17 November 2006

Successful Elk Hunt

I hunted elk hard this year, but it just did not seem to be happening. So the other night I took stock of myself and decided to just be the predator and quit thinking about it so much. I thought about my little .308 Sako, the rifle Dad bought in the early 1960s, and boasted he would give to me if I shot a buck the year I turned 12. I don't believe he thought I would do it. It shot out of its first stock and is cracking the replacement (no nearly 20 years old) at the rear of the receiver. It eroded around the muzzle (don't leave the muzzle taped between hunts) and had to be shortened a bit and recrowned. But it's a wonderful, lightweight woods rifle and it shoots true.
Well, early morning next day found me walking up a low ridge along a small valley tight to the Continental Divide, six inches of heavy wet snow on the ground and more coming by the moment. I repeated my simple mantra "Elk, I will use you well and honor your memory."

Passing along the familiar path of Allen's flume (a 14-mile long conduit to float logs from the east to the west slope of the Continental Divide c. 1900 for the Anaconda smelter), I came upon one of the few braces left standing (see pic).

Just past sunup I cut the track of a young wolf (or, at least, a small one). A lone track, unlike a hunt along a ridge further down the valley earlier this week when I cut the tracks of big wolf and pup. I was tracking a big band of elk moving from open park to northside bedding grounds when the wolves cut in on my hunt. The tracks told the story: just as the elk were starting to bed, the pup rushed headlong into them. The wolf just ambled along at some distance, letting the pup have its head. The pup was of course no threat to the elk (and I doubt the lone adult wolf was, either) but it certainly made them scatter. I tracked another two miles but gave up when they headed through a valley and toward another ridge.

So this morning I let the wolf go its way, loping toward the open parks along the ridge top where the elk might still be feeding. Toward the place I intended to go. Perhaps the wolf would move the elk down to me if I stayed between the parks and thicker bedding grounds. And perhaps it did, for shortly after two elk passed just below me. I did not see them in the small, thickly growing trees and tag alders but heard their heavy hooves as they passed behind me, caught my scent, and fled. From the way that they passed through the low hanging branches without knocking much snow away, I was sure they were cows. And where there are two there are often more.

Swinging a wide circle from where the two cows had bolted I could feel that familiar tapping in my chest and kneeling down saw elk. Everywhere. All around. Several below me were already moving away, probably having cut my track or picked up my scent. A big cow just above me was bedded in a treewell. Though just 40 yards distant, I could barely make out her form. When she stood I shot her (just above and behind the heart, as it turned out). She ran down the hillside 100 or 200 yards, slumped into the snow, and I approached and shot once again. Before I had knelt to thank her and the mountain, the whiskey jacks (gray jays) were squawking for their share.

I field dressed the cow and hung some belly meat in an aspen for the hungry whiskey jacks. I like to keep on the good side of them, since occasionally they tell me where the elk are. After removing the tenderloins, I rolled the cow over, split along the spine, removed the backstraps, snicker-snacked the ribs with my vorpal hatchet, removed the spine, and finished splitting the elk. I dragged the two halves a hundred yards or so from the butchering site, covered each half with branches, pissed to marke the area and fend off coyotes (or this young wolf), and packed out the tenderloins and backstraps and heart and liver.

It was less than two miles in, and I hoped to return home, fetch the game sled, and have both halves out by dark. By the time I patched up the game sled (AJ's elk took its toll) and returned, it was nearly 3 pm. After setting a path with the first half, I was bushed and the sun was touching the Pintler ridges. I'll return today for the second half.

Thank you, Elk. I will use you well, and honor your memory.

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