Tag Archives: elkhunting

Famine or Feast

To the hardened and brave souls that go into the white and desolate winter, searching for a kill, famine is a familiar perception.

I have spent sometime in these Rocky Mountains looking for my next opportunity, and I was recently reminded of a passed exploit that pushed my brother and I to the far fringe of such famine.

It was an elk hunt in early October, and winter had shown up already bringing cold dark clouds and the accompanying snow. The mountain we were both hunting and camping on was some nine thousand feet above sea level, up where it gets bitter. We were there because we had always seen large herds of elk in the area, and it was so remote that hunting pressure even during the general season was pretty low. My little brother and I had taken a couple days off of work, and decided to spend them all up here.
The high Rockies can be a very quiet place in the winter, the brutal cold seems to slow down even the sounds of the forest. The crunch of snow and ice are the only familiar sounds you will hear.
We set out day after day, scouring the hills and ridges for the sign of our prey. The country that these animals live in is wide and deep, it can be difficult to find them. Even when in large winter herds, they can be easily concealed in a grove of trees. But with that in mind we looked even harder through binos and spotters, not letting even the lightest patch of brown to go unsuspected.

Elk live in country so big and wide, you can find them almost anywhere, or nowhere at all.
After several days of seeing nothing but beautiful cold ridges, we were beginning to feel the pressure build. For us, hunting season was the best time of year. We had waited patiently for many months for this opportunity. And the desolation that gripped this landscape seemed to be contaminating our spirits, time continued to pass and we had only seen one herd of elk. A herd would have done fine, but they were so far away from us that it would have taken us a days hike from our already distant perch just to get into range.

We had planned on returning home on that Monday, and it was now Sunday afternoon. I was beginning to come to terms with defeat. It was nothing new to me, as I had returned home many times before with a clean uncut tag. But that didn’t make it any easier. My pride, and my desire to participate and conquer even just a little piece of this incredible wilderness consumed my every thought.

Our evening plan was to check a good looking ridge that elk were known to frequent in seasons passed, the south side of which was so steep you’d think twice before nearing it. As we made our way to one of the lookouts, dark clouds began to accumulate around us. Though it meant more snow, and an even colder night ahead, the better part of me embraced this long needed change in our daily pattern. As we climbed a familiar path, snow flakes began to swirl in the air. Even more welcome was the sight of a few deer, running up a ridge parallel to us. Three bucks, which was the most exciting thing we had seen in days. Maybe it was the static of clouds colliding overhead, or maybe it was that magical sixth sense that we share with nature, but something inside me confirmed that action was headed our way, riding a cold and foggy breeze.

We continued down the ridge as planned, quietly discussing the many possibilities that awaited us in the cloudy trees below. Like I often do, to the dismay of anyone who hunts with me, I began to pontificate the many possible scenarios that I felt should happen.
My brother, who has spent the better part of his life listening to these sermons of mine, listened quietly. To his credit, he has only called out my trivial contemplation’s a few times. I suppose listening to me jabber along keeps him from falling asleep (which he is very good at). From as far back as I can remember, my little brother has been my wingman. From his perspective it may be more of a sentence than an expression of endearment. Whether it be building forts in the back yard out of Dad’s woodpile, or the death sentence of cleaning our shared room, we were always together.
Thick and thin had weathered every aspect of our brotherhood, and even now, both of us thick in the middle, and thin in the hair, we still share that bond.

