Oregon FNAWS
Hunt Stories - Carma Mornarich
Carma Mornarich TOP
Carma's Wenaha Adventure
By Jeff Mornarich
After numerous scouting trips into Oregon's Wenaha Wilderness, we finally left for Carma's elk hunt eleven days ago. We were accompanied by our wonderful friends, Travis Anderson, Jerry Rooney, master-packer Jim Akenson, four wonderful molly mules and a dandy little saddle mare. Though Carma had every intention of harvesting one of the monster bulls that have made the Wenaha Wilderness famous, Mother Nature and the weather dictated otherwise.
Carma's determination and enthusiasm never waned, and in the end, with only two days left in the hunt, she harvested a beautiful six point bull elk from the breaks of the Wenaha River. This was much more than a hunt; it was a ten day adventure in the rugged and beautiful Wenaha Wilderness with plenty of adversity, determination and emotions. It was a trip we will vividly remember forever.
We dove off of Elk Flat Trailhead on November 1 and headed down 2,300 feet in elevation to the Wenaha River.
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Here's Jerry crossing the South Fork of the Wenaha River the hard way.
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Hotel Hilton for the next ten days.
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Motel 6 for Jerry and Travis.
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We intentionally camped in the bottom of the Wenaha River so that we would be below the snow line and have plenty of feed for the mules. Again, Mother Nature determined otherwise.
On opening day, we climbed a miserable trail 3,000 vertical feet to the headwaters of Trapper Creek on the north side of the Wenaha River where I had found a number of big bulls the weekend prior. Our plan was to spike camp for a couple of days in this area. Once again, Mother Nature dictated otherwise with hail, snow, and a brisk 25 mph wind with 50 mph gusts. The weather was so miserable on this day, we didn't even take pictures. The five of us hunkered down in a small tent with a stove I had left up on the mountain the previous weekend and tried to wait out the storm. After a couple hours of waiting we decided to get off the mountain and back down to the shelter of the river bottom. At one point on the way back, the wind ripped off my hat and blew it to the top of the ridge where it would have disappeared forever if it had not caught on a bush. It was nice to return to base camp.
The next morning Jerry regretfully left our party to head back to work.
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The type of picture you'd see on a calendar.
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Carma, Travis and I crossed the North Fork of the Wenaha River and climbed our way up Sawtooth Ridge with more lousy weather and no success. Prior to our trip, we purchased lightweight Wiggys for stream crossings like this one. They are a type of wader you slip over your hunting boot and they proved to be invaluable.
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During a July scouting trip, Carma declared that she would never hunt Sawtooth Ridge due to the ridiculous severity of the terrain. Guess where Carma was standing when she took the picture below of Travis and I glassing from Sawtooth ridge during a break in the weather ?
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On Sunday night, Travis, Jim, Carma and I were sound asleep in the Hotel Hilton when it sounded like a bullet exploded in the tent. I tried to spring from by bed but couldn't because our center tent pole had broken from the weight of a very wet, heavy snow and the tent was lying on top of us. In jammies and rain jackets, we dug our way out and proceeded to repair our tent for the next hour in the snow and the dark with a homemade pole. We then set the alarm for every hour so that one of us could check on the condition of the tent until the storm passed.
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The next morning, Travis, Carma and I hiked the miserable 3,000 feet climb back up toward Trapper Creek. This time we had the added enjoyment of about ten inches of snow. Travis did find a respectable 5x7 bull lying on the top of a knife edge ridge. After careful viewing of the bull with a spotting scope, Carma decided to pass on the bull and look for a bigger one. I'm sure the mules appreciated this decision. The hike was exhausting and we all slept well that night.
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Note the five corner star just above the center of the photo above. Not something you see very often.
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We were able to listen to the NOAA weather forecast with a GPS in the river bottom. With more snow in the forecast, stock that needed feed and a stock trailer we needed to get off the mountain, we decided it was time to pack out of the high country and head to lower elevations. Unfortunately, we would be leaving behind the big bulls that we knew were up in the Trapper Creek country. Packing the next morning was difficult because nighttime temperatures were in the teens. All of our ropes and manties were frozen solid. Here's Jim performing the difficult and dangerous frozen rope trick.
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Jim's wife, Holly, met us at the Elk Flat Trailhead with feed for the mules and doughnuts for the humans. We love Holly!
It took the rest of the day to get the stock and the trailer off the mountain so we made the (very wise) decision to spend the night in Enterprise. We showered, drank beer and had an enjoyable dinner. Vic and Vicky Coggins of Enterprise joined us for dinner. Because we had left the wilderness that we had so diligently scouted, we truly did not know other country to hunt. With the help of a few beers, Vic and Jim helped devise a hunting plan for Carma, Travis and me. We are definitely grateful for Vic and Jim's knowledge of the Wenaha country.
