1986 Elk Hunt
ELK VALLEY ELK
In 1986 I’d planned two hunts the first for deer about 100 miles from home and the second for elk 600 miles away in the Elk Valley. The first hunt went well. Three of us hiked in 5 miles set-up camp hunted the next day, opening day, got two deer packed them out the following day and retrieved our camp the day after that. I’d had two other hunting buddies who up to the Elk Valley a day ahead of me, having agreed on where to meet. Because of my earlier deer hunt I would arrive in the Elk Valley the day after opening day September 11. I’d been backpacking through the summer and had been weight training and running for about a year before the hunt, so I was in pretty good hunting shape. I could do four reps with 485 lbs in the squat, proper power lifting deep squats, 2 sets of 3 reps with 295 lbs in the bench press, and I could standing press 225 lbs for 2 reps and was considering entering power lifting competition in my age and weight class group. And I’d been shooting competitively for three years after spending a couple of years practicing and developing loads for all my hunting rifles.
The previous year I’d found a trail after doing a lot of scouting and bought a new mini 4x4 to negotiate a road I’d found with a big wash-out in it six feet deep and about 15 feet across. When I found the road it was passable to about half a mile from where the trail started. From being in the country and studying my maps I found a very good looking hunting spot not much more than a three mile hike from the trailhead, although the trail climbed about a thousand feet. We’d agreed to meet where two creeks met and camp near there so I’d expected to my partner’s truck parked on the road when I arrived, but it wasn’t there, so I drove ahead to where a tree had fallen across the road parked and got out with my rifle and daypack to look around and see if I could find any sign of my partners. I was dressed in hiking shorts and a sweat shirt carrying my rifle and binoculars. After about 20 minutes of walking down the road I found a complete wash-out, so I stopped and had a look around as it had started snowing. Another hunter showed-up a young guy about thirty we talked for a few minutes. I asked him if he’d seen any sign of my partners, he said that he hadn’t and then his partner came up wearing a heavy set of rain gear, he looked at me as if he’s just seen Paul Bunyan for the first time.
We all decided to head back to the main road the older guy with the heavy rain gear got in the bed of my truck as we drove out through the wash-out onto the main road, I saw a piece of flagging tape hanging from a tree limb and had a closer look and found a note from my partners saying they’d gone to Forsythe Creek another spot I knew about. So I dropped the two guys off and wished then luck. The younger one tried to lift my 85 lbs pack and was just barely able to lift one end of it up saying he’d never be able to carry that thing. I’d hiked up Forsythe Creek in ’84 on our way to Connor Lake a beautiful remote lake ten miles from the road and at that time noticed a good hunting area about half way in where a gas drilling rig was working when we backpacked through to the lake. When I got to the end of the road at Forsythe Creek I saw my partner’s truck and got out putting on my pack, binos, and rifle. Then I saw Mike, one of my partners, walking down the road which is closed to motor vehicle use, toward me. So I waited and met him he said that he’d gone in light the day before and now was coming back for a load of food as well having a look a the country as he’d never been there before. We walked up to camp 5 miles up the road at the old drilling site together arriving about 3 PM.
It was a good camp site except for being too exposed in the open to wind. We had a small stream fifty feet away and lots of fire wood nearby. After setting-up my tent, unpacking and then having diner, Robin came into camp from his day’s hunt. We gathered around the small fire talking and laughing, it was about 18:30 and the sun had gone behind the mountain it was partly cloudy and cool about 45F with a light dusting of snow on the peaks around us. I brought out my insolite to sit on around the fire. As darkness started to fall we noticed a mist or cloud above the valley, about two thousand feet, and the setting sun’s rays set the mist aglow making it look about half way between and aurora and a rainbow it was very beautiful and lasted about five minutes. I took it as a good omen. We talked about our plans for tomorrow and then the other two went to bed down while I stayed up until about 23:00 watching the stars under the mostly clear sky.
