PART V OF VI
This is part five of a six part series where I will share my journal with you. Because it is a copy of my journal, I will get intimate and emotional at times. I will mention gear, what worked and what didn’t for future reference. And I will try to capture the context of the hunt so that I can reflect on it years from now. I hope you enjoy the hunt!
Saturday Sept 24th:
6:05 am- we wake to clear skies, 5” snow and temperatures in the low 20s. The sunrise is enough to take our breath away. The kind you would expect to see on a postcard from one of those tourist shops in Silverton. You have to come to the big mountains and places most people will never go, to experience scenes like this. As I stand there shivering in the cold I am reminded of how blessed I am to be standing here, frozen boots and all. After a cold night in the sleeping bag, a hot bowl of oatmeal and a cup of camp coffee never tasted better.
With only two remaining days before season closes, the reality of three un-filled tags is starting to set in. Jeremy and I load our packs and head out with two days’ rations and supplies. Chris and Scott do the same, and head back up the gnarly cliff face to the south. My pack seems much heavier today. Maybe my legs are dead from the cold night and the deep snow. One mile in and I stop to cow-call up in a small meadow oat the base of a steep drainage. Elk and deer spend their summers in the high country, around or above timberline. Cooler temperatures, abundant forage and fewer predators are major positives of the alpine region if you’re an elk. But come fall, bulls start migrating down to gather cows more easily for the rut. At the first big show, meadows like this one are great spots to target elk as they filter down out of the high country.
Jeremy and I set are up, only this time he is 65 yard behind me with the decoy. Our calling sequence is quickly met by a nearby bull. He has a loud growling bugle followed by a pause, then a chuckle. He sounds like a mature herd bull and he is close, just around the finger of aspens on the other end of the meadow. A satellite bull responds from the steep hillside to the north, then another across the canyon to the south. We call back and forth for what feels like twenty minutes or so, I have my release clipped onto the bowstring and this time I have pre-ranged all my shooting lanes. His bugles get closer and more urgent, like he is telling the cow to come here quickly. The two satellite bulls bugle back and start circling us. These are the sounds of fall that elk hunters dream of. But the bull never shows up. He is tired of playing games and wants us to come to him, but I can’t move in the crunchy snow without sounding like an elephant walking on glass bottles. This encounter is both exciting and frustrating. We continue up the mountain and are followed by two rifle hunters on horseback, getting in some early scouting for next week. Their horses look green, and hardly athletic. If you were judging them on conformation they wouldn’t score well. Still, I would trade places with them. Riding a horse up the mountain would be much easier than walking. The pair of hunters are from Alamosa, CO. Friendly guys who turn back so they wouldn’t disturb our hunt by riding ahead. I don’t get their names, but we owe them a thanks. They don’t have a map or GPS, so we tell them how to access another trail and wish them good luck. Jeremy and I keep hiking uphill, and all the game tracks we find are headed downhill. We haven’t seen this much sign in the previous 5 days combined, and it is all going downhill, away from the snowed-in high country. We make a decision to do the same.
Headed back downhill we come into the same meadow where we encountered the bull this morning and we hear a cow mew, just as Jeremy spots movement in the far tree line. Two cow elk. We drop down and start calling, using the tall frozen grass and natural roll of the terrain to block us from view. I come to full draw as I see ears coming over the grass. It looks like a young cow. Not the trophy bull I am after, but this is day 6 and my freezer is getting low on meat. Wild game is lower in fat, lower cholesterol has fewer calories than domestic livestock. It is the original organic, lean, grass-fed meat. The elk gets closer, well inside bow range now. I stand up from the grass, settle the 30 yard pin on my Bear bow fast above the thoracic opening and squeeze my release. The Easton axis arrow hit its mark, entering the animal’s chest and coming out near the last rib on the left side. A deadly hit that would result in a quick ethical kill. After a short tracking job, Jeremy and I have our elk.
I take a minute to reflect on everything that had lead up this point. A full year of preparation, time away from family and a tough week of hunting. I am thankful. We quarter her on the ground and debone the meat, using the inside of the hide as a clean surface. We place quarter in its own lightweight game bag and set them in the snow to chill while we work to remove all the meat form the carcass. We stuff some of the game bags into our Sitka backpacks and drape the remainder over our shoulders for the walk back to camp. The pack out is mostly downhill so it won’t be bad. Three hours after the elk went down and with tired backs, we were back at base camp with meat hanging on the meat pole.