Tag Archives: elk hunting

Hard Effort and Elk Hunting

As hunters, we seem to revel in the challenge and frequent suffering that accompanies the efforts of hunting. I believe this comes from deep in our DNA handed down from our ancestry, from generations of exceptionally hard people that lived on the edge of survival. Pushing ourselves to that same absolute edge of our abilities during a hunt seems to tap into the very root of our hunting heritage, and the feeling intensifies the closer we get to the precipice of danger and complete collapse.

I was lucky enough to refine this discourse with a partner during one of my most recent hunts. Hard labor and putting in the time are a must when hunting Rocky Mountain Elk, and we were already deeply committed to a stalk high into the snowy mountains at seventy-five hundred feet. Nick and I have been friends for years, but this was his first time with me hunting elk, his first elk hunt period in fact. He had only taken his very first big game animal a few months prior during the Utah general season mule deer hunt, so this hunt was as much a learning experience as anything else.
The weather that day was brutal to say the least, a winter storm had been producing freezing rain all night as the wind howled across the mountain range stacking the snow anywhere it could. Our time to hunt was short, so we’d decided to go for it since success favors the brave.

As the light of day continued to brighten around us, we climbed a ridge spine that promised to put us in shooting range of a small group of cow elk spotted from the bottom of the canyon. The wind seemed to increase with every step, at times causing us to lose balance and slip in the deep snow. We took the opportunity to talk, as the noise of the wind could cover up a Peterbilt at fast-idle. I regaled Nick with hunting stories of the past, hardships endured, triumphs after failures and so on. Nick being quite eager to learn and be successful as a hunter was happy to discuss all the fine points that make for a fortunate hunt. The wind battered our faces with bits of hail and snow as we lumbered up the ridge, and our discussion turned to a different subject. “At what point does the suffering endured during a hunt cease to be fun” in the traditional sense. After all, most of us hunt because we enjoy it despite the difficulty.

My inquisitive colleague also asked how this hunt stacked up against other difficult hunts I’ve been lucky to endure. If I recall correctly he asked; on a scale of one to ten, ten being the worst hunt I’d ever been on, how are we doing today?

Like a veteran of some awful war, my eyes glazed over and immediately took me back to a freezing cold evening on a slippery mountain deep in Montana’s Kootenai National Forest. For days we had hiked countless miles through clouds and freezing rain, taken several spills down rocky scree-piles and still had nothing to show yet. I found myself clawing up an incredibly steep and treacherous mountain, slipping and sliding grabbing at sticks to gain traction. I would have given up long ago but we’d taken a shot, and I swore to myself that I would either find it or confirm the fear that it was a miss. My heart pounded like I’d never felt before, rain and sweat both ran freely down my face. I couldn’t have cared less since the point of full soak had passed hours before. My patience and exhaustion threshold had been reached, and using my rifle as a crutch I dug into the hillside for every taxing step. After what seemed an eternity, I finally reached the landmark only to find that the better part of the day had all been a waste of effort. I was ready for complete surrender, ready to throw my rifle down the hill and leave my tag hanging in the nearest tree.

I flashed back to the windswept ridge where Nick stood awaiting my answer, I quickly evaluated the labor and suffering we had seen already that morning. And I multiplied it as I looked at what lay ahead, compounded by the unknown that was sure to stand out later. I told Nick, right now we’re at about a six. And we carried on.
The snow got deeper, and we found ourselves moving from one hole to another, digging our feet out with each step. I found myself looking for small trees and bushes protruding from the snow, and stepping on them to use like a natural snowshoe. If only I’d been smart enough to bring a pair I could use for every step.

It was early afternoon when we finally neared the ridge-top where I expected we might have a shot, and it was time to make ready. The wind had only gotten worse, and our condition hadn’t improved, but Nick prepared his rifle for the shot we hoped would come. Removing ice from the rifle to ensure everything was ready, Nick dry fired it several times to make sure we wouldn’t have a malfunction, and then finally chambered a 338 Lapua Magnum cartridge. He backed of his riflescope to six power, and we crept across the crunchy snow between the scrubby trees.

