As the sun sets this time of year, frigid cold air rushes in to fill the void left by the sunlight. We watched as the last few glimmers of the sun disappeared over the cloudy horizon, the cold grip of winter seemed to tighten around us in the eerie silence. My son, my cousin and I, sat in the snow regaining our composure as natures evening show came to a close. It had been a busy day, and we finally had a moment to pause.
For the past few months, we had been following the habits of a small herd of elk that live in the steep and rocky mountains that surround this valley. You likely read about our previous encounters with them, only last week I took one of the herd myself after we got into them. My son still had a tag, and he hadn’t burned out yet, so we had returned to fill it.
The temperature inversion turns the valley into a cold cloudy soup
This time of year, getting up the mountain early doesn’t seem to have the benefits it does during the normal season. The cold temperatures, and the lack of hunting pressure have animals out and about during the daytime. Deer, elk, coyotes, etc. can all be seen and heard during the day, and its a great time to just be out there. Once we got above the cold fog in the valley, there was a beautiful sunny day waiting for us.
This nice buck sat and watched us from 300yds for the better part of a couple hours
As Junior and I made our way up into the canyons, I scoured the draws and hill’s where I expected to see our herd. Moving slowly, we would stop every so often to glass the brush covered ridges. It is amazing how little it takes to conceal a whole elk. I hadn’t even planned on shooting anything today. I figured we would go for a nice ride up in the sunshine, and if we were lucky, maybe spot the herd on some distant, miserable, and untouchable ridge line.
It is of course Murphy’s law, that as soon as you least expect something, or ill prepared for it, that something will happen. This was the case, as Junior and I rounded a turn, and my eyes focused on familiar brown and tan shapes that stood above us on a slope. Four of them, kicking away the snow to find the grass underneath. Not wanting to spook them, we quickly and quietly grabbed our gear, and made our way to a clearing. Once we had gotten a good position, I helped Junior get his rifle setup over a pack. It was a fairly steep angle, so we had to build a little taller position to get him comfortable. In just a few moments, we were fixed on our target.
There were four elk visible, all cows and calves. This herd had once numbered six, besides the one I had already taken, the missing one must have been just out of view. There was a single elk off to one side of the herd alone, and her broadside position made her the ideal target. While Junior prepared himself, I hit the elk with my rangefinder. The distance to our target was 540 yards, not a short distance. But I knew he could pull it off, as he had done before. We had practiced as much as time would allow.
A shot like that requires a good rifle, and my son carried it in his hot little hands. A custom Remington I had put together for him the year preceding. It was a sixteen inch .260 Remington, today it wore a Delta P Design Brevis II 6.5, and a Minox 1-6X24 scope. The rifle was loaded with 120 grain BTHP bullets, the same ones he had taken his first buck with a month or two prior. Junior had shot this rifle with great success, and it fit his stature. Well enough to shoot his very first Mule deer buck a few months ago at a similar distance.
So now we sat there, ready to shoot, all that was left was the trigger pull.
My son has been hunting with me since he was two or three years old. Even though he has been there, and seen it done so many times, he still gets that pounding heart and feverish excitement when its time to shoot. He was nervous for a moment, but after we locked eyes, and had a little Father & Son pep talk, he calmed down. He resigned himself to it, and I watched through my 8X rangefinder, waiting patiently.
Maybe it was that he needed to just get one shot off to feel at home, or maybe it was the shot itself that focused his little mind. But whatever the reason, that first shot pealed across the slope without hitting the elk. And as if a switch had been flipped, Junior’s demeanor changed, and he was now “in the zone”. After a reload, he re-engaged the elk, and put a bullet into her. She walked a few steps forward, and laid down in the snow. We put another one into her moments later, to make sure she was dead.
The steep hike up the hill to the elk took a little time, but it was very gratifying once we got there. Habitual observances took over at that point. We took some time to take plenty of pictures, and clean her up. The beauty of the snow covered landscape lit by the unfiltered rays of sunshine made the experience even more pleasant. Just a short time earlier, we were covered with coats, hats, gloves and the typical winter gear. The cold fog below had left our beards frosted, and yet in this moment of pristine success, we stood in the sunshine wearing only T-shirts under blue skies.
With the help of a couple good friends who came to help, we tied her up, and drug her down the hill. It took quite an effort, but it was well worth it once we had her back to the truck, and ready to bring home.
As night drew near, the ice cold fog that had hidden the valley from us, worked its way back up the mountain and threatened to envelope us once again. As it does every year, the bitter sweetness of the end of the season came over me. Knowing that we are done hunting for the season brings a somber feeling. The blood dried on the backs of our hands, as well as the freezer full of meat, fills me with satisfaction, and gratitude. These two contradicting sentiments are what give spice and excitement, they are part of the experience that comes with participation in this primal circle of life.
The only thing better than experiencing such exhilarating highs and lows, is doing it with the ones we love the most. I am a very lucky person, being able to share this with my son, and family. We are already looking forward to next year.