Tag Archives: Rocky Mountains

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

2016 Bull Elk Hunt

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

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

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

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

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

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