Everything moved with the wind and blowing snow, so I cant be sure when it happened, but almost without any indication, there stood a cow elk a mere forty-yards in front of us behind a small tree. I motioned Nick who was in the process of raising his rifle to bare, but before he could, she bolted from view. We followed her with our eyes as more elk appeared from behind the trees, and moved in a huddled mass away from us. As clouds blew in between us, we used the cover to move below the tree-line where we might have a clear shot at them. We found a tree trunk that provided a solid shooting position and peered into the cloudy breeze waiting for an opening. As Nick continually wiped the snow accumulating in the objective of his scope, I peered through binoculars to where I’d last seen the elk. Through several courses of clouds we waited, getting ghostly glimpses of them but nothing long enough to make a shot. The wind was now blowing at us directly from twelve o’clock, and pelting our eyes and faces with every look. But just as we had nearly reached our threshold for the bone-chilling cold, the wind blew another patch of clear air into our canyon, exposing a few of the elk that stood among the trees. Nick spotted them through his scope, and I watched through my binoculars. When both of us were ready, he finally let the Lapua off the chain. The muffled shot wasn’t particularly loud with the roaring wind around us, but my ears were focused downrange. Among the sounds of ice bouncing down my ear canal, I over heard the old familiar whap come back a second or so after the shot. Both Nick and I watched through our respective optics as the cow stumbled backwards then faceplanted into the snow before her. The three-hundred grain Scenar had broken one shoulder and perforated her heart, and she slid down the steep slope leaving bright red snow patches along the way.

It took us another grueling trek through the deep snow to get to where we last saw her, the whole way we spoke of the excitement and our individual perspectives. As we laid eyes on our prize finally, we went in for a high-five that turned into a bro-hug halfway through. And like we had hundreds of times that morning, we again fell over, finally able to laugh at our hardships.
“Now it was all fun” Nick said as he descended towards his first elk, up until that point it had been indeterminate extreme effort and endurance. That magical act of laying your hands on a prize that you’ve worked your ass off to get, the one you’ve daydreamed about since last season, when you finally have a tangible trophy you can take home and justify all the effort you put in seems to tie it all together into an adventure you will never forget. In spite of the overwhelming imbalance between exertion, suffering, and the few minutes of celebration, that simple act of winning seems to atone for every negative challenge endured to get there.

Our frozen hands were soon warmed as we again set to work on dressing the animal, and the even harder work of getting her out began. Luckily I have some good friends who volunteered to help us get her out, and as I write this she is quietly aging out in my woodshed.
There are few things I enjoy more than sharing this incredibly rewarding and at times crazy lifestyle of hunting, watching Nick take his first elk was the ice cold icing on the cake for me. Watching him dig deep into the snow and pushing beyond what may have seemed rational. I’d like to think he reached his roots down in that deep snow, and felt the same connection I often do when we join the circle of life around us.

I expect Nick will hunt again, I think the affliction of big game hunting has grabbed ahold of him. And he surely has become too accustomed to the taste of venison to stop now.

I too will be back next year, by then all the aches and pains will have been forgotten. And I’ll again be ready to make seemingly poor choices that will put me in range of my objectives, and I look forward to sharing it with new friends and family.

-CBM

Elk Hunting Carnivores

I had the great opportunity to take Iain Harrison (editor of Recoil Magazine and Carnivore Magazine) on a cow elk hunt here in the Utah mountains. I got sick during the trip (turned out to be Cofeve) so I was hurling literally minutes before the action went down in this video. Surprisingly I was able to make it through the whole thing without getting any worse, and even managed to help pack out. Give it a watch, hope you like it.

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

The 2019 Late Season for Elk

Video at the bottom of article

Every winter, after the cold snow starts to build up in these Rocky Mountains, I get a bit of fever going. Not the kind of fever that normally comes with the cold season, this fever is far more profound. Its a fever born not from germs or microorganisms, but rather comes from my DNA. Like many of you I was born to hunt, and the knowledge that hunting season is around the corner fills me with excitement and a feverish desire to get after it. The late-season elk hunts in our state of Utah give a much-needed extension to this natural high, and its one we all seek out ever year. This year was certainly no exception.

My herd of elk is a small one, it consists mainly of cows and their offspring. There is usually a few yearling cows, and spikes as well, and even more infrequent are the occasional mature bulls that follow them onto the winter range. Every year they come back the same pass they did the year before, and miles away, hunched behind a spotting scope gnawing on a cheese stick you will find me. Usually, I have all my gear ready by the time they show up, and this year it was only a matter of hours before we were on them.

Both friends and family participate in this yearly ritual, and today it was me and a good friend who we’ll call “Russ”. We had seen part of the herd heading in the right direction the evening before, and this morning we returned to our glassing post to see if they were still there. I say the right direction meaning a place where we knew we could get a downed elk out without extreme difficulty, we made our way towards the small group as they fed through the snow.

