Saturday, 18 January 2014


Every year since I started hunting I have tried to get an elk with no luck. This year I put in for a cow tag north of Steamboat Springs in a unit that includes the Zirkel Wilderness. It is a pretty remote area with low hunting pressure and supposedly a lot of elk. 

Over the last couple years I have decided that camping while hunting sucks. So myself, Lani, and our friends Travis and Julie rented a US Forest Service cabin for a few nights. The Cabin was sweet- propane fridge, heaters and lights, and it was right at a trailhead. 

We got in the night before opening day and headed out at first light. Travis had done some scouting the day before but had not seen any tracks so we kind of winged it, setting up at two different points along a meadow on the edge of a river. The area seemed decent, with some large burns mixed in with patches of aspen and pine.

However, we did not see shit and as my patience for hunting from a seated position only lasts about 30 minutes, we split up, heading up different parts of a ridge that runs through part of the unit. There was good snow cover so my plan was to walk until I saw some sign and try to look for a good place to set up in the evening or the next morning. I saw some older tracks here and there but nothing much until I got to the top of the ridge where there were tracks that looked to be from within the last day or so. I followed these for a couple miles along the ridge when they started descending down into a steep canyon and crossing with a bunch of other elk.

Once I was on the slope of the canyon the snow disappeared so I sat down to rest for a while. In about 2 minutes I heard a long bugle. This was mid October so I was pretty certain this was not an elk and figured it was another hunter trying his luck with calling something in so I did not get too excited at first. About 5 minutes later I heard the bugle again and decided to scan the slopes of the canyon. The opposite side was burned, which afforded a clear view. I quickly saw a group of 8 or so cows with one bull coming down into the bottom. They were about 800 m from me so I dropped my pack and started moving towards them. There was no wind and the terrain was rugged enough that I could dip down behind small ridges and get out of view for most of the time that I was moving towards them. I could get glimpses of the group from time to time and they were steadily making there way up my side of the canyon. After ducking behind a particularly deep ridge for 5-10 minutes I came out around 300 yards away and at even elevation with the group. I was breathing hard so laid down for a couple minutes while they just sat there eating. There was one cow that was separate from the group and offering almost a perfect broadside shot. I aimed right on the middle of the shoulder to make sure I hit something (I was breathing pretty hard and so was not confident in my shot). I shot and saw immediately that I hit it- she jumped up and took off running hard downhill (thankfully). The rest of the group just sat there staring and I was kicking myself for not having bought a bull tag (though only briefly when I looked around at the terrain and it dawned on me that there probably had not been a hunter stupid enough to shoot an elk in this spot for quite some time). I ran over to the last spot I saw the elk and started walking downhill- finding the carcass quickly.

I had missed left and gone right through heart and lungs, completely missing any shoulder meat. At this point it was around noon and I was able to get in touch with Lani and the rest of the group to get them to start making their way towards me, though they would end up taking a good 3-4 hours to get to me. I felt pretty confident in my ability to dress an animal, but had never tried to deal with something of this size by myself, while standing on a 45 degree slope.

It took me well over an hour to gut the elk. I had forgotten rope to tie the legs to trees and so I had to straddle it, holding the legs apart with my head and one foot while I made cuts. When I moved too much the carcass would start sliding downhill, and it almost rolled over on me a couple of times. I eventually got it done but was fucking exhausted and was quickly coming to the realization of what I had gotten myself into. I also was thinking back to the times when I and Jesse or Aaron had been in areas even further from the road and had not killed an elk and was retrospectively very thankful. After gutting it I got 3 quarters taken care of before the rest of the group got there. I brought them individually down to the bottom of the canyon (the route out led through the bottom of the canyon). Once everyone got there I figured the rest would go quickly.. 

Travis and I finished cutting out the meat as the sun was setting


Travis being deliriously happy about the size of the backstrap 

 We loaded up as it was getting dark- Travis and I alternated a pack with a rear quarter and a front quarter which probably weighed close to 150 lbs. and one with only a rear quarter. Lani took a front quarter. Julie (Travis' wife) took the grind meat, backstraps and tenderloin which weighed about as much as a front quarter.

The hike out was brutal. It was around 3 miles but the first 1.5 miles was through the bottom of the canyon, which alternated between deadfall and lakes which forced us to have to hike up the side of the canyon half the time. We would walk 100 m and then stop for 5 minutes. We were all in rough shape by the time we got out of the canyon but in high spirits nonetheless.

We got back to the cabin at 10:30 for a total time from the shot to when we got back of 10 hours.
We had the cabin for the next two nights so we got wasted, then got up and atea pound of bacon, tenderloins, and drank all day.

Ultimately this trip put a lot in perspective: 

(1) I had always taken the approach of going as far off trail as possible when elk hunting. While that worked this time, I think I might not do that for a couple more years. 

(2) I should not hunt elk alone. I would probably be out there still if I had done that. 

(3) I am really glad I did not shoot an elk in many of the places I had hunted them in Alberta. I am pretty sure there is a time Aaron and I were hunting 10 km from camp, and if we were to have killed an elk there it might have ended our friendship. 

(3) Having a truck is badass

(5) Busch makes blaze orange cans during hunting season.