Mike and Robin had left camp by the time I got up about 08:30 and had a leisurely breakfast of scrambled eggs and bacon. I admired the beauty of the surroundings as I gave thought to where I start, deciding to walk about three quarters of a mile to where the creek crossing is for the trial to Connor Lake and then slowly brush bust my way up the mountain side to check out a very promising looking bowl
I started up the mountain after checking the creek crossing. It was dense with shrubs and small trees as well as old wind falls to be climbed over and going was slow as I traversed my way up the mountainside. Being in better shape was a big help I was not sweating as I climbed and was able to be more alert. I’d come across game trails which would appear and vanish seemly without reason until I made it to the ridge where I found several Moose beds on the ridge with four or five game trials leading to and from them. These were places where the Moose would have good escape routes from predators. Continuing my climbing traverse I came upon what was a very pronounced trial and decided to follow it since it seemed to lead in the direction I wanted to go. Following the trail up toward the bowl I started noticing windfalls that had been cut by saws, but the cuts were aged perhaps ten years ago. I realized this was an old guide trail that hadn’t been maintained for a while since there were some recent windfalls that hadn’t been cut. I had the sense that I was moving into a very good area.
As I reached the beginning of the bowl about 13:00, I had lunch while being able to view the valley floor and surrounding mountain sides. It was a very beautiful setting I wished I had a camera. I spent a couple of hours scouting around the bowl and saw lots of Elk sign as well as beds in the lush vibrant green grass on this north facing mountain bowl. As I reached the highest spot I went to that day I felt a presence like I was being watched. Since the bush there was very thick I decided the best thing to do for now is back off study the terrain closely as it appeared that the three of us could do a type of pincer movement with one covering the trial I’d found the other covering the trail leading across the mountain side to the next bowl and one coming down on the suspected Elk bedding area from above. I turned back to head back to camp and share the information I’d got. It was about 15:30 and I stopping on my way back to camp high on the trail as it left the bowl. I noticed a large bull moose; they didn’t open for another month or so, at the large pond near where the stream form the next bowl east empties into the valley floor. I set-up my spotting scope and he looked like a 45”-50” bull. While I was watching another bull moose about the same size approached him and they square off and butted heads once, about five seconds later I heard a THUNK, so I thought they were about a mile away. A cow moose suddenly came running out of the bush and went up and seemed to smell of one of the bulls then wandered off. I guess she was sniffing to see how serious they were or something. I think the bulls knew they’d be fighting when the rut started in a few weeks and wanted to test each other, a very interesting site to witness.
About fifteen minutes after leaving my vantage point, I noticed a golden brownish color on the opposite mountain side across the valley floor which was about two hundred yards across. Putting my binoculars on it, I immediately saw a bull elk with three points up high on his rack meaning at least a five point; it’s a three point minimum in this area. He was feeding as he slowly traversed the opposite mountain side very nearly exactly opposite me on the other side of the little valley. The bush there was way too thick for me to go over there and stalk him, so I did some quick range estimation as I got out my ammo. I always carry forty four rounds with me when I hunt, two full boxes and four in the rifle. I set-up my spotting scope stand for a shooting rest with its’ adjustable aluminum legs on the roughly 45 degree side hill. I wasn’t certain of the distance to the Elk, but I figured it was around 500 yards. At 550 yards my 0.338 Win-mag with the 250 grain Sierra spitzer-boatail bullet I’d hand loaded to a muzzle velocity of 2780 feet/second would give me about 2250 foot lbs of energy roughly the same energy as a 30-06 180 grain bullet at 250 yards. I aim my rifle using the scope stand as a rest aimed so I could see a little space over his back and fired. I’d missed the elk lifted his head up and was looking around to see where the shot came from while I added one body width to my hold over and fired again. Down he went. I looked over at him with my binoculars and could see him lying there and once in a while he would shake his head, but he couldn’t move his body. So I packed my gear up checked the opposite side mountain for a land mark to follow so I could find him because as soon as I left the side of the mountain I was on, I wouldn’t be able to see him. I check him again before I left in case he’d recovered, but he was still down.
