Whitetail & Elk, East & West
by Cody McDonald
The winner of the Western Whitetail Hunt Giveaway with Clark Fork Outfitters in Northern Idaho tells his story of the hunt.
On October 16th, I packed my gear and headed to Palm Springs Airport to fly home to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for two weeks of military leave. There was so much anticipation to get home and bow hunt before heading out to Clark Fork Outfitters on an elk and deer combo hunt. Once, I landed at Pittsburgh International the smiles immediately started, because I knew I was just moments away from seeing my family. I headed to the baggage claim to pick up my gear—thankfully it all successfully made it to my final destination. I continued on my way out to meet my father Herman McDonald, where I was greeted with a huge smile and hug.
My father and I started our short ride back to Berlin, Pennsylvania. The conversation consisted of our hunt that we would be hitting the road in just five days, and how the bow hunting had been of recently. Once, we pulled into the driveway, I unpacked my luggage and hunting bow. Then proceeded into the house to see my mother, Gina McDonald. I have to give her a lot of credit and thanks for everything that she has done for me. When all the hellos were said and done, I unpacked my bow and took a few practice shots. When my brother, Storm McDonald got home from school we headed out for the evening sit in the tree stand.
We met up with one of my uncles Joe Swank to hunt on one of the properties that he is the caretaker of. I made it to my ladder stand and was barely set up when I heard an ATV. I looked to my left and seen four whitetail deer come off the hillside headed right for me. I reached back and grabbed my bow off the hanger and drew back. The bigger of the two doe stepped into a clearing and I released the arrow. I watched the doe go about 20 yards and fall over. I texted my father right after that I had a deer down not even 15 minutes of sitting in the woods.
I spent the next four days visiting with family, friends and sitting in the tree stand. I didn’t have any luck in harvesting a whitetail buck, but the night before we headed to Idaho my brother Storm harvested another doe. The Next morning, I said good-bye to my mother loaded into the truck and began our thirty-eight hour trek across the US. The trip seemed to take longer because all we wanted to do was hunt. Along the way we stopped to see Mount Rushmore, which was on my list of historical sites to see, so it was just a bonus to me.
We finally arrived in Clark Fork, Idaho around midnight and got a room at the lodge for the night. The next morning we got breakfast at the small diner in town then headed to meet Leon and Molly Brown, the owners of Clark Fork Outfitters. They let all the hunters know what to expect on their hunts. We then met the guides for the hunt, Dylan, Justin, and Tyler, who we would meet later at camp. We continued on our way out to spike camp and to make sure our rifles were still zeroed in. I’m glad we did because the 2,230 miles drive from Pennsylvania caused our rifles to be off.
We made it to spike camp an unloaded our gear from the truck into our wall tent. Our father headed back into to town since he would be hunting out of the lodge for the week. Once dad left we began to get our gear ready for the following days hunt. We met again with our guide and discussed the plan for the morning hunt. We ate dinner, spent a few hours around the fire, and then crawled into bed. Soon, the alarm went off and we jumped out of our army sleeping bags to get dressed. My brother and I learned really fast the importance of waking up through out the night to stoke the fire, because 31 degrees at 3:30 am can suck the life right out of you. My brother and I made our way up to the cook tent to have breakfast and put our gear into the guide’s truck.
After breakfast the three of us made our way to our first morning hunting destination. The hike started out relatively flat then turned into what people from Idaho call side-hilling, we would call it straight up! I asked our guide how many more zigzags we were going to make. ”Just four more and we are at the top,” he responded. Well twelve of those later, two hills and a mountain, we finally made it to the top. The morning sit was pretty uneventful, but was over shadowed by one of the most gorgeous views I’d ever seen. After, a long day of hiking up and down the mountain, we made it back to camp for dinner, which is prepared back at the main lodge by Molly Brown so you can expect a great home cooked meal every night. Once dinner was over, we made our way back to our tent to be greeted by a fire and a warm tent thanks to camp cook.
