The snow has finally come here to the Wasatch Mountains, the last few storms have left our mountains and valleys white. For those of us that love to hunt, this is a special time of year. Several members of my family had drawn some late season cow elk tags, and the lure of an adventure and putting hands on elk was upon us. The nature of these late season hunts is very dependent on the weather, and the animals reaction to it. We run the odds of timing it just right, when there is enough snow to push the animals into a location where we can get them, but before there is too much snow to be able to get in there ourselves. The last few years have been pretty poor snowfall, so we run right down to the wire as far as season limits. This past weekend was the last few days for my cousin, his tag expired yesterday. Luckily we finally got into them, as they made their way towards wintering grounds.
The start of our hunt Saturday morning was a bitter one, the thermometer was showing six below zero as the pale early morning light made its way over the windswept mountain tops. It was hard to tell yet if it was clouds accumulating at the peaks, or if it was just dusty dry snow being blown into the sky. We found our way to the end of civilization, or at least to where the roads were impassable. It was there that we left the warmth of the truck, and traded it for the speed and mobility of the snowmobiles. We made our way up the snow covered trail, stopping every now and then to do some glassing, and knock the ice from our face masks. On one of those stops, we lucked out, and stopped just over a rise. As we sat there looking around the valleys and canyons that surrounded us, talking quietly about the next planned move, my eyes caught a glimpse of brown. I quickly brought up my Swarovski rangefinder for a closer look, and to get a solid range. It came back 408yds. Had we gone even fifty or so yards further, we’d probably of spooked them. But there they were, a spike and a few cows, some standing, some sitting. My cousin steadied my SRS over his backpack, and located the best looking target. A young cow, laying in the snow. With the sharp crack of the shot muffled by the cold dense air, and surrounding snow, the shot went over without much attention. Except for the one elk who felt it, the bullet found its mark perfectly, hitting the snowline just in front of the bedded animals shoulder. It pulverized her lungs, and she rolled her head back, and expired.
We made the quick little ride up the trail towards her, as the remaining elk slowly scattered. It was a quick and easy drag downhill to get her to the trail, where we gutted her, and put her into the sled. The below zero temperatures froze the blood so quickly that it turned pink as soon as it dripped. All said and done, we were back having steak and eggs by 11:00AM, some days are good like that. Anyone who hunts elk with any frequency knows, there are good days, and then there are “other” days.
Having had an easy hunt on Saturday, with time to get home, and quarter up the elk, I was quite rested come Sunday morning. I woke up lazily, and after making breakfast for my kids I decided I’d go into town to get a little shopping done. But, as I mentioned previously, timing is everything with these hunts. And I couldn’t let the perfect window of time go bye, so I decided that before my shopping trip I had better stop bye my spotting position, and make sure that the elk hadn’t already moved into their winter grounds. The smooth hills that lay some 3000ft above my home happens to be the chosen winter grounds for a habitual herd of elk. Every year, I can narrow them down to one ridge. So I threw my spotting scope, and tripod into my grocery getter, and drove to my spot. After spotting a good mess of deer, including some great bucks, the H32 reticle in my spotter landed right on the herd. I counted 14 of them, three or four bulls, and the rest were cows or calves. In a moments time, my shopping plans had been shot, and I was making one call after another trying to scramble the team.
Two and a half hours later, my brother in law, myself, and my cousin, wearing our still bloody snow gear from the day before, were making our way up into the blinding white canyon that held our prize.
We got to the spot I had formerly planned to start our stalk. We stopped for a moment, to check for the elk. And as I’d hoped, there they were. Not fifty yards from where I had spotted them three hours and two and a half miles ago. We left the snowmobiles, and launched into an uphill battle that would claim most of my days calories. Our design was to skirt the opposing ridge line as we climbed parallel to the elk harboring flat. Point being to get a better angle, allowing for a better shot and selection. The waist deep snow made for a miserable hike, but a fantastic solid and comfortable rest. We maneuvered into a shooting position that gave us a good view through the gaps in the trees. We had closed the distance to five hundred and seventy-eight yards. And it was time to put practice into action. My brother in law setup on top of our packs, and laid motionless in the snow. As he went over his firing scenario, my cousin setup behind him to spot. And I got into position with my video camera. Once we had accounted for just about everything, he gave the ready signal, and we hunkered down behind our respective optics. He was shooting a Remington 700 custom chambered in the Rocky Mountain favorite 300Winchester. He had already dialed the appropriate 4.0mils into his Super Sniper5-20HD scope, and with everything but the trigger pull done we waited…
Being accustomed to overwhelming noise that typically barks from the brake end of that Remington, I was expecting my ears to ring. But again, the viscous atmosphere, and the fluffy snow took all the edge off of the magnum. The bullet found a delightful path through the trees, across the canyon, and I watched it impact right into the left brisket of one of the mature cows. She jumped a bit, took a few steps in our direction, and went facedown into the deep snow. She never moved again. The remainder of the herd looked on, as if confused. But after a second or two, their instinctive distrust of loud noises followed by dropping companions got them turned around. They slowly made their way opposite us, never showing much excitement. We exchanged high fives, and reenlisted to the uphill fight.
My Brother in law’s cow elk, after digging her face from the snow
Several hours later, we stood over her. As always, I took a moment of reverence for these beautiful animals that I love and respect. We made short work of the cleaning, the hot blood felt good on my frozen hands. The bright red stain on the snow was a stark contrast in a world of white and black.
The early setting winter sun threatened to leave us, shadows were already growing into the east as we finished. My frozen gloves gave no purchase on her slippery legs, but down the steep mountain slope we went. It didn’t take long to get a system going, we sat in the deep snow behind her, and leg pressed. A few yards at a time, we’d slide down behind her and push again. Hours later, we arrived back to the road. Frozen, exhausted, but as alive as ever a man can feel. The cold silence that surrounded us in the endless expanse of a dark and starry sky was beautiful. But with frostbite nipping at my fingertips, the silence was quickly cut short by the roar of a two stroke motor.
We made our way back down the canyon, and to the truck. What an adventure I thought, as I peeled my frozen socks away from my thermals. We’d made it out, pushed our limits, and we won. From the safety of my warm bath, I sat and recounted the days events. Later I called my father and shared the whole experience with him, he loves hearing the stories as much as we love living them. It is in these adventures, and the memories we make therein, that defines me, and brings us together as blood brothers. Love and passion for the hunt, may they never dim.