butchering an elk
We pick up where we left off with Part I: The rain had tapered off and the fog was lifting, allowing us at least the hope of being able to see any elk that might be bedded down or just hanging out in the distance. We devised a plan whereby Jawn, Micro and I would make the easy hike to the edge of a bluff overlooking a stand of timber below the wheat field, which was below the stand of timber below the bluff where, thanks to fog, nothing had been seen that morning. No shortage of bluffs and timber stands here. Once we were in position, Jawn’s dad would be walking the course of well-worn game trail far below us, pushing through the thick brushy draw. It made sense to have a guy who’s almost 80 do the hard work while we
young middle-aged men sat and waited. So as not to rile the AARP it should be noted that Jawn’s dad could very likely out-hike any one of us, so he was the right man for the job. Any elk he kicked out would run directly below our location. With our keen eyesight the aid of binoculars we’d see them and have plenty of time to set up for an accurate shot.
Once we were in position, Jawn’s eagle eye picked out a small group of elk casually going about their day in the timber. In clear view was the body of a large animal that would eventually reveal itself to be a cow and a couple of other smaller animals, though not an antler amongst the bunch. Jawn radioed to his dad, “We have elk. Stop.” Then he turned to me and asked, “Want to shoot a cow?” Apparently the guy with the out-of-state tag got first right of refusal, or acceptance. I decided that while I am certainly no trophy hunter, I wanted to wait until we hopefully saw a bull. I harkened back to Mrs. UA’s parting words as I left for the weekend hunt, “I’d really like you to bring home some antlers for the fireplace mantle!” Micro echoed my sentiments just as a shot rang out below. Followed by a few more shots. Maybe as many as 7, or 8. That was either a good thing, meaning an elk was good and dead, or no elk was dead and hope shots were being fired in desperation. After the barrage of shooting subsided the two-way radio crackled with news that Jawn’s dad had one down. Jawn’s dad must have known that neither Micro nor I had wanted to shoot a cow. Then again he is the landowner, so he can do whatever he wants.
The three of us descended the steep slope, complaining about our knees the whole way, until we met up with Jawn’s dad. We admired his harvest: it was a big cow (elk, to be sure). She was dead, and amazingly not riddled with multiple bullets. We weren’t sure what the additional shooting had been all about. Jawn’s dad didn’t wait around to explain, as he quickly headed downhill toward what was apparently some sort of road. He’d hike back to the ranch and return with a tractor to make the job of hauling the big cow out of the woods a bit easier. Jawn, Micro and myself were tasked with getting the animal down to the road. Shouldn’t be too hard, after all it was downhill and only a hundred yards or maybe a bit more. It would feel like “a bit more” by the time we completed the task.
Once the cow was field dressed, rather than quartering her out we decided to leave the hide on and drag her by her hind legs. Being that it was down hill the entire way, gravity would do the bulk of the work. It would be like dragging a sled. The only problem was that the cow was nothing like a sled, and we had logs and trees and slippery rocks and mud (it had been raining, you know) that made footing precarious at times. At one point we looked around and couldn’t see Micro, who had disappeared backwards into the brush. Between the intermittent clapping of his hands, Micro’s voice rang out, “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!”
If the terrain wasn’t challenging enough, there were thickets of the nastiest, rain-gear and flesh-shredding-vegetation that grabbed hold of anything possible and threatened to poke an eye out if one weren’t careful. A kevlar body suit, helmet and safety goggles would have come in handy.
Finally, soaked from the inside out from sweat and from the outside in from rain-soaked brush, and bleeding from superficial wounds, we emerged onto the road which was really little more than a two-track depression through the brush. With the cow out of the woods, Micro and I headed back uphill from whence we came to retrieve guns and packs. Following the fresh skid trail was easy and revealed that we really hadn’t traveled a great distance at all. But dragging a 450 lb animal (field dressed) had added what seemed like miles to the task. During the ascent I was motivated by the promise of the hydration bladder in my pack which was full of fresh water. Unfortunately the musky taste served as a reminder: when you loan your pack to your son for a summer hike, remember to have him drain, rinse and dry the water bladder before putting the pack into storage. I’d rather have rung the water out of my socks into my mouth than consume the foul contents of my pack bladder. Oh well, there was a cooler of water and beer back at the truck, which would be available for consumption within an hour and a half. Jawn’s dad arrived with the tractor and we loaded the elk into the front bucket for the trip back uphill to the ranch. From our location we were within earshot of the river, and it called to out me. But I was not here to be distracted by a watery temptress. My legs were tired and I opted to save my energy for the hike out, rather than making a side trip down to look at a river I couldn’t fish.
We spent the remainder of the day at the Wilson’s enjoying the company of Bill, Darlene and Alvin. These local folks have quite the meat cutting setup on their property: they used to butcher hogs on their farm so they made short work of single elk. I did get to run the electric bone saw for a spell, but mostly I stood around feeling worthless and wishing I had a video camera as I tried not to laugh out loud as the Wilsons bickered between themselves about where to cut and how to do this and “hand me that damn knife I’ll do it myself!”. At one point I took a couple of steps backward to make room should Alvin and his mother come to blows, which thankfully they did not. I couldn’t help but see the potential for a reality show.
At the end of the day we had an elk hung and cooling and I captured my finest-ever photo of a cow (not an elk, but the slow variety). Not bad for a day’s work, though I still hadn’t pulled the trigger. That opportunity would come the next day.