Marksman humbled

Its been a while since I have written anything on TAG. Mostly this hiatus has been forced by being busy. Life intervenes sometimes, and as much as that doesn’t get blog posts written, it does get other things done. So this is my newest hunting story.

My wife is awesome. I have to begin this story by saying that. It is objectively true, and central to this story. I booked a few extra days off work so that I could get some time for hunting, and this year we were going to do the thing we had talked about for years. My wife and I were actually going hunting together! This may not sound like much to you, but we have 5 children under the age of 8, and finding a babysitter is no small feat. Seven years ago we went for a hunt and had not done so together since.

We set out for our hunting spot in the afternoon, having dropped off the four older children with Grandma. (Thanks, Grandma!) Our plan was to scout Friday evening, spend the evening with friends and then hunt Saturday.

Hunting with your lover is high romance, let me tell you. Nothing says “I love you” like an elk call and the smell of gunpowder. I highly recommend hunting with your wife.

The happy hunting couple

And there we be. The white bump in front of my wife is the canvas cover on the ergo, which is a baby carrying device. In which sat our youngest son, Walter. As it turns out, he is the loudest baby in the forest.

 

If a baby cries in the forest, and no elk is there to hear it…

What a cute boy we have. Gush. His squeals even sound like an elk. To return to our tale, we drove out to a field we know elk inhabit, and walked off the field down an adjacent pipeline. Elk routinely cross this pipeline to get to the field. We stood in the hollow of an overturned tree trunk, called elk and waited. Nothing came. Walter called for elk too. And then for bed…

Between the noise he made, and the oncoming end of legal shooting light we decided to pack it in and try again the next day.  We strolled hand in hand back to our truck. It was fantastic and sweet. The sun set to the east, the wind gently swayed the bare, brown trees. Mud squished underfoot, the dead grass crunched.

We got to the truck and unlimbered our kit. I put my backpack and rifle in the truck. My wife handed me the boy and went to find some, er, cover. Nature calls. It is a well known trope in hunting lore that nature shows up when nature calls. I held my son. I looked up the field. The entire herd of Elk I had been looking for thundered over the top, running! They were moving from the top of the hill towards the back corner of the field, 800 yards from where I stood.

I had no option. Looking at my son I said “If you fall off the seat, your Mother will kill me!” Throwing him on the seat I grabbed my rifle and ran towards where the herd was beginning to disappear into the bush. Seeing all this, my wife finished her business post haste, scrambled to the truck while hitching up her britches, and caught Walter before he fell off the seat… whew. Just as she managed this athletic 30 yard scramble, our friend who owns the field in question, drove up.

While this transpired behind me I moved to what I estimated as 550 yards. Most of the herd had disappeared by this point. I saw a big bull, as big or bigger than the one I shot last year, leading the charge. There were a couple spike bulls as well. We were after a cow, and so I focused on one fat lady who stopped to graze at the edge of the field. She stood broadside to me.

My heart was pounding from the running. Shaking hands make for a curious oscillation in the scope reticle. I steadied myself on a hay bale, focused on calming my breathing, established my sight picture and held. When I thought myself to be steady enough, I held over for the distance and wind. The wind was very gentle, less than 5 mph. Then I pulled the trigger.

Nothing. The cow stood there, looked around and began to move. She was sort of startled, but not injured, panicked or in any sense ready to jump into my freezer.

I hate missing. So I worked the bolt on my rifle to reload. The gun jammed. Weirdly enough I had a double-feed. This is not a common issue in a bolt gun, but it happened. I knelt to clear the jam, reloaded my rifle and resumed my shooting position. The cow was gone. Missing is a soul-crushing, ego-smashing experience. I happen to be a rather humble fellow on account of how often it happens…

An ethical hunter always follows his shot and so I went looking for the blood trail, but there was none. There was no injured elk lying in the bush either. As I walked back to my truck my friend drove out to meet me. A grin spread across his face.

“What range did you think that cow was?” he asked.

“550 yards, give or take.” was my dejected reply.

The grin got measurably bigger.

“The distance from that hay bale to that cow was at least 650 yards, man.”

“No way..”

He confirmed this range with his laser range-finder. I badly underestimated how far I was shooting. The bullet plowed dirt and my cow sauntered away.

Better luck next time, bud.

Looking good, shooting somewhat worse…

All good hunting stories end at 4am…

This week I finally bagged an animal that has eluded me for the last five years. Things have been slow at work and so on Tuesday I went hunting. My normal hunting partner, my brother Steve, was unavailable on account of work. Thus I proceeded alone.

Up at 5am, on the cutline by 730. I range fairly far and wide in my normal hunting routine. If I see nothing by 11 or 12 I usually move and check other spots. This day was looking to be no different. I hunkered down on a cutline a couple of miles from a friends farm on crown land and waited. This friend will factor in later…

As is my custom, I walked into the pipeline and sat down about 200 yds in from the lease. And I waited… and cow called. And waited… and cow called. Such is elk hunting.

