers a wildlife habitat of elk, deer, moose, big horn sheep and mountain goat, plus the overabundance of black bears, bobcats and cougar and now the invading wolf. The wolf population has soured in the few years since they were re-introducing back into Idaho. When hunting in Idaho it is a good idea to purchase a wolf tag. You can never tell when one or more of the carnivores will appear.
It is hunts like this that will be forever engraved into my mind and soul. This was a unique hunting experience in a challenging habitat. I am one of the fortunate ones to be out in Gods creations enjoying the events some long forgotten by our ancestors. I will be going back next year for a hunt that is not only enjoyable, but also to hunt in a way few hunters get a chance to hunt. I still have that insatiable desire for more hunting, the traveling, seeing and experiencing what most hunters enjoy and I am proud to be part of that family. This is a wonderful example of the rich culture of this part of the backcountry of Idaho.
If you would like to hunt the back wilderness of Idaho or a summer vacation riding horses, check out Silver Spur Outfitters or call and talk to Rick Koesel at 208-842-2417.
Happy hunting where ever it may take you.
- Outfitter – Silver Spur Outfitters
- Scent Control – Dead Down Wind
- Range Finder, Scope, Binos and GPS – Leupold
- Model 700 rifle – Remington
- Back Pack – Crooked Horn Outfitters
- Bullets – Hornady
- Clothing – Scent-Lok
- Recoil Pad, Sharpshooter X-Ring De-Resonator – LimbSaver
- Rifle Sling – Outdoor Connection
- Boots – Danner/LaCrosse