D2 and I talked it over and we decided to give our immediate area a good scouting before heading up on the mountain. We'd been seeing elk all summer long in our creek and on nearby State land and I felt our chances were good, although I met with skepticism among other individuals. Nevertheless, on opening morning, we were up and looking. I drove down a neighbor's road that faced a rimrock wall I wanted to scout and almost immediately D2 and I both spotted 3 elk walking away, about a mile across a flat. Binoculars told me they were all bulls and one of them was pretty decent. Regardless of size (can't eat antlers, remember), they were bull elk in our backyard. We waited for them go around around a point in the rimrock and then we parked, geared up, and went after them.
We walked fairly quickly across the prairie and then climbed to where they'd disappeared at which point we started moving along much slower and doing a lot of glassing. I really expected to find the bulls bedded down in some timber back in a little bowl, but no luck. We spent until about noon working our way carefully around the rim where we found some bedded mule deer but no elk. Where'd they go!? We decided to go back for lunch and then I laid down for a nap. While napping and thinking about it, I figured the elk had to go into a little canyon on our property. I figured that instead of working around the rim like we'd done, that once they were in the open, they'd probably just trotted across a 1/2 mile open section. There are plenty of dips and drops in that section and they'd be easy to miss. That was the only place I could think of that wasn't visible from our earlier position and it was a nice sheltered canyon, an important thing since the wind was now up to about 20 mph. So, about 2-3 pm, we headed back out to check it out. I went down the same road as earlier and glassed every little pocket I could find. D2 was soon-to-be-a-teenager pessimistic but I am an old dog and much more persistent. And then... back in the suspected canyon, I spotted an elk. I couldn't tell bull or cow, but "bull" was a good gamble since I haven't seen a cow elk in this area all summer.
Plotting the situation, I decided to drive back to the north and come through our pasture to approach the canyon from the east. That would put the wind in our favor and give us the canyon rim to stalk off of. The plan was executed and D2 and I soon found ourselves crawling on hands and knees through cholla cactus to the rim. At the rim there was a bush to the left, an open space, and a juniper tree. I picked the bush and the instant we got there, I spotted a small bull elk bedded down on the opposite canyon wall. There should be 3 bulls in total, though, and it was important to find them all before moving. Leaving D2 in position, I inched back away from the wall, over to the side, and under the juniper and there, right below me, was the biggest bull, feeding on grass in the bottom.
I motioned to D2 and he crawled back and over and was soon in position. We had a perfect shot- 75 yards almost straight down on the bull's back. D2 was shooting a 7mm-08 with 139 gr Hornady bullets which are on the light side for elk. We needed a great position and we were in it. Plus, it would be a pretty easy hike out of the canyon to the truck, an important consideration with my gimpy collarbone. If the bull had been a big 6x6, this would've been the most perfect shot ever, but, hey, you can't eat antlers and he was a very respectable bull so I told D2 to take the shot. He did and the bull staggered forward, giving us a perfect angle for a 2nd shot, which I told him to take. At the 2nd shot, the bull dropped, rolled, and was still.
The other 2 bulls jumped up, trotted down the canyon, jumped the fence, and then stood there staring. They couldn't smell us and all they knew as a loud noise had just happened. After a few minutes, they trotted off and we gave high 5's. We then called Mom and asked her to bring the Ranger. I'm not sure why we did that, since we had a pickup at the top of the canyon, but I wanted her to be with us when we walked down to the elk.
|D2's first elk|
Mom arrived and we explained the situation. We all walked down to the fallen giant and admired it. Then I dropped the bombshell...."We're going to need lights and stuff..." I suppose I should've had her just bring them the first time, but the Ranger's easy to drive around so I didn't think it a big deal. Mom headed off for gear and D2 and I started butchering the elk. I have a little rule about "Don't shoot an elk past 2 pm" and we violated that rule big time and were now going to pay the price as it was getting dark, fast. Fortunately, we did have our own personal lights and before long we were cutting up elk in the pitch dark and falling temperatures. Eventually, lights appeared at the head of the canyon. Mom was back.
|D2 did most of the butchering himself since I was pretty much one-armed|
After she made her way down the rocky, trail-less canyon to us, we hatched a pack-out strategy. Normally, I'd bone out all the meat and pack just meat 'cause those elk bones are heavy, but given that the Ranger was just 0.2 mile away (300 yards!), I decided to tough it out and pack quarters in my most excellent Horn Hunter Full Curl pack. We loaded up a hind quarter, Mom took backstraps in another pack, and D2 threw a front quarter over his shoulder. After the other helped me stand up under my heavier than expected load, we started out in the pitch dark, trying to find a path of some sort through the rocks and brush.
Earlier, while at the elk, we'd talked about mountain lions (they've been spotted in these canyons several times). Because I had my hands full with my super heavy pack, I gave Mom my Bersa .380 pistol to carry "just in case". D2 was leading, with his headlamp lighting the way when he suddenly stopped and threw his rifle up. "Cat!", he whispered. The kid knows the difference between cat eyeshine and others and I believed him. "I think it's a bobcat", he said. We made sure and then proceeded onwards.
|Doing some "light exercise" in the dark|
At the last steep section to the Ranger, I couldn't get my feet off the ground so Mom pushed my pack up while I took a step. D2 went ahead to the Ranger and dropped off his load, then came back and got Mom's pack while she continued to help me. Eventually, we made it to the Ranger and downed appreciated bottles of water. While there, I said "Where's my pistol?" Mom slapped her pockets and came up blank. It was lost somewhere on the trail. I was not happy, but I did figure that I could come back during the day and find it, so we set off down the canyon again. This time, we took our time and did, in fact, find a trail of sorts. About halfway down, D2 stepped on something hard and metallic- my pistol! Yes! I was happy now.
Approaching the elk, we caught the eye shine again. The bobcat had moved down the canyon and was about 50 yards up the slope from our elk. Under the cover of darkness, he was totally unafraid of us so, just to give him (and any other cat in the area) a little warning, I fired a shot from my freshly-found pistol in his approximate direction. That sent him hustling and we watched him go up the canyon into some rocks and disappear.
Another staggering trip later, we had all the meat back at the truck and headed home. "Tired" doesn't even begin to describe me. I took a hot bubble bath and collapsed in bed. Sunday was church and on Monday, we we butchered the elk meat off the bones and cooked some up. There is nothing better than elk meat, let me tell you.
|L-R: Venison, pronghorn, elk burgers|
In '17, I've put in for archery elk and mule deer while D2 has put in for rifle bull and cow elk and mule deer. I want an archery big game animal and he wants a big bull elk and big mule deer and is willing to pass smaller ones up. Stay tuned!
(*) the term "wrathy" is one I've been using recently and it generates a lot of comments from people who've never heard it. It comes from this passage from "Bear Hunting in Tennessee" by Davy Crockett:
When my lead dog found him, and raised the yell, all the rest broke to him, but none of them entered his house until we got up. I encouraged my dogs, and they knowed me so well, that I could have made them seize the old serpent himself, with all his horns and heads, and cloven foot and ugliness into the bargain, if he would only have come to light, so that they could have seen him. They bulged in, and in an instant the bear followed them out, and I told my friend to shoot him, as he was mighty wrathy to kill a bear. He did so, and killed him prime. We carried him to our camp, by which time my son had returned; and after we got our dinners we packed up, and cut for the house of my old friend, whose name was Davidson.