“We’d better go easy on the stories, or he will think we have to brush the elk off our sleeves like mosquitos!” quipped John, the experienced hunter in our party. We had been telling “war stories” at lunch and nearly made elk hunting sound simple. It was two days before the season opener, and a new hunter had joined our party by virtue of marrying into the family.
If we only had known how close to the truth John’s prediction was…
Our young hunter had experienced some hunting in that far away land most of us can only dream of- Alaska. His previous hunts had consisted of caribou and moose and while he had not harvested a big game animal, he had gained a lot of experience. Some of this experience consisted of properly sighting in his rifle, picking the right load for his new 30-06, and packing equipment in and out of the wilderness. Being an enthusiastic guy, Brandon had prepared himself physically and mentally. He had read about elk hunting, talked to other hunters, and studied elk behavior. He invested time, energy, money, and physical effort in preparing himself.
The night before the opener a storm blew in and began to blanket the high country with snow, setting the stage for a great opening day.
Our hunting party almost always assembles a plan of some sort the evening prior to the day’s hunt. This doesn’t mean plans cannot be changed, but it does help everyone plan for their part in the day’s hunt. Details such as clothing requirements (will I wear my
heavy boots for snow, or my hiking boots for mobility?) and possibly carrying a different rifle (an open sighted lever action for a timber hunt) all can figure into your plan for the day.
Brandon had chosen a steep, abandoned jeep road that tilts down into a heavily forested pocket of aspen trees and natural benches. The previous scouting trip had spooked a cow elk and her calf out of this pocket, and so this seemed a promising start. His new bride was to accompany him and help sweep out the pocket in search of elk. Both of them carried new rifles, and were eager for some action.
On opening morning, our alarm clocks woke us after too little sleep and too many elk dreams. The snow swirling outside the cabin encouraged some in our party, and made others shiver. The hour drive up the mountain had everyone in a good mood despite having to chain up our 4 wheel drive pickup along the final stretch of road.
Arriving a bit later than expected, the newlywed couple saddled up with daypacks and rifles, gloves and stocking hats. Their trip immediately plunged them over the steep rim of the aspen pocket as they disappeared into the blowing snow. Their guide had deposited them in time for his hunt to begin at a point along the same road, but in an entirely different section of forest. As he climbed above the open benches, the snow increased, dropping visibility and the temperature as the wind picked up. Winter had arrived in Colorado.
Within 90 minutes, the guide felt a buzzing in his daypack and checked his cell phone. On it was a series of excited and somewhat hard to follow text messages telling the short story of Brandon killing a 6×6 bull! The guide assured the couple that he would meet them on a lower road after they had field dressed the bull. This was met with a plea for help in field dressing the elk, and so began a long, but satisfying day of elk recovery.
After reaching his pickup, the guide unloaded his rifle, and climbed inside to escape the blowing snow. He began the careful descent into lower elevations and after an hour of driving, met the smiling couple at a point not far from the cabin. While heading up a different trail to gain access to the elk, the details emerged, which made killing an elk seem easy. Evidently, after emerging into a nice open park, the new bride had spotted the bull feeding nearby. Being selfless, she grabbed Brandon and pointed out the bull, deferring the shot to him.
Brandon had leveled the bull with one shot to the shoulder at 150 yards, offhand. All the range practice, equipment checks, and being in shape had helped him tag his first elk. When they reached the elk, the blizzard was in full force and effect, covering them at times with blowing snow. After struggling against the cold and wind, the elk was gutted and ready for transportation to the taxidermist and meat processor. Brandon had shot a nice 6×6 bull with symmetrical antlers and a beautiful, cream colored hide.
The taxidermist was contacted, and upon his advice, the elk was loaded whole into the pickup and delivered to the taxidermist in one piece. This would enable the taxidermist to cape the hide according to his wishes and get the cape into cold storage quickly. Following this, the elk was next transported to the shop of a family member nearby. Here, the bull was skinned and left to cool overnight. Delivery to the processor would occur at noon the following day.
The next day dawned cold and clear, with the lucky hunter now acting as driver for the other hunters whose tags remained unfilled.
Brandon was in great humor and provided the other hunters with entertainment and laughter. His willingness to help around camp and his untiring motivation brought a nice atmosphere to the 2011 hunting season.
That afternoon, Brandon delivered his bull to the meat processor and encountered a Colorado Division of Wildlife officer. Their exchange was pleasant, and Brandon was congratulated on his harvest.
A side note is due regarding our wildlife biologists and law enforcement officials in the various states and areas where we hunt. These folks work in jobs where salaries are low, and financial rewards are few. They work on behalf of you, the sportsman, and do so because they love the job and being outdoors. You will find them to be down to earth men and women, reasonable and decent. Much like a friendly cup of coffee with colleagues, chatting with our wildlife enforcement officers is an enlightening and pleasant experience. Following the wildlife laws and observing ethical standards will ensure an enjoyable time afield and chance meetings with wildlife agents will be calm rather than stressful and worrisome.
After the elk was processed, Brandon and his new bride generously offered all who had participated in their success a chance to consume some of the bounty. Once again, Brandon’s great attitude and thoughtful actions were appreciated by all. He will always be welcome in our hunting party, and in the future, maybe he can show everyone that “elk are easy”.