I love to hunt elk, the excitement and challenge they bring to a hunt is difficult to describe. Every year I do my best to get my hands on a tag, and this year I lucked out, as both myself and my son drew a late season cow tag. With the late season tag, comes a longer season, and we hunt them through the first half of the winter. Some of you may already be familiar with our pursuit, Junior and I have spent as much time as possible in the rocky mountains that rise just a few miles east of our home.
Last week Junior had a close call, and almost shot a cow, but he wasn’t comfortable with the shot, so we let them go. I am quite familiar with the habits of this herd, so I would rather wait for a perfect shot, than rush a bad one. We will get back up there, and get him a good shot.
As the sun came over the frosted white mountains this morning, I prepped my gear to go up, once again hoping to fill my tag.
Everybody else had plans for the day, but I found myself with no excuse to not go elk hunting. In no time at all, my boots were crunching through the hard-crusted snow. I had ridden my ATV up into the mountain, the rumble of the motor breaking the bitter silence that seems to be held down by the cold air. I moved slowly, and deliberately, I knew where to expect them. But just to be safe, I inspected the ridges thoroughly before getting too close. The lower herd that I had seen last week was nowhere to be found, likely hiding in the thick brush patches that were peppered across the front. I kept moving slowly upward, my eyes pouring over the black and white details of every draw.
My cautious advance paid off quickly, as I approached the canyon where I expected to find the second herd, I dismounted my ATV, and rounded the corner on foot. My eyes watered as I squinted to see through my Swarovsky range finder, the cold breeze bit both my face and fingers. As I scrutinized the canyon where I expected to find my elk, my eyes would jump quickly about, drawn to shapes of so many deer that were scattered around. I looked further and further up the draws of the canyon, and suddenly my heart stopped. Sometimes elk are very hard to find, and one sees so many deer in the process that you begin to second guess your own eyes. Everything looks like an elk, and you soon tire of jumping to label something as an elk. But when you finally do spot one, all that second-guessing, and frustration is hastily turned into adrenaline.
My eyes had spotted a lone cow elk, kicking into the snow with her front hooves to expose the dry grass underneath. Instinct took over, and my frozen hands suddenly found new motivation to move. I removed my rifle from its case, and quickly grabbed the rest of the gear I needed from my backpack. I looked back at the distant clearing where she fed. And as I suspected, there were at least three more feeding up behind her. This was the herd I had been watching for weeks, waiting for them to migrate into a position that I could not only shoot at them, but also extract them afterwards. I knew that today was that day, the clearing they were feeding through lay a mere four-hundred yards from the trail where I could get my ATV. It seemed like a perfect plan, there was only one small problem, the elk were making their way from my right to my left, and the ridge that rose between us would soon give them cover, and wreck my opportunity for a shot. I knew I had to move quickly, I had to get into a shooting position, and get ready to shoot. With likely no more than twenty to thirty seconds before they became obscured, I laid down in the snow behind my rifle.
My SRS A1 Covert was kitted out with everything I needed to pull this shot off. After obtaining the distance with my rangefinder, I referenced my drop table on Trasol. I dialed the 5.2 MIL that it suggested into my ER25 scope. My rifle was mounted into my tripod, and I quickly deployed the monopod to stabilize the whole setup, and align it with my target.
Inside the rifle itself, I had mounted my 7SAUM barrel, which had proven itself time and again when engaging elk. The cold air would test both myself, as well as my collection of gear. As I finished my shot prep, I rested the reticle on the shoulders of the first cow I had spotted. The other three were slowly walking to my left, but she stood there with her head to the ground, poking at the snow.
I felt the warm and moist air as my last breath escaped me, my body lay still in the snow. I could feel the surge of my blood as it pulsed through my body, the steady pause before breaking the trigger was complete.
I pressed the trigger, and set ablaze the 183 grain Sierra Match King. As it flew I caught a few glimpses of its trace, arching high above everything between me and my prey, who stood there unaware of the speedy menace that was closing fast. The impact was not particularly dazzling, it struck her with a rippling effect across the body. She immediately staggered, and took an awkward step forward. Her company quickly cantered away, while she staggered forward, trying to keep with them. She made it about twenty or so yards, then landed her belly into the snow. She rolled over, and slid down the steep hill. Leaving a blood-stained path behind her.
I drew a deep breath and jumped up from my rifle. The elk had slid behind the ridge between us, and I lost sight of her. I quickly gathered my things, and rode up the trail towards the canyon where she fell. It took me a few minutes to get there, the bullet traveled the complete 970 yards in less than 1.2 seconds. It took me several minutes just to get to the bottom of the hill where she lay. As I got there, the remainder of the herd was seen on the opposite canyon slope. They heard me pull up, and slowly walked out of sight. I hiked the remainder of the way uphill to where she had gotten hung up in some brush.
As I always do, I spent a reverent moment knelt by her side, to appreciate the beauty of life. How incredibly lucky I am to experience something so primal, and to enjoy spoils of the life of this magnificent animal. As I sat there in the snow, the warm sunlight came out, and for a time the cold was withdrawn. I was grateful for everything in that moment, the warm sun reminded me of how blessed we are.
I got on my phone, and called my brothers, who were quick to come and help me. And in just a couple hours, we had her back down to the ATV’s. From start to finish it was a pretty smooth adventure, I can still taste blood in my mouth, from hiking hard and fast. From the warm comfort of my home its nice to share the story, while still fresh in my mind. The work isn’t over yet, right now she is hanging just outside, waiting to be butchered. And now I can work even harder to get Junior a shot at one of these beautiful Rocky Mountain treasures.