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Pronghorns and Prodigy Hunting

If you’ve followed me for very long at all, you must know by now that hunting is my greatest passion. Its become a way of life around my house, and sharing it with loved ones brings me the greatest satisfaction. That said, the hunting lifestyle doesn’t always enjoy the positive public reflection it once did. A great fear of mine is the loss of our hunting opportunities due to the growing anti-hunting sentiment around the world.
I have worked diligently over the years to effect what I think is the silver bullet to that argument; getting more new hunters addicted to this incredibly rewarding lifestyle.

Today’s story is about my latest efforts, and how patience and love created both a new hunter, and a whole new family bond.

Watch the video at the end of this article

Pre-season practice

Last year I convinced my wife to get her hunters safety, she grew up in a non-hunting family and environment which made it unnecessary. She made short work of the class, and last fall was her first time to ever go hunting with me carrying a rifle and a tag in her pocket. Unfortunately she never got a shot despite her valiant effort and hard work.

Fast forward to September 2020, and again we prepared for The hunt. This year she was lucky enough to draw a pair of Wyoming doe antelope tags, one of my favorite hunts precisely for new hunters like her.
We prepared all the gear we would need, and set out well before sunrise to get into a good position to spot animals as the sun came up.
Typically from experience, Pronghorn (their proper name) aren’t hard to find in Wyoming, they tend to begin activity after sunrise, keeping their sharp eyes on anything that moves on the wide open plains they inhabit.
After looking over several rolling brush covered valleys, we spotted a small group of antelope on the edge of the next rise. Trying to cover distance quietly and quickly can be a challenge with a new hunter, but Mrs. Coldboremiracle was keen to follow and do all the right things. We soon found ourselves on a windswept rise, looking in the direction the antelope had gone. The wind howled and gusted as we glassed the area, we quickly picked out the bright white sides of the herd. The smaller group had just joined a larger one, probably twenty-five animals. A few bucks, does, and a bunch of fawns.
We hunkered down, out of sight, even though they were nearly half a mile away they would easily spot us and sprint into the next county if we weren’t careful. We surveyed the whole area, and decided to try and put a stalk on the large group. Normally that many eyeballs is not a great choice to try and put a sneak on, but we had a line of cedar trees between us. We discussed the other options, and the idea of using the trees for concealment to get closer seemed like the best option.

The weapon of choice that day was my 257 Blackjack custom, a SAUM based wildcat shooting the Blackjack Bullets 131 grain Ace. It is a ballistic gem, providing extremely flat trajectories, and ignores the wind as much as any bullet can.

The 257 Blackjack aka “The Pitboss” Build details at the bottom

With rifle in her hands, we snuck down into a wash and towards the line of trees. Stopping to look at the herd every few steps to see if we’d been spotted yet. I breathed a sigh of relief as we finally made it behind the first tree, giving us the concealment the open prairie would not. The wind continued to gust, it felt like anywhere between 10 and 25 miles per hour. The noise of the wind gave us plenty of sound cover, all we had to do was stay out of sight within the trees as we worked towards a spot we could get a good shot.
We worked our way south, with the wind blowing hard in our faces. After about four hundred yards of sneaking, the trees began to thin, and we could see the herd slightly above us and four-hundred-fifty yards away. After confirming that we had not been detected, we crawled around to the shady side of the last small cedar that would give us cover. While I watched through the spotter, She crawled out onto her belly on the soft grey dirt behind the Blackjack. With the distance confirmed, and everything in position it was time to get noisy.

