Elk Hunt at Grizzly Island, Sept. 2017

surfgoose

active geezer
  • Jul 29, 2010
    3,061
    4,844
    Long Beach, CA, USA
    Name
    Gary
    Boat
    whichever has the longest bunk
    Attached will be some pictures of my elk hunt during this past week at Grizzly Island Wildlife Area on the eastern boundary of Suisun Bay, east of San Francisco. I drew a tag for a cow elk, just like my wife did last year, and if you have maximum preference points from decades of applying and not getting drawn for an elk tag, I strongly urge you to think about giving up on a bull tag because it is thousands-to-one odds, but they take about sixty cows out of the several hundred cows in this herd every year, and if you have a high number of preference points they give 75% of the tags to high points holders, and it is an amazing place to hunt.

    As you can see from the pictures, it is a huge marsh area, about two miles by ten miles. There is maybe ten feet of elevation so you are not going to be climbing mountains, but you are going to do a lot of difficult walking! There are only fourteen designated parking areas, about two miles or more apart, and you MUST park your car and leave from a parking area, no dropping-off permitted. If you get an animal down, you call on your cell phone and the warden or biologist comes to the area that you are in and fetches the animal in a Polaris buggy and takes it back to the central "Elk Camp" area where they weigh it and take teeth and DNA samples for their records. There is usually a man there who tans the elk hides for clothing, and he will skin your elk for free, just keeps the hide, which I think is a great deal! But remember that this is a marsh, with a mixture of dry grass fields and wet marshes with tulles, interspersed with both narrow and wide canals, from two feet to ten feet deep. The Polaris doesn't swim, so you have to be certain that the elk that you drop is in an accessible place, or else you are responsible to drag that huge heavy beast across the canal and up the bank to where the Polaris can be loaded. Needless to say, the number one consideration of the hunt is finding a shootable animal in an accessible location.

    My wife was my partner (they encourage a second team member to be your spotter/partner) and we drove up to Fairfield on Sunday, and spent all day Monday scouting for our hunt period starting Tuesday. We walked in about two miles from the Elk Camp to the north part of F2, a dry grass field about 200 yards across between two marsh areas, where we found a couple of well-tracked trails. Hauling in a light screen to sit behind, and with two low Strongback chairs, we prepared to wait for several hours without moving. The wind was very strong, at least twenty miles per hour, coming off of the Suisun Bay from about our eleven-o'clock direction from the West, and we had a loud chorus of elk screams almost non-stop from dawn to mid-morning from only a mile or so in front of us, so we were very hopeful. But not one animal came over either of the two trails we were sitting between, and by 10am we gave it up and walked back to the car.

    There were seven other hunters in addition to me during that period, and three of them had taken cows during that morning. They had been so far away that we didn't even hear the shots, but when we got back to the parking area at Elk Camp there was a nice cow elk being skinned so I took a picture. After taking a few hours off and getting food and a rest, we returned to the same location at 4pm and settled-in to watch the same trails as evening fell. Again, not one animal came by, although we could continue to hear the whistles and bugles of bull elk around us in the marsh. It was full rut for the past several weeks, and there are over eighty mature bulls at Grizzly Island, most 6x6 but some bigger, all fighting over about two hundred cows and five dozen calves. The biggest bulls claim small herds of a half-dozen to a dozen cows, and constantly fight to defend them from aggressive and jealous bulls. I have heard elk whistle on many occasions, but this was the first hunt that I have ever been on where I got to watch elk fight from only a hundred to two hundred yards away. And it was very frustrating to not be able to get a clear shot at a cow, because they were always being herded into a tight group like sheep being herded by a shepherd's dog.

    Morning and evening, we would walk a couple of miles over rough ground to get to a place where we could watch for elk, and after the first day we would always see some, and then we would make a long, careful approach to get closer to see if I could get an angle on a cow, and only once did an elk bull spot us. It was at the end of an evening hunt, several minutes past shooting time, and as we were hoofing it out back to the car he suddenly popped up onto the trail just a hundred yards ahead of us, and directly down wind, and stopped and looked at us in disbelief for about ten seconds before stepping across the path and down into the marsh. Oh, I was so glad that it wasn't a cow! I would have been sorely tempted. But it is always fun to be within a hundred yards of a big 6x6 bull.

    We tried several different areas after scouting and comparing notes with other hunters and the Chief Biologist named Orlando. At the end of the third morning's hunt, a stalk of over six miles but never getting a shot at a cow at under three hundred yards, we were exhausted and my wife had a blister and multiple mosquito bites so she was about spent. Orlando gave us a pep talk and told us to please try an area on the north-west end of the reserve, there were about forty elk there and the big 7x7 herd bull had just been taken that morning so there would be a lot of re-configuring of the herd. It would be several miles in, but if I got my cow he would let us ride back on the Polaris, instead of having to walk all the way back. So we agreed to give it one more try.

