A Very Unglamorous First Elk

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Imagine--it is a beautiful fall day with the aspen changing, the sun just coming up over the horizon and a gentle breeze is blowing with just a hint of fall crispness.  You are standing at the edge of a clearing and you spot a monster bull just exiting the trees. You steady yourself against a rock, the crosshairs resting just behind his shoulder. You slowly squeeze the trigger and he drops in his tracks. Well--this is how I imagined my first elk but as pretty much everyone reading this story knows events like this rarely exist. My first elk was pretty much the opposite.

I grew up hunting antelope in Wyoming and small game here in Colorado.  Well, in 1999 I moved to the western slope and decided that since I now lived on the side of the Grand Mesa, I needed to be an elk hunter.  The next fall I took to the mountain with no experience but a head full of knowledge gleened from reading multiple books on the subject.  I thought I was an expert.  Needless to say--I found out rather quickly that I really didnt have a clue about anything regarding elk and you can guess how that season went.  Over the next 10yrs I basically started at zero and worked hard, learned from every experienced elk hunter I could and slowly I started to notice a change in my hunting seasons.  I started seeing elk almost every time I went out but I still was working on getting a shot and killing one.  Well, in 2008 I finially managed to put it almost all together.  I  got within shooting distance of a cow, placed the crosshairs on her and BOOM.  I watched as the 30 elk with her went sprinting through the forest, looked at where she was standing----and saw nothing but dirt.  It then occurred to me that since I was on such a steep slope that maybe I should have compensated my aim somehow (dont laugh--started from zero remember!!)  I spent three hours looking for any sign I hit her but found nothing and went home as always--empty handed.

Well-fast forward 365 days to 2009.  Another 1st season hunt and this year I was confident that things would be different.  I got up opening morning, drove to the parking area.  Hiked in a few miles to the site of the fiasco of last year and set up.  Then I heard it, the breaking of a twig, the footsteps through the leaves---and then the voice asking me if I had seen anything yet.  It was another hunter.  I was irritated, I had hiked in all this way to get away from people and here was this other hunter ruining my day.  Turns out the trail I took to access the area actually circles back on itself and ends up aproximately 1/2 mile from the road I drove in on but of course I had not been intelligent enough to actually check a map (yet another hard lesson learned in the education of elk hunting-maps are your friend).  Well-- I went home to lick my wounds and formulate another plan.

When I got home I was a litte dejected and at a loss how to proceed.  My wife said maybe I should go to that area where we always saw cars parked on the bend in the highway.  I had nowhere else so I figured I might as well try it. 

The next morning was beautiful, warm, a slight breeze, not a cloud in the sky.  I parked and started hiking.  I made it in a mile or two and found the breeze was beginning to be a pain.  It was swirling around making it impossible to hunt into it.  I was in the middle of an aspen forest in october so no matter how slow and delicately I tried to walk I sounded like a herd of elephants from all the dried leaves on the ground.  I was also busting deer almost constantly so my hopes of even seeing an elk were floating somewhere near zero.  Then I heard it.  The incredibly loud crashing noise that elk make when running through a forest (I had heard that sound a lot in the last 10yrs oddly enough!!).  I almost threw my hands up in the air in frustration figuring I had spooked up a heard.  Then I caught movement out of the corner of my eye and to my surprise it was 4-5 elk about 30yrds from me with a bull chasing them.  The lead cow stopped broadside.  I brought my gun up, steadied against a small aspen and BOOM. The whole thing took probably less that 10 seconds.  I just remember seeing those 4-5 elk sprinting away over the small hill they were on and thinking I had just repeated the fiasco from last year.  I walked up to where the elk had been, I looked down and saw a puddle of some sort of strange red substance.  It took me a minute to realize that my aim had been accurate and the elk drought had finially ended.  I still had to find the elk but when I looked to my right, about 50yrds away, I saw a strange looking rock.  I threw up my binoculars and there lay my elk.  I then learned the last very important lesson an elk hunter has to learn--elk are really big, really hard to clean by yourself and really dang heavy when you have to haul them out on your back the 2miles in steep terrain that you hiked in to find them in the first place.  I dont think I walked right for a week but it was the sweetest pain I think I have ever felt.

So, my first elk was definitely the perfect story I had originally imagined and it definitely was not the end of my learning process about elk hunting.  It was, however, an incredible experience and one that I will never forget. 

