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Audrey’s First Elk Hunt February 2007
Mark Snyder  

My daughter Audrey was lucky enough to draw a junior’s only cow elk tag this year. That meant along with my archery elk tag we had two chances to put some elk meat in the freezer. Well my elk hunt came and went with no success so it would be up to my daughter to bring home the meat or it might be a very lean year in the Snyder household.

Elk camp would consist of my daughter and I, Rick and his son Josh, Mike and his son Ryan, Dan and his son Sam, and Bob and his daughter Allison. Bob and Allison were not hunting but they love the outdoors so they wanted to go camping with us.

Dan and Sam went up early on Thursday and secured us a camp spot. The rest of us arrived in mid-afternoon and joined up with them. We all went to the elk seminar at Happy Jack Lodge that evening and enjoyed burgers, dogs, and Chili … That’s right Chili … with beans … to people who are sitting next to campfires? … What were they thinking?

They even had a guy there from the Forest Service warning about forest fires ... “There’s more Chili left over if your interested,” he said at the end of his speech.

In all seriousness it was a very nice event and well sponsored. They gave some pointers to the kids and had a nice raffle with lots of prizes for the junior hunters in attendance.

After the seminar we went back to camp, spent a little time by the campfire (thank God the beans hadn’t worked their magic yet), and hit the sack in anticipation of opening morning.

I didn’t sleep well as I was worried there might not be any elk in the area. A ranch that leases the land had released a lot of cattle in the area and in a past archery hunt when this occurred I had a lot of trouble finding the elk. Not hard to believe … the fresh scent of cattle manure isn’t too appealing to me either.

At 5:00 AM the alarm went off and we mustered the troops out of bed. “Time to get up?” … “Really?” … “Did you tell me this hunting gig meant I had to get up before the roosters Dad?”

Mike and Ryan took an ATV to go north of camp to sit in an area we usually find elk. Rick, Josh, Audrey and I walked out of camp and would work our way towards Mike and Ryan. A few hundred yards out of camp Rick and Josh split off from Audrey and I to cover more area. Audrey and I headed east of Rick and Josh toward an area where I had seen a herd of elk over several days during the archery season. It didn’t take long before we ran into another hunter heading in the same direction so I told Audrey we’ll steer north and keep some room between us and the other hunter.

About 40 minutes into the hunt it was apparent that we dressed a little too warmly. The temps were just below the freezing mark but the walk was causing Audrey to overheat. We had just walked up a small hill and I asked Audrey if she wanted to remove a layer of clothing to cool down. She was starting to unzip her jacket when a shot rang out. It was in the direction that I knew Mike and Ryan were and was hoping that Ryan got a shot. (As it turned out Ryan did get the shot but missed.)

About 30 seconds later Audrey and I spotted a herd of about 30 elk running through the trees about 125 to 150 yards from us. We didn’t have a good vantage point from where we were so we moved about 15 yards to our left to a fallen log, which Audrey used as a rest. We sat and watched the herd move through a small opening and saw a mix of about half bulls and half cows. Most of the bulls were spikes or small rag-horns but there were a couple of big ones. At one point in time two cows and a calf stopped in an opening but were side by side so Audrey couldn’t get a clear shot. They took off and the moment passed.

A few seconds latter I caught some movement to our right and there was a smaller herd of about ten elk trailing the previous herd. They must have gotten split up. I thought to myself, we may still get an opportunity. This herd followed the same path as the other but at a slower pace.

Again we watched as mostly bulls passed by us, fortunately trailing them were four cows. It must have been our lucky day as just about the time it looked like the opportunity would pass again they stopped and made a change in direction right towards us. I told Audrey to get ready, here they come. Fortunately they were walking now; unfortunately the five or six bulls were leading the way.

The bulls got to within about 40 yards of us when they spotted us. There weren’t much of us to see but it was enough to stop them in their tracks. A few seconds passed, but it seemed like an eternity. We were in a Mexican stand-off with the bulls, trying to get an open shot at the cows that were about 30 to 40 yards behind the bulls. I thought for sure they were going to bolt before Audrey could get a cow in her sights. Then, the opportunity we’d been waiting for. One of the cows gave Audrey an open shot broadside about 75 yards out. “Boom” went the gun.

