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Faith and Doubt Elk Hunt January 2023
Gerhard Schroeder  

He had been betrayed before he was even born. His ancestors, with the help of a healthy rain, did it when they crossed a forest road. On a scouting trip back in May of 2019 their tracks stood out. Reason enough for me to fashion a primitive ground blind nearby, where a rather mature juniper tree provided solid support to lean smaller branches against. Back then it was merely a gamble, the fourth such blind on that trip. Steve, Ron and I had just received our bull elk tags. Then, during our December hunt, it was more out of a mood than planned that I sat in that blind on the third day at midmorning. Luckily, the elk herd came by soon after, making it a successful hunt.

The next year we did not get drawn, and because of that decided that from then on we would apply separately. That worked well, as last year both Steve and Ron received a cow tag. Ron opted to go to my blind on opening morning, and within a half hour he killed his cow. Hmm. The plot thickened.

In 2022 I was the lucky one, with a bull tag. On a scouting trip in September I did a little more snooping, wanted to know where from or why the elk kept coming by this blind. Because that hiding spot was not great, did not offer much of a field of view, was near a road, and apparently also near some illegal motorcycle path. Very annoying when those guys roared by, just ask Steve. Except, the elk travelled here. Though faint, I did make out their trail on the other side of the road. Up a hill it went from there. That allowed for another blind, further away from the road, with more entertaining view of the surroundings, AND view of their trail for a stretch of over a hundred yards. That should provide enough time to get ready when the elk would come (again?).

Such was my plan, then, to commit to the new blind, with the faith that the elk would come at some time during the seven days of my hunt. Thursday before opening day I snuck over there to deposit a chair and fixed tripod. Indeed, the next morning, as soon as enough light allowed to walk in the woods without tripping or having some twig finding my eyeballs, I left camp, and soon was at the new blind, without encountering or spooking any game. The wait was on.

Those initial hours are fun, full of anticipation. Game tends to be more active near first and last light. The year before Ron took his shot before 8AM, remember? But my morning dragged on without even a squirrel offering some distraction. Next thing to look forward to was lunch, an elkburger sandwich with meat from Ron’s elk. And oh, by the way, my home-made tripod was about 6 inches too short for a comfortable shot, should the elk indeed follow their trail. Often enough I had to remind myself to have faith that the elk would show up. A first for me was wearing SORDIN electronic earmuffs on a big game hunt. Had them on until lunch without discomfort. In fact, I had left camp wearing them, and it sure sounded like I could hear noises better. For certain they kept my ears warm early that morning. Around 4PM, prime time, I put them on again.

Meanwhile, Steve was relaxing in camp, came along for the experience, and to help with a bull, should I be successful. We had an agreement that I would stop hunting (waiting?) at 5:30PM, then return for dinner. The afternoon really dragged on, still no critter of any kind to change things up a bit. At least it was one of those gorgeous days, cool, no wind, mostly overcast. And only one vehicle had travelled the road, right after lunch when it is unlikely anyway, but never for certain, that game is active.

A little before 5PM I closed the bolt of my 375-338 Mauser. Not too far off was something black that I was sure had not been there before. Yes, now it moved! Back in September we had seen bear scat. OK, one more step that black thing made, to reveal itself as a range cow. Then six more came into view. I moved the bolt handle up again. These cattle fed along at their own pace. Took a good half hour before they were past me, one as close as seven steps without noticing my presence. Credit my camo jacket. Then, just before quitting and returning for dinner, something else moved, over a 100 paces away, mostly covered by bushes. Elk!

My pulse raced a little. They were slightly uphill and to the left of me. I had to carefully get off my chair, then move a few steps out of my blind to the nearest tree. They did not notice. Now, with my support elbow pressed against that tree I could judge each one as they eventually filtered into an opening, about 80 steps away.

Ten or so came into view, all cows. But wait, there was one more. Before he entered that clearing I could see his spikes. Soon the crosshairs were solidly on his chest, and with a mighty roar 72 grains of Reloader 15 sent a 235 grain Speer softpoint at 2620 fps. The bull froze, the cows on full alert but still present.

A week prior I had shot this rifle, hitting a 4” square at 140 yards 3 for 3. It was all my fault now, expecting that this ammo on such broadside shot would simply fold an elk. Since it obviously did not, and he was still broadside, I sent another. Same result, except a few cows slowly departed, confused. Serious doubt struck me. I outright mumbled “is there something wrong with this rifle now?” And the spike also turned, so I sent a hasty third shot. That still did not put him down, but by the time the 4th round was in the chamber, he got wobbly and finally fell. That did it for the cows also, as they panicked out of there, the way they’d come. My hunt was over.

As found. Notice that the first two shots did not exit the far side, shown here.

I radioed Steve, to come and help. When I got to my elk, daylight was all but gone. A quick picture, and from then on it was work, work, work; and all of it by flashlight and head lamp.

Even with two guys processing, an elk takes way more effort than working a deer solo. There was no tree nearby with a suitable branch to get the animal off the ground. After gutting, I went back to camp to get my 4Runner and all equipment closer. Steve stood guard by my elk since there had been coyotes howling not too far away.

What helped quite a bit was tying a come-along as high up a tree trunk as Steve could reach. Lifting the elk on one hind leg that way made skinning and later parting it easier. Don’t misunderstand, it still took much time and strain on our backs. After all that came five trips to carry the meat, head and equipment down to my vehicle.

Back in camp we hung the meat in a tree for cooling overnight. When all was done, so were we! It was a little after 11PM. Too tired for dinner.

The next morning I retrieved chair and tripod. Deboning was completed right at lunchtime. But misery wasn’t. That’s when Ron showed up. No, he wasn’t trouble. But he told us that showers were in the forecast for that afternoon. Sure enough, soon after our meal, what should have been dinner the evening before, it began to rain. All my stuff got into the 4Runner without getting too soggy. In fact, the rain helped wash blood off my tarps and cutting board. But much of Steve’s equipment was in dire need of drying once he got home.

In the end I was lucky twice. Got an elk, and dodged the rain, as at least a chance of that remained in the forecast for the next four days.

The first two shots did hit the ribs where I had aimed. But they did not go all the way through, as the opposite rib section had no holes. The third shot I should have never taken. It went high and too far back, just making a gutshot mess out of things. I will not use that 235 grainer on elk again. Previous elk fell to a 260 grain Partition with authority. Also, a 200 gr Nosler Partition at a tame 2400 fps out of my 308 Win. stopped a moving spike elk back in 2019, not far from where this one fell. Killing power is not merely a formula of bullet weight and velocity.

By the way, a rifle with suppressor is still more enjoyable than wearing earmuffs, even a quality electronic set. Seems like hunting always carries with it some portion of unpredictability. Isn’t that part of why we’re out there? May the Good Lord bless us with many more days in His awesome creation!

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