Goose
The clouds were gently rolling over the ridge spine in front of us, as usual, my eyes never stopped looking. I turned to my brother and speculated something like this: “Why couldn’t there just be a herd of elk just there ahead of us?”
It made sense to me, I mean why couldn’t the elk just cooperate, and come out in the open just ahead of us, near the path, you know, to make it easy on us for once. He didn’t even get the chance to agree with my thought, because as soon as my eyes came returned to front, my prophesy had materialized before us. I froze, not quite sure yet what I was seeing. I had looked down this ridge so many times, and as you often do, anything that looks suspicious gets extra lookin’ at. This figure, that stood before us in the cloud, nearly a quarter mile away, had not been there earlier. In a seconds time, my hopes had been fulfilled, it was a lone cow, standing tall on the ridge spine directly in front of us. I quickly pointed it out to my brother, and by the time he spotted her, she was no longer alone. There was now half a dozen elk standing at attention, their eyes focused wholly on us. It was go time…
I was now Maverick with my wingman Goose at my side. As that first elk reared back her head and led the charge for the nearest treeline, somebody queued up Kenny Loggins. I went for my rifle, and hit the ground. In no time I had my eye on the scope, and the thunder of hoof-beats pounded out The Danger Zone as I fumbled a cartridge into the chamber. There were now so many elk in my scope I didn’t know what to do, like a freight train they just kept coming over the hill. After a few seconds that had seemed like minutes, I finally saw the last of the elk come over the hill. I decide to pick an easy target, the very last of the ladies, who happened to be a large one. I had already dialed the needed elevation to make the shot, and now it was just a trigger pull away from a closed deal.
I watched as the wave of hooves rolled through the sagebrush, time slowed down, and it was like watching that horse scene from The Man from Snowy River, you know the one Im talking about. The cloudy fog that had enveloped us muffled the sound, and the delay and the spooky dim light gave a surreal feeling, almost other worldly. I focused on the reticle in my scope, and when it matched her speed and brisket, I lit the fire.
One hundred and ninety grains of acute certainty cut the clouds, and the quarter mile between us. I watched the bullet strike her dark brown side, and as I ran the bolt in my rifle, I heard the delayed impact return through the fog. It sounded like a major league baseball bat striking hard against a wet roll of carpet. She immediately stumbled, and stopped her hurried run. As I resettled the crosshair on her side, she again stumbled backwards, and toppled over into the brush. The noise settled down, the sound of my rifle report echoed off through the canyons, and the herd disappeared into a grove of aspens.
Darkness had already began to cloak the mountains, so we hurried towards the kill, wanting to put hands on her before all light was lost. We approached quietly, and found her laying on her side, just next to a single small tree.
In the dimly lit twilight I knelt down beside her, and felt the damp and dirty hair she wore. With cold and wet hands I treasured this beautiful animal, and the prize she was to me. Her flesh would sustain my family, her tenacity had challenged my skill and patience, and perhaps most notable, her life would seal this memory into history for both of us.

Our famine had turned to bounty in just a few moments, the adventure and lesson it had become is still fresh in my mind. Nothing will strike excitement into the heart of man, like participating in the circle from where we draw our living existence.

CBM-

2016 Cow Elk Hunt

The snow has finally come here to the Wasatch Mountains, the last few storms have left our mountains and valleys white. For those of us that love to hunt, this is a special time of year. Several members of my family had drawn some late season cow elk tags, and the lure of an adventure and putting hands on elk was upon us. The nature of these late season hunts is very dependent on the weather, and the animals reaction to it. We run the odds of timing it just right, when there is enough snow to push the animals into a location where we can get them, but before there is too much snow to be able to get in there ourselves. The last few years have been pretty poor snowfall, so we run right down to the wire as far as season limits. This past weekend was the last few days for my cousin, his tag expired yesterday. Luckily we finally got into them, as they made their way towards wintering grounds.
The start of our hunt Saturday morning was a bitter one, the thermometer was showing six below zero as the pale early morning light made its way over the windswept mountain tops. It was hard to tell yet if it was clouds accumulating at the peaks, or if it was just dusty dry snow being blown into the sky. We found our way to the end of civilization, or at least to where the roads were impassable. It was there that we left the warmth of the truck, and traded it for the speed and mobility of the snowmobiles. We made our way up the snow covered trail, stopping every now and then to do some glassing, and knock the ice from our face masks. On one of those stops, we lucked out, and stopped just over a rise. As we sat there looking around the valleys and canyons that surrounded us, talking quietly about the next planned move, my eyes caught a glimpse of brown. I quickly brought up my Swarovski rangefinder for a closer look, and to get a solid range. It came back 408yds. Had we gone even fifty or so yards further, we’d probably of spooked them. But there they were, a spike and a few cows, some standing, some sitting. My cousin steadied my SRS over his backpack, and located the best looking target. A young cow, laying in the snow. With the sharp crack of the shot muffled by the cold dense air, and surrounding snow, the shot went over without much attention. Except for the one elk who felt it, the bullet found its mark perfectly, hitting the snowline just in front of the bedded animals shoulder. It pulverized her lungs, and she rolled her head back, and expired.
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We made the quick little ride up the trail towards her, as the remaining elk slowly scattered. It was a quick and easy drag downhill to get her to the trail, where we gutted her, and put her into the sled. The below zero temperatures froze the blood so quickly that it turned pink as soon as it dripped. All said and done, we were back having steak and eggs by 11:00AM, some days are good like that. Anyone who hunts elk with any frequency knows, there are good days, and then there are “other” days.

