If you have read my column for a number of years, you could probably deduce that I'm not much, if any, of an elk hunter. That deduction is quite correct for a number of reasons.
My zeal for elk hunting has waned over the years due to my not having what I deem the proper equipment to go after elk in mountainous terrain. I also don't have the physical stamina it takes to hike four miles or more in the backcountry, nor do I have a means to pack out an elk if I were to shoot one.
Things changed last winter when a friend, Peter Widener, told me, “If you put in for a late season elk permit for Area 37 type 7, I will have a place for you to hunt. I have elk in the yard all winter.”
That was an offer too good to pass up. I knew that there were plenty of elk that left the Bighorn National Forest as soon as the first shots were fired in October; in fact, some elk left the forest in September before the first shots were fired. These elk overwintered on ranch lands east of the forest boundary and seldom were bothered.
The Wyoming Game & Fish Department recognized the problem and noted that the hunt areas along the east side of the Bighorn Mountains had elk populations above objective levels. The Game & Fish offered a liberal number of cow/calf permits and started to offer seasons in December off the national forest.
I thought that securing permission to hunt on private lands off forest might be difficult and/or expensive, but after Widener's offer how could I refuse? I applied and, lo and behold I drew a permit for Area 37 type 7, which was good for the month of December off the national forest.
I was pretty smug thinking all I had to do was wait for the winter weather to set in and soon Widener would give me a call. Well, the winter weather didn't come and didn't come. When I was hunting doe/fawn white-tailed deer in early December south of Big Horn, Wyoming, I did see a herd of about 200 elk on some super private land about a mile away, but they might as well have been on the moon.
Last week the wintry weather finally set in. We received a healthy dose of snow and I eagerly awaited a phone call to come and hunt. No call. I did check to make sure that the invite was still good, and I was assured that it was and that a phone call would be made when the elk showed up.
I got nervous and contacted a rancher friend of mine whose land was in Area 37 and asked if I could hunt. He evidently had been overrun with elk and was anxious to get some harvested. He instructed me to contact his ranch manager, Matt.
I called Matt on the 29th and was overjoyed when he told me that there was a herd on the place and to show up at 1 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 30.
I packed my gear into my day pack and waited. At close to noon Matt called and said, “Come to the ranch headquarters, not the stack yard, there is a herd of elk nearby.”
I drove out the county road through a swirling, heavy snowstorm that limited visibility to about 50 yards. Fortunately, I made the 10 mile or so trip without going off the road. Luckily, the snow quit when I reached the ranch.
Matt was waiting and he told me to hop in his pickup truck. He drove about a half mile and pointed out where the elk were bedded down on an east-facing ridge about a half-mile away.
We opted to park the truck and get into a deep draw that arced around to the southwest so that we could come in on the west side of the ridge and try to sneak up on the elk.
We were hiking through about a foot of snow and the temperature hovered in the single digits, but I soon was sweating up a storm. Matt showed me a little mercy and rested a couple of times on our half-mile trek.
Finally, we were able to ease up the ridge and as I peeked over, there was a mass of elk before me at about 150 yards. I raised my rifle and tried to steady it as I settled the crosshairs on a cow elk on the edge of the herd. As I placed the crosshairs just behind her shoulder I squeezed off a shot.
Pandemonium followed with elk running off to the south and with me not being sure of my shot. I was downcast that I had missed my first opportunity to harvest an elk in 20 years when Matt pointed to a cow elk that was limping badly. She went 20 yards, stood still and fell down.
Son of a gun, there she was a big cow elk that was such a blessing. My Lord, we would have elk meat for the winter and beyond!
To make matters even better, Matt helped me field dress the elk, drag it to a ranch road, and then drive the pickup to the elk. We weren't strong enough to load the elk into the bed, so Matt put a tow chain on the elk and dragged it another 100 yards or so to a dip in the road. He lowered the tailgate and we were able to slide the elk's head and front shoulders onto the gate. More shoving, grunting, pulling and tugging got the elk in, and I was at ease.
Since it was so darned cold out, I opted to take the elk to Mike Yalowizer to process rather than haul it to my place and have the carcass freeze solid. I also thought that the old garage that I hung my deer in wouldn't withstand that much weight.
Anyway, I am a happy camper and so grateful for an elk, for all the help and advice that Matt offered and for Widener encouraging me to apply for the permit. I think I will put in for a late season elk permit for 2018 and hope that I draw.