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Kissed by an Elk
Sitka in the Khalarhi
Black and White
Author: Chris Awe
Oct 16, 2009
Friends and I often joke, that in order to successfully harvest an elk with a bow… There are literally 100 things that have to perfectly fall in place to result with a dead animal. A good hunter can consistently get to thing #93 (bow-range of an elk), but closing the distance to thing # 99 (taking the shot) is almost a gift from nature.
Many days in the field, and miles under foot… Thing #99 came when I least expected it. I had taken a week of vacation to pack into a remote wilderness area with my good friend Donnie... To partake in a backcountry bow hunting adventure. An unexpected and unseasonably big snowstorm thwarted our plans, and forced us to retreat. If we hadn’t acted when we did, we would’ve never gotten the horses (and camp) out of there.
Refusing to give in, camp was moved closer to home. A sun baked layer of surface crystals made spot and stalk hunting in the snow almost impossible. With only 2wks of the archery season left, the big swing of the rut was pretty much over. In dire need of a rest day… I told myself; “one more BIG day Chris, don’t slack!”.
I left the trailhead hours before sunrise. Armed with GPS in one hand, and bear spray in the other, I crept into the night. This was a new area to me, but an area I knew was fully capable of producing elk. The fresh snow crushed my hopes… only 1 set of elk tracks in almost 2.5 hours of hiking. Clearly not the “mecca” I hoped it would be.
I quietly followed alongside the tracks, hoping they were that of a rogue bull on the periphery of a greater herd. This was not the case, and soon found myself going deeper and deeper into the timber. I knew I was never going to sneak up on an elk with the snow under foot, so I abandoned the tracks and aimed for a ridge line.
Often as I hunt, I develop thorough (2-sided) dialogues with myself. Questioning and answering, I solve many problems out there. Trying to mimic hunting tactics of a mountain lion, I developed an acronym for myself this fall;
iding). As I snaked from tree to tree on a perfect ridgeline, I muttered “
” over and over in my head. With thick north-facing timber on one side, and virgin sage brush & grass on the other, I started to enter the moment.
Sneaking along, I began cow calling into the timber every 30-40 yards. My calls were hesitant and far from frequent. After about 30 minutes (just as I was beginning to question my methods), a bull lightly responded from the timber above. Having this not be my first rodeo, I began to setup knowing that if this was going to happen, it was going to happen quickly.
Sure enough, this bull was closing the distance, and fast. Thankfully I was hunting with a cow elk decoy (made by Montana Decoys). With great haste, I popped the decoy open, leaned it against the tree, and jumped 10 yards off to the side. I had no more than knocked my arrow, when the bull appeared 100 yards above me. He contently associated my cow calls with the decoy, and proceeded down the ridge in my direction.
Taking his time, he meandered towards the decoy. Hiding 10 feet behind a large tree, I carefully moved left & right to keep the tree between the bull and I. I caught a brief glimpse of the elk, and decided this was a bull I was going to pursue. He stopped about 40 yards out (out of sight from me) and bugled… I took a deep breath and drew back my bow (thing #95). I could hear the bull desperately sucking in air, hoping to catch the cow’s scent. It was clear he was beginning to hesitate, but yet he continued to move forward very cautiously.
Soon the bull was almost 10 yards from the decoy. I knew it was a matter of seconds before he would become wise. Then he took one step, and turned his focus directly to me. There I was 10 feet behind the tree with no cover, sitting on my knees at full draw. He stared for almost 5 seconds; I was motionless, praying he would turn. In a split-second he flinched, turned, and motioned like he was about to run… Without hesitation I released my arrow (thing #99). At 20 yards, it didn’t take long for the mood to change. I watched my arrow fly true, and witnessed the bull run off into the timber. Then the forest returned to quiet, and I was left with my thoughts.
Reluctant to celebrate, I hunkered down and listened for any kind of clue or crash that might come from the timber. I let the clock tick, and soon decided I needed to pursue the blood trail. I crept into the forest, again muttering “
Glassing the blood trail ahead, I hoped I would find the bull dead in his tracks. Soon I approached a clearing. Stopping 5 yards inside of the timber, I glassed into the meadow following the blood-soaked tracks. I could clearly see where the bull had bedded and become sick, but he was gone!! I gleaned for more clues and found him lying under another tree (head resting down). Not taking any chances, I sailed another arrow… striking him clean. –He took the arrow without a flinch, signaling to me that his life had passed. I rejoiced!
Taking most of the afternoon for myself and that elk, I took time dressing and preparing for the extraction. The lone elk tracks I cut this morning were indeed the only “elk” tracks I cut, but not the only tracks… It was clear to me there was a Grizzly in the area too. As the ravens began to congregate overhead, I used all my might to drag the elk carcass down into a tree well. It wasn’t the most comfortable place to work, but it hid me from the sirens.
As the sun began to dim, I packed everything I could carry and began the schlep out. It was a long haul, but not the worst by any means. Soon word was out, and I was scrambling for help… I needed to get my elk off the mountain ASAP! Good friend and long time buddy Mike, agreed to play hooky from work tomorrow and offer his strong legs and back to help.
Mike was familiar with the area, and too shared his concern about the potential for a bear encounter. Armed with bear-spray, handguns, and dogs, we marched in to claim what was ours. Darrel (my Airedale/Rott mix); is a fearless dog, and of capable size and enthusiasm to ward off bears.
As we began to approach ground zero, Darrel’s nature changed like a light switch. His hackle stood on end, and he began to growl and pace as he waited for us to herd up under his protection. Mike and I exchanged one glance, then we simultaneously unsheathed our weapons. Unsure of what was about to go down, we both prepared.
I gave Darrel the command to follow his intuition, and we followed him in. In one horrific glance, my eyes confirmed that the Grizzly had paid a visit. My anticipation had however paid off; the meat was unharmed (except for one of the front shoulders). It had almost all been visited by the bear, but was still in great shape. Luckily the bear had prioritized the entrails first.
Darrel instinctively circled us and began barking and growling into the timber in all directions. The bear was still close. I discharged my pistol into the air. Mike and I both agreed there was no time to waste. We packed everything (insanely heavy), and agreed to distance ourselves from the gut-pile and regroup.
Once on the move, we decided to keep moving. Slowly and steady we stumbled and staggered our way to the truck. Neither of us wanted to go back in there. …And with that, thing #100 finally came and passed, and my elk was successfully transported from the mountain to the freezer.
Next year, I will start all over. Thanks Mike!... I owe you one!
Nice chinks, cowboy up!
Jeff Spo Posted At 11/13/2009 11:18 PM
Wow. Awesome story, makes me want to pack up and hit the mountains right now!
Mark - Wired To Hunt Posted At 11/04/2009 11:41 AM
Another amazing story! Routine for you and pure jealousy for me! Maybe se you this fall?! Nice Work Bro!
Eric Posted At 10/20/2009 09:16 PM
Congrats C-Man, I always enjoy reading your recap of several weeks hard work. "A.B.H" payed off. I wish we where in montucky to enjoy the Back Strap BBQ. Cheers.
Justin Posted At 10/19/2009 01:54 PM
wow, Craig is now very inspired. He was just reading the game manual for WA. For bow.
Auntie Robin Posted At 10/17/2009 09:18 AM
Rock on Chris!! Love the recap and clearly a well deserved beer.
Jonathan Hart Posted At 10/16/2009 10:30 PM
That was a good read! Congratulations. Now I know that I'm not the only one who speaks gibberish while in the woods. I actually did a video diary the last time I was solo in the back country, by day three it was a little emabarrasing....and scary! :)
Luke Johnson Posted At 10/16/2009 04:49 PM
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