Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Elk Season: The Conclusion

Fresh snow, rifle, and pack.

As I mentioned I was going to do in a previous post  - I picked up a leftover cow/calf tag and continued hunting this past weekend on the northeast side of the Snowy Range. I hunted with an unnamed friend on Saturday who I'll call The Pirate and on Sunday we were joined by  Mr. Stone.

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Saturday, 10 November 2012: Overnight we'd had two to four inches of fresh snow and temperatures we predicted to drop all day going down into the single digits by nightfall.  As we got on I-80 West out of Laramie the warning sign blinked the message "NO LIGHT TRAILERS - WIND GUSTS 60 MPH+".  This was perfect.

There is no shortage of theories among elk hunters; some of them hold up to scrutiny bearing some relationship to reality and others are just  pipe dreams or wishful thinking. Theories abound as to whether the elk are up high or down low, and if so, why? One theory says that fresh snow, high wind and a significant cold front coming through will tend to push the elk down to lower elevation.  This is the one the Pirate and I were counting on.  How else can you put a positive spin on 60 MPH+ winds?  It's good weather for elk hunting,  that's how.

As we parked the truck at the Pirate's cabin he spotted an elk up a steep hillside in the open sage about three quarters of a mile away.  With my binoculars we could make out six elk. I thought to myself:  "This is just going to be too easy.  I'll be home by mid-afternoon."  We grabbed our rifles, threw on our packs, hopped on the 4-wheeler and headed toward the base of the open slope.  Last I saw them, the elk did not seem to mind the noise of the ATV.  We parked in the timber and carefully made our way on foot to the sage opening where we'd seen the elk not fifteen minutes earlier. They were, of course, gone but the tracks in the fresh snow were easy to follow.   We followed the tracks for two and a half miles before giving up near the top of a ridge with the wind blowing hard and snow falling.  The snow was much deeper up high which made walking a significant effort.  The creeks flow west off the slope we were on and we followed the ridge south to drop back down toward the truck in the next drainage over.

It was after 1 PM and by now and we were cold, tired, hungry and thirsty and a bit wet so we started to get sloppy.  In our rush to get to the elk in the early morning we'd failed to pack our lunches or even drinks. This was a lesson I thought I'd learned before - no matter how short you might think a hunt will be - take everything you would carry for a full day.

Because we were tired and thirsty we were anxious to get back down to the cabin - and so we were moving faster than we should have been, stumbling our way down the mountain.  I'd mostly given up glassing the timber ahead and of course, that's when we bumped a small herd of elk.  They saw us just about the time the Pirate saw them.  He hissed "Elk!" and I looked and saw them.  Nervously trying to fingure which way to run.  I quickly set up on my shooting sticks and though it was a far dicier shot than I like to take, I was willing. As the elk started to run I fixed my sights on an opening in the trees where I'd seen the others pass and as the last cow in the herd ran through, I pulled the trigger. I pulled and nothing happened.  My safety was on.  Exhausted and embarrassed I did not mention the safety to the pirate.

Blowing snow and blue skies on the drive out.

We got back to the cabin in a howling wind with temperatures in the teens and even after warming up, neither of us could bring ourselves to head out for a late-afternoon/evening hunt.  We drove back to town in a big blow.  If it was 10°F and the wind was blowing at 50 MPH,  the wind chill was -39°F (old method) or -17°F (new method). In any case it was brutally cold and a minute without gloves on left your hands hurting. This is weather that can cause frostbite, it is weather that can kill you.

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Sunday, 11 November 2012:  The Pirate's friend Mr. Stone joined us on Sunday. He and the Pirate had been hunting hard all season in the same area where we'd bumped elk the day before but they had never been so lucky.   The plan was that the Pirate and I would hunt together up one drainage and the quiet Mr. Stone would hunt alone up the next one to the south. We planned to meet up in a few hours at the top of the ridge.  It was still damn cold with high winds and it was practically unbearable riding in on the back of 4 Wheeler through the open country trying to get into the trees.

