My wife and I have made the trip from our home in
Calgary to California several times in the last few years to visit our son
Cameron, as he attended university just south of San Francisco. We were in
SF again this spring, and I overcame my fear of heights as I ran the Golden
Gate Bridge with my good friend Bill Vastis. I was training for my fight.
On this trip I was going to try to complete the
California Grand Slam: a Tule elk, a Napa wine tour, a visit to Sitka
headquarters (before they move to Montana) and then top it off with a CA
blacktail. Possible, plausible or just a pipe dream?
It was a pretty agressive goal, but even with a slight hitch at the car rental, I was only two hours late as I headed south to San Luis Obispo to meet famed Tule elk guide Nolan Twissleman. Nolan has over 80,000 acres. It's a lot of square miles, but he knows every
piece of it. There wasn't once when I asked him what the other side of
that canyon looked like that he didn't instantly describe it in great detail.
A few years ago, a couple of my friends had hunted
with Nolan, and they highly recommended him to me. We don't have Tule
elk in Alberta, so if I wanted to try to take the 21st animal towards my quest
for the North American 29, I needed to call Nolan. I finally tracked him
down and mailed him a deposit. It was a long four years, but
Nolan wasted no time and we were off to tour the ranch. What was
immediately clear was this was very similar country to southern Alberta where I
killed a nice prairie elk.
I knew right away that it was possible to stalk elk
here. It didn't take long for Nolan to point out several smaller raghorns
and then a couple of nice sixes. He barely gave them a second look and
said there are bigger. He had pre-scouted a big 7 x 8, and that was what we
looked for. Sure, we saw some other good bulls, but we both knew it was
good to invest a few days looking for this bull.
Somewhere down the
valley we heard a bugle, in a few minutes the herd bull pushed his small group of
cows out into the open. We watched for awhile and when they bedded in a
great spot Nolan said, "Lets go."
I should add that a buddy of mine introduced me to
a noted camera man, Dandy Don Martin, nicknamed Hollywood. Don was on his
way to Alaska where he guides for brown bear but he had time to tag along and
video this hunt. We were on a stalk and Nolan and Don stayed
back. In true sheep-stalking mode, I lowered down over the
cliff edge and in an hour I had slipped by the cows and had the bull at only 45
yards. It was a standstill, and I motioned back to Nolan that
there was a big rock between me and the bull. We had planned that he
would cow call to get the big bull to his feet and after a couple of realistic
squeals the bull was up. He looked my way but my Sitka Optifade made me
invisible only a few yards away. I didn't want to take a frontal shot and
when the bull turned I stood and drew. Off to my right a cow saw me and
started to walk off, the bull saw this and followed.
It was a great first attempt, some awesome video
and I knew we could do it. Nolan was disappointed
that I was so close, but optimistic as he knew I could stalk. We
looked for that bull for another day and then split up to cover more
ground. Don and I were camped on two bulls and several cows when we saw
Nolan a couple miles away. We hurried and trotted down the steep ridge. Don was nimble as he videoed me as I
scampered down the slope. Nolan had found our bull with his
cows. It didn't take us long to get there, but they were no where to
be found. Nolan felt that the bull, who was about 300 yards behind his
bedded cows must have hooked them and moved them over the hill. Nolan
took it personally and wished he had watched them for a few more minutes, but
his observation of this bull and his knowledge of the area was going to prove
That night and the next morning we glassed and glassed
and turned up only one other smaller bull. We were about to give up
for the mid morning when I spotted another bull deep down in a canyon. Nolan pointed out that the great blacktail guide, Jim Schaafsma, had killed
his bull there a few years before.
We bedded the small group and then tried to
get above them. We were about 200 yards when Nolan insisted we back off
as the wind was tricky. We watched the group again from a distance and
waited for them to make a move. After another hour, when the bull seemed
to be in a good position, we started to move towards them again. We
got close, but as I moved in, a cow was blocking my path to the bull. Backing off we sat back and waited again.
Over the next hour we watched the contented
group. I stretched and when I looked over my left shoulder to make a
comment to Nolan, suddenly out of nowwhere a US fighter jet buzzed us and it
was only metres above our heads. Suddenly the elk were up with the cows
moving upslope. For the third time we were on the move to intercept
them. As we closed the distance, Don had the camera rolling when
suddenly he signaled that he could see the elk. Right in front of us was
a lone cow. We hunkered down and waited. A short while later we
could see more elk but not the bull. Don and Nolan were pinned down but I
slid forward through he rocks.
I signaled to Don that I was going to move forward
to open up two shooting lanes. Suddenly a cow was up and moving my
way. Right behind her was our bull. The problem was that she was
ten yards and coming my way. At eight yards she quartered to my left with
the bull right behind her. They looked my way but the Optifade made me
invisible as I melted into the rocks. An hour later I found the cow
bedded and sensed the bull was near. Don and Nolan endured the 90-degree sun and dared not moved. When the cow urinated in her bed I
readied myself as Nolan had pointed out that the bull would get up and check
her out. Well he came over and she stood to leave to my left. With
the bull moving towards me I drew and waited for him to enter the shooting
lane. Of course he froze up behind the bush and after what seemed to be an
eterinity he finally rocked forward.
I kept telling myself not to shoot the second I saw
his nose. When his shoulder presented itself my arrow was on its
way. The first leg of the slam was complete, with a tremendous Pope and Young
bull. We were sad to say goodbye to Nolan but we made a great friend and I know
I will be back to hunt with him again.
Tom Foss, his guide Nolan Twisselman, and his 2011 California Tule elk.