The tent was a lone white dot in a tremendous sweep of country. Far to the east we could see the rugged crest of the Bitterroots, the Continental Divide and the boundary between Idaho and Montana. Behind, and 500 feet above, was the ridge over which our packer had disappeared two hours before, leaving Dan Holland and me and our camp outfit on a little bench nestled against the side of the mountain. Immediately below, the mountain dropped away until the lodgepole pines that carpeted its floor along the Clearwater River fork were half lost in the blue haze of distance.
This country is as untouched as any within the United States. Later we hunted into the bottom of the basin, and the only signs of man that we saw there were ancient blazes on the trees along a trail laid out by Lloyd Magruder between Elk City, Idaho and Virginia City, Mont. He was robbed and murdered not far from here on his way to Elk City in October 1863.
Now as we stood in the gathering dusk, realizing for the first time the wildness and remoteness of the country in which we were to hunt for elk, we were a little awed. We were standing quietly at the edge of our bench looking away into the depths below, when there came the clear ringing notes of a bull elk "bugling."
Blow, bugle, blow, set the wild echoes flying,
Blow bugle; answer, echoes, dying, dying, dying.
It was fierce, wild and utterly thrilling. And as the notes died away, it was repeated from other corners of the basin until the whole valley fairly rang. Finally the last piercing blasts were gone. It became utterly quiet. Then in the extreme distance the clear notes of a lone call resounded. As they died away, the challenge was taken up again by another and yet another, until once more the basin before us rang with the wild, piercing challenge of the bull elk in mating season.
In the distance the call of a bull elk has a musical quality. At closer range, it is very shrill and piercing. It begins on a low note and then goes, step by step, up through three more. The fourth and last is drawn out much longer than the others. Sometimes it is almost a long, hoarse scream. If you are close enough you can hear a hissing release of breath at its conclusion. A few seconds afterward, the bull usually grunts two or three times.
FROM PLAINS TO MOUNTAINS
Originally elk ranged from the Dakotas westward and they were primarily a plains animal. The settling of the western valleys and the fencing of the range, however, pushed them back into the mountains. Now some of the best elk country in Idaho is along the Lolo Trail where Lewis and Clark nearly starved in 1805. At that time the elk were not in the mountains.
Elk seldom live in close proximity to man. It is not unusual to see a deer or a moose from the highway but one hardly ever sees an elk near civilization, except during extremely hard winters when they are forced to accept food from their enemies of the hunting season.
Calling elk is much different from calling moose. To call a moose, you imitate a cow who is letting the world know that she desires a male companion. When you call elk, however, you imitate the ringing challenge of a bull. Your quarry comes?if he accepts?with head up, mane erect. He's ready for a fight, alert and fierce.