Elk Hunt 2014 – 5 Things I Think I Think
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The list is MUCH longer than only 5 things, but here goes…ode to Peter King’s Monday morning NFL recap on SI.

*Campfired elk steak might be the best meal on earth. Elk steak in the high country means a lot of things have gone your way. It’s a good tasting feeling.

*Even a little rodent digging through your Ziploc full of trash will raise your neck hairs at 3 AM. I’m not going to say we screamed like little girls, but there were a few tense moments in the GoLite while we figured things out.

*I hate lightning. This one needs no explaining…I hate it.

*I hate horses. I love horses. This one does need some explaining. Places where we didn’t expect to see horses, we found all sorts of evidence to the contrary. This is a letdown because it means somebody else has hunted that area recently. On the flip side, if you see horse sign, you know there is a reasonably easy route out of wherever you are at the moment. That’s a good feeling. An even better feeling is waiting on a horse to pack you the rest of the way out of the mountains and finally hearing that clip-clop of hooves on the switchback’s rocks below. You ain’t a horse no more. That’s a great feeling!

*Fish oil = liquid gold. This was my first time taking fish oil and I can honestly say it will be a mainstay for backcountry hunting in the future. It’s calorie rich and it lubricates your joints. Zero joint pain for either Pete or I. For me, this revelation comes from someone currently typing with a hitch in my left elbow. An annoyance that’s ALWAYS present except when I was elk hunting in the mountains and dining on 12-18 fish oil pills daily. Just make sure you match oil intake with some fiber intake…that’s all I’m saying.

Book Review – “The Book of Yaak” by Rick Bass
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All the time spent on the road lately has given me a chance to finish up some books. One of those was The Book of Yaak. Written by Rick Bass (see my review of his Last of the Grizzlies from a couple months ago), it’s a passionate plea to save the last remaining roadless areas of one of the most remote valleys in the Lower 48 – to designate those last cores of wildness as wilderness. With corporate timber interests pressing in from every side, the book is a series of essays that pleads the valley’s case of uniqueness and of specialness.

From the 100 or so residents that call the place home to the conglomerate of animal and plant species that merge in the little corner of Montana, British Columbia, and Idaho, the author envelops all their voices in a case for wilderness designation. It’s a superb read and I enjoyed knowing of the specific place names that were used as my spring black bear hunt encroached into some far corners of the Yaak.

My second Rick Bass book to date, but surely not my last. Rick has a sensibleness that tries to connect the stakes of socioeconomic interests with environmental protection. An attitude and angle that not all will share, but an interesting and thought-provoking perspective none-the-less.

Elk Meat
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I snapped a picture of this sign in a Colorado meat market that we visited for the vaunted ‘Smokehouse Club’ – sort of a legendary post-hunt meal.

By my calculations, we did the hunt for just over $1,000 apiece. $620 in licenses, $200 apiece for the hired horsepower, and the remainder being dominated mostly by gasoline. Even if you just take the price of elk burger ($10.99), consider that farmed elk are basically cows with antlers. Let’s not kid ourselves. The legitimate market price for our wild elk is surely something appreciably higher. Undoubtedly, it’s nutritionally healthier too. By my calculations, even a half bull’s worth of just burger would easily cover the 1K price tag of the hunt door-to-door. Considering that we didn’t bring home just burger — my total breakdown for my half of the meat ended up being about 20 pounds burger, 15 pounds stew/kabob meat, 60 pounds of steaks, 20 pounds of roast, and 10 pounds of other miscellaneous cuts such as flank and brisket and filet — elk hunting is actually profitable, by a long shot!!!

At least that’s what I’ll tell my wife.

2014 OTC/DIY Archery Elk Hunt – Day 6, 7, and Drive Out
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That night we pondered long and hard our next move. Lug meat ourselves and hope to have it out 72 hours from now – it was definitely feasible but it raised the all-important question of – will the meat still be good? Run out to town and try to rent horses or find someone to pack our meat for us – again, definitely feasible but if we came up empty we would put ourselves further behind the 8-ball and virtually guarantee that we lose the meat. Then again, if successful in that venture, we’d be out of the mountains soon and headed back East with heavy coolers. Decisions, decisions.

