2019 Elk hunt

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elkslayer

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2019 was a tough season. After not killing an elk in 2018 the freezer was only sustained because of remaining moose meat and some charity elk meat from a friend. By the time September came the freezer was nearly bare. My partner and I decided to try a new area during archery season and I insisted it be an area that had a late season muzzleloader as backup. Over the course of our 8-day archery hunt I had several opportunities included 2 missed shots. My partner killed a small bull on the second day, so we did enjoy that success. After it was over I looked forward to the late antlerless season with a muzzleloader.

My partner was unable to make the trip with me so I had to go alone. I had 3 days to make it happen with snow and low visibility in the forecast. The first day was fogged in and snowing so I went to the head of a canyon where I thought elk might hold during the storm. I found a few tracks and soon spotted a spike at 80 yards. He got a mandatory pass and I spent the rest of the day searching for more elk to no avail.

Day 2 began with much better glassing conditions and I spotted a small group of cows a few miles away. I didn't immediately go after them because from my location I would have had to walk in the open for 1.5 miles just to get to the base of the mountain they were feeding on. My lack of knowledge of the terrain and the complete lack of cover on the mountain also had me doubting my odds of success. I drove and checked a few other spots before returning to make an attempt on the elk. Long story short I relocated them but never got in range. Intermittent fog and powder snow made glassing and tracking difficult and they got away.

Day 3 began with the best visibility yet. I had heard from other hunters where they had seen groups of cows so I went to check a new spot. Finally at 9 AM I spotted a big herd of about 100 elk high up on the mountain. On my map I saw that if I drove around to the north side of the ridge I would have less elevation gain for my hike, I would also have a better approach from the thick trees on the north side of the ridge. This also meant that I would not be able to keep an eye on the elk and they could wander off before I got there.

The climb was not very far but it was steep, an hour and a half later I was 1,400 above my truck and beginning to creep over the ridge top expecting to bump into the herd at any moment. When I spotted the first elk the main herd was on the next finger ridge but there were a couple that were much closer. I decided to go for the main herd but soon discovered that they were bedded down on a grassy finger ridge more than 200 yards from the nearest tree. It would be difficult to use terrain to hide my approach because the elk would be spread out on both sides of the finger.

I decided to turn back and try to intercept the cows that were feeding closer on my ridge. As I crept around the point of the ridge the fog began to set in. I couldn't believe my bad luck, eventually visibility was reduced to 40 yards. I crept further than I knew I should trying to spot the elk, then I noticed the fog beginning to lift. I crouched done and soon found that I was fully exposed to the main herd bedded only 250 yards away. Whatever elk had been closer must have rejoined the herd and now I couldn't move without blowing out the herd. I tried to stay as still as possible while waiting for the fog to return and cover my retreat so I could circle back and try a different approach. It took forever and the fog must not have been thick enough because 30 minutes later after backing out and circling around I got in range of where the herd should have been and they were gone. Judging by the tracks about half of the herd went over the north side of the ridge into the thick timber. I liked the idea of following them and trying to get a shot. If it worked I would kill the elk on the same side of the ridge as the truck and with the snow I might even be able to drag the whole thing down the hill. Still the trees were thick and covered in snow, I knew I would get constantly covered in snow and sneaking up quietly on an alert herd would be tough. The fog was in and out and during a clear period I spotted the other half of the herd just a 1/4 mile away down the main ridge.

I dropped into the trees and began a stalk. Most of the herd was again bedded out in the open but a smaller group of cows was feeding near the treeline. When I slowly emerged from the trees the closest elk were a cow and spike, 80 yards away. The spike was fully exposed but a small cornice of snow obstructed the cow. I could only see the top 8 inches of her back. I didn't want to try that shot, especially offhand. I knew that I would have had to hit the lower third of what I could see to even have a chance of hitting enough of her lungs or to hit the spine. I tried to move up 10 yards further to the last tree. In the course of that move the spike spotted me after a short stare down he decided to leave and take everyone with him. The herd ran into the trees, splitting into smaller groups and leaving a mess of tracks to figure out.

