It started snowing in the high country about a week before my Elk hunt. Since I had never hunted this area in these conditions, I didn’t know if the snow would push the Elk I had located during the Basin of Bulls scouting trip. There was only about a foot of snow in that part of the high country and so the big decision was still whether to go in high or go in low. After much deliberation I decided to go in high. The forecast was mostly clear for opening day but a little more snow was expected the day before and the day after. It was early November and the winter weather was here to stay.
The day before the opener I arrived to my takeoff point about mid morning and started hiking in. It was slow going with the snow on the ground this time, but it wasn’t nearly as deep as I thought it would be. I was gaining confidence with every step that going in high was a good decision. I made it to a suitable camp site and set up my shelter in the late afternoon just as it started snowing.
I then started collecting firewood for my homemade stove that I fashioned out of a mailbox. This was difficult in these conditions and it took the rest of the day to get a good stockpile. The only dry wood in wet conditions is usually the dead branches that are up off the ground, still attached to the bottom of the trees, and covered by the tree canopy. However, even a lot of this squaw wood as it’s called, had a layer of frost on it from the wind combined with the moist air.
Since I was in a fog bank I didn’t bother glassing that night, instead I headed up to the lake to resupply on water. Half the lake was covered in ice and the water was really cold. These are good conditions to use a pump in order to keep your hands out of the water, but I was using Aqua Mira type tablets in order to cut pack weight so my glove came off and my hand got wet to dip the bladder.
Upon returning to camp, I got a fire going in my home made stove and prepared my gear for the next day. A stove in your floorless shelter in these conditions is keystone to making these late high elevation snowy hunts comfortable and productive. It’s the difference between “surviving” and “living” on these hunts. It really pumped out the heat, and it wasn’t long before I was down to my base layer and unzipping the doors part way on my shelter.
Due to the expected conditions and nighttime temperature I had packed in two sleeping bags to combat the cold temperatures. Although heavy, it worked out great and I slept plenty warm. A good nights sleep is one of the most crucial steps to a successful backpack hunt in any season. I have learned the hard way that I sleep cold and to take whatever steps necessary to stay warm, no matter what the weight penalty is.
It snowed most of the night and the next morning I was up before daylight and headed to my glassing point. It was clear and crisp as the sun came up and I could feel the temperature dropping as I started the last scramble to the top. The talus slope was covered with snow this time actually making parts of the scramble a little easier.
I got to my glassing spot and set up just in time to see the herd of Elk across the basin about a mile and a half below. They were heading up to the top of the ridge that runs along the bottom of the basin and perpendicular to my glassing location. The main hiking trail runs just on the other side of this long ridge in the bottom of the canyon. I could see one of the five point Bulls among the cows and as I was glassing the rest of the hillside, I heard a shot. The Elk spooked and headed single file up the ridge for a couple hundred yards and disappeared over the top to the trail side. Some other hunters had come in from the bottom and the Elk where way down low on the ridge that is adjacent to the main hiking trail. They hunted it just right for those conditions! I waited and glassed for another 45 minutes to see if the herd was going to follow the ridge all the way up closer to where I was, but I never saw them come back over.
I wasn’t terribly disappointed, I knew before I left that I had a narrow window of opportunity for this hunt to work. I needed to be on the Elk first thing in the morning and have a Bull down by mid morning in order to have enough time to pack the meat out before the next storm came in and the road I drove in on potentially got impassible. Even if the other hunters hadn’t come in from the bottom, the Elk were still to far away and I still would have been out of luck. I now knew where the Elk lived, and with more snow in the next couple of days, they would get pushed back to that sunny southerly slope. This is also where I had seen them on the Hell Hole scouting trip I made in to the area over the summer. I had a game plan and was already looking forward to the next hunt.
I watched the weather carefully the rest of the week and it snowed every day. It wasn’t until the last day of the season that the forecast was clear and so I headed out the day prior to the last day of the season. This time I was coming in from the bottom and once again I was on a time crunch, only this time it was due to the end of the season approaching. I had a plan and it was going to make for a long day, but with a good probability for success. I would need to hike all the way to end of the canyon and then get up on the ridge in order to stay upwind and hunt my way down to them at the snowline. Also this way I would have a better chance at encountering the Bulls first as they usually bed higher than the cows. This would be a 7 mile hike up the canyon and then a 1200 foot scramble up the side of the mountain to get into position on the ridge and I would split it up in two days.
I was the only one at the trailhead when I arrived mid morning. There was fresh Horse shit on the trail the whole way in, but no evidence of a camp at the foot of the ridge. I dropped camp at the foot of the ridge where the creek came out of the basin.This is where I would end my hunt the next day and at about half way up the canyon. I was much lower in elevation this time and the ground was clear of snow with lot’s of dry wood available. What a difference a few thousand feet make.