The sixth-sense that animals have must have been working hard that morning. First one, then several others looked straight at us, perhaps having seen some of our final movements. Their body language was concerned, but not spooked. So we focused our attention on a mature doe who stood out from the group. She was quickly obscured by the group however, a challenging aspect of these animals. They ball up in a group making it difficult To get a clean shot.
We ended up having to shift focus to another doe, who stepped slightly out of the group facing the opposite direction. It had only been maybe thirty or forty-seconds since we got into position, but the buck in the group began herding them towards the next rise. Clearly they knew something was up, I told Mrs. Miracle that it was now or never. The buck was moving towards her at the back of the group to push them over the hill and out of sight. So with her heart pounding and the wind whistling by, she pressed the trigger.
The 257 Blackjack runs just over 3200 feet per second, its blistering speed matches its flat trajectory. The 131 grain Ace zipped through the doe in less than half a second, with over 2300 pounds of energy the bullet was probably still dry as it hit the powdered dirt behind her.
The whole herd scattered from the impact, but our doe had been pointed the opposite direction from the rest. She ran about fifty-yards, before she slowed down, and began to stumble. She laid down and her head swayed before keeling over in the dry prickly brush. The rest of the herd stood in the distance, apparently waiting for her to catch up.
Back at our shooting position it was all smiles and excitement, we quickly packed up and began the walk towards our prize.

The Ace had passed just behind the shoulders, perhaps a little higher than one might recommend, but it worked out to be perfect. It passed through without even touching a bone, so almost zero meat was lost from the shot, a perfect double lung shot.

We took pictures, and savored the moment before cleaning her up, and transporting her back to the truck. I remember on several occasions during the stalk, as well as in the final moment before the shot, I had to remind myself that this was a new hunter. The perspective of a new hunter is not the same as an old hand, it requires a little bit of discipline.

Keeping the moment fun, and trying to suspend the pressure as much as you can, will make the experience more fun for those that are new to it. Keeping calm is tough for me, I get wound up pretty tight in the heat of a hunt. But I found that staying calm, and ensuring that she was comfortable and ready made it a better experience for everyone.
As we returned home with her prize, we spoke about it. She is already excited for our Mule Deer hunt that starts in a few weeks, and next years antelope hunt. It is possible, that I’ve hooked her for life now, all according to my plan…

-CBM

Pit Boss Build Specs
-Remington 700 SA
-Proof Research Carbon 7.5 Twist 25 cal 24″
-US Optics Foundation 25X JVCR
-IOTA Carbon Fiber Stock
-Hawkins Precision Bottom Metal SA AI
-Trigger Tech Diamond Flat Shoe
-Blackjack Bullets 131 Grain Ace
-Machine Work done at ES-Tactical

Speed, Cutters, and a Flash of Hooks

The fresh smell of smoke was hanging in the cool but dry air, but the early morning chill wasn’t enough to keep the sweat from running down my brow. I struggled to focus through the eyepiece of my spotting scope, breathing heavily and feeling the hard pumping of my heart.
And there he was, walking slowly along a line of the last green vegetation in the valley. He seldom held still, he hadn’t stopped since sunrise, I whispered quietly out the distance as my voice pounded in unison with my heart. His dark black horns stood out from the bright white of his rump as the sun just now reached him.
The safety was off, and my little Brother rested his finger on the trigger as the buck stopped for the last time to survey the dry desert landscape.


Watch the video at the end of the story
We had been preparing for this hunt for the last couple weeks, prepping gear, scoping out the terrain. It was early September, and the August sun had beaten nearly every plant in Utah’s West Desert into dry submission. The raging wildfires across the west had yellowed the skies and stained the sunlight.
It was the opening morning of the buck Pronghorn Antelope hunt that my Brother had beaten me to in the draw. We had spent the night listening to the distant howling of coyotes while poking at the fire.

We had spent the previous afternoon watching the inhabitants of this parched valley, several good bucks, as well as a bunch of lesser bucks roamed around.

To us their wandering seems aimless, but surely there is a reason to their constant motion. One of the several good bucks we had seen made his way to an area with a few trees and sand dunes just before night fall. And as the morning broke, we watched the dunes for signs of life.
Within minutes of observable light, we spotted one of his does standing. And as the next few minutes passed, several more appeared. As I had hoped, it was only a matter of time before he too appeared from his sandy bed.

Despite my Brothers shooting prowess, we decided to close the distance, mainly because we could. With rifle, binos, and the spotting scope, we dashed in the most covered direction towards a high point between us and the group of antelope. But perhaps to challenge our stalk, just as we reached our predetermined position, they worked over the hill.
We kicked into high gear and moved as quick as possible another six hundred yards to the top of the hill they previously occupied. Knowing they could easily make a half a mile without even having been spooked, we wanted to get them back in sight before they made it too far away.
Time passes excruciatingly slow, when your prey is out of sight. This can cloud your judgement when cresting the next hill, so we took our time, slowly glassing to make sure that we saw them before they saw us.

