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 it’s one we all seek out every 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.
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.
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.