20 November 2006

Dragging Elk and the Food Chain

It is a perverse joy, I suppose, but one reason I like hunting elk in remote areas far from roads is that you have to bust your ass to get the dead elk from the kill site to your truck. This can involve using a wheeled game cart along old logging roads, dragging elk or elk-on-sled through snow, and boning out meat to carry in a backpack.

This year, I killed my elk up a little valley along the Continental Divide from where I was parked--and easy 2-mile drag through a fairly open and gently sloping downhill valley. Better yet, there was 6 or 8 inches of new snow to ease the sled's travel. Best yet, my wife had found a dog sled harness at GoodWill and so my pal RolyTheDog was able to help.

On some of the downhills, RTD could move the 1/2 elk on her own. Good dog!

An elk kill is a big shot into the food chain. Of course, I always hope to retrieve my elk before it is found by coyotes, wolves, or bears that have not yet gone into hibernation. So far, I've been lucky in this respect. Moving the field dressed carcass well away from the kill site (entrails and other cast off parts) helps, as does covering the carcass with branches, pissing at several nearby spots to mark your turf, and hanging a neckerchief or other article of clothing nearby.

This year, I was surprised to find a weasel (ermine, when they are dressed in winter white) on my carcass. To be more exact, it was under the carcass. Initially I thought, "Oh great. The little bugger has chewed through the hide and eaten into the meat, and probably marked it to boot." (Weasels make a seriously bad odor when they mark.) But no, to my joy, the weasel seemed to have merely made a sleeping spot under the warm, well insulated hide. Tracks showed that it had been feeding on the rich fat surrounding some of the entrails. As I loaded the carcass onto my sled, the weasel watched intently, tunneling under the snow and poking its head up here and there. Too bad RTD scared it off. You can see the weasel in the pic if you look for the black tip of its tail and its two eyes.

As RTD and I approached the kill site, we also got a lesson in bird dominance order. The ravens had been on the gut pile, and they circled overhead and croaked their complaints at our approach. Immediately, though, the whiskey jacks (gray jays) moved in, feeding both on the gut pile and on the body cavity fat that I had hung in a tree for them. When I moved up to the gut pile to gather more fat to hang in the tree, the whiskey jacks moved away but a flock of chickadees came in to feed. They pecked away at the scraps even as I was hanging more in tree. Little vultures, them chicadee-dee-dee--dees.

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