When we did spot them, they had made it nearly four-hundred and fifty yards further. As usual, the buck was at the back keeping the ladies moving. It was time to turn up the heat on this hunt, my Brother quickly found a good shooting position while I steadied the spotter and ranged the buck. He worked his way away from us moving to our left, as I whispered the range to my Brother. He had just chambered a round in his custom Remington, a 23” Bartlein barrel that had been chambered in 260 Remington. With Hornady 140 grain BTHP match bullets we had hand-loaded just a day prior. The rifle sat in a KRG Whiskey 3 chassis, and wore a Vortex Gen 1 Razor for a scope.
His finger rested on the Trigger Tech shoe, and we all held our stifled breathing as the buck stopped and checked his surroundings. It was a perfect broadside shot, I barely breathed as I focused hard through the spotter.
Everything came together perfectly as the trigger broke, and the near silent desert was suddenly woken by the crack of the bullet. We watched as the bullet impacted the buck, passed through, and hit the dirt behind him making a puff of grey dust envelop him as he slowly reared back. He stumbled a step or two, then made a brave effort to run forward, his offside leg clearly broken. The terrain between us quickly blocked him from our view as he ran.

The impact of the bullet

We both felt the shot was good, and confident he was down just out of sight. The suppressed report of the rifle had startled the rest of the antelope, who now stood attentive to the actions of their patriarch. We watched for a few minutes to ensure he didn’t appear elsewhere, and the attitude of the does told us everything we needed to know, they stood motionless, fixated on the last known position of the buck. They watched curiously, as if waiting for him, even as we began to close the distance, they watched on.
We quietly approached the spot we’d last seen him, and looked for blood and sign. To our delight, none of it was necessary. The buck had hardly made it 50 yards, and he left a crimson trail against the moon-like dirt.
From the first sight, it was clear he had succumbed to the acute shot, hitting him low in the brisket and destroying his heart.
We quietly approached the beautiful animal, giving both space and time for the reverence due at such a moment.

We accessed the results of the shot, and took pictures. There was an overwhelming sense of satisfaction, that we had done right by this beautiful buck.

We played the deadly game of predator and prey, and we had won. And his demise had been judicious and quick, sparing him the suffering that is the fate of many natural casualties.

Above: what was left of the heart Below: impact and exit wounds


We cleaned him up, and took him back to camp. He was skinned and prepped to be butchered after some time in the fridge. The meat harvested will surely be turned into various meals, and tasty projects that we will remember for years to come.

The next hunt for us is just days away, we’ll do it all over again. Time to resharpen knives, oil a few bolts, and re-stock my pack, the next hunt will be savored every bit the same.
-CBM

Suppressed Weapon Systems MISB 308Win for the SRS

I swore off shooting unsuppressed long ago, and I only do it occasionally by choice. The suppressor bug bit me hard many years ago, and I have never vanquished its effects. With that in mind, I am always thinking about better ways to hush the noise of my favorite pastime. Who would have thought that an idea I had depreciated would turn my jaded eye.

One of my most favorite rifles of all time, is my old Desert Tech SRS A1. I have run countless barrels through it, I currently have somewhere between ten and fifteen barrels of assorted different calibers. Factory, custom, and even a few specialty barrels. Even with all those options, I still love my old 16” 308 Winchester Covert barrel. The calm and consistent performance of the 308 is like an old friend, so when I got the opportunity to try yet another great 308 Winchester option for my favorite rifle, I jumped at it.

Suppressed Weapon Systems has been in the suppression business for some time. They specialize in the integration of suppression technology directly into the firearm, instead of making the suppressor just a muzzle device. Their MISB (Monolithic Integrally Suppressed Barrel) is available for many different firearms, including my dearest SRS. The modularity of the SRS family of rifles makes it ideal to pair with technology like the MISB, and with a durable cartridge like the 308, it would last for some time.

