The following post is pretty long to say the least.
I had a couple of folks PM me about how the elk hunt went. So, I thought I would post this in case there are any hunters out there that maybe interested in a hunting story. This was my first elk hunt.
Let my start by saying this – This was a public land "non-guided" back country elk hunt and by far the most physically demanding thing I've ever done in my life. I'm 52 years old and have lived some of my earlier years on the edge so to speak...my wife and family said I use to be an adrenaline junkie. But, with that said, If you ever have any interest in this type of experience and get the chance…do it!
As I indicated in the original post, I was drawn for an elk hunt in WY for 2016. The area we hunted was GMU38 in the Big Horn Mountains. What a spectacular place!
There were 3 of us hunting. We had drawn cow tags. We punched two of three tags…that is pretty good.
It was an incredible experience to say the least. Elk are amazing animals. To start with they are HUGE. The two cows we took were likely over 500lbs each. The bulls are enormous. That is not an exaggeration! Around 900 to 1000lbs. Their racks are insane! Some can be 5’ plus wide and reach up 8’ plus off the ground. Elk in the wild, in rugged terrain, that have to deal with all sorts of conditions (i.e. weather, predators, etc.) are massive, strong and OMG so incredibly fast. I had no idea how FAST they could run or how HIGH they could jump. They can run/jump up a mountain side like we walk around the house....effortlessly. It is impressive. I've seen elk in eastern KY, in CO at Estes park and in Yellowstone, but nothing like what I saw here.
The big bulls bugling is an awesome thing. I've heard it on TV and from a distance before...but when you’re 20 yards from a big bull bugling it will literally raise the hair on your neck and arms. The challenge bugles end with a loud vibrating, guttural sound. Like standing in front of a big subwoofer. It is a haunting, almost prehistoric sound. (I know all this sounds like I'm embellishing or exaggerating but I promise you, I'm not)
We experienced all types of weather. From thunderstorms to snow storms. We had to move our first base camp because of the snow storm. The first area was heavy timber in steep terrain at 10,000 feet. In this area you glass from open ridge tops, then basically walk through the woods looking for tracks and elk poop and watching for movement. I thought that was really tough hunting... OH, was I wrong...
The snow storms push the elk down to lower elevations (still 6000+ feet). So, we moved to a place on the other side (Montana side) of the mountain range. The first thing we saw when we got into this area was a herd of 100+ elk up on the side of the mountain.
Sounds good right??? Well not exactly. Yes, now you know roughly where they are, but now you have a 100+ pairs of eyes that can see you from 1000+ yards away. They have an incredible sense of smell and hearing. Now all those noses and ears can smell you and hear you too. The hunt essentially replicates a pack of wolves...divide and conquer. We (the 3 of us) split up and work the wind. Allowing them to see, hear and smell you from time to time to move them around while the other two guys get in position to try and get a shot. It is a long physically demanding process to say the least. Not to mention trying not to get shot or shoot each other. The morning after we moved, we got out there a little past 4am. It is a 1.2 mile walk just to get to a 450' ravine. This ravine is not even passable by horseback. To be honest, we probably should not have crossed this ravine (but adrenaline got the best of us and we did...lol). Even without any gear much less 25lbs packs and carrying rifles. Anyway, once you climb down into the ravine and back up the other side (takes an hour or so to cross this area) then your at the base of a 1500' ridge/saddle/mountain. It's relatively open at the bottom and dark timber about 3/4 of the way up. Guess where the elk are??? You got it...up at the edge of the dark timber. As soon as they see, hear or wind us they move into the timber. Now, you have to go get them...
They had moved to the top of the ridge and started down the back. And, had started to split up a little. Probably 7 or 8 smaller herds now. That's good.
At one point I managed to work my way right into the middle of the herds. I had big bulls bugling all around me. One was less than 15 yards from me. It was awesome! But, you can’t really see them. Think of a Christmas tree farm full of 10' to 12' tall bushy pine trees all around you...
Anyway, we work and work and finally get a cow down. Sweet! Time to process and de-bone the elk meat. Now, somehow you have to get more than 150 plus pounds of meat back to camp. Guess how you do that…Yep, that's right...haul it on our 3 backs. Do the math... it's heavy!
So after we are loaded we have about a mile and a half to 2 miles to get back to the ravine, cross the ravine and another mile plus down to base camp.
Guess what happens on the way back? We get in good position on another herd...work them and kill another cow... It was really interesting how this went down. Evidently, because we were all covered in elk blood and elk meat it totally masked the human scent. So the elk would look at us but couldn’t really smell the human scent. So they were not nearly as unnerved by us. We got within about 80yards of the heard when we took the shot.
We process the second one but we are already loaded with the elk from the first kill. At this point it’s about 6:00 pm. The sun goes down around 7.
We pack the boned-out elk meat from the second kill into great big trash bags and carry it about 20 yards from the gut pile and remaining carcass. We cover our meat with spruce branches, sage brush and then all of us urinate on the ground all around the good meat to disguise the raw meat scent. The intent here is to get the scavengers focused on the gut pile and leave our meat alone.
We leave the meat from the second elk up on the ridge line. Evidently it worked! Because it was still there when we came back to get it.
As I said, at this point it’s 6ish and getting dark. So not only are we each packing 50lbs of elk meat, gear and rifles down and up through a ravine we probably shouldn't have been going through to begin with, it's now dark.
We are literally slowly sliding down the hill on our rear ends watching to make sure none of us go over 30' to 50' drops. We make it down…now it's time to go up.
To try and shorten this up some - the gist of the “going up” part of the story is that you never ever want to stand up straight…if you do, any loss of balance and the weight will pull you over backwards...and that will not end well... (I’ve attached a pic of me coming up the ravine the next day) Essentially you are leaning forward all the time, several times on all fours climbing up rock ledges. This takes us about 4 hours. We would walk/climb 10' or so and stop to rest. You do this ALL the way up. Thank goodness for those headlights on your head and good batteries... Oh! And I forgot to mention the wolves are howling and coyotes yapping while you're carrying this 50lbs of raw elk meat on your back...
We finally got out and unloaded about 10ish. I had 2 granola bars and one package of peanut butter crackers that day... I was to tired to eat. We all 3 laid down without eating and slept.
We get up about 5am and had to go back in to do it again.
On the way back in I had an opportunity to take a shot at another cow. But we collectively agreed that we weren’t sure we could have gotten it out because of our fatigue...so I didn’t take the shot. Instead we just went up and carried the elk meat out and called it a day around 1:30 pm.
There are many other details and interesting things that happened ( like being within 50 yards of a stampeding herd of elk after we shot the first one...WOW! That was intense!) but this post would be twice this long...
Needless to say, it was quite the experience.
Would I do it again??? I don't know... Not anytime soon. It was so physically demanding that I will have to allow my body some time for certain memories to fade...lol But, I am so glad to have had this opportunity. And, survived it with no more than some cuts, bruises and a sore back.
The picture below shows me (in the yellow circle) coming out of the ravine.
The pink line sort of indicates where he top of the ravine is on the other side. The dark area in the bottom is where it gets really steep. It's about 100 feet or so down into that dark area to a creek at the bottom.
If you look really close in the dark area you can see some tree tops at the bottom. Those are the tops of 60 an 7o foot trees...
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