Most of the prime Elk hunting is finishing up in the West, winter is coming and while some gun seasons are still going on the peak of the bow season and rut or prime bugling will be waning. It’s been a hot topic among Midwesterners who partake in the adventure. I always like to listen in to these stories and try to be slow to speak. Let me tell you why I’m often a silent observer.
In my opinion there are three kind of elk hunters, those who talk about doing it that never will or at least will drag their feet for a few decades (and that’s okay it’s not for everyone), there are those who are going to or have booked an outfitted hunt that will cost a month and a half’s salary with expectations of stepping off a horse, or out of a truck and walk up over the mountain top and shoot one that can be loaded up and hauled off. Then there are the purist’s which I see as true elk hunters, public or private land, do it yourself, maybe some help from and outfitter for a drop camp, most likely not. They put in the time, do the home work and will carry the elk out on their back. This last group rarely speaks of antler score or judging bulls, they talk of filling an elk tag and it’s a true place of honor and respect for the species, its pure!
I can tell you are reading my bias in these scenarios, and that’s no mistake. I often hear talk of elk hunting in the summer months and have folks ask my opinion; not because I’ve been a few times or arrowed and elk but because I rub shoulders with more hunters in a week and get their stories than many do in a year. I also seem to have a fairly accurate B.S. meter and can identify a straight shooter from a hot air hose most of the time.
I get questions like, how many elk can I expect to see? How and what type of calling to do? Where to go? How much will I spend? Would you do an outfitted hunt? Is there good public land? Would you be interested in going to a ranch with a guide for $7000 that guarantees a 350” up bull?
Let me sum it all up. No I won’t do the high dollar hunt as I see no merit in it. If I invest $7000 stock with my financial advisor and he puts the money in CAT stock or maybe Apple, years ago anyway, it would have greatly increased my investment. Would I boast that I had made a ton of money? I could certainly boast that my money made money, and I had made a wise decision going with a good retirement planner, but hardly that I had made good money!
I don’t judge those who chose an outfitter, many don’t have the time or know how for a “do it yourself”, I’m good with that, but to those don’t brag in elk circles on “what you’ve done”. True elk hunters know “you’ve done nothing” it’s what the mountain hands you. I relate it to smallmouth bass fisherman, purists, it’s not the sponsor on the truck or boat, or the $250 reel, it’s what the river gives up and blesses you with. Same thing!
My first elk hunt included a gentleman that said I’m not shooting any bull under 350 inches Pope and Young! Upon returning to camp his first night, hours after darkness, lost, bewildered and completely worn out and out of shape, declares “I’ll shoot the first calf I see, this is ridiculous.” The Rockies have no place for boasting, you truly put in the leg work and it quickly takes out the desire to boast and you realize every step upon aching step is a gift! The meat, whether cow or bull is consequently icing on the cake. Antlers are simply a reminder of how good you ate for a year. You are still an elk hunter whether you punch a tag or not. Elk hunting at this point mirrors Muskie fishing, you’re excited to say “I had an encounter, and it was awesome”!
You can expect to be mesmerized many times at the scenery alone, you will look down through the clouds at beautiful lakes, likely the first time doing so without being in an airplane. (side note: when flying to Europe this summer our plane started heading East a bit and banking gaining altitude for a second time and I looked at the flight status and map, we left Chicago now banking over mid-Michigan and we were at 11,000 feet and could barely see houses and cars, just dots, I told my wife we were still about 2-300 feet below altitude where I’d shot my elk, she had a look of disbelief).
You can expect in a ten day hunt to probably have a near death experience, first trip a tree fell quietly over me on a water break. My hunting partner sitting next to me saw it out of the corner of his eye and tackled me off the log, the dead tree landing by our legs, him saving my life! The second trip we darted between lightning bolts, enduring golf ball size hail on top of a flat mountain top with no cover in the dark with the only thing comforting was the conversation with God about me not breaking the promise to my son that I wouldn’t die on this trip and I’d once again throw a ball with him…….I pleaded with my maker “don’t make me a liar to my son”.
So you see when I see a group on television with two guides, a hunter, four camera men, step out of two crew cab trucks and walk calmly through a meadow and set up at daylight and call a little, 5 bulls come by waiting for a Booner and then they quietly discuss which ones to let pass, that isn’t even really elk hunting to me. Call me judgmental but call me an elk hunter as well. I won’t ever likely shoot a Boone and Crockett elk but I won’t sip coffee in a lodge and minutes later be in a hundred elk either.
You can expect to miss a shot with a bow, or maybe a few, you can expect to have several encounters that you will botch due to your ignorance or simply because the elk are smarter. You, if hunt hard enough in a decent area can expect to hear a bugle that will change your life and how insignificant you think you may be and just how mighty God’s creation is. You’ll scratch your head at how a 900lbs. animal with antlers big enough to gore you and your buddy can get close enough to smell his urine and see the slobber run out of his mouth and nostrils but yet not present a good shot. It will amaze you.
You will swear to God you’ll never do this again or hike that mountain again and it’s the stupidest thing you’ve ever done, then within 24 hours be thinking about how you’ll talk your spouse in to letting you go do it again. You’ll be at the point of tears due to physical anguish but not let your buddie’s see it, or maybe you will as they have already let you see. You’ll promise if you go again you’ll be in better shape next time but honestly can’t ever be in that good of shape unless you live there.
You’ll promise yourself to never start a fight or partake in one with someone who lives about 6000 feet elevation no matter their stature. You’re pretty sure the first week back in Illinois from your hunt that no one you meet will whip you either, and you’d be right unless you tangle with someone else who just got back from a do it yourself elk hunt also.
You’ll write about your hunt as if you’re an expert but though you’ve barely scratched the surface of what the Rocky Mountains are all about. You’ll appreciate life in a way that when folks talk about “buying” an elk hunt you’ll snicker to yourself or maybe out loud. You might not even talk about elk hunting with other hunters unless you hear them say, I “do it yourself” elk hunt out West. Then like old fraternity brothers begin to digress.
If you’re reading this you’re likely that guy or gal saying “someday I’m going” (and you really need to) or you are pissed off because you’ve put that deposit down on the guided rifle hunt and you consider yourself an elk hunter but deep down inside you don’t think you can muster up (or out West, Cowboy Up) what it takes to do it. Money can’t buy intestinal fortitude. Maybe you’re reading this nodding yes, like you do when listening to your favorite folk singer knowing how crazy the song, the singer is right!
Pictured below, Jeff Sandage of LeRoy, IL ………an Elk Hunter
Until next time, God bless,
Matt Cheever ~ Flatlander