Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Elk Down Part IV

I filled my late season cow elk tag this morning after 5 days of hunting! I thought it would be easy, but I missed a couple of opportunities earlier in the week bumping elk into thick timber while walking ridgelines and not being ready. The snow has been flying off and on for a couple of weeks bringing record snow to Moab. I've been hunting the western base of the La Sal Mountains between 6,000 and 7,000 feet. The snow has been getting deeper and deeper each day, and as I drove up into a snow storm this morning, I wasn't sure I was going to make it up. I spotted 3 cows at around 8am about a mile away, two canyons over, and in the middle of a roadless series of ridges with cedars, pines, and mixed openings on the south facing slopes. I studied the area through my binoculars and decided that because they were at the top of a draw, they might bed in the timber there. I remembered an old national forest boundary fence running through that area in the forest, and I remembered that the other day I happened upon it and found that someone had driven through the deep snow along the fence making walking much easier if the tracks weren't filled in by now. So, I drove about 3 miles using forest roads and parked what I estimated to be about a half mile from the elk. I found the fenceline and the ruts, and walked through about 4 inches of fresh snow in the ruts down the fenceline. After about a half mile, I turned into the forest thinking I was somewhere in the vicinity of where those elk might have bedded down. After about 5 minutes of walking, I popped out on a little ridge with a few trees on top and looked down into a southwest facing draw that I though the elk were in. Suddenly, a spike elk stepped out about 30 yards below me on the opposite face and looked at me. I took 3 quick steps to get into a clearing and as I did this, the spike began running up the opposite slope which was pretty open even though there were a lot of trees. Suddenly, a herd of about 10-15 cows, several bulls, and the spike busted out of the trees where they were bedded and ran across the slope, stopping to keep looking back. I shot a cow that was clear of the rest of the herd so as not to wound anything else. I shot the elk at about 9:15 am, and as I worked to quarter the elk up, the snow began falling heavier and heavier until visibility was down to just a few hundred meters. I was getting worried and worked quickly. At 10:20, I loaded the backstraps into my day pack, slung on my rifle, and used my rope to drag a hind quarter and front quarter behind me. I had GPS'ed the truck, and it told me I was .38 miles from the truck down the ridge. I took a bearing, and headed up the slope to the top of the ridge and then due north. The snow was deep (probably about 18 inches or more) and my load was heavy, so I could only go about 20 feet at a time, and then had to stop for a brief rest. I arrived at the truck at 11am (only 40 minutes hike). I dropped my gear and load in the truck and grabbed my frame pack. It took me about 15 minutes to hike back down to the elk. I loaded the remaining hind and front quarter on my pack, and headed back to the truck at 11:30. Back to the truck at noon with my last load. The snow was coming down pretty good, and had more than half-filled my tracks coming in. I barely made it out, getting stuck a couple of times. What a great 5 days of hunting! Most of it was getting to know this new area. But each day I saw elk, and was within 30 yards of several big bulls multiple times. Beautiful country.

I took this picture standing next to the elk. I shot from the top of the ridge at the top of the frame. I estimate it was about 70 yards or so. It wasn't far. I took a standing shot and put the elk down with my customary neck shot.