I’ve often tinkered with the idea of an integrally suppressed barrel for my SRS, but I was always worried about spending the money on an NFA item that would get burnt out and need to be replaced. A valid concern I had always thought, but the MISB is constructed in such a way that the tube can easily be removed and installed on a new barrel/baffle stack. So with my main concern assuaged, I dove in with both feet.

The Suppressed Weapon Systems MISB for the SRS is manufactured from a Bartlein Barrel blank, well known for great quality and precise shooting. The muzzle is cut at a determined length, in my barrel’s case, around sixteen inches. But the remainder of the barrel blank is then cut into the suppressor baffles. The length of the barrel to the breach of the muzzle is fluted, and drilled, I assume to decrease weight but also to add an expansion chamber for venting high pressure gas.

The outer tube of the MISB is a good fit, but not entirely tight, this was a bit of a concern for me at first but I later learned it was necessary to free-float the barrel. Having the outer tube captured and tightened with the barrel would add stress and torque to the overall structure. The tube is sealed at both ends with what appears to be Viton high temp fluoroelastomer O-rings. The muzzle end of the MISB has a threaded cap also sealed with the O-ring, it is knurled and has cuts for torquing it into place with a tool. Its an impressive example of machining design and ingenuity.

I couldn’t wait to get the barrel mounted in my rifle chassis, and test its performance. As soon as I got home with it, I hurried to my basement man-cave and installed it into my SRS. I found the fit to be a bit snug, perhaps more-so than any other barrel I’ve tried. Its easy to get a burr on the shank of SRS barrels, one must be careful. But that was not the case with the MISB, it was simply just a bit tight. Perhaps a slightly smaller diameter would help, but I found it to be consistent, so it was a minor inconvenience. It was the same when I mounted it in my SRS A2.

Once mounted, I headed for the hills to get the rifle zeroed with this new barrel. As usual, it was an easy process. Most SRS chassis will change POI with a different barrel, but it is rarely off by more than a few inches. So a quick re-zero on my scope was easy, and in no time I was using the rifle to shoot steel at 710 yards.
SWS guarantees sub MOA accuracy for three shots with their MISB system, but suggests that 1/2 to 3/4 MOA is expected more often than not. I found my barrel to be consistent with that.

The suppression quality of the barrel was on par with what I expected. The first round pop was significant, but quickly forgotten with successive shots. The slender barrel looks very handsome in my A1 with the longer handguard. A few inches longer than a standard twenty-two inch barrel which pokes just out of the handguard. When mounted in my Covert A2, it was a few inches longer than the standard Covert sixteen-inch barrel when fitted with the DTSS Suppressor.

Conclusion
I think the SWS barrel offers a great option for those looking for a slender and inconspicuous barrel to keep things quiet. At $2200 for a barrel, it is no small investment. But it’s also not much different than a good barrel fitted with a suppressor would cost you, and SRS owners are gluttons for dropping coin on good barrels. And the fact that you can reuse the tube on a new barrel blank having no interaction with the Federal agency everyone loves to hate makes it even more appealing. I look forward to using it even more in the future.
-CBM

The 257 Blackjack

You may have read my piece on the 25 Creedmoor from a while back, if you haven’t then make sure you go read it after this. In that article about the 25 Creedmoor, I detailed how my nascency in precision rifle shooting began with a twenty-five caliber rifle, and that I had returned again to the quarter-bore. There’s more to that story, however.
One of the main reasons I quit shooting that old twenty-five 0’six, was because there was never a good bullet selection for it. The biggest bullets available were one hundred twenty grain, and they were hardly long-range bullets, with ballistic coefficients not much better than anything else designed in the sixties. That was all about to change, and change for the better. I couldn’t have known how far down the quarter-bore hole I was going to fall when I first made contact with Blackjack Bullets.