Carma, Travis and I left Enterprise the next morning at 5:30 a.m. and headed back to the Wenaha River, but down lower near the town of Troy, Oregon and the area where the Wenaha River flows into the Grande Ronde River. That morning, we had the good fortune of finding two six point bulls in the breaks on the south side of the Wenaha River. Carma looked them over carefully in the spotting scope and declared that it was the first morning of hunting this new country so maybe we should look around for another day instead of hunting these two bulls. Travis and I slowly glanced at each other and without vocally saying a word, exclaimed in unison "WTF?"
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Our new camp site after the snow melted. Simple but comfortable. With a pickup to carry our wares, we now could have beer in camp . Things were starting to look up.
We found the two six point bulls again. Carma was still hesitant and wanting to hold out or a bigger bull. Travis had a "come to Jesus" talk with Carma and finally convinced her to at least put a stalk on the bulls and then she could always decide not to shoot after having a closer look. Carma agreed, and we were off on the hunt. The wind was very erratic and causing us fits. We were wound tight and quietly and slowly slipping around the edge of the breaks. We finally found the bulls in a steep timbered draw. They were hard to see and a shot was not even possible. We slipped out at dark and headed back to camp excited for the next morning. After further discussion and a couple of beers, we finally determined that we had seen three bulls, one of which was missing points on his right side from fighting with another bull.
At the break of dawn, we glassed high and low and could not find the hide of an elk anywhere. Dejected, we spent the rest of the afternoon hunting a ridge Vic Coggins highly suggested. We saw lots of elk but no bulls. Then high winds and rain moved in as we dawned our rain gear. We reached the truck well after dark and discussed that Carma only had three days of her hunt left. We needed to make something happen. The next morning, we spotted one of the six point bulls up the Wenaha River almost two miles away from where we were glassing. Carma was finally ready to kill one of these bulls, but we knew it would take some time to reach the area where we just spotted the bull. We took off at high speed until we were within a ridge of where the bull was last feeding. We inched around the edge of the breaks, glassing high and low with every step. We eventually backed out of the area, circled way around and approached the area from the opposite end. By noon, we had exhausted all of our opportunities. We made a quick trip back to camp, ate some lunch and then Carma and I returned to the breaks to start glassing again hoping we would catch the bulls in the area coming back out to feed. Travis took the pickup and drove to the other side of the Wenaha River canyon as Carma and I could only glass the east side of all the finger ridges and could not see the back sides of the ridges from our vantage point.
About one and a half hours before dark, Travis contacted us on the radio. He had spotted two of the bulls further up river at the top of the breaks where they were obscured from our view. Carma and I loaded up our packs and took off as fast as we could go. We crossed two ridges and two drainages before sneaking upon a flat bench when Travis informed us that all but one bull had fed into the timber and were gone. As we crawled across the bench we spotted the lone remaining bull across the drainage. It was the broken horn bull, but Carma knew that her hunting time was quickly coming to an end and that Jim has a friend that can restore the bull's broken points.
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Carma laid down prone and got her rifle into position. The bull was 475 yards across the drainage, which was very steep.
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I silently hoped that Carma's shot would anchor the bull up high in the drainage otherwise it would be a nightmare to recover the bull. But as our good friend Curt Mendenhall says, "you don't have a problem until you have a problem." We wouldn't worry about the location of the bull until she killed him. The arrow in the photo above shows the location of Carma's bull prior to the shot. An extra kick or two, and Carma's bull would end up in the Wenaha River.
Carma was ready to shoot, but the bull kept feeding away from her and wouldn't present a side shot. We waited and waited, but the bull would not turn sideways.
Travis was watching the bull from the north side of the Wenaha River canyon, over a mile away wondering what was going on when he saw the bull's head lift high into the air and then his legs collapse. The bull's head went down, his back rolled over his head, then his head came back up and then down burying his antlers firmly into the dirt. About four seconds later, Travis heard the thundering boom of Carma's rifle from across the canyon. I looked over at my wife. She was starting to shake and tears were streaming down her face. She had started applying for the Wenaha elk rifle hunt over sixteen years ago. This adventure started the day she got the draw results in June. She had backpacked more than 80 miles all over this country throughout the summer months. She had hiked to the top of Grizzly Bear Ridge with Travis and Dailene Anderson. She had crossed the Wenaha River when it was thigh deep wondering if she could hold her footing. She had stood next to Jerry Rooney while four bulls answered Jerry's bugle in the North Fork of the Wenaha. She had drank horrible water from a muddy spring in the August heat. She had hiked down ridges at Cross Canyon and Trapper Ridge that she did not think a human being could traverse. She had held hands with Macy, Clay and Jack while hiking on the Round Butte Trail. She endured miserable weather and had never given up. This was not a hunt; it was an experience. And I know that Carma will treasure this entire adventure for the rest of her life.
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Looking through Carma's scope at the bull after the shot.
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This hunt would not have been possible without Travis' help, and the help and hospitality of Jim, Holly, Jerry, Vic and all of our dear friends that watched Jack, Clay and Macy while we were gone.
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