    I bandaged Pat's foot and we loaded up and started walking a little after 4pm. After about three miles we were on the eastern edge of the area that we wanted to hunt, coming into the wind, and started glassing. About 5pm we saw several bulls at about four hundred yards fighting and pushing each other around, and further glassing found about a dozen cows nearby. The field was dry with low grass, very promising, and I could make an approach by keeping low behind the field's eastern dyke. So I left Pat there with binoculars and started my approach. I would pop up carefully every fifty yards or so to get my bearings and check on the elk. The fighting among the bulls was the most ferocious I have ever seen! Big angry 6x6s pawing the ground and yelling at each other and then locking horns and pushing each other back and forth and around. But every time the new herd bull had defeated another contender he would look over at his cows and a different bull would be starting to get close to them, so he would run over to them and grunt at them to move away and unfortunately for me he kept moving them away from me, closer to the western edge of the field and into the big cattail marsh. Finally as I was just about two hundred and fifty yards away he took them into the cattails, and the three other bulls followed a minute later. After waiting a couple of minutes to be sure that they wouldn't step back into my field, I started walking across the open field after them just a fast as the rough ground would allow. I was very afraid that I would be seen, but hoping that I could follow them into the next field because I could hear the fighting resume just a few hundred yards ahead on the other side of the cattails. But when I got to the edge of the field, I found that the trail led into a watery marsh of unknown depth, with cattails higher than my head. Rats!

    So I was exhausted and discouraged, because it took me another twenty minutes just to walk back to where I had left Pat, and another twenty minutes to walk out of that field together, and by then we only had less than a half-hour of shooting time left, and there was no way that we could start another stalk on that herd in the time left. Plus we had about three miles of walking just to get back to the car. So I said, "OK, we gave it a good try, but it just wasn't our time to get an elk. We're done." And she said, "I'll make it back to the car, but that is all of the walking that I have left in me. If you want to hunt tomorrow, OK, but I'm spent." I told her that I was done, too, and we would turn in the provided Orange Vests and the unused tag, and in the morning drive back to home.

    In the end, it was the most fun three days of big game hunting that I have ever had, although I never fired a shot. There was one time at the end of the second day when I saw a cow that I could take within range, but as I was getting set a half-sized calf came up to her rump, and I realized that she had a half-grown calf with her. And although it would have been perfectly legal, I have no regrets that I passed up shooting Bambi's mother. There are no hungry children in my camp, I hunt for the pleasure and the challenge, and feel no desperation to fill a tag. Being in the field with a rifle or shotgun as a potential predator puts you in situations that are unknown by bird-watchers or casual hikers.

    2017-09-18 17.01.08.jpg 2017-09-19 06.55.28.jpg 2017-09-19 07.30.08.jpg 2017-09-19 07.30.24.jpg 2017-09-19 10.40.44.jpg 2017-09-20 07.22.34.jpg 2017-09-20 07.22.39.jpg 2017-09-20 07.22.58.jpg 2017-09-20 08.25.17.jpg 2017-09-20 08.25.20.jpg 2017-09-20 17.04.50.jpg 2017-09-20 17.46.10.jpg 2017-09-20 17.46.14.jpg 2017-09-21 09.16.52.jpg 2017-09-21 10.33.17.jpg 2017-09-21 18.55.11.jpg 2017-09-21 18.55.15.jpg
     
    Upvote 0

    surfgoose

    active geezer
  • Jul 29, 2010
    3,061
    4,844
    Long Beach, CA, USA
    Name
    Gary
    Boat
    whichever has the longest bunk
    Thanks, guys for the kind words. The odds are a zillion to one that I will ever get drawn to hunt there again, we used up 14 preference points to draw the tags last year and this year. And never fired a shot either year, but we could have. I'm not comfortable pulling the trigger on anything over 200 yards in a stiff crosswind, and the wind is always blowing up there.

    But I strongly urge anyone who wants to have an amazing time playing games with a lot of elk without climbing up and down mountains to seriously consider trying for a tag at Grizzly Island. If you draw a bull it is a slam-dunk, I could have taken my choice of big 6x6 bulls any day, but getting a clear shot at a lone cow elk is a whole different game up there. But if you are younger and fitter than me and willing to splash around in some water from time to time, a 300 to 400 pound cow elk is almost a certainty. And while looking for her, you will hear the most amazing chorus of bull calls you can imagine.
     
    • Like
    Reactions: duckdog
    Upvote 0

    muskyman

    Tina come get some ham
    Feb 10, 2005
    157
    49
    Loudon TN
    Name
    David
    Boat
    Crestliner 1750 Sportfish 150 E-Tec
    thanks for the awesome report ; I too felt like I was there
     
    • Like
    Reactions: surfgoose
    Upvote 0

    Latest posts