13 November 2009

Elk's In the Freezer, Let's go Skiin'

[Warning to sensitive readers: this post includes the photograph of a dead elk.]

An hour into the light of a new day. I heard the wings of a Wolf-bird slice the cold morning air and as Raven flew past it quorked a brief message: "This way." I followed and at mid-morning cut the tracks of a band of Elk People that had fed along the edges of a park. Tracking the elk toward the north facing bench where they be, I was not ready the first time. In fact, I was just photographing this track of a cow elk and its calf:

When I looked up, surprised elk plunged into the black timber below. I had not expected them to bed so high up on the ridge edge. I barked a cow call as they bolted. Sure enough, as I learned tracking them into the dense fir and thick deadfall, they ceased their panic and halted to look back after just a few hundred yards. Within a mile, they bedded again. This time I was ready, moving slowly, quiet wool & fleece from head to toe, glassing carefully every few steps. Soon I spotted a flicking ear and then the blond shadows. Less than 100 feet away, a nervous cow stood up from her bed and I shot once:

Raven croaked a happy note, but they are wary of us Human People and would wait to feed on the carcass until after I left. The Wisakedjak People ("Whiskey Jack," or Gray Jay) are much less timid, and I could hear their joyous, raspy calls before I had my daypack off. They cheered me on as I field dressed the carcass, and I rewarded them with some choice belly fat ("suet") from the kidney area:

The mating pair worked together cutting off slices to be cached -- they have a special, sticky saliva -- in hiding places around their small territory:

Meanwhile, I worked on splitting the carcass into two halves that could be dragged easily a mile or two to the nearest road (I'll return with help for this):

And laying out the heart, liver, tenderloins, and backstraps to cool before packing with me on the long hike back to the truck:

Each elk half I dragged away from the kill site and covered with fir branches to keep my Wisakedjak and Raven friends from stealing meat (Hopefully the wolves won't bother it before I return!):

On the 3 or 4 mile trek back (the last mile in the dark, using my headlamp) to where I had parked that morning, laboring up and over a steep ridge with 40 pounds of meat and gear in my pack, I thought about Bernard Dutka. My grandfather's friend and my hunting/fishing mentor, Bernie was about my age when he took me on as his outdoors apprentice. He guided me to the first whitetail buck I killed (I was 12), and in later years he liked to laugh & remind me of how long it took me to aim & fire the little .308 Sako rifle--the same rifle I carry today. Bernie was a crack shot, and I vividly recall him shooting a nice buck that leaped from its bed as we stalked through a slash-strewn clearcut in Wolf Run near Bradford, Pennsylvania. I need to call A.J., and take him elk hunting this weekend.


This cow elk was taken from the Beaverhead National Forest on the Big Hole River side of the Continental Divide south of Butte, Montana.


Janie said...

You earned that elk with your all day stalking and then all the work to haul it back to the truck. Hope the meat is tasty and tender. The jays seemed to think it was quite satisfactory. Nice photos of your location. You obviously enjoy the beauty as much as the hunt.

Max said...

Great post. Looks like our chilly rain from a few days ago found you and became a nice early snowfall. Enjoy the ski season!

troutbirder said...

Congratulations Eco! It does look like a lot of work though. Great way to stay in shape with the added bonus of some beautiful country...

LauraHinNJ said...

Gosh that sounds like an awful lot of work!

Glad you had the company of Ravens and Gray Jays... they're such cool birds... wish I could see them here in NJ.