The permit arrived in the form of a cow elk tag, issued for unit 3B, where I do know of quite a few ‘bedrooms’, places elk often return to during mid-day. Any year with an elk tag is a great hunting year, so I did not complain one bit that this was my only permit in the fall of 2005. And in 3B I had hunted elk about ten times (not always as a permit holder) in the last dozen years or so. No scouting required. It also only took one session with the custom .375-.338 magnum Mauser to become comfortable for the early December hunt.
Gary Burk made the deal even sweeter, volunteering to not only ride shotgun, but also provide creature comforts in Pinetop. I met him and Cindy there Thursday night. Cindy had volunteered to create tasty dinners. Ah, the relaxation of a real bed, and a quick bite for breakfast in a real kitchen.
Opening morning was here. We entered hunting ground within less than a mile. Gary drove my 4Runner. As we approached ‘Spike Hill’ confirmation already lay on the ground that the area around this little knoll (named after a spike that my brother and me had killed on its top in ’96) is often frequented by elk. No, not tracks in the snow – there was none, all was sadly dusty. Somebody had bagged what looked like a yearling. Those guys were about to field dress their animal.
With that area already somewhat disturbed, I gave Gary directions to drive to a little loop road that Mike Kelley had discovered on his bull hunt last fall. We parked, and walked the loop.
Sure enough, half way through we spooked one elk, most likely a bull. On our return leg suddenly there was more movement on the other side of a thick stand of young trees. Turns out, it was an entire herd of cow elk, just what my tag had called for. Except none of them was quite stupid enough. By the time I had moved along the forest road for an unobstructed shot, all but one had already departed. And that last one was lucky. I had the crosshairs on her chest just as she reached the next patch of trees. Oh, what one more second could have done! But hey, we’re talking opening morning here, not even 9AM.
I followed after that herd, up a sizeable mountain, only to never see their hides again. What peaked my interest, however, was plenty of sign of old elk beds, with plenty of obvious elk track paths crisscrossing the steep hillside – another bedroom, for future reference!
Gary and I met at the Toyota. By now it was almost 10AM. Time to try some bedrooms. Those are usually steep hills sides with fairly thick old growth timber. Elk love to bed there, protected from the wind usually, difficult to spot, yet they can easily see and hear danger approaching, and the steep slope allows them effective escape routes.
The first bedroom would be rather small. Informing Gary that it should take no more than half an hour to check out, I had him drop me off near the top of the hill, and told him to park near the bottom. I moved in within fifty steps of where I had killed my last elk two years prior, topped the small hill from the easy side, then crossed over onto the steep slope.
Dressed in my homemade 3D camo, and with rifle at the ready, I carefully inched along one of their trails. It did not even take fifty steps. ‘She’ just stood there, her butt almost facing me, her head turned to look over her back straight at me, maybe sixty paces ahead. In the scope, set at about 5X, I verified one last time that nothing was growing between her ears, swept the crosshairs a little high behind her shoulder (only the upper two thirds of her chest were visible, the rest covered by a crest along the slope we were on), and squeezed.
Up until then I had been unusually calm. That did not change even when I saw the elk, almost as if she showed up where she was supposed to be. The recoil, however, was another thing all together. Not only was it unusually stiff, the muzzle climbed higher than I had been aware of previously. Launching 260 grains of Nosler Partition at about 2700 fps also opened that stupid hinged magazine bottom, and all spare rounds spilled over my trigger hand and onto the forest floor.
With light mental cussing – at least the shot had ‘felt’ good – I checked where the elk had been. Nothing to see, nothing to hear, no animal(s) running. So what the heck, I closed the hinged magazine bottom, collected the dumped ammo, cleaned them and stuffed them back into the Mauser, chambered a round, and then proceeded to where the cow had stood.
Immediately another elk appeared, a little further away, also just standing there, staring at me. Better not shoot until I check on the first one. Sure enough, another fifteen steps further and I could see my cow, on the ground, right where she had stood. Game over!
Coincidentally, this elk had dropped within eighty yards of where my brother had taken his biggest bull. Yes, there were three other cows stupid enough to hang around. They eventually moved on as I approached my animal. It would have been easy to royally screw up and shoot another.
“Gary, do you copy?”
“Did you get one? I heard you shoot.”
“Standing right next to her.”
That was our exact communication. Soon Gary was with me, and we decided to drag my elk down the steep slope to where the SUV could reach her. That required just a little heavy breathing.
I performed the red work before bringing my Toyota to the scene. The Nosler Partition, by the way, had cut four ribs on its way in, then traversed one lung slightly to end up in the spine. No wonder the animal dropped where it had stood. That, then, made this the third elk bagged by my custom .375 Mauser, all one-shot-go-nowhere affairs.
Throwing a rope across a sturdy branch way up on a convenient mature oak required several attempts. Once the pulley was anchored, the 4Runner got the honor of pulling my cow way off the ground, so high that a coyote might be able to jump and just bite into its hind hooves. We tied her up that way, then drove off to fetch Gary’s trailer.
About an hour later, with trailer in position, we lowered the beast gently, and tied her down for the trip back to Gary’s place. There the critter took another ride up between two trees, again way off the ground for the night.
Preparing a work bench for the butchering chores was the final opening day act. Did I mention taking real showers? Also can’t beat a great dinner with good friends. It was an enjoyable evening after a successful hunt.
Saturday morning at first light I began to skin my elk, then anatomically cut off sections to be de-boned. All precious meat, by now nicely cooled out, was in the 100 quart ice chest, and the place cleaned up by 4PM. A perfect hunt, I would say.
It may make for a short adventure to arrange a meeting with elk in their bedrooms!
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