A cold cloudy day for all of us

At seven thousand feet the air is thin and cold, and the fifteen to twenty mile an hour winds were not making it any better. We continued our stalk through the cold wind, knowing at least that it would cover both our sound and scent. We closed the distance to five hundred and twenty yards, any closer we would lose them with the rise of the hill. So we planted ourselves and set up our equipment, Russ was shooting a custom-built .260 Remington Ackley improved, on the end he had a Delta P Design 6.5 suppressor, and a Bushnell Elite Tactical scope mounted on top. In the magazine were a handful of Hornady 140 grain ELD-m handloads. Russ pushed his rifle up a snowy embankment pointing towards the elk herd, and I slid up to another spot, with my Desert Tech SRS A2 sitting in the saddle of my Precision Rifle Solutions tripod. I had been using the twenty-four inch 6.5 Creedmoor barrel in my rifle, and had very recently installed a new optic, the Riton Optics RT-S Mod 7 4-32 riflescope. I was shooting a new experimental lathe-turned solid bullet from Patriot Valley Arms, it is a 123 grain copper solid hollow point. Both of our rifles were shooting very close ballistic patterns, in fact, at the five-hundred and twenty yards we both dialed 2.2 MRAD of elevation, and with the wind blowing at a slight angle, we both held about .2 MRAD left wind. A wind call we would later rejoice over.

As we lay there freezing in the snow, we had to wait for a good shot. The low angle against the ridge made interference from brush and branches an issue, so we waited as the wind carried snow over our rifles and faces. The plan was to execute a command fire, both of us shooting in near unison to hit both animals before the rifle report ever reached them. Sounds easy enough, unless your trigger finger is freezing into a stiff hook while you wait. After a few long and shivery moments, we had two cows that offered us an acceptable shot. After loudly whispering back and forth about who was shooting at what, we counted down, fingers on triggers. In my mind, I decided it would be better to just shoot upon hearing the report of Russ’ rifle, so that’s what I did.
I was already pressing the trigger shoe on my SRS when I heard the rip of his 260 go off, so I finished my pull and sent the second round uphill towards the unsuspecting elk. Russ’ bullet found its mark perfectly, hitting just behind the left shoulder. She immediately lurched forward from the startling impact, while a few yards behind her, the second cow chewed bark from some of the brush. She may have seen the other cow leap forward, but it was too late. My bullet also impacted just behind her shoulder passing through her lungs and tapping her vertebrae as it passed by. This impact dropped her in her tracks, and she rolled down the steep and slippery slope. The first cow had just made it perhaps forty or fifty yards, both of us still trained on her with our rifles. And we watched as she stumbled, and tipped over, leaving a bright red blood trail through the pure white snow. It was over so fast, and yet my trigger finger was nearly frozen. I stowed it between my cheek and gum for a few minutes to bring back sensation.

Fresh lung blood blown across the brush

We stood up in the breeze and watched as the remainder of the small herd slowly worked away from us. High fives were exchanged, and even a hug from the excitement. The work, however, had just begun, I doubted we would be getting too much aid in our elk extraction. So we left everything we wouldn’t need and carried only the bare essentials like knives, warm clothes, some rope and a few snacks. The steep mountain and snow-covered ground made the going slow, but an hour or so later, we stood over one of the two elk. After investigating her injuries and condition, we triangulated the other elk’s location based off the tracks leaving the first. The other cow lay exactly where expected, and left us a good trail to find her with.

As we began the decent with our two prizes, the morning had given way to a beautiful and sunny midday. We took our time, rolling and sliding these two ladies down the hill, taking breaks as needed.

As the afternoon went on however the clouds came back in, and threatened to freeze over the whole mountain. As we sat reposed in the snow, I watched as Russ’ dark pants steamed in the sunlight. But as the clouds came over us, it was like an icy blanket, and we both watched as the steam from his pants quickly turned to frost before our eyes. It was time to move.

After another four or so hours, we made it back to the truck, where we were met by other good friends who helped load our prize. An incredible blessing to have good friends to help after such a labor intensive day.

We have shot several other elk this winter, the most common factor is good friends and solid relationships. Elk hunting seems to forge relationships between like minded hunters, the intensity of labor, and overwhelming obstacles seem to sort fair-weather friends from what I consider to be the finest group of dear friends. I consider myself lucky to have them.

-CBM


A Hunt for Four Lifetimes

Few hunting trips actually capture perfectly every aspect of the hunt. This is one of those few however that did, at least for the four lives involved.

