After NAFA Joel and I headed home to spend Thanksgiving with our families. We stuffed our faces, kissed our wives and kids, and headed out the next morning to hunt elk in the Rocky Mountains.
We started by sighting in the rifle I would be using. A .300 Magnum I'd borrowed from my father specifically for this hunt. It had never been shot before and my father pounded in to my head the need to sight it in correctly before I shot it at any animals. It's been awhile since I shot a high-powered rifle and well, I was rudely reminded of how powerful the kick is on my first shot:
It was the scope that put those nice little marks on my forehead! Ouch! But I learned my lesson and we got the rifle pretty well sighted in.
From there we chained up the truck and began our ascent to elk camp:
And further up the mountain we were breaking trail. Apparently we were first up the mountain this weekend:
We had a bit of an adventure with our canvas wall tent in that the spikes that are pretty much essential in holding the tent up weren't in the bag when we got to our spot. With a little bit of good ol' fashioned jerry rigging and the help of some nearby trees however we finally had our living space for the next couple of days:
It wasn't pretty, and to be quite honest we were worried that a strong gust of wind might take us out, but once we got the little pot bellied stove going it was a heckuva lot warmer inside than out. It got down to something like -9F that first night but honestly I was too warm if anything.
We were up before the sun the next morning. It's funny but if I'm going hunting I'm instantly awake when the alarm goes off. We loaded up for the day and headed out. I was to sit in a blind half way down a ridiculous slope but there were game trails both above and below the spot. Joel promised me this was a good spot. He was going to head another ridge over and work his way through some aspens down to another blind he knew of there. The plan was to meet back up around 9:00 or 10:00.
As I made my way down to the blind I spotted a couple of deer walking right beneath the blind about 400 yards away. I sat for a moment and put my scope on them just to see what they were doing and they looked right up at me. They weren't in too big of a hurry but after spotting me they weren't sticking around. I casually watched them saunter off in the direction Joel had gone but didn't pay them too much attention. I continued on for about 5 minutes before glancing in the direction the deer had gone. I noticed one working its way up a hill and then a much larger shape materialized next to it. Elk!! I sat down again and put my scope on a small bachelor herd of about 6 bulls. They were much too far away to shoot but it got me excited and both Joel and I only had cow tags anyway. I watched them disappear into the aspens and figured Joel would probably catch a glimpse of them from his spot as well.
I finally got to the blind just before the sun came up. There was a lake beneath us covered in fog and it made quite a beautiful scene. I snapped a few photos from the blind:
We met up a little before 10:00 as planned and discussed what we should do for the remainder of the day. Joel had seen a few more elk on a ridge a little further away but they disappeared into another stand of timber and he suspected they were going to hole up there for the day. I offered to work my way up and around the timber to try and push a few out to Joel who would stay in the blind.
It was a good idea but I hadn't quite considered the logistics. As mentioned before, the blind was on a ridiculous slope and I had to go back UP the hill to get around the timber. It was a brutal climb. I finally reached the top though, surveyed the territory and saw that the timber was much larger than I had originally thought. I went about half way over and decided to drop down into it to make my push. I hadn't gone far when I saw a nice big 5 point elk shed sticking out of the snow! My son would love it! So I strapped it to my pack and continued on. I told myself to take it slow because the timber was so thick it would be easy to miss something. 3 steps and stop, 3 steps and stop. It wasn't more than a dozen steps after finding the shed that I glanced down through the trees and thought I saw something looking back at me. I slowly sat down and put my rifle on my shoulder. It was an elk! And what's more I had a perfect shot at about 50 yards...only I couldn't see it's head. My crosshairs were right on its shoulder and it just sat there. I was afraid to move but I was surprisingly calm. I ran my crosshairs up its shoulder to its head and much to my dismay I saw antlers. It was a bull, no shot. I walked a couple more feet and it noticed me, swung it's butt end around and trotted off through the woods. I was amazed that for such a large animal in such heavy timber it didn't make a sound.
I continued down through the trees, took a short snack break, and finally made my way back over to Joel in the blind. I had pushed one bull out to them but again, we only had cow tags. The number of animals we were seeing however was encouraging. We spent the rest of the day skirting the top of a ridge and being amazed at all the sign we were seeing. At the end of the day we made our way back to camp and just before the sun went down we saw 4 cows about 1000 yards away. We'll see you tomorrow, I thought.
After a grueling day wandering up and down that mountain we were hungry. We did an inventory of our foodstuffs and decided to just throw it all in a dutch oven and call it good. There was turkey, summer sausage, thai soup, and various vegetables, and in the end it was...well, interesting.
I ended up eating 3 or 4 bowls full just because I was THAT hungry but it wasn't something I'd save the recipe for!
