28 November 2008

Elk Hunting 2008

I've been an avid hunter since I received a corkgun for my birthday at age 3. A hunter lives close to the earth, knows the ways of animals and the places they live, and feels comfortable out in harsh weather in remote places. This is especially true of elk hunters, given the wide range of habitat and their tendency to move several miles between feeding and bedding grounds each day. The rugged mountains along the Continental Divide near Butte, Montana, also make for physically demanding hunting. And physically demanding driving if you get stuck:

Still, elk hunting leads you to beautiful and strange places you would have no reason to visit otherwise:

I carry a military canteen with metal cup that Dave Carter gave me. It's great for boiling a cup of tea:

And once you've got a fire going, on slow days when you have yet to cut a fresh track, why not a nap?

Some mornings, the valley below is blanketed in fog:

On another day, there is a glorious mountain sunrise:

The aspen leaves have fallen and turned glossy black:

Most of this season was relatively warm with little or no snow, and so the fungi were still fruiting:

Although elk are the quarry, there are bears to watch out for:

The barking serenade of migrating geese to listen to:

And moose to play peek-a-boo with:

If you are hunting slowly enough, you will not disturb the pine squirrels:

But don't mess with their caches of pine cones, or they will get mad and "buzz" at you. If they were 10 pounds bigger, you wouldn't stand a chance!

Check out this squirrel's cornucopia:

Don't ignore the whiskey jacks (gray jays) either. Oftentimes, they will let you know when elk are nearby (they know that hunters leave them a gutpile to feed on):

Though I prefer to hunt elk alone, there is the occasional comraderie of Little Brother A.J. Puckett or friend Dave Carter, here with his daughter Chelsea Carter (we saw no fresh elk sign, but it was a great fall day for a hike):

There are also favorite places to visit, such as the petrified wood place:

And the jasper mine used by aboriginal peoples:

My preferred hunting method: cut a fresh track at first light:

Follow it to and observe the elk's behavior (such as this fresh rub):

Sometimes, the tracks lead you to bedded elk. I found this mature bull with strangely deformed/missing antlers after 3&1/2 hours of tracking. Then I forgot to take my glove off before shooting (it was a near-zero morning), and shot over its back--a clean miss. So I tracked him another mile along a north slope strewn with deadfall and steep as a cow's face until he bedded again. After smelling him, carefully stalking within sight, and a careful shot (took my glove off that time) he was dead:

Field-dressed, I carefully laid aside the liver, heart, tenderloins, and tongue to cool on the snow:

Then I rolled him over, removed the backstraps, and used my little hatchet to remove the spine & split the carcass into two long halves:

Matt Hamon (see my separate post about his deer hunt) and A.J. returned with me the following day for the three-mile drag down nearly 2,000 feet of mountain side to the nearest road. We saw two large sets of wolf tracks on our way out, letting us know that we are not the only predators of elk in these mountains. Sorry my camera battery was dead.

Here are the bull's ivories, along with the perfectly mushroomed Barnes all-copper bullet (it entered just behind the shoulder, angled through the elk, and stopped under the hide just ahead of the opposite hindquarter):

EcoRover wants a new game sled for Christmas:

Another day or two of butchering, and it'll be time for cross country skiing.


Jennifer S. said...

These pictures are beautiful.. I'd rather not have seen the dead animals though :P

~Sheepheads said...

Kids and I enjoyed this one - including the anatomy lesson.

Brenda said...

awesome pics , what are those things on the one with map?

EcoRover said...

Elk have vestigial ivory tusks. The Lakota, Crow, and other indigineous peoples valued these, and in museums you will see some dresses or shirts decorated with dozens of them (search Google Images for "elk teeth indian" for pics). Modern hunters often have rings or other jewelry made from them. Mine end up in one of Jan's jewelry boxes, but I'm thinking of stringing a few on the cedar berry necklace that I always wear.