20161018_084343This was my view. Lovely. From where this picture is taken, the corner you see is about 500 yds away. At 9:45 I had determined to go find another hunting spot. Nothing was moving. A squirrel fight had just concluded in a tree opposite. I’ve become a bit cynical regarding the existence of elk. For some time I did not believe in them. Like doubting Thomas, I require sensory proof of such a thing. Others may have claimed to shoot elk, but they are charlatans, liars, delusional.

Then “it” happened. I experienced my conversion. Before I moved out to go find a new spot, I looked up and down the pipeline. That’s a good habit to cultivate.

Way down at the bend in the pipeline a tree moved. A tree that had an elk attached to the bottom of it moved! This is the point where I realized elk do exist, and that I wanted this one very badly. I did a rough yard estimation using the reticle of my scope. A 500 yd shot is a little out of my class. I ain’t that good. Not yet.

I needed to close the range, fast. This is when the heart attack almost happened. I ran as fast as my little feet could go about 100 yds towards the bull. Running through muskeg is a good way to wind yourself. It also alerts the animal to your presence. This bull saw me. He watched me wheeze towards him. He didn’t move.

Elk are skittish as all get out. This guy puzzles me still. He likely always will. The main problem with running through muskeg that every hunter experiences is the fact that at the end of a sprint you cannot get a good sight picture. I was shaking so badly that could not shoot. And yet that danged elk just watched me!

Judging the distance at 400 yds I resolved to shoot him as soon as I could get everything to stop shaking. At precisely this point he determined that I was up to no good, and that he should leave. I squeezed off the shot just as he turned to go.

I knew that I had missed, and that he was long gone. There is something soul crushing and humiliating about missing. The ego takes a terrible bruising every hunting season. A man spends all year dreaming, telling tall tales, stoking his ego for the hunt. A miss wreaks everything.

Honest hunting requires that a man at least look and see if he hit the animal. An honorable man does not let some bleeding animal wander off to die in agony. We pride ourselves on ethical kills, cleanly and fairly taken. So I trudged up to the spot to look.

Lo! Blood! How in the (insert favorite cuss here) did I hit that thing??? There was a small amount of bright red blood on the snow. The chase was on.

South of the pipeline where I was hunting grows a most tangled and dense version of trackless muskeg. The elk went there. Eeek.

I followed.

Several years before I lost an animal in this area. They’ve got nerve going down there, I tell ya. It ain’t right or fair that they do that.

Tracking in snow is easy, so I followed as fast as I could move. He moved about 80 yards south and 100 or so yards west. His main goal was clearly the swamp south and west of were I shot him. Poor guy, he never made it.

When I found him he was lying down, and did not look too motivated either. I had not seen much blood and so I feared he would bolt. He did try to get up and so I plugged him for good measure. This is about the moment when I finally realised just how monstrous his rack really was.

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Thar he be

Hunting is a backwards thing. You get the preparation, the practice, the thrill… and then instead of a nice cool slide into reminiscence – you get to gut, skin and quarter a 600 lbs animal and drag his sorry ass back to civilization. I must be a sucker for punishment.

Where he went down there was no way to get a quad in. From 10:30 till 3:30 I skinned, gutted and quartered this beast. Hoofing large hunks of meat through muskeg is a challenge for the fittest of us, and I am not the fittest of us… it nearly killed me.

I jest. Seriously. I need to do more push-ups and leg lunges. In deep snow and water. Wind sprints through dense thickets in rubber boots – while carrying one of my children – ought to be on the menu too.

I left the meat in the snow of the pipeline, which is always dangerous in Grizzly country, and drove to my friends house to borrow a quad. He had just left, so his son helped me get it and off I went.

I got to the pipeline with the quad. I even got on the pipeline with the quad. I did not get very far on the pipeline, however. This year we have got lots of rain. The ground is saturated, and then we got a pile of snow. What this means for our story is that there was no frost. Soft muskeggy ground gets quads stuck. I used the quad winch without a break from 5pm to 7:30. By 7:30 my fried, Lowell, got a bit worried and came to find me. We got the quad out the last little bit, and then back to his place.

In the getting the carcass out we kinda got it muddy. I finally dragged my sorry, wet and cold, but very satisfied self home. The wife was impressed. The kids were impressed. My mother-in-law (who was over for dinner) was impressed. I was ready for showers and bed. My wife and mother-in-law insisted on cleaning the meat immediately (which is the proper thing to do) and set about doing it right away. They basically relegated me to sharpening their knives, which was great for me. I was tired!

We had the meat hung by 4am, and I was back in bed by 430.

What a fine day! The freezer is full, the trophy is off to get bleached and mounted, the hunt was good.

PS.

I really wish to thank Lowell Davis for his help in retrieving this elk. He runs an outfitting/guiding business based from his property. Check him out at http://alpineoutfitters.com/

Many thanks are due also to my wife, for all sorts of things, but especially for indulging my big-game addiction, and to my mother-in-law. Enthusiastic help at 4am is rare.