I had a little time at the end of the day so I did a little recon and followed the trail up the canyon a little. I saw a few Cows feeding on top of the ridge above camp right where I expected them to be. Things were looking good so far and it was going to be a good hunt.
I had a lot of ground to cover the next morning and so I started hiking a little after 4 AM. I left my spotting scope in the truck and my tripod in camp, I was going to still hunt the ridge and all I needed were my 8X binoculars at this point. I made it up the canyon and a little ways up the mountain by the time it started to get light out.
The snow was getting deeper the farther up I went and it slowed me down considerably, I finally hit the top of the ridge at about 12:30 AM after a tough scramble trudging through the snow up the side of the mountain. It was one of those nice clear sunny days after a snowstorm, great for Elk hunting!
I was a mile or more above where the Elk were going to be, and needed to descend down to the snowline. I glassed my way down the ridge and about an hour latter, started getting to the snowline. I cut a fresh set of Fox tracks and heard the Magpies squawking. It looked like those other hunters were successful and If I didn’t see anything I could always follow the Fox tracks and Magpie squawks to the carcass for fun. As I continued to slowly hunt my way down the ridge I started to see more fresh Fox tracks which got me more interested in following the tracks to the carcass and possibly collecting a nice Cross Fox Pelt. A few more steps later I saw A Bull through some brush bedded out in the open on top of the ridge. I was in a low spot with the bush in front of me, and only my head and shoulders were somewhat visible to him so he wasn’t too concerned yet. He was about 60 yards out and I could easily see through my binoculars that he was the small brown 5 point I had seen while scouting. I scanned around looking for the bigger Bulls, but couldn’t see much from where I was. I know better than to move around to much, so I quickly ended my search and debated on whether or not to take this Bull. This was the smallest Bull out of the four Bulls I had watched while scouting and I was really hoping for a shot on one of the bigger ones. This was the last afternoon of the season, and this was my last opportunity for the year, so I took it. I shot him in his bed at about 50 yards and he got up and stumbled one way, than the other, and I shot him again to anchor him so he didn’t head down the mountain. He was a nice symmetrical 5 point but with a miniature set of antlers, a classic raghorn.
Even these small Bulls are huge animals as compared to Deer! I hastily began breaking him down and filling meat sacks. When I’m this far from the truck I like to fillet the meat off the bone. The hillside was mostly open and I had no choice but to hang my meat in the sun for a while as I continued to butcher away. Although sunny, it was still a cool November day so I wasn’t to worried about spoilage for the hour or so the meat was exposed while I finished up. I put the backstraps in one bag, each rear quarter in two bags, and the front quarters and neck in the other.
When I finished up, I had about 2 hours of daylight left and I taxied the meat down the ridge towards camp a little ways. I made it about half way down the mountain by dark and cached it for the night. I shot the Elk right about where I expected too and had the logistics of the pack out planned prior to the hunt, it was just a matter of carrying out the plan from this point forward. I went ahead and hauled camp, backstraps, and the head back to the truck that night. I wanted to take the head home to practice my Elk caping skills with, so I packed it out whole. It was a long heavy hike out that night, but the adrenaline of the harvest got me through it once again. With all the awkward stuff and camp already packed out, all I had to do the next day was pack the meat the 5 miles out.
I started up the trail the next morning at first light and made it to my meat cache about noon. It was going to be a long day, but I felt I could get it all out that day.
To save time and another trip up the mountain, I loaded all three sacks of remaining meat in my pack. This made an awkward load but a good quality rigid framed pack like my Kifaru can handle it while maintaining the best level of comfort a 100 pound plus load can have. These Kifaru packs and frames excel in long distance load hauling.
This consisted of all four boned out quarters and it was so heavy that I had to put the pack on while sitting down and then roll over to my belly and kind of crawl up to my feet. It was a slow trip down and I made it with only one slip out, luckily it was so steep my ass didn’t have far to fall. When I got to the bottom I was wore out so I did the reaming 4 and a half miles in two loads.The flatness of the trail was a relief.
I would pack a load for about a half hour, hang it, and go back to get the other one carrying it about a half hour past the first one. This method slowly gets the meat closer and closer and by the end of the day, or the next day, you don’t have to hike way back in again. For longer distances I prefer this method and for shorter distances, 3 miles or less, I just go ahead and make two or three whole trips. I did the last mile and a half in the dark and finally left the trailhead at about 9 PM that night. It was a great hunt and a lot of fun, but I was glad to be finally heading home for a warm shower and greasy meal.
I finished trimming and packaging all of the meat a couple days later, and we made some delicious backstrap sandwiches for dinner. We eat Elk at least once a week and each meal brings me closer and closer to the next season.