Introduction note: This was my third season hunting elk, though unsuccessful until now. I purchased general elk tags for the first two seasons, which meant that I was hunting mostly in the steep rugged terrain of the Wyoming Range. I was lucky this year and drew a cow elk tag for Little Mountain, just south of Rock Springs. This was close enough to home (about an hour) that I could just day hunt, returning home each night. I took my cow on my fourth day of hunting, two consecutive weekends. Bull season had ended on Little Mountian, so the trophy hunters had all left. It is interesting how the bulls know when they are safe. There were still plenty of hunters up there trying to fill a cow tag like me, but the bulls didn't seem to mind. They were plentiful and visible . . . and safe. The cows were being very elusive.
I had hunted this one 50-acre patch of woods my previous three days out. The signs of elk were plentiful with bedding spots, tracks, and droppings. I knew that elk were in these pine woods, but I was having trouble getting the right approach with regards to the wind and the crunching snow. This day, I took a different approach angle, and I was particularly stealthy allowing me to get within 50 yards of a cow elk in the thick timber. The woods were so dense that I could only see portions of the animal between the trees. I rested on one knee waiting for a better shooting angle. I finally took a shot at the chest cavity and scored a hit. The cow ran north out of the woods as I slowly followed a very obvious blood trail in the 10 inches of snow. The blood flow was significant, but the animal did not drop.
I reached the edge of the pine woods where it turned into an aspen grove. A hundred yards ahead of me stood a dozen elk cows looking back in my direction. I rested for a while as I scanned the herd for my victim. I was confused when I finally saw a cow with a dangling rear leg. I had been close enough when I took my shot to feel certain of my aim, but my bullet must have been deflected by a branch or twig in the thick woods, and ended up breaking a hind leg at the ankle joint. The herd got spooked and took off on a run down through a draw and up over a ridge to the east. I hadn't seen my injured cow in the mass exodus, so I followed the blood trail closer in search of my cow. We surprised each other when she arose from behind some downed timber and began hopping away from me down into the draw. I chastised myself for not being more patient, and not carefully scoping the area again after the herd ran off. Now my elk had moved down into a draw from which I would have to retrieve her.
My severely injured elk did not get very far. I watched as she slipped and lost her footing on the hillside. She ended up pinned under some downed pine trees. I kept my distance, and decided to let her bleed out in peace while I went back to my truck so I could move it closer to the animal. I was able to bring my pickup truck to within about a quarter-mile of my elk. I was parked on the snowy hilltop, and dreaded the effort that it would take to get my elk back to the truck. This, afterall, was MY FIRST ELK. I gathered my field dressing gear and dragged my game cart to the elk, and was surprised to see that she was still alive. I approached her calmly and put her down with a final fatal shot to the neck. Now the real work began.
She was so pinned under the downed timber that I spent quite a bit of time sawing away branches just so I could get access to her. I field dressed her, removed all four legs, and cut off the head, all in an effort to reduce the weight. I have no experience boning out an animal in the field, and I wanted to protect the meat as much as possible, but there was no way that I could get that animal onto my game cart and haul it up the hill through 10 inches of snow and over downed trees by myself. I ended up sawing the body in half, midway along the spine. It took me an hour to get each half up to my truck. This was the most physical exertion that I had put myself through in many years. If the effort wasn't demanding enough, I didn't get started moving the second half until it was completely dark outside.
I first shot the elk at 1:30 PM, and it was after 7:00 PM when I finally got in my truck and started home. Christine and I have been enjoying the outstanding flavor of elk meat ever since. I can't wait to go elk hunting again next season.