I waited 30 minutes or so and studied the different paths before pursuing. It was 1:30 PM at this point and tracking down one of the groups was my only hope to salvage the hunt. I chose the highest set of tracks and started slowly after them. 30 minutes into the track I spotted foreheads and ears escaping down a rocky knob. I circled downhill to cut them off but they had all passed through before I got there. I glanced down into the trees and saw several elk still milling around. They saw me and began to leave single file through a 8 foot wide gap maybe 70 yards away. I lifted the rifle and the first cow passed through too quickly, I tried to hold and wait for the next cow but she lingered too long and I relaxed the rifle. She must have known that was her signal because she started through the opening. She made it through before I could get sighted in on her. My frustration at screwing up my previous opportunities and the fear of seeing the remainder of my hope filtering off through the trees was getting to me. I was determined to shoot the next elk that walked through and I would just have to hold the rifle steady until it did. I didn't have to wait long for the next elk. It passed through at a fast walk and I pulled the trigger. I reloaded as quickly as I could and through the clearing smoke I could see elk were still standing around. I didn't hear a hit but that doesn't mean a miss so I looked intently for a dead or wounded elk. I saw one that was floundering but soon they all scattered. I found blood and took up the trail. 40 yards later I found a bedded elk and put a finishing shot in its head. It turned out to be a calf and my first shot was too far back to be immediately lethal. Thankfully he didn't go far before bedding down and the second shot put an end to it. I was a little disappointed after all that effort to have only killed a calf but elk meat is elk meat.

I was on the south side of the main ridge and my truck was on the north side. Normally I would quarter an elk and hang it, then pack it out in pieces but this was a small elk and I wanted to get the elk out that night so I could drive home the next day so I gutted the elk and then dragged in down the mountain to what looked like a 4-wheeler trail on the map. After a mile of dragging (the hill was plenty steep and there was a plenty of snow) I had reached a point where I could get the truck. At this point I had another choice. I could hike back up and over the ridge to my truck, the shortest path and one that would require a 1,000 foot climb and descent over the course of 3.5 miles or I could walk out the bottom of the canyon I was in and get to the county road and hopefully hitch a ride to my truck. I knew that the road saw traffic during the day but it is remote enough that after dark there is almost no traffic. To my eternal regret I decided to walk out to the road and hope for the best. I mostly did this because I wasn't looking forward to stumbling and slipping down the steep north face in the snow and dark. I judged that I would reach the road in 4 miles. 4 miles later I arrived at the road 30 minutes after dark. I began walking toward the truck hoping to see headlights. Long story short, no cars or trucks came during my 4 mile walk on the road. I was pretty exhausted when I turned onto the Forest Service road for the last 2 miles to my truck. Once there however it was a quick drive back to the elk which I had quartered before I left it so I could load it directly into the coolers. DSCF6964.JPG
 

elkslayer

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I forgot to mention this was my first elk with a muzzleloader. I have previously killed a few deer and a bear with this rifle but this was the first time I attempted an elk hunt with a muzzleloader. .535 caliber patched round ball, 100 grains of 2F swiss black powder.
 

BIGBEAR

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Congratulations on your muzzle loader elk ..well done
Thanks for your report , I enjoyed the story..
 

Walkingeagle

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Very nice!!
It is somewhat gratifying to have success after a lot of work, isn’t it. Congrats on your first ml elk, I too found that this year with my first. Be proud, you deserve it. I sure was.
Walk
 

Christophero

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You are a determined hunter. Good for you and enjoy the tender meat. Congratulations on the success.
 

Britsmoothy

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That was certainly hard work and you deserve every morsel.
Well done you :cool:
 

hanshi

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Great story, elkslayer. I know that was a thrill getting your elk with a BP frontloader. Congratulations on a great hunt!
 

30coupe

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Sweet! Congrats! Not just elk meat, but very tender elk meat! I'm tired just reading about that walk though, lol!
 

azmntman

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Excellent my friend! Do NOT sweat the calf....I have tried to educate many friends the past 45 years. A trophy elk is an elk in the freezer! You got a trophy. AND....my second favorite part.....they be mucho easier to get loaded in the truck (trunk one year:rolleyes:). My favorite part.....They are the best meat available IMHO. A small bull eats like nothin else.

I skunked out again this year but my son , who don't like BP very much, killed a sweet calf the last 2 min of season at a water hole. I was at another hole a few miles away and heard him shoot and just started packing faster and faster and sure enough the cell rang! He needed that.

Congrats!!:thumb:
 

Walkingeagle

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I chirped an antlerless elk into 12 yards and shot it under a draw tag, then walked up and discovered that it was a calf. Given the choice I wouldn’t repeat on purpose as there just isn’t much meat, but what is there is excellent table fare for sure!
 

ebutch

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Congratulations! Nicely done and putting meat in the freezer is always a plus!
 

jrmflintlock

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Tsaan Wookkuh elkslayer!!!

That definitely sounds like quite the haul! But that is elk hunting, especially late season! I’ve taken several calf elk, when they present themselves without a full grown elk for comparison it’s very hard to tell. But as you know, there is not much better table fare!!

Thanks for sharing!!
 

Critter Getter

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That was a fun story to read and you earned every right to be proud of your hunt. Good job and a big congrats!! Greg :)
 

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