View Full Version : My first elk...

Covert Mission
December 4, 2001, 08:40 PM
I bagged my first elk last weekend. Well, you don't really "bag" an elk, unless you quarter and bone it ;)

I was hunting with my regular hunting partner, on a ranch in Two Dot, MT. It borders the national forest on the N end of the Crazy Mountains, and there's a "resident" elk herd of more than 100 (and an estimated 5000 in that area). We had hunted there last year on his late season cow tag-- I was the driver/scout/grunt on that mission (I had no tag)-- when we jumped a herd of 90+ elk down low below the corrals in a pasture, hunkered down and grazing in the zero degrees, blowing snow, and gusts. The elk had heard us before they saw us, and saw us before we saw them. By the time we saw them, the were on the move up to the trees. My partner missed a 340 yd shot (he underestimated by 100 yds in haste), and we never caught up with them again, as they retreated up the mountain to the trees and deep snow. I vowed to not let that happen to me!

This year, we both drew late-season cow tags for that district, and had permission to hunt that ranch again. The first day, last Friday, offered some tough weather... 20 degrees but with a wind gusting to 40-50 mph, and recent snow. We saw no elk after scouting, and I took off on a survey through the woods, for 3 hours. Nothing. The mountain/meadow fringe, in addition to thick timber, is full of coulees and ravines, and other places where 50 elk could hide with ease, and they do.

Saturday, we got out there just before shooting light, and after crossing the 2nd gate down low, I glassed the far meadow below the mountain, about 2 miles away, and bingo!, there was a group of about 25 elk grazing in the dawn... three young bulls and the rest a cow harem. We eased the 4x4 up the hills to the corral on top, about a mile away from them, and watched. They had noticed us, but didn't seem alarmed. They were slowly grazing their way to the trees at the base of the mountain, and I decided to make the long stalk to see if I could catch up with them.

Fortunately, there is a coulee/creek bottom that runs from the corrals right up to the meadow they were grazing. Off I set, through deep crusty snow and rough ground (and a favorable wind), in a mile-plus stalk which took almost 2 hours. I made my way up the steep bank to the trees fringing the meadow and peeked out. There was one cow lying down in the morning sun, back to me. I knew that the others must be nearby. Rather than spook the ones I couldn't see, I sat down behind a small pine, and got my shooting sticks ready and into shooting position, and waited. After about 15 minutes, she stood up slowly, unalarmed, and since I couldn't see any of the others, I took my shot. After the first shot, she just stood there, turning slightly. What the heck? It was about 225-250 yards to her, but I knew I didn't miss. I shot again, and again she didn't move much. I took my eye from the scope, and there was another cow standing 10 yds away, watching. I shot a third time (with my trusty .270, getting its first use on elk), and she walked 5 yards, and lay down in the snow. I knew she was hit then, and if I had had more confidence in my skills, I would have just waited after the second shot. I looked away from the scope, and now there were a dozen elk standing there in the trees, milling in confusion.

As I walked towards her she put her head up, and amazingly dragged herself to her feet and stumbled to the trees. The other elk took off running, and then paused 100 yds away... I had plently of chances to take 2-3 more if I'd had the tags. I followed mine to the ravine slope where she went down about 20 yds, and expired. And started to slide down the 100 yd slope. NOOOOOOOOO! I quickly roped her to a tree to prevent that, and started dressing her out. Man, are they much harder to dress than a deer. She weighed nearly 350 lbs I guess, and the ribcage and pelvis are tough to cut and hold open alone, to gut them. I found that one shot had passed through the upper back just below the spine, and the other two shots had entered the ribs 3" apart-- one exiting the other side and the other shattering the shoulder-- both piercing the lungs. Her chest cavity was full of blood... both those shots were fatal, and she was just bleeding out inside.

I radioed my friend, and he came over to help quarter it, and get her to the truck. Fortunately, the weather held all afternoon. I've never skinned and quartered large game in the field, and I'd rather not again. Next time I get lucky with an elk, I hope I can dress it and leave it whole or in halves with the skin on, and get it out of the field. The meat stays cleaner, and you don't have to spend the hours we spent later, butchering the trim, loins, etc. Getting one out whole may be unrealistic... they're SO darned big, especially the big bulls.

MY friend, who has 6 elk, many deer and antelope, a moose and a caribou to his credit, would have his elk too if he'd come on my stalk. We tried the next day for his. We found the same bunch in the same place that afternoon, on the move to the trees. He tried to catch them, but no luck. He spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the high ground above those pastures and trees, waiting for sunset when they might come out. I watched him with the binocs and spotting scope from the truck. At 10 minutes left in shooting light, I spotted what looked like 3 elk in a meadow about 800 yards from him. I watched through the spotting scope, and by the end of legal light, 60+ elk had come out of the trees-- like ghosts-- to graze, and he couldn't get there in time. That's elk hunting for you, I'm told.