The 257 Blackjack next to its larger parent, the 6.5 SAUM

That first conversation I had was with Miles Johnson, the brains behind Blackjack Bullets. Like me he had often hungered for a better bullet for twenty-five caliber cartridges, but he had the intellect and drive to do something about it. Miles is a smooth-talking guy, with very unequivocal purpose in conversation. The kind of guy you could sit around a fire with a bottle of whiskey and watch the stars, and before you know it he might be talking so deep about drag and aerodynamics that you have to start reading the bottle to find words you understand.
Our initial contact began my twenty-five Creedmoor project, Miles’ company Blackjack Bullets was producing the 131 Grain Ace bullet, and I intended to make it the crown jewel of the project. Which has been an extremely superior performer for me lo these short two years, it leaves its six-point-five cousin in the dust. But Blackjack had been working all along on something even more threatening and treacherous, it was their own cartridge that was purpose-designed to make the 131 Ace sing a tune that nobody could touch. That project was the Two-fifty-seven Blackjack, a short action magnum cartridge based on the SAUM case. It would fit in short action rifles, feed from AI patterned magazines, and push the Ace beyond thirty-two-hundred feet per second. It falls somewhere between the old 25WSSM and the 25SAUM wildcat.

The 131 Ace has an advertised G7 BC of .330, my personal experience and testing led me to believe that number is a tad conservative and that the number is more like .340. With an immaculate profile like that, the Ace when launched at these speeds is as flat as most available cartridges you can get, and it cheats the wind from its deviant influence.
Since the twenty-five Creedmoor had been such an outstanding success, I decided that I must indeed have the two-fifty-seven Blackjack as well, I figured it would be an amazing Rocky Mountain hunting rifle. So as soon as Miles had a reamer, we got started on the project.

The Pit Boss. Sporting a 24 inch Proof Research carbon wrapped barrel, and a YHM suppressor adorns the muzzle.

With weight in mind, I decided I would spend the extra cheddar and get a Proof Research carbon fiber barrel with a 7.5 twist. My 25 Creedmoor is a 7 twist, but with the much faster Blackjack I needed a slightly less agressive twist. It was matched to a lightweight carbon fiber stock from Iota Outdoors. Both would be connected with a simple Remington 700 short action. I swapped the factory trigger for a superior one from Trigger Tech, this has been a pretty standard practice for me. On top I mounted my US Optics TS 20X, which I think is perfect comapnion for this lightweight but long range hunting rifle. That said, I have a USO Foundation 25X on the way that might go for a ride on the Blackjack as well.

Trigger and magwell detail, all a perfect fit.

Next, it was time to start load development. Which requires making brass from something else, the easiest seemed to be Hornady 6.5 4S cases, they were cut, sized, annealed, then cut again, sized again, turned, and annealed. The finished product is a beautiful fat and short little case, it looks like the X47 after an all you can eat 24 hr buffet.
Mine is only the third rifle chambered in the Two-Fifty-Seven Blackjack so load data was based entirely from what Blackjack bullets had tried in theirs. I tried several different powders, including H4350, H4831SC, but I ended up getting the best velocity with Alliant RL 26. With 56 grains of powder, I was getting just shy of 3300 feet per second. Fireforming these fat little cases gave some slight variation in velocity, but that didn’t surprise me. I did quite a bit of testing with loads back and forth, which is a tedious process with such a limited supply of brass in which I was so heavily invested. Magnum primers seemed to give the cartridge too much of a pressure spike, and excessive wear to the cases, so I backed down to just a Large Rifle primer, which significantly softened the blow. This change still gave me adequate velocity, but also saved my brass from being ruined prematurely, and eased in extraction from the chamber. The Ace likes to run right around 3200FPS from the Blackjack, and that’s just fine with me.

A typical group from the 257 Blackjack, including a true coldbore shot (left) and four followup shots.

With no shortage of space here in the Rockies, I decided to get the Blackjack out to some significant ranges. I wanted to see how well my projections panned out, and see how close the trajectory lined up with my ballistic computer Trasol. My first distance conquered was 1025, this after confirming a fairly rough zero in the dirt at 150 yards. From there I dialed the indicated 5.3 MRAD, and closed the bolt. One of my favorite things about shooting that far, is the nice delay you have to get a good clear sight picture to watch the impact. The first impact was a touch low, so I corrected the .2 and fired again, making perfect elevation on impact. I then shot it at 1250 yards where it was slightly ahead of the predicted dope, and I had to dial back down half a MIl to get on target. I then stretched it out to just a few hundred feet shy of a mile, and 12.8 MRAD was just the ticket for that range. For the naysayers, that is two MIL’s ahead of the 220 grain 300 RUM I was testing a few months back. And at 1600 yards, the Blackjack is 300FPS faster than the RUM, and only 60 pounds of energy less than the RUM. These are of course estimations made by my ballistic calculator, but they appear to be spot on based on the data I’ve shot to within a reasonable margin of error.

