|Inuit whalebone carving of shaman.|
On the first afternoon out I hunted an area where I could shoot a bull or a cow. It meant driving further from home but bull elk are by far in the minority and having failed to kill a deer, I was after meat. After a long drive down a very bad dirt road, trying to get to the edge of the Platte River wilderness area, I was blocked by recently fallen trees. With the pine bark beetles killing the forest I carry a chainsaw in the truck in case a tree comes down behind me blocking my exit. I did not take the time to clear this one and hunted into the wilderness from where I was halted. I found plenty of mule deer and elk sign, including sign of a recent mountain lion kill. I was back to the truck by headlamp after dark, not having seen an animal.
|The Southwestern Naturalist 48(1):147-153. 2003|
I have driven up Hwy 230 more than a hundred times and have never seen an elk on the road there; as I went after him I could not help but think that he was mine, a kind of a gift. Leaving my binoculars and other gear in the truck was a big mistake. Elk tend to run until they feel they are safe, which is often not too far, and then will hide in thick cover. I had little chance of spotting him before he spotted me through the dense lodgepoles without my binoculars. I believe I would have killed him if I'd have had them. Another lesson learned.
* * *
After that hunt I thought my season was over. I studied the regulations and discovered that within a two hour drive there were two areas where cow elk (but not bulls) could be tagged until November 14th on a general elk license. The open areas were above Encampment WY on the north side of the Battle Mountain highway and over the continental divide toward Baggs WY. I was not able to get away until the second weekend in November, the last weekend.
Above Encampment there was lots of of snow, I was a bit worried about the forest service road but it was passable, with 4-wheel drive and good tires. Right at the turn-in I cut some fresh tracks and I geared up and started to follow them. It was 7:20 AM. Before long I was following an animal that was bleeding -- intermittently but heavily at times. It had bedded down more than once and there were pools of blood at the beds, though as I followed, there seemed to be less blood. The animal had large tracks so I was worried that it was a bull (which I could not shoot), or even a moose. After less than a mile I jumped her. I could not tell for sure if it was a cow or bull because I only saw the butt before she crashed off into thick timber. I did not get a shot.
This happened two more times before she crossed the forest service road. She would wander into an old overgrown clearcut and bed down, even thought I was never far behind. There was no way for me to be quiet on my approach in those dense places and she'd hear me and crash off before I could even see her. I followed her tracks to the road and there was truck idling there, she'd crossed, dropping some blood, and some guy had stopped and was following her on the other side of the road -- just to see what was up. He was cutting firewood having killed a cow the night before. He drove me back to my truck so I could move it down the road (maybe 3/4 mile) before following her again.
I moved the truck down to the new crossing point and took off after her again. I bumped her out of thick cover again almost right away and did so too more times in the next mile an a half. At one point, in the heavy cover of an old clearcut, she was very close and she grunted threateningly at me before crashing off. She did it again about a quarter of a mile further along and I ran forward and as she ran off I took a hail Mary shot through the thick trees. I knew she was already wounded in some way and I was getting worried about how I was going to get her out since now I was far from the truck. I was shooting 250 grain round-nose bullets out of the 35 Whelen at around 2500 fps; a brush bucker if there is one. I had followed her more than a mile from the truck, closer to two, and I did not have my GPS so, aside from the fact that I knew the road was somewhere southwest of me, the only true way I knew to get back to my truck was to follow my tracks. It was snowing so I was worried my tracks would disappear. At the first shot she stopped, then started wobbling forward -- I ran forward and I could see her clearly this time -- and at the second shot she went down. I hit her in the heart. It was 10:15 AM, just about three hours after I'd started tracking her. The blood I'd been seeing was from her left rear leg which was shattered and hanging free just below the hock joint. I have no idea how she kept in front of me for three miles, maybe four, we'd made wide detours from the road.
|Cow elk: I tracked her for about 4 miles.|
They said "About eighty-five yards, just follow our tracks."
This was luck beyond belief. I gralloched her and hiked back out to get my truck and my dog. I pulled in my orange toboggan in and carried the game bags. It took two trips to get her out. By 3:30 I was on my way home. I stopped in Encampment, an otherwise deserted town, at the surprisingly stylish Chez Booze and picked up a bottle of Jameson.
I took a chance by following up a wounded animal. There was no telling if she'd been gut shot or how much meat might have been ruined. Nichola Fletcher warns that the meat from a stressed animal may be inedible and certainly will not be as good as the meat from an animal that has been dispatched quickly. But I did feel good about taking an animal that would not have survived the winter. The meat was hung for a week before I butchered it. For a change, I had near perfect temperatures, freezing at night and up into the low 40's during the day. It has proved to be excellent.