It’s been 18 years that we have patiently waited to take my Father on a bull elk hunt. Age and health have pushed this hunt right to the limit for Dad, so it was no small chore to get him prepared and in place. Dad let his .264 Winchester do the walking his body couldn’t.
My Brothers and I have dreamed of this hunt since we first heard the bugle of these massive and majestic animals. Unfortunately one of my Brothers had to leave before all the action went down.

My Brother keeping a close eye for movement across the canyon.

We were four days into a week-long hunt, midweek and things were calming down.
We had called and stalked several bulls, but they were either too small or too in a hurry.

Last night as a cold storm blew in, bringing rain, hail, and wind, I felt our luck was about to change.

Raking trees and calling into the deep dark woods, wouldn’t bring them out like it had been. So Dad and I worked slowly around a brushy ridge towards more open country. The sky went dark and yellow as the fading sunlight fought through the falling rain.
It was then I spotted the phantom and unmistakable shape of elk walking across a distant ridge-face. In a flash, we confirmed his shooter-hood status, and it was time to engage.
We closed the distance as hastily and quietly as possible, I screeched at him through my reed, hoping to slow him down. He did stop, and turn to answer with his own profanity-laced scream. Dad and I closed the distance down to 575 yards, and just in time as the bull was about to disappear into the thickly wooded Aspen grove.
As my little brother watched from the hilltop behind us, Dad positioned his rifle, and I again sent a challenge call to our bull. After confirming the distance, 2.5 Mrad was dialed to cover the almost six-hundred yards, and Dad settled in behind his rifle, ready to deal swift and tempered wrath.
I watched through my shaky binoculars, my heart pounded from both the excitement and the running to get into position.

Dad fired a shot, and I listened for the return of an impact, but none came. The bull took a few steps forward, and Dad fired again. And like the prior shot, we heard no report. The bull walked calmly up the slope and stopped again under a tree. As Dad was about to send another shot I watched through the wet darkness, and as though a switch had been flipped, the bull toppled over and tumbled down the hill. Both of Dads shots had severed major arteries, and the bull had pumped himself dry.
Reduced to primal emotion by the happenings, I nearly tackled Dad with a hug. His eyes still wide open, and surprised, he hugged me right back.

The next 24 hours were a grueling task of cutting, packing, and hauling the incredible amount of meat from the kill-site.

Nothing beats having good friends to come help.
We left little for the buzzards and coyotes, only the spine, pelvis, guts, and hide were left.

We took as much as we could, grateful for every bit of it to share the victory with Dad, and fulfill this old dream of all of ours.

A hard-earned hunt, with plenty of effort, highs, and lows to challenge even an optimistic hunter. Shifty animals, full of heart and spirit that can appear or vanish into nothing. The camaraderie with friends and Family, all leading up to a triumph over the wild chain of life here in the high Rockies. These are the aspects of hunting that I love to live, and the prize we win is more than the meat on my plate or the bones on the wall.
And now with sore legs and feet, we sit around the warm campfire, recounting and sealing the memories into forever, where they should be. Any elk hunt could be a hunt of a lifetime, but this one was a hunt for four lifetimes.

-CBM





Reflected Majesty: a Bull Elk Hunt

Warm rays of sunshine, long awaited since the cold darkness of early morning, poured through the Pinion pine trees. At first they were weak and shallow, but they soon began to warm the soft brown soil beneath me. Shadows retreated, and that familiar sensation of sunlight beating down against your back brought comfort to my half frozen body.
As my watery eyes wandered through my binoculars, my minds thoughts also wandered through heaps of memories, dreams, and expectations.

As I paused my glassing to blow into my fingers, I noticed the contrast of the sunlight and shadow. The rays of sunlight beat down, and it’s waves absorbed by everything it touches. So much more to absorb awaited us that day, my trembling hands would soon find.
It was November, and I was lucky to be along-side my Brother Spencer on a limited entry bull elk hunt. I say lucky because my Brother had waited fifteen years to accrue enough points to draw a tag, and in my eyes, there is nothing more exciting than hunting the biggest of Rocky Mountain Elk.
This late season hunt had the elk down from their summer ranges in the nearbye high rockies, they were now spread across their wintering grounds which consisted of a desert-like landscape, though still seven thousand feet above sea level. Sagebrush, Ceadar trees, and Pinion Pine’s covered miles and miles of country, all the way up to the pinetrees and aspens that grow above.
It was there in this landscape that my Brother and I waited, looking for the elk who’s tracks and sign were spread through the draws and hills.

