PNW Rosie Elk Hunt Lessons

Where's Bruce?

Almost A Member
Jul 27, 2018
People's Republik of Mexifornistan
Boat Name
Hunting coastal Roosevelt elk in Oregon is a lesson in Zen. Opening day has me crouching a mere 79 yards from a herd hoping they move east (to my left) so I can drop down and line up a shot from the brush line (shown at bottom of pic) near the elk.


As my buddy lures them towards him with cow calls, I start down the slope. Suddenly I’m falling…there is no dirt under the salmonberry. I have stepped right into a drop-off that deceivingly looked like a slope. I fall eight feet and stop…creating a huge crash that could be heard by all. My feet are dangling and I’m all wrapped up in roots and vines that stopped my fall. I can’t believe it. How FN stupid is this? I hate salmonberry!! (It would take an entire week to remove all the thorns imbedded in my hands.)


I throw my bow up and try to climb out but my feet and legs are enwrapped so my only way out is to pull myself out using my arms. No easy task for a guy with my middle-aged center of gravity and the only thing to hang onto is covered in thorns. But hey, elk are a fine motivator and I was able to wiggle out in a few minutes just as the herd came back around to see what all the commotion was about. I sit and watch as the herd stares in my direction. They seemed to be thinking. “Where’s the big bull we just heard crashing in?”

So there we are, the herd is in a pasture slowly moving to the west and I cannot move without being busted by 19 sets of elk eyes. Behind me is the mountain they are going to seek refuge in…and a little over 100 yards to my right is where their game trail runs up the steep mountainside. First they have to travel about 120 yards thru overgrown pasture. Another brush line parallels their route from mine to the game trail so I wait until the lingering herd finally moves behind the brush and I begin to speed walk down a trail adjacent to the elk. I stop in places where the brush separating us opens up so see if they are there. Nothing. I move further down to the next opening. Nothing. I do this twice more when I see the charging up the game trail a mere 56 yards away. I don’t even draw my bow, they are not in the open and moving quickly. Had I simply ran to the game trail without stopping I would have shot that 5X5 but hey, that’s elk hunting. Sometimes all ya can do is look down, turn around and walk away.



Lemme tell ya, coastal NW Oregon has mountain terrain that chewed me up like an old dog bone.

An old logging road enabled me and a local hunter (who was half my age that I met recently) to start on foot near the top of the ridgeline on the mountain the elk herd charged up. The plan was simple…find them and kill them, or at least move em down towards the pasture again.

After entering the thinned section of the forest (shown in two photos below) you can see it’s really nice. Nothing at all like the old growth forest further down…this is easily traversed terrain.


Here we’re walking on plants instead of dirt but it’s not as steep as the lower section of the mountain.


For those who have never actually hunted this area of Oregon let me paint you a little picture. The 45 to 60 degree slopes are cruel. In the 2nd generation old growth the forest floor is seemingly devoid of dirt. Rather, you are walking on roots, vines, ferns and rotting fallen trees. Some of these you must walk around because they are enormous. Often when you do find the rare patches of actual dirt, they are full of rat holes and these suckers are the size that holds onto your foot. Step in one…or even near one and the boot disappears and becomes wedged in the hole. Not fun. You’re using your one free hand to catch yourself on the steep slope as you slowly place your foot into the undergrowth…tentatively at first to see if you dare put weight on it. It is painfully slow going…much more so than granite “rock-on-rock” mountains above the tree line. At least there you can see where you’re stepping…here, not so much…every step is a mystery. It’s a delicate balancing act that I failed miserably and on this hunt I would fall repeatedly…perhaps as many as 300 times (no exaggeration). It is hard, slow and exhausting. You are climbing over fallen trees, crawling under them, walking on them (like a bridge over spots). It gets pretty dense in places.


It’s a bone yard. There are signs of bear everywhere here in the old growth.


Using a map and GPS we slowly work our way towards the game trail and hopefully, the elk herd we’d been so close to earlier. The forest is thick, rather dark for late morning and visibility is severely limited, especially once we broke through the thin cut woods and entered the old growth forest. Searching for the game trail was difficult and we blazed a brutally slow biped trail trying to find it.

