Saturday, 3 November 2012

Elk Season (so far)

An exceptionally well outfitted jeep (not mine) that did not survive the elk season.

I hunted elk five days in October, by my accounting that's nearly 50 hours of hunting in total. Add another four days hunting deer and I managed to spend a lot of time in the field this past month.

There was a lot of good hunting in that time but the most eventful day for my elk season so far was Saturday October 27th.   We had about 4" of fresh snow on the ground that morning so all but the steepest roads were still passable for my Tacoma and the conditions were perfect for tracking.    I took the photo above of the jeep on its side on my drive into my hunting area.   I stopped to see if anyone was hurt but the occupant was gone.  Whoever it was, hope they are OK. This was an exceptionally well outfitted vehicle with excellent offroad tires, a winch, auxiliary lights, permanently mounted high-lift jack and Jerry cans for extra gas.

I got onto the track of two bulls around 10:30 AM and tracked them until I finally caught up with them at 2 PM.  There are so many moose tracks in the area that I occasionally convinced myself I was foolishly tracking a couple of moose, then I would regain my confidence that they were indeed elk.  According tot he GPS they'd gone a bit more than two miles by the time I caught up with them.  Just before I did catch up they'd changed their direction of travel.  I wondered why. I'd been following them in the same direction for more than an hour - essentially heading NNE following the contour of the land (at about 8500 ft) headed into the wind. Then they turned 90 degrees left heading WNW and downhill.  Soon I found myself in a sea of elk tracks. The bulls I was following had scented the cows long before I realized what they were up to and had merged with that herd.

A stand of lodgepole pines - looking for elk in the timber.
I was far from my truck at this point with lots of deadfall between me any road.  I reasoned that I could find a cow elk closer to a road later in the season and decided I would only shoot a bull this far in.  I was in a thick stand of lodgepole pines - each tree uniformly six to eight inches in diameter and standing about 25 feet tall.  Some were spaced as close two or three feet.  Moments after I'd made the decision to only pull the triger on a bull  I glassed an elk through the thick trees.  After glassing for elk and fully expecting to see one at any minute for more than three hours now it was exactly what I'd expected to see. Finally. His head was in profile through a small gap in the trees and I saw his large eye - looking at me.  He turned his head and I could see the base of his antlers.  I kneeled down and put the rifle on the shooting sticks and sighted him through the scope. He was aware that something was up -  but he did not know what and he was not sure which way to turn so he stood still. Elk feel secure in the deep timber.  And when they are with a noisy herd, a movement or sound is not as alarming as it might be to a lone animal.  On the other hand, eight elk have sixteen eyes and ears and eight noses the better to detect you with.

He was about seventy yards away - certainly less than a hundred and slightly downhill from me.  He was facing away from me - turned slightly to the left - more than quartering away but not straight away.   A raking shot to be sure, but I had most of the flank in sight through the narrow gap in the trees. I was not rushed. I took aim and pulled the trigger and fully expected to see him drop right where he stood.  No such luck - he ran off uphill. I was unconcerned until I got to the spot where he'd been and I found no blood.  I had been certain that he was, or would soon be lying dead.

Gaia GPS ap for an IPhone - a new addition to my hunting technology -  excellent.
After spending almost an hour searching for blood - moving back to the spot I'd shot from and down to where I had seen him -  I got back on his trail and started tracking him.  I could only believe that, even though I had a clear sight picture of him through the scope, the bullet must have hit a small branch. I'm shooting a pre-64 model 70 rifle rebarreled to 35 Whelen.  I'm shooting handloads: the bullet is a 250 gr Hornady Spire Point  in front of 54 gr of H4895 powder with a Federal GM210M primer in a R-P case.  These loads clock in at 2525 fps.  The Whelen is known as a brush bucking cartridge - but brush bucking may be more a matter of luck than anything else.  These trees have few if any low branches so I am still confused.  Another theory is that the bullet went in and did not exit (which it probably would not do at that angle) and he was mortally wounded but not bleeding. I've read that fatty tissue will sometimes close a wound. Since he had run uphill before angling off downhill toward the other elk who had run off down the ridge I was able to follow him.  No blood.  About a quarter of a mile later his tracked merged with the rest of the herd and he was lost to me.  I followed the herd for another quarter of a mile - further and further from the truck - before giving up.  A completely surprising and disappointing end to a nearly perfect elk hunt.

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I hunted again Sunday the 28th with more fresh snow and roads less passable than the day before. Early on I got a the very fresh tracks of a herd of cows and followed them for about a half a mile until they crossed into Colorado.  I followed them some more hoping they'd angle back into Wyoming but eventually I was not able to justify following them further.

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It turns out that there are still leftover licenses available for a nearby area that will allow me to kill a cow or calf elk until January 31st.  I'm going to take this weekend off and start again next weekend.


  1. Hard luck on the elk. I hit a moose last year and never recovered it. I will never forget it. I hope you keep posting your hunts. I have no tags this year but love hunting big game. I appreciate the meat. I would love to hunt elk some day.

  2. Maybe we can trade a caribou hunt for an elk hunt some time in the future. Nonresident WY elk tags are a bit pricey - they were $577 this year.