With the help of some friends, we had wasted no time in getting close to the herds of bull elk that typically gather together after the rut. We had hiked several miles everyday, looking at elk, figuring out their patterns and bedding habbits.
We’d even had a look at several good bulls, but not long enough to make a play on them.

I knew this hunt wouldn’t be easy, nature has a wonderful way of testing you. Elk are an extremely tough animal, and bringing one down is no small task.
Today was our fourth day looking at elk, and trying to find one that would make all the time and effort worth it. And perhaps even more importantly, one that thirty years from now will still remind us of the amazing adventure and privilege it was to get him.
This particularly cold morning started out with a bit of a bust. We had moved to a slightly newer area but still close to where we knew the bulls to habit, and in a hasty move we were busted by two bulls who were paying better attention than we were.
Elk can be both like ghosts, and like a plague. So many times they have surprised me by being nowhere, anywhere, or at least somewhere besides here. And then suddenly, out of thin air, they appear.
In hopes that it had been just the two, and confiding that they would make their way off and hide. We continued our plan, moving slowly towards a high point that would give us a good outlook towards known elk territory.
The biting cold was just starting to loose its grip on our day, either that or the rush of blood and adrenaline took it from us.
We walked over the last of what seemed like endless highpoints, and there before us stood the ghost we had been searching for. He walked slowly up a clearing about five hundred yards from us, and as far as we could tell, he had no idea we were there.
We watched his antlers glistening in the sun, and my brother got into position behind his rifle.
It wasn’t just any rifle either, it was there for a reason. Years of diligent practice had paid off, and there was no doubt that my Brother could park a bullet right through the boiler room.

The rifle is a custom Remington with a Bartlein 260 Remington barrel. It road in a KRG Whiskey 3 chassis, upgraded with a Trigger Tech Diamond, a Vortex Optics Gen one Razor, and a Thunder Beast suppressor. Hornady 140 gr BTHP match bullets is all it eats.

It happened so quickly that I barely had time to get all my gear ready. I was hoping to spot the shot through my spotting scope, but instead watched through my binoculars as I fumbled blindly through my pack.
Everything went quiet as we anticipated the shot, the bull stopped his walk, and stood broadside to us, his beautiful color shining in the warm sunlight.
I watched silently as the bullet trace arched through the air, conditions were ideal for spotting the trace. Time slows as it often does in these tense moments, and I watched the trace disappear as it hit the bull. Seconds later, as the bull staggered, we heard the report come back to us. The sound of a bullet hitting flesh is a very recognizable one, and sure to get a hunter’s blood pumping.
The big bull continued to stagger about, as he forced himself to run, almost directly at us. Looking through my binoculars I thought his right front shoulder was broken, then I finally put hands on my spotting scope and pointed it at him. As he slowed down to stop, his legs looked buckled, his elbows almost touching. He crashed forward into the sagebrush, and lay there, head still up and looking for the threat.
Round two was hot on its way by then, again I watched the trace rise and then fall. The bull was laying down facing us, Spencer aimed the kill shot to go right inside his shoulder. The impact was severe, and the bull instantly dropped his head to the ground, leaving his mighty crown laying sideways in the brush.

We made our way over to the big bull, and as usual it was absolutely surreal. The size of these animals always impresses me, as does their beauty.

There is something majestic about every one of these animals, each one a fighter, each one a champion of his environment. This bull had actually broken his leg, either by accident, or someone broke it for him. But this incredible animal survived, and healed. His shoulder wasn’t broken, his right leg was crooked, it had healed at an angle.
Majestic almost doesn’t do honor to these magnificent creatures. Their strength, and their endurance is beyond impressive. Their instinct and natural wisdom, born of an unimaginable series of lifetimes that led right up to this one. Not only do I feel an incredible debt of gratitude for all of these merits, I feel inspired by them. Much the way the sunlight is absorbed by everything it touches, the merits, memories, and all that this animal is, will soak into our minds and memory.

Love, honor, and respect for these animals. It takes a lot of work to get the best of one, they live here everyday, they fight to survive, simply put, they are better at it than we are. The only way to feel good about besting an old warrior, is to be the best of yourself. Living right on the razor’s edge of your dedicated hard work and skill, and the utter failure of loosing him. And then, having triumphed, recognize the lesson, the hard work, and even the luck. You can see now why I said lucky before, lucky and grateful to have had such majesty, reflected upon us.

-CBM


Remington Bartlein KRG Whiskey 3 Trigger Tech Vortex Optics Thunder Beast

The First and Last Elk

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.
Our girl

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 1-6X30 scope. 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.
-CBM

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 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.
-CBM