Hard work ends with a bull elkA raging wind has blown all day, and I am making myself as comfortable as possible, lying just beneath a mountain peak in fir and pine timber, and waiting for elk to come out into a high meadow to feed.
By: Bernie Kuntz, The Jamestown Sun
(Last of two parts)
A raging wind has blown all day, and I am making myself as comfortable as possible, lying just beneath a mountain peak in fir and pine timber, and waiting for elk to come out into a high meadow to feed.
Guide Keith Atcheson is 53 and built like a light-heavyweight boxer, and if he is at all tired from our arduous journey up to this spot, I am unaware of it. Earlier, Keith spotted a couple young bull elk within 50 yards of us, lying in the timber, and we moved away to avoid spooking the elk.
Four hours later, Keith sneaks out of our position and glasses, then creeps back to where I lie in the grass, rocks and snow.
“How are you doing?” I nod that I am OK. It is time to move. I get to my feet, my legs numb, my back protesting, but dammit, I am going to do this! We quietly stalk toward the edge of the timber, and Keith whispers that there are elk 100 yards below us.
I see two small bulls sparring, and Keith tells me there is a larger bull behind trees to the left. I rest my old 7mm Weatherby on a three-inch limb, but the wind is blowing so hard the branch is bouncing. This will not do. Keith sets up some shooting sticks, I once again try to align with the elk but there are branches in the way.
Keith motions to me and we stalk down and to the right 30 feet, opening up our view of the high park, and I am astonished to see bull elk everywhere! Probably 15 of them, but there is no time to count. All of the bulls seem to be raghorns, but the one on the far left is definitely the biggest. He walks in the meadow, and at about 150 yards, stops and presents a quartering left shot. I am standing on wobbly legs, resting on the shooting sticks, but when the 7mm Weatherby cracks, I hear the bullet strike and see blood behind the left shoulder of the bull. But instead of dropping, the bull walks 50 yards, stops with its rump in my direction. When the bull quarters right I fire twice more and think I hear a second bullet strike. The bull disappears behind trees.
Thirty seconds later he emerges, obviously hurt, and stops broadside at about 200 yards. At this point, things become blurry … I remember firing again, and Keith telling me that he thinks I am shooting high. I sit down on the steep slope, yank the shooting sticks in close, hold low on the bull’s chest, and fire. The bull flops to the ground … not some of my best shooting.
The bull has six points to a side, and is the second biggest bull I have ever taken. For the next half hour I hold elk legs while Keith field dresses the bull. It is getting too dark to assess shots, but I have hit the bull at least twice in the chest. We punch my elk tag and Keith tapes the tag to an antler.
“I’m getting the hell out of this wind,” I say. Then I climb back up to the timber and drink the last of my water. Ten minutes later Keith has his pack in order, he climbs by me and heads for the ATV which is parked over the saddle. Soon he is back, I climb onto the vehicle and we begin down the steep ATV trail and off the mountain.
With the side slope, it feels sometimes like my hip is going to come apart, so I am forced to dismount and hobble down the trail. It is pitch dark, but thankfully, I have a good flashlight. For the next hour we inch down the mountain, Keith easing the ATV down the steep pitch and me hobbling along behind with my walking staff. At one point I slide down the slope on my rump because it is too steep for me to stand erect.
Sweating profusely, I get rid of one layer, and Keith has me drive the ATV slowly while he walks behind. At times I wonder if I ever will get off this mountain. What would have been easy for me 10 years ago is very arduous today.
We finally reach a point in the trail where it is safe for us to both ride, so Keith takes over the driving, and we continue downward. At last we reach the valley and the ranch roads, and by 7 p.m. arrive at the trailers that serve as camp.
Laurie greets me there, takes off my boots, and I drink a quart of water. A hot shower invigorates me, followed by a beer and a stout drink of bourbon.
Keith and his wife Niki return to the elk carcass the next morning, quarter it and bring it back to camp. I still am astounded at my incredible luck. It is my 17th elk and quite possibly my last. Keith says to me, “You have heart.” I take that as a huge compliment, but the truth is I never could have done it without him.
Bernie Kuntz, a Jamestown native, has been an Outdoors columnist for the Sun since 1974