Shooting these 25 caliber heaters through this carbon wrapped barrel can heat it up quick. This rifle was purpose-built to be a hunting rifle, so barrel heat is of little concern. Rare is the occasion that I shoot more than a couple shots, so the weight savings are far more valuable to me in a hunting rifle.

The recoil on the Blackjack is not bad at all, but for a short action I would call it sharp. Obviously, there is going to be some kick from something this spicy, but its certainly not bad, I would compare it to a heavy 308 load, keeping in mind the eleven-pound rifle weight.

One of the many concerns I am hearing from people about this project is the old “barrel burner” comment.
Yep, its gonna get roasted. If it gets to 1200 rounds I’ll consider myself lucky, and then I’ll get another barrel cut and threaded and screw it on in too. That is if I haven’t found something even sharper than the Blackjack by then.
Another concern I have heard from many is about feeding. Short and fat cartridges tend to have feeding issues, especially with steep shoulders like the Blackjack. But to my gratification, I have yet to have a single malfunction. It smoothly feeds from an old beater AICS magazine, which will hold seven of these handsome dandies. Whether the first, or last round from the mag, these hop right into the chamber without any hangups. And single feeding is no problem either, if you just toss them in with a bit of forward motion, so they clear the blunt breach of the barrel, the bolt closes smoothly.

Bolt knob detail. The 257 Blackjack was initially to be called the 257 Pit Boss, I decided to honor the original name by memorializing it here.

A wildcat cartridge is an adventure wrapped in hundred dollar bills, but it is not without its fun and excitement. I am not even close to being done with the 257 Blackjack, hunting season is just around the corner, and I fully intend on putting the Blackjack’s talents to work. With both deer and elk to harvest this fall and winter, the downrange energy, and resistance to wind, this lightweight but potent little rifle is a perfect candidate for these rugged Rocky Mountains that have become my winter range. With any luck, brass will be commercially available within the next few months from at least one reputable manufacturer. Reamers and dies will also soon be available from Blackjack Bullets website, so it may not be too long before this little cartridge is made an honest one.

The Pit Boss has since received its scope upgrade, the US Optics F25X

In the meantime, I will continue to prepare and practice for the hunting season waiting for the next best thing. Miles may have some mad scientist things going on at the Blackjack Lab somewhere in the hills of Oklahoma. The best news of all perhaps is that big names like Berger and Hornady are following the lead, coming out with better bullets for the quarter bore fans like myself. So the future of the 257 Blackjack, as well as my 25 Creedmoor, and any fast twist 25 caliber cartridge will be bright and long-lived.

Donald Trump Junior stretching the 257 Blackjack out to 1230 yards

-CBM

Essential Gear for Elk Hunting

Elk hunting is a dream hunt for many of us, I am lucky enough to have had the chance over and over throughout the years. If an elk hunt is on your list of must-do hunts, here I have put together my thoughts on the gear you won’t want to be without when you go.
The Rocky Mountains are a bountiful and impressive place to hunt, whether you are after monster mulies, elk, or one of the other beautiful species herein, it can be quite a job. Today we’ll speak specifically about the elk hunting side of it, and the differences you should know between elk hunting, and smaller animals like deer.

The Bugle of a Bull
Contrary to what you see on all the hunting shows, calling elk is not as simple as it appears. Elk are most vocal during the rut, which is usually in September. If you are hunting outside of their rutting schedule, then your bugling tube and all your practice might be nearly useless. If it is a general season hunt, or any hunt where there will likely be people around adding hunting pressure, elk tend to shut up unless they are rutting. So keep in mind when your hunt is, and the kind of pressure they will be under. Elk are quite smart, and a call under the wrong circumstances may send them charging off into oblivion. Whereas during the rut, they can be hormone-driven fools, that come in fast looking for a fight.
Cow calls and other noises can be useful depending again on the general mood on the mountain you are hunting. I’ve brought in several bulls just raking the trees with a broken branch. If a big bull is what you are after, you have to play to his attitude.
Whether you are after a bull or a cow, you will want to keep an eye out for the cows. There are lots of eyes and ears in a herd of elk, and the ladies are usually the ones to bust you. Minimal sounds and calls may be all you need to find them and get into place for a shot. If you are hunting active herds, make sure you bring your A level calling game, a good bugle can bring in a monster on a string.

