As some of you know, I drew the same late season cow elk tag this year that Old Bear had three years ago. Well, I finally got out to go do some hunting last week and to put it shortly, we had great success. By we I mean my dad, 7mmrhb, and myself. This was a great blessing as my dad doesn't often want to go hunting unless it's for sheep or coyotes. And having 7mmrhb along for this hunt was a necessity of course! His great memory of events and great prowess behind the spotting scope are benefits I've come to depend on. My dad, on the other hand, has totally opposite strengths. He can't force himself to look through glass longer than about 5 minutes before he's off and running up a mountain to chase or retrieve the quarry. But I guess that comes with the territory of being an ultra-marathon mountain runner. So I was in good company and set for long range capability from the start.
The hunt began with a trip to the unit the day before to see where the elk where. I had a pretty good idea that they'd be where they were for Old bear several years ago. And sure enough, they were. Only problem was I forgot my license!!! So we watched the elk until sunset and then hatched a plan to come back in the morning. Luckily, it's only a 40 minute drive.
Thursday morning found us unloading ATV's in the bitter cold and attaching the Jet Sled to one of them. We then proceeded up the snow-packed road to the upper valley where we would try to set up for a shot. I quickly set up the spotting scope and found several herds moving up and across the mountain. Then I broke out the Swaro rangefinder and beamed the closest elk at 1590 yards. They were a bit too far because the scope on my 338 Thunder mag bottomed out at 1450 yards. But I had my PDA and Exbal with me so I could see the difference in inches that I lacked and decided to try a shot using kentucky windage and elevation. Normally, I frown on this as a bad method because it's awful hard to tell what 16 inches looks like at 1600 yards but the elk were standing on a very steep hill that had no snow on it and was quite muddy so we could see a miss impact very well. ANd I knew old RHB would see the bullet hit through the spotter.
So I set up the rifle, took my measurements, did my calculations, and put the top of the post of the reticle on her shoulder (on 20x power) and fired. After 2 seconds, the 300 grain Sierra matchking bullet impacted with quite a splash. RHB called out the shot as low a minute and barely right of her. I quickly chambered another round and put the crosshair back on the unsuspecting elk. Boom and another bullet was on the way. This one landed in some brush by her but it was hard to tell how it missed because no vapor trail was showing up. Well, she had enough of this and started to herd up with the other elk higher on the mountain and get further away. Dang it! I don't know why the second shot didn't go higher but I suspect it had something to do with the fact that the gun didn't recoil the same as the first shot. Anyhow, now there were no elk in range and the morning hunt was pretty well turning into afternoon. So we decided to go up the road a little closer and get everything re-set up for the evening hunt.
I knew there were tons of elk up on the peak of the mountain and they would come back onto the face again in the late afternoon to feed. And sure enough, they followed the plan to a tee. We watched as the whole herd slowly worked their way down into another face step by agonizing step. They were in no hurry to go back to where all that weird noise was coming from earlier. But eventually they came and at about 4:45 PM, my dad said there was two calves standing just above a row of rocks that we had ranged at 1389 yards earlier in the day. The Swaro wouldn't beam the elk proper because of the snow and angle of the sun, but we knew that they were almost halfway between the rocks in front of them and the trees behind them and we'd ranged the trees at 1450. So I dialed for a 1400 yard shot and we got set for another shot. I couldn't get steady in the snow on a bipod or even the varmint rest we had towed in, so we had to flip the Jet Sled over and use it as a makeshift shooting bench. It was kinda bouncy but I found that if I really concentrated on my hold of the rifle, I could get pretty steady throughout the recoil. Unfortunately, it took one shot to figure this out. But luckily, RHB saw the vapor trail and impact and called out my correction perfectly. I readjusted my hold and rest, and sent another 300 SMK on it's way. A little over two seconds passed, and the bullet hit home. About three seconds later, we all heard the "whop". RHB said it was in the rib cage just behind the shoulder. The cow just stood there and looked back at her buddy to see what the heck had just happened.
So I figured I'd better get another one in her. I chambered up the round, re-adjusted the rifle, and sent another bullet up the mountain. "Whop". RHB called out, "perfect hit, right in the shoulder". The elk stumbled a bit but stayed on her feet! Amazing! With a hit like that, we figured she'd be toast. In went another round and down the barrel the bullet went. "Whop" again! Right behind the second shot about 3 inches. Finally, the elk stumbled and went down.
We began to do some celebrating and recount the astonishment of bullets that obviously weren't expanding when I happened to look through my scope again and in amazement, noticed that the elk was back on her feet! I quickly got another round in the chamber and settled down and the elk was facing the other side now and broadside. Boooommm. Whop.