The next day Joel and I split up before the sun came up again. I intended to go to the ridge where we'd seen the cows the night before and he was going to work the edge of the timber I'd gone into the day before and make his way back to the blind. I got a little mixed up once I entered the timber though and ended up on a ridge we'd worked the day before. The good news was that just as I got to the edge I saw two bulls making their way up the side of the mountain and a cow about 500 yards away. I don't know if she saw me or what but she was headed in the opposite direction in a hurry. I wasn't going to lob a shot at her from that distance though. She was safe...from me anyway.
Shortly after I'd settled myself for the morning I heard a shot ring out across the valley. Joel had taken a shot at something! Shortly thereafter, another shot, followed by a third! And then...silence. "Hmmm," I wondered, "Did he get one? Should I head over there to help him out or should I stay put and see if I can get one myself?" After about 20 minutes of debating with myself I decided to head over to see what had happened. I found Joel sitting the blind looking disappointed with himself. Apparently he'd shot at a cow a good distance away and missed all three times.
From what Joel had told me about how smart elk are I figured that our hunt was pretty much over at that point. All the other elk within hearing distance would be running for 20 miles or more. But after a brief discussion we decided to sit in the blind until at least 9:00 just to see if we could get lucky. Here's what the blind looked like:
Here's the view directly up from the blind:
And looking down from the blind to the right:
And to the left:
We hadn't been sitting more than half an hour when I noticed 4 deer working their way up from the small aspen grove directly beneath us. Apparently animals were still moving, I took that as a good sign. Another 15 minutes later and a shot rang out from above us. I spun around and saw two bulls at the top of the ridge. More bulls? Frustrating, but at least there were still elk in the area. Probably 10 minutes later Joel whispers, "There's some, don't move." And of course the first thing I do is whip around to see what he's talking about. 3 cows came sauntering out of the aspen patch you see to the right of the picture that is looking down from the blind on the right.
"They're cows." Joel whispers and my scope is on the lead animal. "You take the leader, I'll take the next one." I whispered back to Joel and I moved my crosshairs to the next animal.
I was surprisingly calm. The biggest thing I'd hunted before this was pigs in Hawaii and I remembered shaking considerably when I'd gotten shots at them. I was excited this time for sure but overall there was little emotion. My only thought was, "We're going to get our elk."
"Do you have a shot?" asked Joel.
"Not yet," I replied, "They've got to clear the aspens...here they come...I'm going to shoot on 3...1...2...BOOM!" Apparently I shot a little bit before 3 and to my amazement my elk didn't drop! I heard Joel shooting to my left and since there was more than one shot I assumed that his elk didn't go down either. It took me a second to realize I needed to shoot again. I chambered another bullet and fired again. She flinched like I hit her but was still on her feet. I was amazed that they hadn't run further but after the initial volley they'd only gone another hundred or so yards. They stopped again directly beneath us. I chambered one more bullet, calmly laid the crosshairs on her shoulder and fired. She stumbled and fell.
"Mine is down!" I yelled. I'd just killed my first big game animal ever.
The story of Joel's cow is a bit unfortunate. He had hit her in the back left hindquarter. She made it down the ridge and to the edge of the timber you see on the left edge of the picture from the blind looking left. She wasn't going anywhere but we didn't have a good shot on her from our position so Joel began working his way across the mountain for a better shot when another hunter spotted her standing there and took a shot to knock her down. Joel did take the final shot but the other hunter claimed that since he knocked her down the cow was his. Joel said that in all the years he's hunted that area, even when it's covered in other people, he's never run in to that problem before. There was a bit of an argument before I suggested that we had our hands full with the other cow. Joel reluctantly gave up his animal but we got a picture and talked the other hunter into giving us the hindquarter where Joel had initially hit her.
It was a little after 7:00 a.m. when all was said and done. We spent the rest of the day dressing my elk, breaking camp, and then dragging her down the mountain to where we could pick her up with the truck. Despite being relatively downhill the entire way it was quite the drag. We started at the top of this mountain, the picture was taken from the truck looking back up to where we'd been.
I was exhausted by the end of the drag. Pulling a 800 lb animal down a mountain is as tough as it sounds even with three people involved. But the meat from this animal will feed both of our families well into the summer and the experience is something I will remember forever.
We spent the next two days butchering the cow and stocking the freezer with elk steaks and roasts and grinding up elk burger. We took another 25 lbs to a processor to be made in to sausages and brats.
And thus ended Man Week 2010. It was a week that Joel and I will be talking about for years to come. Pheasants in Kansas, a hawking trip, and elk to top it off. I can only hope that this will become a yearly tradition!