Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Idaho Elk Hunt, 2011

This hunt has been in the making for about five years now, so I was excited to execute the plan this year and have it work out as I always dreamed.

Arriving at the McCall, Idaho airport in the rain on the morning of Tuesday, October 11th, I was optimistic my plane would still get out.  Eight hours later, it did.  We flew up and over the mountain range and into a massive cloud bank, which forced us to turn around and approach the airstrip from another direction.  At about 5pm we landed, many, many miles away from the nearest road, but only a couple hundred yards from the next person (a few Forest Service employees staying in their cabin - they would fly out two days later).  I watched the plane take off, knowing I was to be completely alone for the next week.  I hustled up and got to hiking, as the area I wanted to hunt was far, far away from the airstrip.  I made it 4-5 miles that night before it got dark and I set up camp.

I hiked most of the next day before reaching my desired area around 4pm.  I was tired of walking, so I set up my camp in a small grove of trees which protected me from the cold wind.  This camp location offered a short 100 yard walk to an edge that was a good vantage point to glass (look through binoculars) the canyons and ridges below, which I did that night.  The next morning it was cold and I was a little slow (and not motivated, since I hadn't even seen an elk track the entire previous day) to get up, but at 7:45am I went down to the edge to glass.  There was a ridge to my right that was blocked by a tree so I took a few steps up to see the ground behind the tree.  While I was looking through the binoculars I heard some hoof beats back up the hill by my camp.  I leapt to my rifle, which was laying on the ground a few yards away, and stood there looking up at the edge above.  I could see about 50 yards.  Pretty quickly a cow elk came into view, then a calf, then some more cows.  They crossed through some trees to my right with more following - about 10-12 in total.  I expected there to be a bull with this group and that he would be at the back of the pack, so I just waited.  Then I glanced back at the spot where I saw the first cow and there was the bull, quartering towards me and looking about, waving his 6x6 rack each time.  I was after a 6-point bull so I raised the rifle and waited for him to step out.  My ideal shot placement is just behind either of the shoulder blades, which is where the heart and lungs are.  But after waiting 10 seconds and realizing he was looking right at me, I decided I had a totally okay shot with how he was standing, so I settled the crosshairs in front of his shoulder and pulled the trigger.  He didn't drop in place, but ran away in what appeared to be an uphill direction.  This is bad news because a mortally wounded animal will usually go down because it is easier.

[first blood]

[30 yards later]

It took me an hour of sorting through tracks in the snow, then replaying the scenario before I finally found his tracks.  On his second uphill leap there were a few drops of blood in the snow - a good sign, but nothing conclusive as it could be a flesh wound.  But on each of the ensuing foot prints there was an increasing amount of blood until, at about 100 yards, I looked up and saw the bull lying dead a few yards in front of me.

[can you spot him?]

[hey, there he is!]

[a pretty good bull for this wilderness area]

I spent the rest of the day 'boning out' the meat, which means taking the meat off the bones to save weight.  Since the airstrip was 13 miles away, I needed to cut weight wherever possible, so taking out bones was not going to happen.  I ended up with three bags, each weighing about 50 pounds.  My bullet actually traveled through both front shoulders (not sure how) which destroyed some meat, otherwise my total may have been closer to 175 total pounds.

[I put the bags in the snow on the windy ridge line to get the meat cooling as quickly as possible overnight.]

[the herd of elk actually came within 20 yards of my tent to the left before walking beneath it then straight towards the edge that I was standing under.  I could have shot my bull from inside my tent if I'd decided to lay around for another 30 minutes.]

[even when I don't 'gut' out an elk I still manage to get covered in blood]

[I left my SLR camera at home to save weight, but this is not a bad shot for a point-and-shoot]

Being that I was 13 miles from the airstrip, I had a big trip ahead of me.  I had 150 pounds of meat plus the skull/antlers and all of my camping supplies.  In all but one downhill 5-mile stretch, this meant four trips (I combined those into three for the big downhill).  So 13 x 4 x 2 = 102 miles, minus 10 for the missing downhill trip = 92 miles of packing, which took me four days.  It was a trying time, seeing the same trail eight times and spending much of one day packing in the rain.  Also, I barely made it back to the airstrip in time, arriving just an hour before the plane with my last load.  My feet were wet and blistered and my shower in McCall was one of the best I've ever had.

[with anywhere from 50-70 pounds on my back, this was the only 'action' shot I took of myself]

[not a fantastic 'fall' shot, but this was still a welcome respite during the long pack out]

[it rained much of the third day of packing out, rendering my feet wet and cold for the last 48 hours]

I'm pretty happy with the trip, as it went exactly as planned.  If only I could've planned a better way to pack out the meat.  I can see having a partner in the future would be an attractive option.  But I am very happy with the area I selected and I am looking forward to exploring it more in the future.  I barely scratched the surface this time before this bull walked into me.

1 comment:

jkmtbiker said...

Congratulations Dave! Maybe that’s been my problem all these years, getting up early the first morning and wanting to sleep in for the rest of the days. I might have to try hunting out of a blind next opening morning.