Editor’s note: This is part of an ongoing series by members of TU’s Sportsmen’s Conservation Project. For more, visit www.oursportingheritage.org, a site dedicated to protecting our backcountry resources.
By Walt Gasson
The first two days of Mark’s elk hunt were not great. It was hot. It was windy. There were people everywhere. And every one of them had a pickup truck, a trailer full of ATVs and a case of beer. I’ve seen fewer people and less alcohol at Wyoming Cowboy football games. I was beginning to feel a sick little inkling of despair in the pit of my stomach. But my beloved brother, bless his heart, was absolutely undaunted. He had bet all his preference points on this hunt, and he would persevere – or else.
On the third day, it all changed. We were on a ridge overlooking a big basin long before daylight. There wasn’t a soul in sight. The wind had calmed a bit. And as the darkness began to give way to the dawn, I began running the spotting scope over the finger ridges a mile away. It took all of a minute to locate them. At least forty elk, ghostly in the half-light, feeding and moving slowly to the southeast. If we could get down into the timber, we could head them off.
Mark had his backpack on and his rifle over his shoulder in seconds. He was headed down the draw and into the timber before I even had my pack on. We eased down the drainage, paralleling the beaver ponds and glassing up through the aspens and spruce to make sure we still knew where they were. Still there? Yup. Keep on walking. The sun still hadn’t cleared the horizon and these elk were headed for the dark timber, following some 30-year-old cow with an IQ of about 140. But they hadn’t seen us yet, and the wind was in our favor. This just might work…
When we got to the point where we figured our path and theirs were just about to intersect, we split up. I took one small draw and Mark took the one to the east. I was about halfway up it when I felt that feeling – the feeling you get when someone or something is looking at you. I stopped behind a small limber pine and peered around it. Two spikes were looking right at me from the ridge above the next draw. I just did a slow fade down to my knees and curled up in the sagebrush, waiting. Sure enough, the .30-06 roared once, then again with a satisfying “whack” at the end. The elk all headed south, and as I eased up behind the tree again, I could see a 6-point bull staggering with his head down, obviously hit. He dropped below the ridge out of sight.