Having had an easy hunt on Saturday, with time to get home, and quarter up the elk, I was quite rested come Sunday morning. I woke up lazily, and after making breakfast for my kids I decided I’d go into town to get a little shopping done. But, as I mentioned previously, timing is everything with these hunts. And I couldn’t let the perfect window of time go bye, so I decided that before my shopping trip I had better stop bye my spotting position, and make sure that the elk hadn’t already moved into their winter grounds. The smooth hills that lay some 3000ft above my home happens to be the chosen winter grounds for a habitual herd of elk. Every year, I can narrow them down to one ridge. So I threw my spotting scope, and tripod into my grocery getter, and drove to my spot. After spotting a good mess of deer, including some great bucks, the H32 reticle in my spotter landed right on the herd. I counted 14 of them, three or four bulls, and the rest were cows or calves. In a moments time, my shopping plans had been shot, and I was making one call after another trying to scramble the team.
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Two and a half hours later, my brother in law, myself, and my cousin, wearing our still bloody snow gear from the day before, were making our way up into the blinding white canyon that held our prize.
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We got to the spot I had formerly planned to start our stalk. We stopped for a moment, to check for the elk. And as I’d hoped, there they were. Not fifty yards from where I had spotted them three hours and two and a half miles ago. We left the snowmobiles, and launched into an uphill battle that would claim most of my days calories. Our design was to skirt the opposing ridge line as we climbed parallel to the elk harboring flat. Point being to get a better angle, allowing for a better shot and selection. The waist deep snow made for a miserable hike, but a fantastic solid and comfortable rest. We maneuvered into a shooting position that gave us a good view through the gaps in the trees. We had closed the distance to five hundred and seventy-eight yards. And it was time to put practice into action. My brother in law setup on top of our packs, and laid motionless in the snow. As he went over his firing scenario, my cousin setup behind him to spot. And I got into position with my video camera. Once we had accounted for just about everything, he gave the ready signal, and we hunkered down behind our respective optics. He was shooting a Remington 700 custom chambered in the Rocky Mountain favorite 300Winchester. He had already dialed the appropriate 4.0mils into his Super Sniper5-20HD scope, and with everything but the trigger pull done we waited…
Being accustomed to overwhelming noise that typically barks from the brake end of that Remington, I was expecting my ears to ring. But again, the viscous atmosphere, and the fluffy snow took all the edge off of the magnum. The bullet found a delightful path through the trees, across the canyon, and I watched it impact right into the left brisket of one of the mature cows. She jumped a bit, took a few steps in our direction, and went facedown into the deep snow. She never moved again. The remainder of the herd looked on, as if confused. But after a second or two, their instinctive distrust of loud noises followed by dropping companions got them turned around. They slowly made their way opposite us, never showing much excitement. We exchanged high fives, and reenlisted to the uphill fight.18076893_1902711516639007_2181376753771605962_o

My Brother in law’s cow elk, after digging her face from the snow
Several hours later, we stood over her. As always, I took a moment of reverence for these beautiful animals that I love and respect. We made short work of the cleaning, the hot blood felt good on my frozen hands. The bright red stain on the snow was a stark contrast in a world of white and black.18193153_1902711863305639_7853852839463593922_o
The early setting winter sun threatened to leave us, shadows were already growing into the east as we finished. My frozen gloves gave no purchase on her slippery legs, but down the steep mountain slope we went. It didn’t take long to get a system going, we sat in the deep snow behind her, and leg pressed. A few yards at a time, we’d slide down behind her and push again. Hours later, we arrived back to the road. Frozen, exhausted, but as alive as ever a man can feel. The cold silence that surrounded us in the endless expanse of a dark and starry sky was beautiful. But with frostbite nipping at my fingertips, the silence was quickly cut short by the roar of a two stroke motor.
We made our way back down the canyon, and to the truck. What an adventure I thought, as I peeled my frozen socks away from my thermals. We’d made it out, pushed our limits, and we won. From the safety of my warm bath, I sat and recounted the days events. Later I called my father and shared the whole experience with him, he loves hearing the stories as much as we love living them. It is in these adventures, and the memories we make therein, that defines me, and brings us together as blood brothers. Love and passion for the hunt, may they never dim.
-CBM