The morning hadn’t started out as planned.
Josh Westley, a Centralia native and resident, was packed and out the door of his house at 4 a.m. on Sept. 11 — the opening day of archery elk season in Western Washington.
Westley, 34, a service manager at Rogers Machinery Company in Centralia, had spent every weekend for months setting up and moving game cameras around Southwest Washington, scouting elk herds in preparation for opening day. He found one promising area, the Coweeman Unit, that runs from just south of Toledo down toward Kalama. The area had produced some nice bulls passing by his game cameras and would be his starting point.
In the pitch-black darkness of early morning opening day, Westley exited the freeway at state Route 505, connected to Spirit Lake Highway and stopped at Drew’s Grocery & Service for some breakfast before hitting the logging roads.
Hunting alone that day, and using a Weyerhaeuser recreational drive-in permit, he began navigating the maze of logging roads and soon realized there were hunters everywhere camping on the side of the roads and in pullouts.
“I kind of got a little discouraged,” Westley said.
Not to be dissuaded, Westley finally reached the logging-road spur he wanted and parked his truck. Daylight that day was about 6:15 a.m. and he hunted until about 9:30 a.m., traversing creek draws and searching for a herd.
Westley decided to take a break and go to his girlfriend’s daughter’s soccer game in Toledo, which was close by. About 11 a.m., he decided to head back out to the woods and try his luck again.
Reaching another area he had cameras set up, Westley started off with a few cow calls using a Phelps Maverick Signature reed, built by Pe Ell-based Phelps Game Calls, then a Phelps metal bugle tube, which evoked a response from a bull.
“I was like, ‘Holy crap. This is about to happen,’” Westley said.
Westley began bugling back and forth for a few moments before he spotted antlers appearing through some ferns and alders. The elk stopped for a bit so Westley kept throwing cow calls until the elk began chuckling back and walking toward him.
Finally, the elk reached about 45 yards with fairly clear sights between the beast and the man. The elk moves up a bit closer and Westley keeps bugling as the elk scans the entire area for what it thinks are other elk.
Westley uses his rangefinder, sees the distance is 30.2 yards, draws back and lets the arrow fly.
Upon impact, the elk began to run, but Westley knew it had a double-lung shot with deep penetration, as just a smidge of the fletchings were visible hanging out.
To prevent the elk from tearing off into the forest, Westley threw a few more cow calls out and the elk stopped in its tracks and laid down about 25 yards away. From where he shot and the location the elk laid down, Westley could see the entire thing.
“I don’t want to say it was easy, because it definitely wasn’t,” Westley said. “But being able to watch the whole thing was a pretty neat experience. It happened pretty quickly once I found him.”
It was 3 p.m. when Westley, who took the hunter safety course when was 12, began calling friends and family for help packing the elk out, a 4x5 which was the first-ever bull he had bagged.
When his helpers arrived, they were able to find an old cat road and drive to within 100 yards of the elk, making the pack out a cinch.
“Everything played out like a script,” Westley said.
His only regret is not being able to capture it on camera. He had spent a fair amount of money on video-recording equipment to document his hunt but his step-dad was unable to go with him that day. Westley chronicles his outdoor adventures on his Instagram page, Living Life Outdoors, to educate people on the outdoors — be it fishing, hunting or camping. Visit his page at instagram.com/living.life_outdoors.
“It’s a work in progress but it’s slowly taking off,” Westley said.
Westley, who had taken vacation time during elk season, spent the remaining 11 days of archery elk helping friends and enjoying his time off.
Now, he’s just waiting on his horns to get back from Skookumchuck Skullworks, which uses beetles to strip the head down to the antlers and skull. It will then be bleached and returned to Westley as a European Mount.
“It’ll look really good,” Westley said.
Archery elk season in Western Washington ended Sept. 23. Modern firearm season runs Nov. 6 to 17.