I had heard about people who had hiked into an area only to find themselves trapped and unable to escape but I had never been in an area like that. Most of my hunting has been done in the open country where I felt secure that if I ever broke a bone, suffered a venomous snake bite or became trapped for any reason, my personal locator beacon would have rescue crews plucking my butt outta danger post haste. Not so here. No way a rescue helo could extract you from this dense section of woods. Heck, carrying a person out would be a monumental task for any Search & Rescue team.

Well in retrospect I can honestly say, we almost got it right. We missed the elk trail by less than 50 yards…a slight overshot but one that would prove profound. You see, this one little miscalculation took off in a direction nobody should go…ever! It is unofficially named “THE SUCK” because it sucks you in with deceptively attractive routes that suddenly shut off, forcing you into another direction that later too shuts down. This seemingly simple 1.5 miles hike down the mountain was about to become the most arduous hunting experience of my life and one I was absolutely unprepared for.

We’d be passing through what seemed like a good area (devoid of game trails still) when suddenly the incline would become too steep to hike through. So we’d traverse a while to an area that looked much better to go around it. As we got further in, we’d encounter an area that got a lot more sunlight and so, was completely engulfed in salmonberry…the big, over-your-head mature kind of salmonberry with rose-like thorns. But there was another route that seemed to take us around that (albeit with a bit of climbing). This is what THE SUCK does, it sucks you in. One clever deception at a time and all the while we were mere yards off our intended course. The GPS actually reinforced our confidence (overconfidence?) and we continued forward, down the mountainside. Keep in mind I am slipping, sliding, falling and crawling the entire time, each time I landed on my butt or my knees with my bow held firmly over my head…well almost always. I fell impressively hard three times…three solid hits landing face down on my bow. Twice my .44 fell out of its flap holster (poor design) but I saw it happen both times so I didn’t lose my sidearm. We pressed forward coming to a little drop that crushed us. There, hiding in the forest directly beneath us was a sea of salmonberry that stretched forever. There was no way around it.

Using a baseball bat sized piece of tree limb, we begin beating through it. It was thick stuff and our pace slowed to an excruciating crawl. The blood began to flow as the sharp thorns penetrated my clothes and gloves. The many flying insects (which had been ever-present) seemed to increase 1000 fold here. It was now I began to overheat and the hydration pack made that awful last sip noise. Uh oh.

We push on for what seemed like an eternity through this Godforsaken stuff and find ourselves in a partial clearing of it where we can actually stand upright for the first time since we entered this thorny Hell. Beneath us is a creek we can hear but cannot see. The incline becomes considerably steeper. Parker (the young local hunter I am traveling with) and I look at each other. We are both looking at a demoralized expression of frustration and weariness. There are only two choices…go back the way we came (thru Hell) and hope to make it up and out before sunset or blaze on down and follow the creek. Wet boots seemed like the lesser of two evils and the GPS suggested this was a much shorter route. THE SUCK was sucking us in deeper.

Now we are sliding down the mountainside, still busting through the thorny salmonberry but here, in this area we can at least see dirt too. It’s too steep for the ferns which as locals know…is rare. Funny thing about the areas with dirt…they are pocked with holes about the size of my size 10 Danner Pronghorn boots.

You know you’re in a bad place when there are zero game trails (no large animals are moving through) and you are surrounded by rat holes and unbroken spider webs stretch everywhere. Not exactly the type of place you wanna spend the night even if you have the proper attire to stay warm (which we didn’t).

After a .05 mile traverse down the mountain we come to a drop, 60 feet below us we see the creek. The only way to it is to slide down the many fallen trees in this steep vee in the terrain. We actually climbed down a labyrinth of fallen trees (five I think) to reach the bottom of the creek bed. I think these logs had been resting here for over 200 years. They were wet, covered with moss and slicker than a Chicago politician. It was here I found my camera had been switched on during one of my many falls and the battery depleted. I wish I could show you a photo. Imagine a creek bed with 60’ walls completely covered with 200 year old fallen trees. Climbing down them you reach a dark, wet and loud eerie place that seems to have consumed you. The sound of the water echoing off the canyon walls and tree caves (that’s what they felt like) was competing with the sound of mosquitoes around my head. We were in the belly of THE SUCK. Parker began leading the way downstream only to turn around after 30 yards. A monster maple tree as big as a five story house lay directly in our path…no way through or around it. We are surrounded by steep wet creek bed walls and salmonberry. A chill crept up my spine as I began to realize we may not make it any further than this. For the first time since I began hunting, I felt like I had exceeded my limits. THE SUCK had suckered me in and I was more than a bit shaken. I had fleeting flashes of sadness, almost wanting to cry, then would laugh out loud at the ridiculousness of it all. I wanted to keep my game face on so Parker would not know how alarmed I was.