7mmRHB called out, "spinal hit right above the shoulder". This time, she wasn't getting back up. She dumped and rolled over and slid down the mountain a few yards until coming to rest in a clump of shrubs. WOW. What a beating. We all agreed that perhaps the bullet I'd come to rely on and had killed numerous big game animals around 1000 yards had quite possibly found the edge of it's reliability. Somewhere between 1000 and 1400 yards, the killing performance was lost. Or so we thought..............more on that later.
Anyway, I backtracked my program right there and then and found that for the 36 minutes of elevation I had dialed up on my scope and the 20 degree angle, the exact yardage of the kill was 1410 yards which was later confirmed within a yard or so by laser after the sun had set. The sun set............wait a minute, we had better get our butts up that mountain because it's going to take a few hours in the dark. Well, it took six hours to be exact! Luckily, RHB agreed to stay on the valley floor with my spotter set on the elk's location and walk us in on radios. This was absolutely the only way we were going to have a prayer of finding this cow. So RHB danced and walked around for six hours in the dark trying to stay warm while my dad and I were sweating buckets hiking up a 40 degree mountain face in knee deep snow in our tee-shirts!
I began to realize that I had made a mistake shooting this elk. At one point on the way up, I remember thinking if I had one wish, I'd wish to recall this kill. That good old "pit in the bottom of my stomach" feel had set in big time. But we pushed through and by about 9:30 we were getting close. RHB came on the radio saying that he could see our one little headlight in the field of view of the scope. He then continued to walk us in and we literally walked right up and bumped into it!
After catching our breath for a minute, we unhooked the cow and gave her a shove down the mountain. She slid about 100 yards before getting hung up in a tree. We climbed down to her and rolled her over to gut her. RHB asked me on the radio how the damage looked but I honestly didn't even know at that point and I didn't care. We were so sweaty that we had to just get the guts out of her and keep moving or we were going to turn into icicles.
When I finally got her gutted and drained, we pushed her another 100 yards down the mountain until she got hung up on a big tree this time. She was so wedged that we couldn't budge her. Two guys just weren't enough muscle. So we left her there and proceeded down to RHB who I feared would be a solid block of ice by the time we got off the mountain.
It took us another hour or so to get down to RHB and we were out of there. It was a cold ride back to the truck I can tell you. My boots were so soaked that they froze into a block and I had to cut the laces off with a knife just to get them off my feet.
After a day or two of recuperation, our luck changed. I was able to get in touch with Grit from this site and another buddy of mine and they agreed to come share in the misery of long range game retrieval. Grit also had three horses which he convinced to come help and boy am I glad he did!
Upon arrival back at the shooting location, we setup the spotting scope to show my friends where we had to go. My friend Dave agreed to stay below and walk us in on radios again as the scrub oak was so thick that when you were in it, you couldn't see 10 feet in front of you. But there were little clearings and gullies that Dave could see and navigate us through.
So we strapped on some snowshoes and Grit got the horses ready and up the mountain we went. I was planning on just getting the horses to the bottom of a ravine and then just sliding quarters down to them but Grit is such an expert horseman and his horses were so well trained that he was able to get them up right to the elk! I was astonished. This guy was my hero. I could barely get up this mountain on snowshoes and Grit rode those horses right to the top no problem. I'm still in awe!
After a quick photo session and breather, we began to cut up the cow. This is where another amazing thing happened. After close examination of all four holes, two things became apparent: one, the grouping of my rifle at this range was about 10"to 12" and every shot was in the kill zone, and two, the SMK ABSOLUTELY WAS OPENING UP. The holes were huge and the damage was extensive. There were bits of bone forced through muscle everywhere we looked. The shots were also EXACTLY where RHB said they were too. Almost to the inch. That's pretty impressive for a guy to be able to see that from almost a mile away. Chalk it up to RHB's great eyes and the great glass of my Swaro spotter.
Anyway, while cutting around one of the holes on the right side, my knife made a "clink" sound. Yep, I found a bullet! It went through both shoulders and was about an inch from going through the hide on the far side. It looked pretty good as you can see in the photos. The core separated but was within about 2" of the jacket. Both made a pretty good mushroom. SO WHY was this cow acting like she was getting hit with a bb gun????? I guess I'll never know. You couldn't ask for better hits or better bullet performance. I guess she was just one tough old bird. My first shot would have killed her easily but I wasn't going to wait to see how long it was going to take.
Anyhow, Grit's awesome horses had the meat down to the truck in about 30 minutes and we were back into town having lunch by 3:30. What a great adventure and a great bunch of guys I had helping me with this hunt. I want to say thanks to Grit, RHB, my dad, and Dave for helping me out. I couldn't have got this elk without you fellas. Anytime you need me to return the favor, just ask and you've got it.
And without further anticipation, here are some photos:
getting ready for the morning shoot:
a view of the elk zoomed way in through RHB's awesome camera. These elk are 1600 yards away!
A view of the kill site from the shooting position:
My infamous sign making habit:
The shooting spot: