Last Saturday, Mom and Aunt Jeanne graciously offered to watch the kids so that Clint and I could go elk hunting. I really was hoping to harvest something and had decided that if the opportunity arose, I would definitely shoot a cow elk so that at least we would have some meat. We were up and on our way super early. It had snowed for about the last 24 hours and the temperature was hovering in the single digits so we were hoping the elk would be up and moving around.
When we were about 10 miles from the trailhead on the gravel road, we came upon a gentleman who had lost his 4 wheel drive and was stuck on a hill. He asked us to pull him out of the ditch so he could turn around and park his truck. Of course we assisted him and were able to pull his truck free. He was also headed out to go elk hunting and was very disappointed that he would not be able to go. We offered for him to get in with us if he would like... he seemed like a nice guy and we were headed in that direction... He declined but asked us where we were headed. We told him, and he said we might find some elk in that area, but then told us where he had been headed. He said that his friends were finding elk in Willow Creek and that is where we should go. Thanking him for the info, we left. Chatting about our options, we decided to follow his advice and head to Willow Creek.
It was just getting light when we were pulling over the ridge into Willow Creek. Clint (my rockin' awesome hubby!) spotted two elk in a clearing and as we got closer we started seeing several other elk, including one large herd of cows. Of course, where you find elk, you find people! There were already hunters on the large herd of cows, so we headed on a little further. Stopping to talk to some other hunters, they pointed out 3 bulls that they had been watching from the road. They only had a cow permit, so they couldn't hunt them. Getting excited Clint and I pulled forward to make our plan. The bulls were about 460 yards from the road at one point. Obviously, that is too far for me to shoot, so we saw two options. I could get out of the truck and try to crawl closer, or we could go around, drop out of sight and come around them on top of the neighboring ridge. I told Clint that I thought it might work better to go around. The elk were watching us and would be able to see me get out and start crawling... perhaps they wouldn't run, but I thought it might be better to try the other route.
Of course I ended up kicking myself later... it was so cold and there was 6-8 inches of snow that was SUPER SQUEAKY! There was only a light wind, so every step was super loud. No matter how quietly we tried to walk we were announcing our location to the whole world! The 3 bulls were smart enough that they turned around and headed in the other direction.
Clint had been carefully watching another herd of cows that had come over the ridge and had formulated a "plan b" for us. (Have I mentioned my husband rocks!) They were slowly making their way towards us and if we headed up the ridge we might be in a good spot to intercept them. As we slowly peeked over a ridge we realized that they had bedded down in a perfect spot... for them! They were really spread out and all facing in our direction. Staying behind some pine trees we watched and waited to decide what we wanted to do. A little later, we spotted 2 hunters on the ridge across from us in a different direction. So, essentially the elk had hunters on both sides of them, and they were bedded in the middle. We thought perhaps the other hunters might push them towards us so we waited to see but then we decided they were probably waiting for us to do the same thing cause they weren't moving!
After about an hour or an hour and a half of standing in the cold. (it was really cold!) We decided that we needed to make a move, so we dropped back out of sight and headed up the ridge. Once we had gained a little elevation, we were stuck at about 500 yards from the elk. So, we started crawling from one dead fall to the next. Staying in the cover, we were slowly working our way towards them when I spotted one laying closer, which happened to be a bull. I pointed him out to Clint and we ranged him at 306 yards. Since that is in my range, I took the lead and crawled forward to try and get a shot. He was bedded in some brush and I couldn't get a clear shot from that angle, so I had to crawl to a different log. Staying low, I shimmied up to the log. I had to keep moving until finally Clint helped me find an angle that gave me a clear shot at his vitals. Then it took me FOREVER to make the shot. A lot can go wrong in 300 yards and I have so much respect for the animals we harvest, that I wanted to be sure I did everything I could to make it right. So, after finding a rest on the log, using my pack to help prop myself up and calming myself down, I touched off a shot.
He stood up at that point and we could see that the off shoulder was broken. He turned around and faced the other direction and Clint told me to shoot again since he wasn't down. I actually ended up putting 5 rounds in him before his legs started giving out and he went down. I must say I am proud of myself. All 5 rounds were in a decent spot, but a little higher than they should have been. For 300 yards you have to consider the drop of the bullet and I should have held a little lower, but it all ended up just fine. We just aren't used to such great big critters!
In this picture you can just see him laying on the other ridge.
We were stoked! Clint was so patient with me while I took my time to make the shot. I don't think either of us had any idea how big he truly was! We were just thrilled to be successful! Here I am after he went down.
After some "high fives" and some pictures we started gathering up my gear and hiking towards our critter. All the sudden we hear the other hunters shoot. At first we thought they were shooting at another elk that was in the timber or something. But then I see one guy take off running towards my bull. I tell Clint, "they are going towards my elk". He replies "no, they wouldn't do that". But then we realize that is exactly what they are doing. So we take off running too. There was a really sharp incline right below our elk and just as we get to the bottom of that we hear another shot. Clint starts yelling for them to quit shooting and gets to the elk before me. As I get there I hear the guy say "my dad just shot this elk". Clint tells him that I shot the elk way before his dad did. (sometimes even when an animal goes down, it can still take a little while to expire... he wasn't going anywhere but wasn't 100 % dead, so the guy shot him in the back of the head...) This guy introduces himself to us and says, "well, lets see if there is more than one round in it. If there is, it's your elk because obviously you did shoot it first." I am close to tears... I am thinking that we are going to get totally skunked and not even get any meat, because some guy wanted a bull elk. Just about then the dad walks up and doesn't seem nearly as nice as the son. He is assuring us he "shot the elk when he was bedded down" and we are telling him, "he was bedded down because I had already shot him". The son explains that we will look for other rounds and if we find them, then it's my elk. If we don't then it's theirs. When he asks if his dad thinks that is fair his dad says "well, it depends on what we find".
Fortunately, we find two shots in the shoulder on one side, one was his, and one was mine. (there were actually 3, but we only could pick out 2 right then.) Then we rolled him over and there were 3 entrances on that side. (none of my shots exited.) Fortunately, the man looks at me at that point and says "enjoy your elk". They then told us that he had shot 31 elk and this would have been his biggest. Apparently he had been watching this bull for hours and he tried to shoot it twice but his bolt had frozen up. I can say in all honestly, no matter what they think, our intent was not malicious. We waited to see what those guys were doing when we first spotted them, and when they didn't make a move, we decided we needed to before something else happened. I am honored to have harvested such an amazing old warrior of a an elk. He is a beautiful bull and I don't know that I will ever take another in his class. I can also say in all honesty, I couldn't have done it without my husband. He is the one who watched this herd while I was focused on the other 3 bulls, and I think we make one heck of a team. His aggressive approach and my "let's wait and be patient" approach seem to balance each other and it worked out amazingly well for this trip.
Here are some photos of the beautiful elk that we harvested.
Of course, then the work began. We had him on the ground at about noon. We had to hike out and get the meat packs, and then it took us 3 trips to get him out. It was only about 1.5 miles one way, but that was plenty far! Since we knew it was going to get dark, we took everything halfway out through most of the dead fall and steep terrain and then ferried it the rest of the way.
|Packing out a hindquarter|
Clint carried the head and cape for the first half... Then when we went back to take it the rest of they way, I decided I wanted to finish the job!
I am still excited about our success that day!