Elk Hunts in Lewis and Clark Country

By Gary Lewis

Gary Lewis Books and DVDs

They consumed meat, cornmeal, berries, nuts, roots and whatever else they could find. Along the Missouri, they hunted game. On the Columbia, they swapped for salmon.

According to Stephen E. Ambrose, in his book Undaunted Courage, each soldier in the Lewis and Clark expedition ate up to nine pounds of meat per day. 33 people and a big Newfoundland dog gobbling seven to nine pounds of meat would require the equivalent of two buffalo calves, two elk or six deer per day.

Without refrigeration, spoilage must have accounted for many more pounds of game.

In 1804, pushing up the Missouri River in keelboats, packing thousands of pounds of supplies and trade goods, they worked harder than most of us could imagine. Lewis and Clark and their men ate whatever fuel they could gather along the way.

From the journals, one pictures George Drouillard and a handful of others carrying their long-barreled rifles, skinning knives and an axe, hunting away from the party in hostile country, tasked with feeding so many hungry men.

By the time they hit the lower Columbia in the winter of 1805, they were in large tidal flats on a river over five miles wide. And hungry.

There was meat all around them, of course. When you spend time there today, you'll see brant, geese, ducks and blue herons. If you fish, you'll have a chance at steelhead, salmon, rainbow trout and sturgeon.

On the first half of the expedition, what the men liked best was elk. As winter closed in, the expedition found themselves without enough trade goods to buy meat. They'd have to find a camp in a favorable hunting area, or starve.

The Clatsops, a friendly tribe, exchanged furs, fish and favors for trade goods. Their favorite of which were blue beads. Information was what the captains coveted, especially information on where to find elk.

According to the Clatsops, deer were plentiful on what is now the Washington side and elk were in abundance on the south shore of the Columbia. The decision was made to build Fort Clatsop on a high spot in a spruce and hemlock forest, west of what is now the city of Astoria.

Then came the rains. Of the 106 days that the expedition was in camp, 94 brought pounding rain or snow. What elk they killed was eaten or smoked, but the constant rain spoiled much of the meat.

Last summer I traveled with my family to Seaside to the OHA's annual banquet. In the early morning, we walked on the beach where the expedition's soldiers boiled seawater to make salt. Then we headed north along Highway 101 to Fort Clatsop.

Driving along a well-paved road in a nice dry car, we rounded a corner and saw a yellow sign with one cautionary word, ‘Elk.' Sure enough, we saw a herd of cows and young bulls grazing in a meadow a mile down the road.

In 1955, Fort Clatsop was rebuilt on the site of the old encampment, based on Captain Clark's original floor plan. A nearby spring is thought to be the company's main water source.

This, the 200th anniversary of Lewis and Clark's journey back upriver, is the year you should search out Oregon along the explorers' trail. And if you want to really understand them, spend some time with a blackpowder rifle in or around the Saddle Mountain unit.

Today, Oregon's Saddle Mountain unit comprises most of the ground that the expedition's hunters covered in search of meat while at Fort Clatsop. It is made up of 26% public land. Elk hunting is governed under the Controlled Hunt Application process. Deer hunting is regulated with a General Season tag that can be purchased up to the day before the season begins.

Hunt 212M is a controlled 200 series elk hunt in the North Nehalem section of the Saddle Mountain and Wilson units. It is comprised of 20% public lands. The season lasts from August 1 through September 15. Bag limit is one antlerless elk.

Hunt 214M takes place in the nearby Trask unit. This hunt takes place on 15% public lands. The season lasts from December 16 through December 31. Bag limit is one elk.

Hunting wasn't easy then and it isn't easy now. And don't count on spending time at Fort Clatsop. Someone burned it down. It will be awhile before the trees are felled to rebuild it. You'll want to keep your powder dry and bring enough trade goods in case you get hungry or need to buy a new raincoat.

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