Tag Archives: elk

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 hunts actually capture perfectly every aspect of the hunt. This is one of those 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 he couldn’t.
My Brothers and I have dreamed of this hunt since we first heard the bugle of these massive and majestic animals. The only thing missing for the action was my middle Brother who had to leave before all the action went down.

My middle 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 wrath tempered with respect.
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

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