(by the way, a word about the two pictures below--that is actually an exit hole, it was a good shot not a gut shot.  Also, my daughter for some reason wanted me to hike out a leg for her so that is the other picture--she wouldnt let me get rid of it either.  It finally started to stink so I had to wait until she went to school and it got "lost"--kids are kind of strange sometimes but you gotta love em!!!)


Ca_Vermonster's picture

That's a great story!!!  I am

That's a great story!!!  I am in the infancy of my elk hunting life, actually only having been one time about 8 years ago.  Hoping for a good trip next fall. And like you, I have dreams of that big bull casually walking into the opening, and me putting him down Wink

However, as you said, it rarely works out that way.  But, I bet you wouldn't trade most of those experiences for anything, would you?  Thay all made you the hunter you are today, and look at you now, even offering help to other new guys like me, in my other post.  Heck, most likely you will soon be putting down an elk every year, picking and chosing which one you want.

And by the way, great photo of the daughter.  I remember a long time ago up in Maine at my grandparents house, where the exact same thing happened.  My grandfather had shot a deer, and cut all 4 lower legs off.  All of us kids had to keep them around, and we had fun making tracks throught he yard in the snow.  We must have kept them the better part of the week.  kids will be kids!

I have to laugh at your "strange red substance" comment.  I am going on a 9-10 year drought for big game, and I feel the same way.  If I actually get to fire my weapon in the near future, I am going have to remember what blood actually looks like.  It is red, correct???? lol

Congrats on a nice cow elk!  Hopefully the first of many!!!

SGM's picture

Great story and the smile on

Great story and the smile on your little girls face is worth dragging out 100 legs. As for an "Unglamorous First Elk" no such thing. That is a great hunt and a story you can share for years and be proud of. You are not the first nor will you be the last to realixe how big elk are once down on the ground. The painful truth and real work on an elk hunt starts after you drop one. Congratulations on bagging your first elk and best wishes for many more. 

numbnutz's picture

That was one heck of a story,

That was one heck of a story, I really felt like I was there with you. You painted a great picture for me to fallow. Like Retired said There is no "unglamourous first elk". A huge congrats is in order toyou Sir. I remember my first elk. It was a cow too. I was 12 years old and was very excited to be elk hunting with my dad. After the first 3 days we saw a few elk but nothing to get a shot off at. On day 4 I spotted 5 elk down in a little revine about 150 yards away. I through up the gun put the iron site on her and squeezed the trgger. She dropped right there with the shot from the 30.30. My only mistake was shotting her down hill. it took 6 of us almost 7 hours to get her out. we didnt quater her up we just hiked a wench cable down to her and pulled her up. it was still very hard labor intensive work. I vowed never to shoot an elk down hill again. 2 years later in the exact same spot I did the same thing. hahah this time she ran down hill father and into a clearing I chased and put a follow up shot in her. she went down 50 yards later right next to an old skidder road so we were able to drive right up to her and load her whole. Aain great story and congrats on your first elk.

Retired2hunt's picture

  There is absolutely no such


There is absolutely no such thing as an "unglamorous" first elk!  Congrats on harvesting your very first elk!  Even if the elk walked into your bullet I would still not see it as unglamorous.  You can read about mine here shortly. I basically was shooting at a charging bull!  Thank God I didn't miss it!

It is adorable that your daughter asked for a leg.  As soon as she is old enough I am certain your plans are to take her out with you hunting! 

Great story and pics and again congrats on a hunt well executed - as planned!


jaybe's picture

Yup - I have to agree -

Yup - I have to agree - that's a pretty cow elk there!

Having been raised in a hunting family (Grandfather, Uncles, Cousin and my Dad), it's a bit difficult for me to relate to having to learn it all from nothing. I commend you for all the reading and learning by trial and error. Now that you have your first one on the ground (and in the freezer), I'm sure that your learning curve will increase substantially.

I'm sure that you have probably done some reading about shooting at a steep uphill or downhill angle. But in case you haven't, and for anyone else's benefit, you just need to remember to aim a little low. Gravity acts on the bullet not for the actual distance between you and your target, but for the distance that is represented by a line that is horizontal to the Earth from you to the target. That doesn't sound right. Think of a right triangle, with you at the bottom corner shooting at a target at the top corner along the longest side - like shooting uphill. Gravity doesn't act on the long leg (hypoteneuse) of the triangle, but on the distance of the horizontal leg of the triangle - the one that's parallel to the ground. Since it's a shorter distance, you usually need to aim a bit lower - like at the lower 1/3 of the animal.

 Thanks for the story and good luck on your future hunts!