The following morning, Dylan took us to trail 20. The three of us made our way up the steep mountain before daybreak. My brother and I decided to sit apart that morning, which turned out to be a good idea. It was around 8:15 am when I heard something walking behind me. As I turned to look, an eight-point whitetail buck was staring right at me. He spooked and ran about fifty yards, before stopping, which gave me an opportunity to make the shot. Dylan and Storm made their way back to where I was sitting. Dylan and I took pictures, and caped and quartered the buck. Then Storm and I decided to continue hunting while, Dylan packed it out.
Thursday morning we headed back up the same mountain on trail 20. When we got to the top, we jumped an elk and that’s when the excitement finally kicked in. We hunted our way across the ridges all morning, before sitting to have lunch around noon. We knew that the elk were right in front of us, but it was to thick to get on eyes on them. We made it to a clearing and decided to sit for a while. Dylan decided to use his cow call and instantly heard something thrashing a tree down the mountain behind us. I looked at Storm and told him to go check it out. He stuck his way down toward the noise we were hearing. Then Dylan and I heard the gun shot instantly I knew that my brother had finally got his elk. We began to walk towards him when we heard an elk roar followed by another gunshot. Then my brother screamed out, “Bull Down!” We stumbled and rolled down the hill with excitement, to meet my brother who had a huge grin.
Once all the celebrating was over the work began. We completely caped and quarter the elk, which took roughly two hours. We were thinking we had to pack out Storm’s elk the way we came in, but were greeted with a hiking trail eighty yards below us that went right to the truck. It took the three of us two trips a piece at two miles one way to get everything back to the truck. Once, we finally made it back to camp, we had a few celebration beers and sat around the fire.
The following morning Dylan and I headed out for one last attempt at an elk, and dropped Storm off at the river bottom to try and fill his tag. We hiked up the same trail that we packed Storm’s elk out on in hope of running into the herd again. Only to be met by fog and low visibility, which didn’t make for a good morning hunt. After hiking around till about noon, we decided to head back down the mountain, because we thought we heard Storm shoot earlier. We finally made it back to the truck and started driving towards the spot we dropped Storm off. Tyler, another guide in camp was helping Storm pick up the six-point whitetail buck he shot about three minutes after daylight. When we made it back to camp Storm and Dylan processed the deer, and I began packing up all of our gear. Storm and I decided that we wanted to surprise our father that night by coming back to the main lodge early. So we packed all the meat, capes, horns, and gear into the back of Dylan’s truck and headed for town.
When we arrived at the main lodge about an hour later. We walked in the door, and met our father with a huge hug and the celebrating began. He had just found out before we arrived that we got a bull elk the night before. We went down stairs and Dad began to finish skinning off my brothers elk. It is pretty awesome when you are able to have your own personal taxidermist. Storm, Dylan, Molly, Dad, and I spent the next few hours talking about what an awesome trip that we had, and of course the hunting experiences. The following morning, Molly made homemade biscuits and gravy for breakfast and I booked my elk hunt for next September. I helped load up the truck and we said our good-byes and I headed on my way to Spokane to fly back to California.
I would like to give a special thanks to Western Whitetail Magazine and Darren Choate, whom I had won the hunt through the previous year. I would like to thank Clark Fork Outfitters for donating the hunt. Molly is an exceptional host that opens her home to everyone that comes to hunt with them and she makes some of the most amazing home cooked meals that you’ll ever have. I would like to thank the guides, for all the success that we had in camp, and the camp cook for all his services through out the week. Lastly, I would like to thank my father Herman McDonald, Grandfather Gene Muro, uncles Jerome Muro and Joe Swank for all the opportunities and times they took Storm and I in the woods and the memories they gave us words will never describe how much that means.
About Clark For Outfitters
Clark Fork Outfitters is a family owned business that operates on approximately 300 square miles of remote yet accessible, diverse and game rich territory in the Kaniksu and Coeur ‘d Alene National Forests in northern Idaho. Our guides are people who have a record of being very successful in the field. Some of our guides are devoted life long hound men, most of us have been accused of being full blown elkoholics and whitetail fanatics but what we all share is we are focused and passionate about our hunting. As North Idaho natives and life long hunters we know who has a reputation for being honest, sincere, hard working, easy to get along with and successful in the field. For more information, visit http://clarkforkoutfitters.com/.