I was still quartering my elk when the sun finally slipped below the Gravelly Mountains to the west. Its amazing how much more difficult a job it is when your alone and looking over your shoulder every few minutes. All around me, elk were moving through the trees, barking, mewing and bugling. It was amazing to hear but a little nerve racking. At one point an elk, or something big, came running toward me in the dark. I didn’t know what it was and drew my pepper spray in expectation of something hairy and toothy. Fortunately the elk, or whatever it was turned away and busted down the mountain through the timber.
We had been seeing a lot of grizzly sign so I was relieved when I finally rolled the carcass down the mountain away from the elk quarters and began the long climb back to the horses. I was back at camp at 11 PM and back to retrieve the elk by 8 the next morning. It was too steep to ride so I walked Bailey and Decker down the mountain and tied them up a good hundred yards above the kill just in case there was a bear already on my elk. I didn’t want to be on a bucking horse if the bear charged. Bear spray in hand, I headed down the slope and into the trees like a Marine on patrol in Fallujah. But the slope was quiet and my elk undisturbed. An hour later I had the quarters and rack loaded on the horses and began walking them up the mountain. Seven hours and fourteen miles later I hit the trailhead, footsore and tired of the horses and their antics. As my brother says, “bagged, tagged and dragged.” I think it was me that was dragging, not the elk.
I spent the next day processing my bull and getting it ready to be ground into tasty burger by Yellowstone Meat Processing. I enjoy this part of the hunt, trimming the meat free of all fat and sinew until I have a huge pile of pure red meat. I take a break late morning and toss some cubes of backstrap in seasoned flour and fry them until brown on the outside and pink in the middle. This bull would eat well.
Dan and I headed back in on Thursday. I was mellow and still sated by my solo hunt and just enjoying the ride in. Its nice to shed the pressure and responsibility of having to make the shot. I thought about the country ahead of us and the fun of just calling in bulls at the peak of the rut.
I wasn’t disappointed. The next two days were full of elk encounters. Bulls sparing. A nice non-typical that came in and busted my brother at 20 yards. We named the bull “Crown Royal” after his distinctive rack and hoped we would have another shot at him. We were in bulls every day and I knew it was just a matter of time before we put it all together. We wrapped up our Saturday morning hunt not far from where I had killed the elk the previous weekend. My bull had broken off a piece of horn when he hit a tree and I had left it by the gut pile. I wanted to find it so we headed through the trees toward the carcass. I was moving across the slope when my brother put his arm out and told me to stop. “Bear”, he said and pointed through the pines ahead of us. There, about 100 yards ahead of us, sat a huge black headed grizzly boar surrounded by a flock of ravens. We both pulled our binoculars. The bear’s hump was clearly visible rising above his head. His front legs were huge and bowed in. He kept his head low, not moving, and stared at us. “That’s a grizzly”, my brother said, still looking through his binos. “Nah..” I said, “That’s a Pope and Young black bear. I think you should go over there and shoot it.”
” No, I see a hump”, Dan replied. “That’s a grizzly.”
“Nope”, I replied, “That’s a really big black bear…you need to shoot it”.
“Well, then you go shoot it”.
“Nope, you saw it first, I wouldn’t rob you of that opportunity”
I was stoked at seeing a grizzly that close and hoping he would move a little bit so we could see it better and from a different angle. But he just glared at us why the ravens hopped around him. “I want you to go down there and throw a rock at it and get it to move”, I said, smiling.
We both knew how fast the bear could cover that distance so reluctantly we turned and made our way back up the slope. Scratch one elk honey hole off the list for tomorrow’s hunt !
We had one morning to get it done before pulling camp. We decided to drop down into a drainage where we usually had some luck finding elk. I called in a raggy horn which kept circling me, then a nice 5×5 but Dan was holding out for something bigger. Down far below us an elk bugled and you could tell it was a bigger bull.
For the next 45 minutes we tailed the bull along the slopes above him as he pushed his cows toward a bedding area. Getting him to come in seemed futile so I decided to pull out all the stops and try the “stolen cow” routine. I cow called feverishly then ran 50 yards up the mountain and let loose a shrill small bull bugle. I ran in circles on the hillside breaking branches and kicking rocks loose. I grabbed a stick and raked a tree trunk, then bugled again following it up with a hysterical cow mew.
300 yards below me the forest erupted with a rage filled bugle and I knew the bull was coming in. Dan dropped below me to the edge of a bench as I ran back up the hillside breaking dead staubs off pine trees and trying to sound like elk chasing each other.
The bull bugled again, closer now just below the bench.
Dan watched as the huge 6×6 pushed a cow ahead of him up the mountain. I saw him draw and release and five minutes later we heard the death bellow of the heart shot bull. The elk scored 334 gross, Dan’s best archery bull.
By six PM we were out of the woods and headed for a whisky and coke at Miss Carmine’s Norris Bar. Two 6×6 bulls in less than a week. Bagged , tagged, and dragged.