Boots of Hermes
Elk hunting will drive you right to edge of sanity, plodding through soft mountain soil, chasing towards a ridgeline in pouring rain or snow, your legs and feet will take punishment like never before. Having a good pair of boots is absolutely essential, or even better, have more than one pair. Sometimes you might find yourself sneaking quietly through dense forest, and other times clawing your way up a loose rock pile or chute. Having good boots and perhaps several different pairs for these differing terrains may keep you fresh. Make sure you have good comfy shoes waiting for you back at camp as well, with clean fresh socks. You’ll want to care for your feet as best as possible because they will be punished.
Lightweight is a must, but the weather can dictate the rest. If it’s cold and snowy then you will obviously want insulating boots to keep the heat in, and if it’s wet and raining, you’ll want waterproof footwear to keep from getting soggy and cold. The best practice is to have several good options, that way your feet get a pleasant change from day to day and hike to hike.

Extraction: Rope and a Plan
Until you walk up to your first downed elk, they just look like a big deer from a distance. But as soon as you lay hands on your prize, you will realize just how big they are. The realization shortly after recovery, offers quite the challenge, even with a buddy just turning a large elk around is hard enough. So one of the most important things you can have before leaving camp is a plan to extract the animal, that could be quartering it and packing it out, or hauling it away in one big piece. Whether it is horses, ATV’s, or just some good backpack frames, make sure you have everything in place beforehand.
A good extraction plan could just be a large group of friends with an affinity for intense labor, or it could be as simple as a profane and indecent amount of cordage. I’ve been party to several different types of elk recoveries, but whole is by far my favorite, and for that, you usually need enough rope to reach the animal with either a vehicle or a hypothetical team of mules. We’ve pulled elk nearly half a mile up steep canyons with enough rope, other times we have carried quarters from a pole carried by two, and the most ingenious plan ever, we built a sled from fallen trees and used it to drag an entirely butchered elk up a steep hill to the truck. There are hundreds of ways to do it, research the country you intend to hunt, and see what kind of work it will take to get your prey back to camp. Sometimes if you are lucky, you can drive an ATV or truck right up to them, of course, those stories don’t sound as adventuresome.

Bag it
As I mentioned already, elk are very large animals, handling a fallen animal the size of a horse can be a lot of work. If you are lucky enough to get it out whole, you will need to get it cooled down and skinned asap. If you end up having to pack it out, it will likely be in large pieces, and nothing beats some high-quality game bags to keep those pieces in. Typical game bags may be a bit small for an elk unless its in pieces. Make sure you have enough game bags to protect your meat from contaminants and insects, it will make it that much better to eat and butcher once you get back home.
It’s also a good idea to have a bunch of twine or paracord you can use to tie-up open ends, or to hang it from. Many times we have had to make multiple trips to pack out an elk, and sometimes overnight. Paracord is great for hanging up those pieces left behind to keep out of reach of foraging animals, it also keeps the meat clean and elevated where the air can maintain it cool and as fresh as possible.

Eternal Optimism
Elk hunting can be feast or famine, days can pass with little to no sign. One day they could be everywhere, and the next day they may have evaporated into the atmosphere. Elk hunting requires a good attitude, and if you couple that good attitude to diligence you can be successful. Study the area, know where the animals go when spooked, get a feel for their safe zone, and unless its a last-ditch effort, do not push them out of their safe zone. You’d be better off waiting for them to come back out on their own, whereas if you push them, they might run for thirty miles and never look back. In my experience, you don’t get the prize without putting in the effort, only after your hopes are broken, and your body pushed to the edge, does that magical moment happen when stars and sights align.

-CBM