Almost as soon as we got into the timber we cut tracks.  A heard of five or six elk headed uphill.  We followed the tracks on foot.  About a half a mile in, as we neared the top of a steep slope, I just knew they'd be bedded down on the flat in the timber.  The Pirate and I separated a bit, me to the right, and moved up onto the flat.  We quietly stood and looked and listened when we were off the steep. Just like the day before, the Pirate hissed  "Elk!" and I turned toward him and saw them, about 60 yards away through the timber.  After the previous days shooting debacle I quickly got my sights on them, flipped off the safety and, just as they started to run, I pulled the trigger.  I did not see an elk fall and I felt I must have missed - for the second time this season.  I quickly headed toward the spot where they'd been.  There was no blood. I was sure I'd aimed high.

We tracked those elk for more than a mile before we gave up. We circled around and headed back to the 4 Wheeler and to the cabin for lunch.  Mr. Stone had also followed elk and jumped one off her bed but had not had a shot.

Cow elk down last Sunday - just at dusk.
For the afternoon hunt we drove up as high as we could get through the snow on the 4 Wheelers and hunted from there. The winds were still high, my legs were tired and I'd lost hope.  I really just wanted to call it a day.  The three of us split up and hunted uphill meeting on a rocky high point absurd winds ravaging the landscape. As I stood there I heard the honking of a flock of geese and I saw them for a moment through the blowing snow before they were blown away into the haze.  None of us had seen fresh tracks. As we hunted back down the Pirate and I dropped off a steep slope into dense timber and Mr. Stone hunted the contour.

Off that rim and down in the thick timber it suddenly got very quiet and there were elk tracks everywhere. There must have been 20 elk and possibly more in the herd we'd dropped into.  We hunted slowly downhill, separated by 50 feet or so, slowly and silently weaving our way through the trees, expecting to see them at any second.  Further and further down we went until we were well below the 4 Wheelers.  It was close to 3:30 PM and after a short consult,  we decided to hunt just a bit further.  And of course, that is when we saw them.  Determined not to repeat my earlier errors I clicked off the safety and took aim but did not shoot because the shot was not clear. And then they saw the Pirate who was below me  and the forest exploded with elk running in every direction.  A panicked cow tore up the steep gully, not more than 15 yards in front of me, I swung my rifle like a shotgun and pulled the trigger and she ran by.  She fell instantly onto a log sticking out of the side of the narrow ravine.  She wasn't going anywhere but I put a second bullet into her heart to finish her.  The first shot that had dropped her was a neck shot.

I gutted my elk and left her where she lay and walked out to the 4 Wheelers in the dark. From the cabin  we drove out to I-80 in a serious whiteout which forced us to stop frequently to wait for the wind to die down.

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Monday: 12 November 2012

Up at 5 AM again.  During a long elk season a work day, when I can sleep in until at least 6 AM, is almost a welcome reprieve.  This day I had a PhD prelim to attend.  It had been scheduled for months and I could not miss it.  The wind had died down and up on the mountain we were able to get the 4 Wheeler to the edge of the ravine where my elk had fallen.  We were able to use the winch to pull her up and out of the ravine and then were able to drag her all they way to my truck. We managed to load her whole into the back of my Toyota. 

Whole elk in the back of my truck.
Thanks to the Pirate and Mr. Stone for their help.


  1. Well done! You have meat because you toughed it out. Congrats!!


  2. Thanks Dan. I've spent all day today butchering - taking a break right now. I want to love this part of the process - but for me it's the least enjoyable part. Dog's happy though - lots of scraps!

  3. Butchering is very time consuming,but as with many things its best to do the job yourself.
    Enjoy the meat. I am thinking you will

  4. Love your blog! Congrats on the Elk, next year I hope to have the same luck. Just out of curiousity, are there any huns near laramie? Like north of town? I hear rumors there are some near torrington, but I seriously doubt it...

  5. Thanks. Don't know of huns near Laramie or Torrington. As far as I know - you gotta go north - Sheridan. Would love to hunt them sometime.

  6. They are easy to find if you know where to look!!! I might trade you some hun hunting for fly fishing lessons lol.

    Again thank you for your blog, I love reading it!

  7. Sure - make a comment with an email address and I will contact you.