“So this is typical Oregon elk hunting eh Parker?” I asked.

“Oregon’s finest,” he said.

“How the hell do we get outta here now?” I inquired.

“I’m not sure,” he replied with a disconcerting anxiety. Then he volunteered some information I really didn’t need to hear. “This is the worst I’ve ever seen in these mountains.”

That was it. My experienced younger, stronger and more confident partner was visibly worried. Sitting in the shade had cooled us both and sweat no longer drenched our hair and stung our eyes. A late afternoon breeze began to blow and suddenly I realized it was late in the afternoon. The coolness had a stiffening effect on my back. Parker took my hydration bladder from me and dropped down five feet to the creek for a refill. My thirst quenched we find one possible route of escape. There’s a single fallen tree that goes straight up the other side of the canyon. It was a little bigger than a telephone pole, covered in moss and wet bark and had few branches. This was not gonna be a picnic but there were no alternatives.

Fortunately for me, young Parker was a well built spider money of a man with impressive upper body strength that only weight lifters build. Had I needed to get up that stupid trunk alone, I would likely still be in that creek bed. Working together, Parker acting as my anchor, he pulled me up through the sections that had no handholds where the log had only sky beneath it. Treacherous? Man that doesn’t even begin to describe it. It’s a long way down. Fall here and you are done brother. It was the kind of place that forces your sense of humor into hyperdrive. You’re that scared.

It took us a long while to shinny up that slippery tree trunk but we made it. The cost was a spasm in my side and a Charlie horse in my right leg. My body was failing me, breaking down in the cold and unforgiving old untouched forest. Next we passed through another super thick swath of salmonberry, beating on it like Rodney King and pushing through as the thorns created wounds for the insects to feast upon. As the pre-dusk darkness grew, the cloud of insects increased until their buzzing was all you could hear. It was maddening.

Halfway up the mountain we see a lateral move that presented an almost 45 degree angle that we could traverse with little salmonberry and lots of fern. That’s when my toes and left leg cramped up. Try climbing when every step invokes a cry of pain and frustration. It was that or sit down and stay the night. I kept moving. Parker was ahead by maybe 20 feet but I couldn’t see him. The dense underbrush swallowed us up. I heard a crash and moan.

“Parker! You okay?!”

“Yeahhh,” he moaned. “I fell.”

“Be careful man…if you get hurt there’s nobody to run for help if my back goes out.”

I was starting to worry about this reality because I have taken a half dozen hard motorcycle spills in my younger days and knew the signs. First my back gets stiff, then it locks up. Next time I bend and/or twist it goes out. When it does, I can experience anything from discomfort or complete immobilization. Twice I have found myself unable to move at all. Once while at the driving range I got upset and hit the golf ball with all my anger and was down for the count. The sharp pain (sciatic nerve) lasted months and after being carried home, I laid on my living room floor unable to do anything but roll over for days. My fiancé had the unique privilege of holding the plastic cup that became my urinal. Eight months later I was still walking with a limp. Another time while on a cruise ship I bent down to tie my shoelaces and was instantly immobilized by the same pain. Apparently this is a common occurrence aboard cruise ships caused when people load numerous heavy bags. I had loaded my truck with two dozen such bags (we had taken our entire company staff on a seven day cruise as a thank you) and it took two days for the injury to reveal itself. So I know that the possibility of getting out of these woods tonight was in serious jeopardy.

Of course, Parker took my comment as being semi-funny sarcasm and did not realize the truth in it.

“Jesus F####### Christ! Give us a f######### break will ya!!!” came the cry.

Parker was yelling at the forest. This can’t be good. I catch up to him and there it is…the biggest patch of salmonberry we’ve seen yet. THE SUCK’s cruelty once again dashing hopes of escaping its endless clutches. We could not go around it on the downhill side because we would be heading to an area where we’d be stuck above a tall riverbank cliff. We could not go up and around it because my legs and back couldn’t physically make it.

