Elk Hunting

If you were asked to define elk hunting to someone who had never been exposed to it, how would you do it?

If you were asked to define elk hunting to someone who had never been exposed to it, how would you do it? After more than 30 years of chasing ol’ wapiti around the mountains, here’s mine: Elk hunting is countless hours of bone and mind numbing boredom occasionally punctuated with moments of insane and intent chaos, followed by hours of back-breaking labor the type of which would crumble the knees of Samson before Delilah got to his hair.

Elk hunting is a physical endeavor. All but two of the elk I have killed involved many miles aboard a horse deep into backcountry wilderness. That’s physical enough, but if you add calling shy bulls it can be akin to running a relay before having to make the shot. However, once you have an elk down—whether it’s a bull or a cow—the real fun begins. The best option is to have either a guide or several friends to get the animal from the kill site to the truck. The worst option is to have an elk down and be all by yourself. Last Friday, my hunting partner and I were somewhere in between but closer to the worst.

There is an area about an hour from my home that is a mixture of ranchland valley mixed with high desert. A lot of elk migrate into the valley and cause the ranchers all sorts of grief in terms of depredation of alfalfa fields and pasture, so the Game and Fish Department has been generous with cow tags. I have shot more than my fair share of five- and six-point bulls, and I no longer care much about shooting just any old bull. I am, however, very interested in dining on elk so I bought a cow tag for this area. A buddy of mine that I shoot cowboy action with also bought a cow tag for this area, and since he knows it well and offered to team up with me, we had been hunting this area for about three weeks. It seemed that we were plagued with buzzard’s luck; always a few minutes to a day late from intercepting the elk.

Friday morning found us with more of the same. Virtually everywhere we looked another hunter or hunters had already gotten into the elk. We turned onto a two-track road that leads up to a high-desert plateau. Two lady hunters were preparing to camp there but had seized up their camp trailer on the hitch ball. My hunting partner, Ron Watkins, and I got the trailer freed up for them and went on our way. About four miles up onto the plateau we stopped and glassed a pass to the east. I found a set of tracks coming off the pass, but we could not see where they came out of the gullies and valleys between the pass and us. Suddenly a group of a half dozen cow elk and calves popped up about 500 yards away. They were headed toward another pass a few hundred yards from us. When the elk dropped into another gulley we relocated about a quarter mile from where we were and waited.

Once again the elk popped up; this time about 350 yards from us, but they were headed right to us. We waited, and when one of the cows popped up inside 300 yards Ron dumped it. A moment later another large cow showed itself about 125 yards off to my right. A 180-grain Barnes TSXBT dropped the cow in its tracks. That’s when the fun began. We had to dress out two elk and get them to the truck. Trouble was, we could not get any closer to the animals. It had been snowing the day before, but this day the sun was bright and clear, melting the snow into the already saturated soil.

Because we had been out several times with nothing to show for it, we had casual sporting shoes on instead of our hunting boots. Oh, we had the boots along, but we thought we’d switch when the need arose. Remember that statement about insane, intent chaos? We completely forgot about switching our footwear. My shoes got sucked off my feet on the way to the furthest cow. Now I had mud inside and out of my shoes.

We retreated to the ranch headquarters to borrow some 300 feet of rope. Returning to the site, we rigged the winch and strung out the rope. The winch was bringing in the elk, but it was excruciatingly slow. We rigged the rope to the trailer ball and began dragging it about 75 feet at a pull before re-rigging the rope. Suddenly the two lady hunters from the morning pulled up on a 4-wheeler. They jumped off and pitched in, keeping the rope from tangling with the truck’s undercarriage. After about an hour and a half, we finally loaded the second cow into the truck…and we were whipped, covered in mud and blood. And we were back out there Monday.

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2 Responses to Elk Hunting

Brad wrote:
November 09, 2013

Your Elk hunting definition is right on...Also by using great word-pictures you put us right in your muddy socks! Thank you for a great Blog, keep it up Dave!

Bill wrote:
October 30, 2013

Watching the news, with all of the craziness going on in this country, and the world, I thought of how comforting it is that shooting and hunting remains the same. I appreciate the precision I can now achieve with my rifles; and elk hunting - yes, countless hours punctuated by chaos and oh so physical. Last archery season I was close to my vehicle when I got a bull. Alone, I packed/dragged it out. I was sore for 4 to 5 days afterward.