Tag Archives: big game

Cold, with a Chance of Elk

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 no where 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.
-CBM

2016 Bull Elk Hunt

It’s not often, at least for normal folk, to get a shot at hunting the biggest of Utah’s Rocky Mountain Elk. Every now and then, you, or somebody you know gets a shot at it, and when you do, its the beginning of many amazing stories that will stick with you for life. This is one of those.
One of my favorite parts about hunting, is the good company of family and friends. Elk hunting for those who haven’t done it, has a way of refining friendships. Like cream floating to the top, or the one M&M in a handful of trailmix. You see, you cant just go elk hunting with anyone. Much like an emergency call from the roadside on a dark winter’s night, you only call on those who you know, will answer.

I am lucky to have the best group of friends, some of whom are blood, and others that should be. And every year, when even the sun seems lethargic in its ascent, and the air turns cold coming down the mountain, with a smell of the forest, our minds and eyes are turned upward. The colorful beauty that comes every fall, brings dreams and hopes to every hunter who’s heart still beats.
This year was special, my brother in law had drawn one of the coveted limited entry bull tags, and the thought of ivory and bone was on all of our minds. It was his hunt, but I felt like it was as much my responsibility to make sure that we got a good bull. We spent as much time as our schedules would allow, searching the best places inside the unit. But on opening day, we found ourselves hunting the same few canyons that have brought us the most elk over the years. Familiarity is sometimes good with hunting, we know the land, the animals, and where they go when they get bothered.

It was in this familiar place that I’ve seen some very good bulls running around, so I was fairly confident that one would wander across our path. But it wasn’t until seven days later, that just such a bull would answer the call, literally.
We saw several bulls that first weekend, but only one I would deem a shooter. And unfortunately, I got a prime seat to stand and watch him, completely unawares. But the man with the rifle, was in an inopportune place, that kept him from making a shot. Days went by, though I had but little invested in this adventure, I could feel the days passing like bricks being stacked on your shoulders. The weather changes seemed like a good thing, but they failed to bring any bulls out of their deep hiding.

It wasn’t until the second to last day of the hunt that luck would trot our way, scraping his antlers through the quickly thinning aspens. The morning had brought a few inches of snow, usually I like that, because its easier to spot animals. But this storm seemed to keep the elk holed up tight in their hideouts. Afternoon came soon enough, and with it came the sun, liberating the whole mountain of the white blanket. In short time, the snow was soaked up into the hills, and it turned into quite a beautiful afternoon. Feeling that our luck had to be peaked, I knew that we had to close the deal that evening. A sense of anxiety that most of you probably understand, had my eyes running in overdrive, looking hard, trying to find not just an elk, but one we could take home.
As the afternoon breeze faded into evening, silence took hold of everything. I drew my grunt tube, and did my best to make vulgar and threatening sounds, sure to drive an excited bull into a pigeon chested rage. The silence brought back calls from several bulls, the closest of whom sounded to be just around the nose of the next ridge. After a few minutes, I continued my vocal assault, and he responded in turn, this time a little closer.
By this time, the sun was hidden from us, behind the pink clouds that hung low in the western sky. Light was quickly escaping us, we looked hard into the grove of trees where we suspected the bull was headed. Again and again I called to him, and each time he would answer, always closer. Our hearts were racing, knowing that any moment, any second, we might see the bull who would magnify our hunting stories forever.
I scoured the hillside through my Swarovski, searching for him. And as though he was waiting for an invitation, he finally stepped into view. I caught a glimpse of him walking towards us in the aspens, screaming what would be his last call. I judged the antlers as best I could in that short window, and announced to all that a shooter had joined the party.
It was now time to put a skill set to use, that had lain dormant for ten days. Luckily, we spend a good amount of time behind a rifle. And today that rifle was mine, a Desert Tech SRS A1 Covert. Days earlier, before I had left home, I installed one of my favorite barrels of all time, a twenty four inch 7MM Short Action Ultra Magnum that I commissioned from the good people at Short Action Customs several years earlier. My fondness for this barrel was born of an absurdly accurate pattern, and the ability to shoot heavy bullets in top fuel bracket speeds. My handloads consisted of the finest bullet available for the SAUM, a 183 Sierra Match King, pushed down the bore by 62ish grains of H4831SC at a scorching 3100fps. It literally was like a sharp rocket full of badgers and razor blades sitting on a box of dynamite, you DONT want to be in front of this damn thing.

Some 550 yards across the canyon, our bull stood quietly in the trees, knowing nothing of badgers and dynamite, nor did he know of very little elevation this laser beam of lead needed to reach out to him (1.9). As our bull stepped clear of the aspens that had afforded him security, the safety came off the rifle, and I watched intently as he slowly stopped. The suppressed sound of that SAUM going off startled no one, it was perfect timing. I watched the bull jump, and turn back into the trees, the quickly diminishing light made it hard to tell what had happened. But I knew one thing for sure, and it was like a warm blanket in cold wet tent, did I mention we slept in a cold wet tent? I knew that the SAUM was a golden hotrod, and I knew that though the bull appeared at last sight, to be moving under full steam, he was foreordained by the good folks at Sierra to become my dinner.
I lost him in the trees, but I quickly gave another yelp on the tube, in hopes to grab his attention, be it one last time. The mountain was silent, not even the breeze could be heard. No response came from our bull, and my warm blanket just got warmer.
Ive done some scary things in the past, but walking through bear and cougar infested woods, in the dark is probably in the top ten. I had to make sure, I had to put hands on him, and I had to do it then. I couldn’t wait til morning to scramble the rest of the crew, who still had a three hour drive to make just to get to the bottom of the hill. My brother in law had proven himself unworthy of crepuscular navigation, and there was no way I was taking my children with me down there. So it was my fate, to search out this bull, in the dark and quiet forest. I made extremely good time first descending and then climbing the opposite side of the canyon, my fear of bears and cougars fueled my hasty step. And with a flashlight and a .44Magnum in each hand, I searched with the guidance of my brother from across the way. In surprisingly short time, I had found our guy. He lay on his side, against a dead aspen, his antlers buried deep in the black soft earth. As usual, the size of these animals astonished me. I walked around him, taking it all in. Blood still flowed from the exit wound on his starboard side, foaming from his final breath escaping his lungs. The 183 had punched through both lungs, almost perfectly centered, leaving a 1.5-2 inch exit wound. I knelt beside this incredible animal, and cherished his beauty, grateful and reverent for his life, and what it would yield.

Phone calls were made, both to scramble our ready five team, as well as to keep my sanity as I made my way through the dark fallen timber on my way back to the truck. The following morning, we made our way back to the spot, and began the heavy labor of extricating such a huge animal. Packs were filled with meat, whole quarters hauled out over shoulders, even the kids helped.
The beauty of a sunny fall day surrounded by my closest friends and my kids doing what we love the most, it was almost a perfect day. One can only hope for days such as this one, the camaraderie shared when shoulder deep in meat and blood, when we share down to the last water, and last granola bar, brings people together like nothing else can. The manic high’s and lows brought on by such a high stakes hunt invigorate friendships and the memories last forever. We have two more weeks till the general season starts, better get to bed…
-CBM