Coming up to him I could hear him shaking the bushed with his head at my approach. I walked up to about ten feet from him drew a bead to finish him, but I’d forgot my scope was still on 5 power and lowered my rifle to turn it down to 1 ½ power because at the higher power all I could see in the scope was hair. As I began to raise my rifle the
Elk must have recovered from the adrenalin of me approaching so close as he stood up and faced me at ten feet there was a look in his eye as if to say, “Now I’ve got you, you bastard!” I quickly shot him through the neck and he dropped into a low spot. I checked him to make sure he was dead and then fired my alerting shots that we’d agreed on to let each other know we’d downed game and could use help. It was about 17:00. I could look across the valley with my binoculars and when Mike and Robin weren’t behind trees I could see them warming them selves at the fire. I can make a loud booming sound which I started doing as well, but I could see them looking around and because of the sound reverberating in the Valley the couldn’t tell what direction I was. After a frustrating half hour of yelling, I realized I’d have move the Elk and clean it myself. It took half an hour moving each end successively a few inches at a time to turn him so I could easily clean him. At that time I realize what a good idea it was to have been weight training in preparation for the hunt, the Elk probably had a live weight of seven hundred pounds It took about 45 minutes to clean him and ½ hour to walk back to camp arriving there at 19:00 as it was getting dark. Of course everyone was happy we stayed up until 23:00 talking about the hunt and planning to go butcher and pack the Elk into camp tomorrow.
The pack out
We all had a good breakfast and headed out of camp at about 09:30. We had a full size game saw a hatchet and our knives for butchering the Elk. After Robin and Mike took pictures with their cameras it took about two hours to cut the Elk into pieces we could carry, two front quarters and two hind quarters with the hide on and the bone in. At the local game cutting place the front quarters weighed 135 lbs and the hinds 105 lbs. We decided to leave the hide on both to protect the meat and Mike had a friend who asked for the hide to tie flies. Mike is about 6’-5” tall and weighs about 210 lbs Robin at 5’-6” weighing about 130 lbs wasn’t able to carry the quarters so he stayed at the carcass guarding it while we packed the meat into camp which was roughly one mile as the crow flies from where I shot the Elk. We all arrived back at camp at 17:45. I cut off some of the tenderloin for diner that night.
While the first part of the pack out off the mountain was dangerous because of the steep hillside, the most difficult part would be the five miles to the truck. We left camp at 09:30 arriving at the trucks at 11:45. We found the best way to pack something that heavy over that distance is to take lots of short breaks pack for 15 minutes get the weigh off your shoulders and rest for 2 minutes. Mike and Robin went to town with the first load while I went back to pack out another quarter. We happened to meet as I was bringing out the second front quarter, they’d stopped by the pub and Robin was drunk. Mike suggested they take the quarter I had and that they’d go to town rent a motel room for the night. I was too tired to argue. I’d had a deja-vue type experience looking at the Elk quarter I felt like I’d some how connected to my ancient ancestors in some way, it happened several times as I’d look up at the quarters while I was packing them out. At the end of that day I packed 270 lbs of Elk quarters ten miles to the truck while carrying a ten lbs rifle and then walked back to camp empty another ten miles. The next day I had a head ache, but found it fairly easy to pack out the 105 lbs hind quarter.
From all this packing in and packing out I think it’s fairly easy to see why most people use horses and or guides for this type of hunting. For me to hunt one day it required four days of packing in and packing out. Of course there are easier ways to hunt, but this was a true wilderness experience where as a group we’d found the area to hunt on our own in previous year’s adventures and went in and completed the hunt. This gives an idea of what it’s like for someone starting to hunt of the requirements to be reasonably successful. I’ll try to include some pictures I have of the hunt. Good hunting, alremkin.