Battin’ time again. Blood for the bugs. Misery loves company. We push on and I summon my inner superhero as every single step is now agony, desperation and audible. “Uhhh!”





“F### me!!!!!!!”

We make it past the Oregonian briar patch and find an uphill climb our only option to get back on track. The GPS confidently points the way. Back up into the dense old growth we go, crawling over and under massive trees on the steep mountainside. Shadows fill the forest and the temp is quickly dropping now. We travel roughly for 15 minutes when we start moving laterally again towards the alleged game trail. There are places with drop offs that must be traversed. No choice. I made some hard landings on some of the further ones. I stop for water and to retie my boot when it happened…my back locked up. My eyes musta been the size of saucers and Parker knew without asking I was in trouble.

Hiking with cramps is one thing, being unable to bend your back is another. I had been walking stiff-legged like a zombie for awhile because bending my legs hurt so much. 40 yards later I hear Parker yell, “Bruce! I’m standing on the game trail!” I thank the Lord and slowly make my way towards him. From there it was another 20-30 minutes to flat ground as the sun began to set. I am dead tired, bitten and have thorns stuck in all kinds of places. My Sitka Gear Mountain Pants are shredded in the rear from sliding down fallen trees. I have never felt so alive or so relieved. We made it out! THE SUCK lost.

I spend that night in a guest bed in the home of a friend who fed me powerful muscle relaxers, beer and tequila. The next morning I was walking fine and only felt the residual tightness in my thighs from hiking with Charlie horses. No back pain, no cramps. Yay!

My bow, release and revolver were not so lucky. I would end up driving nearly 100 miles to Eugene for repairs. I had splintered the limb of my Carbon Element bow and struck my QAD HDX rest (for non-archers reading this, that’s the thing that holds your arrow when you draw the bow). My bow was shooting to the right and low. The trigger on my release (worn on my right wrist) had been sheared off in a fall when it had become snagged on something during a fall and the rear sight of my .44 caliber revolver (bear gun) had ripped out of the frame and was bent. A day in the truck, at Cabelas and a gun shop named Baron’s Den in Eugene was actually enjoyable and a much welcome break from Oregon’s rugged coastal countryside.

Matt Killmaster in Cabelas archery dept fixed and tuned my bow while I waited and it was a tack driver (shooting straight) when I left. He was a Hoyt guy who had damaged his limbs in the same way and Hoyt had instructed him as to how to repair it. A few tweaks with the arrow rest and I was good to go. He had a release that was almost identical to the one I broke and I am big fan of this store now. Cabelas employee Jason Bourne (yeah…these are their real names) sent me to a local gun shop after admitting the store didn’t have a perfect fitting holster for my hand cannon…it was just too big (largely because of the front sight). He wrote down the name, address and phone numbers of two local gun shops for me and off I went.

My cheap flap holster failed dismally, causing severe damage to the rear sight of my S&W 329PD. I want my .44 on my hip when hunting in bear country. So Roben Kesel at The Baron’s Den repairs my revolver and fits me for the perfect holster (so I can wear it cross draw or strong arm) while I wait. Soon I was back on the road and equipped to continue the hunt. Thank you to Baron's Den for bailing me out and getting me back on the hunt so expediently. You're great! And the holster you selected for me Roben? I love it! After field testing, it is everything I asked for and more. Much obliged.

This is Parker and I just before heading into THE SUCK (and my camera battery dying).


I owe this guy a lot…more than I can ever repay.

The lesson learned was that when hunting outta state in unfamiliar territory that isn’t open country…a small error can have a big impact and things can go bad suddenly and without warning. We were never really far from logging roads but they might as well have been on the moon. I always try to stay well within the limits of my body because the warranty expired at 50 and in the years since I’ve learned healing takes longer.

It is now September 2nd, a full week after my trip into THE SUCK and I finally dug the last salmonberry thorn out of my body. The Havalon game skinning knives make ideal scalpels for such DIY surgery.

The next morning we headed back to the top of the same mountain 30 minutes before graylight. The woods felt different in the darkness…larger, quieter and more alive. I can’t really explain it. A third hunter joined us this morning, a long time British pal of mine whom I have fished with many times and he had recently moved to Oregon and taken up bow hunting a month prior. Parker had actually given Neill (that’s his name) his old bow. The three of us silently slipped into the thinned section of woods near the top of the mountain and set up in an area where the mountainside flattens out into a sort of plateau. Portions of it almost look manmade, perhaps a century ago when logging was active here. Parker and Neill sit downwind and uphill from me and I stand in a spot where game might be called in from three directions. They have weeks to hunt because they live there; I have only ten days so I am being given guest privileges. Parker had handed me a Bull Bomb to spray once I got positioned so it would cover our scent. I have never used one of these before but really, it’s a spray can…how hard can it be? (I know some of you who hunt are already laughing.)

The air is still, the first blue fingers of light are piercing the crisp morning sky and I point the Bull Bomb in front of me and press the button. A moment later I see the slight imperceptive breeze blowing in my direction as the fine mist envelopes me. Inhaling 100% genuine fresh elk urine first thing in the morning will outperform coffee every time. OMG! How FN stupid can I be?!

As I fight the urge to cough, choke, puke and spit I just know my two friends are fighting urges of their own. Musta been a gut buster watching me douse myself in elk pee. I spray in all other directions and the sky grows brighter. That’s when I learned lesson #2 about Bull Bombs…they are insect magnets. In moments I have literally thousands of biting, stinging bugs all over me. I pull up my bandit, (3/4 facemask) pull down my beanie and put on my gloves. As I write this a week later my hands and face still look like a teenage pizza employee’s face. My hands actually began swelling and looked freakishly plump for five days. Benadryl didn’t help.

So there I am, bugs getting caught in my eyes as I blink, buzzing is all I can hear and I’m trying to focus as Parker chirps (a subtle elk cow call) for bulls. The three of us are being eaten alive and after an hour we decide to beat it outta there. Yes, I have Thermacell (a little device that keeps bugs off you)…it’s right there in the truck two miles away. (Insert self administered bitch-slap here).

We decide to return to the pasture and have a look around, maybe the herd snuck back down in the night.

Well sure enough, they had decided to come down that morning…maybe it was the bad smell and noise above em that enticed them to return to the base of the mountain. There we find all kinds of sign including steaming elk poo. This too is better than coffee for swollen, bug bitten pizza boys like me.

Alas…all the chirping, cow calls and patience in the world would not give us a visual on the herd and as the midday heat burns off the last of the morning fog and temps soar…we break for lunch. Besides, it’s hard to stay still when everything itches. Moreover, I was burning up. My light Optifade mountain pants were in tatters so I was wearing my heavy Celsius bibs as a back-up and was sweating like a pig. Yep…Oregon elk hunting at its finest. This is Neill and I on the logging road near the top of the mountain.


Attack of the Zoas

Remember back when we were stuck in THE SUCK and refilled my hydration bladder with creek water? Heh heh…don’t do this. My stomach shut down for two days and my plumbing turned into Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. It took me awhile to figure out what was wrong with me but eventually concluded that zoas from the creek were multiplying inside me. Knowing a little bit about commercial food manufacturing and how to kill microscopic organisms, I turned to pH and began consuming hot picante sauce and Tabasco in an effort to raise the pH levels in my stomach and fry the dirty little swimmers. Don’t ask me to explain the science, I can’t but the next day I was brand new.

Gonna hafta carry something to put in my hydration bladder to kill the little suckers next time or just remember to pack the Katadyne Hiker Pro water filter.

Most of our hunting had been on public (Forestry) land and maybe 20% on private property. It seemed this shy herd was on full alert now, having been pursued relentlessly since opening day so we decided to give em a break and hunt neighboring public land. Hunting between Waldport and Corvallis. We trekked to the Five Rivers area which is loaded with prime elk haunts due to the more active logging there. Lots of clear cuts, thinned woods, trails and logging roads that seemed better than some city streets I’ve driven on. Those ole logging companies sure did some amazing work back in the day!