I am sure some of the bulls would have crapped their pants had they been wearing any. I swore I saw their jaws drop and their eyes get as big as baseballs. If they could speak I think their words would have been, “Oh sh__ … I’m a dead elk” … “Wait a minute, I’m not hit” … “Run for your lives … Run for your lives!”

The cow she shot at winced a little so we knew she was hit. All hell broke loose and there were elk scrambling for cover in all directions. It looked like a “Three Stooges meets Frankenstein” movie with elk tripping all over each other … whoop, whoop, whoop … yuk, yuk, yuk. Within seconds all the elk were gone except one.

The cow trotted off about 20 yards and turned to look at us. She had a little wobble to her and I knew she was hit. Just how good the hit was I wasn’t sure. Then out of the corner of my eye I caught some movement to our left. Some other hunters were coming and I got worried the cow would bolt.

There was a little rise between us and her so Audrey had to stand up to get another shot at her. She was facing us so I told Audrey to shoot her in the neck, that way she didn’t risk any meat waste or gut shot. At this point the cow was probably 90 to 100 yards out. Audrey took aim for an off-hand shot and missed. The elk didn’t move so I had Audrey shoot again. This time she connected and the elk dropped to the ground.

Audrey’s gun has a muzzle brake and she said her ears were ringing. I thought to myself, “Your ears are ringing? I bet those bulls think the 4th of July just went off in theirs.” My thoughts drifted to the bulls later in the day, the big bull smacking the spikes saying “who’s the dumb-ass that failed to mention that there was a kid laying there pointing a gun at us … I won’t hear straight for a week … not to mention I crapped all over myself … damn kids.”

I congratulated Audrey on her first elk and a job well done. We took pictures and said our thanks to the Lord and the elk for giving us this opportunity to harvest her. Using some string that I had along, Audrey and I tied the elk up spread eagle to make the red-work a lot easier. I have only gutted one elk prior in my life and didn’t know about this technique at that time, but I had since read about it so thought I would try it. Believe me it makes the work a lot easier.

Upon inspection during the red work we noticed Audrey’s shot had entered the cow behind her shoulder and passed through both sides of the rib cage and was lodged in the rear of her opposite side front shoulder. Interestingly she only hit one lung, which would have explained why the elk didn’t expire right away like I expected her to.

After completion of the red work I went back to camp to get some help loading her in the truck. Fortunately Bob was in camp and he and Allison came and gave us a hand. It was all we could do to get her loaded in the truck. Afterwards, Bob treated us to a breakfast of eggs and hash browns. You got to love having Bob around … he tells great stories around the campfire and he’s a dang good cook. Every night when you come home from a long day of hunting he’s got supper ready with a smile. It’s like having your wife along … except for the great stories and smile part. Author’s note: For all the wives out there … some of this story has been embellished to enhance the male reading experience … especially the last sentence.

Saturday, Audrey and I went with Rick and Josh to help them try to find an elk. We were taking a stroll through the woods being all sneaky and quiet. We rounded a small patch of thick pines. I took a step out in the open, glanced to my left, and then back ahead of me … wait a minute … brain trying to comprehend the information the eyes just took in … look back to your left. There … 40 yards from us was a big 6x6 bull sleeping. Needless to say our stepping out in front of him woke him up. He had a look on his face like the hunter with his pants down around his ankles, squatting over a log, with a roll of toilet paper in his hands, when that big buck rounds the bend. He got up looking indignant and walked away. He disappeared in the timber … we waited … then we took a couple steps more, just to find him looking back at us from about 100 yards away. I think he was embarrassed but was too proud to admit it.

Sunday morning I again ventured out with Rick and Josh. We spotted a few bulls early but no cows. Then around 9:30 in the morning, we spotted four cows. They were crossing in front of us at about 100 yards. Rick used his cow call and it looked like it was for naught as three of them kept moving. I lost track of the fourth in the trees and she didn’t come out where I expected her to with the others. Rick and Josh were set up for a shot but the three wouldn’t stop. A second later I caught movement to our right. The fourth cow was coming right at us. She must have veered away from the other cows when Rick cow called them. I whispered to Rick and Josh to turn around. The cow caught the movement, which worked out well as she turned broadside and stopped to check us out. Josh took the shot and off she went. She ran about 50 yards and died. Josh was super excited. Rick and I both congratulated him.

It was a fun hunt. I got to witness two hunters get their first elk. A very proud moment for both fathers.

(Related story: "Sam, the Cat, and the Elk")

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