We're going back next weekend, for one last try for his. I'm a rookie, and have a lot to learn, but I think I'm hooked! I don't foresee becoming a "horn hunter", though if a big bull walked into my crosshairs and I had a tag, I'd probably take him. In the meantime, that cow will be good eatin', I hope.

PS: I recovered one of the Trophy Bonded Bear Claw 140 gr bullets I used (Winchester Premium ammo), and it had peeled back in a perfect mushroom. It weighed at 137 grains... a 97.8 % weight retention. Expensive bullets, but they work.

December 4, 2001, 09:37 PM
Congratulations, sounds like you had a great time.

December 4, 2001, 09:50 PM
Glad to hear it, Covert.

All the deer hunting in the world doesn't prepare one for their first downed elk. Just rolling one of them over can be a chore.

Funny about your elk starting to slide downhill. Most every one I've shot has been on some kinda slope. First thing I do is get a rope around one part of it to make sure it stays put while dressing out.

Cows make for great eating, as do bulls. Only difference is bulls are bigger.

December 4, 2001, 10:02 PM
Yup, that sounds like a typical elk hunt to me - one guy gets in the middle of 'em and the other guy can't find 'em to save him though he knows they are there! Good going, and don't worry about being hooked - that happens all the time. ;)

December 4, 2001, 10:58 PM
A job well done, congratulations covert,
Ain't it amazing how Elk will take a bullet in the vitals and give no indication of a hit, not even flinch!! I shot mine this year at about the same distance right behind the shoulder with my trusty .375 and she showed no indication what so ever that she'd been hit excerpt for the fact that I heard it and she proceeded to fall over G.Y.D (Grave Yard Dead) after my third shot and all three of em were quite fatal.
Once again congrats , this is your first step in the long road of no recovery from elkaholism.

Art Eatman
December 4, 2001, 11:14 PM
Is've never killed an elk, but have been given some elk meat from time to time. Absolutely scrumptious!!!

:), Art

Dan Morris
December 5, 2001, 07:39 AM
My congrats, as the gentleman says, one gets in the middle
and the next sees nothing.As to addictive, you're gone!LOL

Covert Mission
December 5, 2001, 11:16 AM

re: Ain't it amazing how Elk will take a bullet in the vitals and give no indication of a hit, not even flinch!! I shot mine this year at about the same distance right behind the shoulder with my trusty .375 and she showed no indication what so ever that she'd been hit excerpt for the fact that I heard it and she proceeded to fall over G.Y.D (Grave Yard Dead) after my third shot and all three of em were quite fatal.

I feel better already :D . I've been beating myself up for not having confidence in my marksmanship, or patience to wait after the first two shots. That's amazing that with your .375-- a much more potent caliber than the .270-- your elk took three hits without hardly a flinch. I thought I was nuts when I shot her twice (at least once through the lungs) and she hardly moved, and after the third only walked a few yds and then lay down (to die, of course). Had I waited, it would have expired right there on the level, clean snow. Instead I approached, and she struggled to the downslope. Oh well, the slope and gravity actually made dressing it out easier.

Take care all

December 5, 2001, 11:50 AM
Our policy is to shoot the elk until it falls over. We always shoot for the heart/lung area so breaking a couple more ribs isn't wasting meat, etc. (BTW, hunting dark timber almost exclusively, so shots are usually in the 35 yard range or so.)

Reasoning is elk can go a long way even "dead." Having to pack one out on your back, it sometimes makes a huge difference in that task - not having to hump the weight back UP another ridge - that truly does suck.

My Bud shot a cow through 'n through (one forward lung shot 180 .30-06) & with every exhalation, it was blowing about a cup of blood out the exit hole (THE most amazing blood trail I have ever seen - foot of snow only made everything more evident).

Elk still went 1/2 mile.

Bottom Gun
December 8, 2001, 10:06 AM
Well done, Covert !

Time to join elk anonymous because you're most likely addicted now. I must confess that I'm an addict too.

Nothing like first hand knowledge to learn how incredibly tough these critters are. They can sure soak up a lot of lead without showing much sign of distress.

You might want to think about picking up one of the Wyoming saws. They make dressing a lot easier and they're pretty compact. If you do, I've found the long one is much easier to use than the short one.

Dan Morris
December 8, 2001, 06:42 PM
LOL, last elk I shot was kinda in self defense....heavy wind, elk came from behind me and turned in front of me at about 35yds.
took one 06 and dropped in it's tracks.......luck!Gutted by myself and then buddy said from behind me..."nice job".......he did help
get it back to trail!Welcome to the tribe of the elk hunter!