In Pursuit of Elk
Updated: Nov 15, 2020
Precious are the days when I get to explore the beautiful backcountry of Montana in pursuit of elk.
Our crew was able to spend 8 days in the backcountry the first week of open season. We started exploring and scouting earlier in the spring and found the perfect habitat for elk nestled in the Gravelly Mountain Range. The landscape transitions from sage brush to lush valley then to thick timber. The earth moves from ridge to ravine occasionally opening up into pockets of grassland. The land is so vast, beautiful and alive with forest creatures. It's here we have spotted several moose, deer, antelope, black bear and elk.The hunt is on!
While at hunting camp I love the challenge of early mornings. I awake to my boyfriend “turning up the heat” in the wall tent by opening up the damper on the wood stove. The fire pops and crackles then the click and hum of the lantern signal that it is time to get up. My fellow hunters begin to stir as they rub sleep from their eyes and get ready for the long day ahead. We attempt to dress for Montana’s finicky weather, sip coffee, make lunches and prepare for whatever adventures the hunt might bring.
There is nothing more exhilarating than those early morning hikes in the dark. We walk through unknown terrain with only our headlamps and trekking poles guiding our way. All in an effort to get in perfect position before the animals stir and the sun rises.
To put it simply, hunting elk is hard. Especially in the new area we discovered. However, the rough landscape means less hunters and more opportunities. The adventure begins with a 200 yard vertical drop into a valley. You know the saying what goes up must come down? Well in this case the saying is also true in reverse. At the end of our 10 mile days that 200 yard drop must be ascended. We affectionately refer to it as Hell Hill!
On day three after gaining nearly 2500 feet in elevation we finally heard bugles, saw signs and felt the presence of elk. We were climbing one of the thickly timbered ridges when my boyfriend Greg spotted a bull on the opposite ridge. He quickly got into position and took his shot. All the while, four feet behind him I couldn’t see a thing. After he took the shot
he said, “there are a bunch of them. Quick get ready!” I tried to get into position and ended up slipping in the snow on the steep hill. By the time I regained my footing it was too late. The feeling of disappointment was sharp but quickly passed and was replaced with a heart full of gratitude for the beautiful bull Greg shot that will feed our family this winter.
Greg’s Dad met us at the bottom of the ravine to assist in field dressing the bull. We built a fire and took our time. We practice the gutless method of field dressing. If you haven’t tried it, I highly recommend it! The three of us were able to pack it out the two miles over the course of two days. This marked my first time packing out an elk and whoa was it heavy!!!
The cold weather early in the week worked in our favor. The same day Greg got his bull, a friend of ours got a cow elk and his brother got a mule buck. However, as the week progressed and the weather warmed all the elk moved up a little higher than we were willing to go. We still gave it our all every day, but no luck. That’s just how it goes
sometimes. If we have meat on the rack in my opinion it was a successful hunt!
Obviously the goal of hunting is catching up with the animal and bringing one home, but it’s so much more than that to me. I love the essence of camp, the exercise, cooking and camaraderie. I have no doubt my fellow hunters feel the same.
Beyond the bounty that the backcountry has to offer us is the views. Experiencing the sunrise and sunset with nothing but wide open spaces feeds my being. It’s a feeling of peace and renewal that I cannot put into words. I am forever in awe of the beauty of this place. I suddenly feel whole every time I gaze at the majestic mountains, open prairie, forest floor and trickling streams.
I truly feel honored to be in this place, to enjoy our public lands and the freedom to hunt. May the pursuit continue as we return to elk country this season… I have two tags to fill and time is running out!