I will admit that at this point I was no longer interested in solo hunting. Oregon elk hunting is much more difficult than I ever imagined and I saw the potential for a life threatening situation. Had I gone solo, I’d probably still be stuck in the The Suck. Surprisingly, I only met one Oregonian oldtimer who preferred to hunt alone…and he didn’t strike me as being all that sane. I suspect that at his advanced age death wasn’t a concern. Parker had actually been mauled by a cougar at age 5, had passed within a few yards of a big Tom cat while hunting a few years ago and had walked up to within 10 feet of a bear in the woods that startled them both. Lemme tell ya, walking up on a bear here is easy…you can’t see what’s up ahead! Everyone is strapped (except the crazy old guy Larry) with some sort of hand cannon and a good knife here. Oh wait, I saw two crazy guys. One had ridden a Moped up a logging road and pitched a tiny tent next to it. I would have paid money to see him drive off with a bull elk draped across that thing! LOL

Oh…I almost forgot, there’s another fun plant here, it’s called Stinging Nettles and after you touch it you get a tingling sensation that turns into a burning sensation. Locals recommend running hot water over the area which boosts the discomfort level while doing it but eases it immediately afterward. It doesn’t bother everyone up there but boy it sure caught my attention. Added to the bug bites and salmonberry thorns imbedded in my freakishly swollen hands…I came to realize that hunting Rosies in Oregon was on a whole nuther level.

For the remainder of my hunting here I was better educated and ceased making stupid mistakes. I had slowed down, surveyed areas more extensively and took the advice of a hunter who told me to “become a shadow” and give up on calling and sprays and all that crap. Find sign, still hunt and let all the other bow hunters push the game towards me. I’d like to tell you this all worked out and I shot a world record bull but the simple truth is, I never even saw another elk or drew my bow. Though I planned a ten day hunt I ended up heading home after eight days. The swelling in my hands got worse and I began to worry about toxemia. Frankly I was a wreck after 8 days. I had headaches, body aches, real pain in my big toe that is now starting to turn black (musta hurt it on one of my falls) and had a general feeling of exhaustion. I was plum beat up.

So for you folks who think you wanna hunt NW coastal Oregon elk, lemme give you a few tips I gleaned from this escapade.

Wear Cartharts or pants that are equally rugged because this area destroys synthetics.

Carry your Thermacell or be eaten alive by everything that flies or crawls.

Wear heavy gloves (not thin ones like I did).

Carry a lot of water…more than you think you need.

Don’t rely on your GPS or even your map…at the first sign of confusion go back and double check your position, it’s easy to lose yourself here.

Recognize that there is a time to be patient and a time to be aggressive. If I had run to cut off the herd I would have nailed that nice bull.

Expect fog, pray for fog and use it…fog is your friend.

Beware of lazy slob road hunters…they do not respect NO TRESPASSING-NO HUNTING signs and will run you down on private property with gates.

Pack light…weight is your enemy. Water, game bags, knife, rangefinder, sidearm, GPS. You don’t need much. (And you’ll thank me later).

Hunt with someone. Getting tripped up and falling is a fact of life and if you hit your head you could be dead. Plus it makes the day more enjoyable, them woods are dark.

No matter how great your hunt plan is…expect to have to change it and fast.

Unless it’s the rut, don’t call a lot. Wait until you see the animals and chirp sparingly to close the gap. I got to the area two days before the season opened and never heard a single elk but on opening day a million elk hunters were very vocal. Pretty sure this is how the elk know hunting season has started. Parker hadn’t taken an elk in five years. The area has a 7% success rate. Now I know why.

When the mountains begin to beat you down, remember you could be stuck working.

When your body begins to let you down, that’s when the adventure begins. You’re stronger than you know.

If you’re shinnying up a steep fallen tree truck with a 50’-60’ drop beneath you, don’t make jokes or laugh…it weakens your focus and strength and you might die.

Elk have an invisibility cloak.

Always, ALWAYS hand the Bull Bomb (if you insist on using one) to someone else to fire off.

When inhaling a cloud of pure elk urine…remember to close your eyes.

If you get the stinging plant stuff on your hands, don’t hold your dick when you pee.

I’ll get one next time.



Crying Member
Aug 10, 2020
PV mex
Boat Name
I purposefully am trying to forget my nighmare in the coastal mountains outside of Bandon oregon. people ridicule and laugh but it was shit to me and I could care less if im ever in timber that FN thick dark and scary ever again in my life, and when the sun or what there is of it goes down it gets even better! shit can happen anywhere but when its happening to you, there, a whole new appreciation of safety comes into play. great read and brought back some emotion for sure. give me an open ocean with all its perils and Ill be OK
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