This year’s hunt was an incredible learning experience. Previously, I had always hunted with my ski coach Ken or my dad as “the kid”. This year, I brought Rob along, so I was the experienced hunter. Ha! I knew it was going to be an adventure, and it certainly proved to be. We were hunting a new area, so a friend showed us around a bit. Its nickname was Big Gun Canyon, which is a pretty cool name for a hunting area.
The next morning we show up and sneak in the first quarter mile or so, and get to the first area with an overlook. Right away, I see an elk, so I drop to a squat and pull it up with my rangefinder. A perfect 150 yd shot, but a bull elk, which I don’t have a tag for. Further out were some elk cows, but they range at 350 yds, out of my comfort zone. By the time they start moving, the closer bull had winded us (hunt-speak for smelled us), and spooked all the cows. While we were trying to figure out whether to chase the spooked cows, we almost missed the fact that there were elk crossing the hill to our left. By the time we spotted them, they were well out of range. Quite the first day.
My ideal shooting range is around 150 yards. I can shoot 200 yd shots at the range and technically my gun’s bullet drop isn’t bad at 250 yds, but the bullet drop is 8” at 300 yds, so that is out of the question unless I get a ton of practice. I think I’m starting to realize why the area is called Big Gun Canyon.
The next few days followed a similar pattern. We get up at 5am, hunt until noon, drive home for lunch, nap for 15, drive back to hunt at 3, and get home at 8. On the first night all we want to do is go to bed and skip dinner, but my mom shot a buck mule deer at dusk, so we helped field dress the animal, followed by a celebratory drink, which quickly turned into everyone sleeping.
The third morning, Rob and I arrived at the grassy overlook of Big Gun Canyon and saw a huge herd below us a mile or so down the canyon. The wind was blowing our scent into the canyon, so we decided to try to maneuver to the side by running down the canyon. Trying to run quietly while hunting with a big pack, a gun and boots is a pretty funny activity and most resembles the Pink Panther. Thus, we pink panthered our way down fence line, but the herd had mostly moved on by the time we reached a lower elevation.
Trying to not lose the herd, we crossed a drainage to get some of the herd crossing. There! Right in front of us on the hillside some elk were crossing. Every time they moved we moved. The wind was perfectly in our face, and they were walking on crunchy leave, so we had a chance to get in closer. We did the run, stop dance until we were 250 yds from some of them, but by the time I had set up for a shot, lying in the mud resting my gun on my pack, they had moved out of range. Darn.
Defeated, I hiked back up the fence line with Rob in tow. Part of the way up, Rob pointed out that our herd was two ridges over, the wind was good, and it wasn’t yet 10AM. Off we went, traversing the ridges, staying downwind of where we hoped the herd would be. We crested the last hill and froze. There was one cow left in the meadow, 300 yards away. I pulled out my range finder and took a survey of the meadow. There were a few areas where I could get a 250-260 yd shot, but nothing closer. I looked around for a suitable shooting rest, settling on setting my gun on the crotch of a scrub oak. Hoping that the elk would move down the canyon and into range we waited. Just then a cow moved out of the timber in my circle of in-range shots. Shaking, and trying not to hyperventilate, I lined up my shot. I pulled the trigger and reloaded. The cow hadn’t moved. I shot again. Nothing. I shot a third time, and the cow turned around, walked behind a tree and the entire herd that we had been chasing popped out of the timbers and ran.
Rob and I waited two hours since we didn’t see the animal go down behind the tree. When we approached, we didn’t find much blood, and I had a long moment of panic. I did not want to leave an animal mortally wounded in the woods. We searched for a half hour for more blood, then decided to set up a grid to just look for the body. A foot down the game trail was the cow. It had fallen off the trail and rolled next to a tree, almost invisible to the world. Three hours of quartering and hiking later, we were headed home.
With the temps a bit high, we decided to butcher that night My parents had already butchered the buck that morning. By 11 PM, we had finished butchering, and were ready to pass out. What a hunt!