Option B won out. At dawn, we packed camp after double-checking that our meat bags were hung properly in the best ventilated and shaded spot available. 9 miles and 3 hours later we strolled into the parking lot and bummed a ride in a pickup truck bed down to the dude ranch about 5 miles further towards town. A very helpful lady was able to make some phone calls and get us hooked up with an outfitter armed with 1 horse and 2 mules. He would meet us at 5 PM the following evening at the top of the switchbacks. That was all well and good, but we still had to get back in to the meat and antlers and move everything 2-2.5 miles further to the top of the switchbacks. On our hike out that morning, the reason for absent horse/human traffic was obvious – treacherous deadfall EVERYWHERE! It would be a grueling push to our finish line, but we’d have horsepower from there.

(The elevation profile of the total pack-out suggests that we did do something right…kill up, pack down!)

Long story short, we did the rough hours of effort calculation and figured we better make tracks back in that evening. We made it 4-5 miles deep before darkness and ominous storm clouds stopped our progress. After a long night of rain interspersed with lightning, we woke soaked and gloomy but with one mission in mind. Hike the remaining 4 miles to the meat cache and shuttle those 2 loads down to our rendezvous point by 5 PM. 9 hours later, we arrived at said point at 4:45 PM. We heard the clip-clop of hooves just 15 minutes later. We were on time and he was on time. 6 miles later, we were packing the Nissan for the long haul back East. We drove 2 hours to find a hotel and a much-needed shower and rest. Refreshed the next morning, we tackled the 24-hour through drive back to Columbus, OH, and reunited with our families – 2 days ahead of schedule I might add.

We had a lot of miles to absorb the events of the last 7 days. We were admittedly confident going into the trip that we would get into elk and likely have adequate opportunity to fill our 2 tags. Were we expecting the kind of elk hunting we had experienced? By no means. The action – both in terms of quantity of bulls encountered and quality of bulls encountered – surpassed our wildest expectations. 2012 was definitely not an outlier, no anomaly there. 4 for 4 was backed up with 2 for 2. Heck, in 2 true days of hunting, we had taken 3 shots, Pete had passed up 1 cow, I had passed up 1 bull and multiple opportunities at cows. We had turned our nose up at other bulls – simply waiting for them to bypass us. Over-the-counter DIY elk hunting on Colorado’s public lands. We had proof of concept and validity of strategy. We also had plenty of time to re-evaluate certain aspects of our strategy, such as, is the “kill a bull first, figure it out later” strategy really a strategy at all – or is it just fool-hardy? We’re both leaning towards the latter. Plenty of other observations were made, so I won’t let all the cats out of the bag just yet as I’ll follow up the blow-by-blow recount with gear reviews, some things we learned, and maybe a few other tidbits.

(Sorry for the lack of pictures from the last 2+ days of our adventure, but the weather was abominable – just drenching wet for a solid 48 hours. )

2014 OTC/DIY Archery Elk Hunt – Day 5
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About 2 hours of daylight, we were back at Pete’s bull. The first task was an attempt to remove the antlers from the rest of the skull. It worked, almost! So close to success, but the wire saw snapped. As we were getting ready to load packs for the uphill ascent, I said something to the effect of “I’d be mad at myself if we didn’t at least make one more loop in hopes of smelling him dead.” Honestly, it wasn’t an easy decision as we knew the meat had long since spoiled, but decided it was a day without a deadline so we dropped the negligible elevation to where we thought he was most likely to be laying.

Miracle of miracles, we found him. It was definitely bittersweet, but we had finally solved the mystery.

From shot to his final location was probably 250 yards as the crow flies, but given what we knew about the blood trail and understanding the lay of the terrain, the mortally-wounded elk traveled a minimum of 400-450 yards. When we rolled him over, this seemed even more implausible!

Right there on the crease, slightly quartering forwards and 2/3 up into both lungs was the cut left by my Slick Trick. I have no explanation for the wild goose chase other than to say – ELK ARE TOUGH!!! We both decided we couldn’t have done anything different and I went to work removing the skull for the pack-out. Given the bull’s state of decomposition, that was no pleasant task. I wouldn’t get to enjoy the meat, but I would have some 5×5 antlers to remember this trip by – a small but tangible consolation prize that once more solidified our 100% success rate of DIY archery elk tags in over-the-counter Colorado.

Now with packs loaded and only the grunt of hard work between us and a trip back East, the hunt became a mental and physical grind. Shuttling loads of meat through the mountains with nothing but the ticking clock of meat spoilage as a scorekeeper.

We leaned into our packs all day long until we had shuttled the last load of meat down to the marked trail. We were ahead of schedule, but we had also discovered that something was out of place with the marked trail. It had NO sign of human or horse activity on it. The realization that we might be screwed started to creep into our minds. Nothing to do now but sleep through the night and start improvising a new plan in the morning.

Infolinks 2013