An Elk-Venture, or Saved by Chocolate

By Patty Wilber

The following was brought to you by my indefatigable guides and ever gracious hosts: David and Peter Harris

Holy Cow!  It’s no Bull!

Last week I went elk hunting with the Harris Brothers (click here for another such adventure) and four other folks including my friend Chuck.

By golly, we hunted.

Ok, so I didn’t actually get anything, but I probably hiked more than 50 miles trying to git ‘er done.  That is if Chuck’s GPS is reliable–and one of our outstanding hosts, Seasoned Hunter Friend 2 is skeptical–but hey–it spat out some impressive mileages, so I’m going with it!!

I have a (borrowed) .270 (with gun butt rubber) and Chuck has his .30 06. We are on the benches near Elk Ridge on the Brazos Box Ranch (Day 4).

Day 1.  Up at O Dark Thirty with a nearly full moon blazing in the sky.  We loaded our guns, shouldered our day packs and set off down the trail to the sounds of bull elk beginning to bugle.  Wow.

We hiked as quietly as we could.

We climbed up the benches shown in the photo as the sun was just rising.  It was steep. I crested a little edge and there in front of me, at about 150 yards, was a cow elk, broad side.  I looked at her, took a breath, fumbled with my gun, was unsure, and that was how long it took for her to move behind a stand of aspens drifting leaves like golden coins onto the late season grass.

Lesson Learned (from Host and Seasoned Hunter Friend #1):  If you have the shot, take it.

I figured she’d move past the trees and I’d get another look when she came out the other side, so I moved forward, met up with Chuck and SHF1, who told me to get there try to get a shot.

I scared them away.

Lesson #2:  You must get low and SNEAK.  You can’t just walk on up there. Doh (in hind sight).

It was the morning of the first day of rifle season. The elk were not yet aware of the danger, so even though they moved up the hill, we still had a chance.  Chuck and I went one way and SHF1 went the other.  SHF1 was stealthy.  Chuck and I: not so much.  We kindly pushed the herd right to SHF1, who deftly took down a bull.

Just like that.

It was not an easy shot, but it was well taken and effective.

We were all very excited (even SHF1, though he hid it well, being a Seasoned Hunter and all, because it was possibly the largest bull he’d ever taken!)

SHF1 turns out to be an excellent teacher and he coached Chuck and  me (Chuck and I???) in removing the entrails.

To some this may sound repugnant, but after all, I am a biologist and this is not my first gut pile–I’ve even been in elk innards before–rotten elk innards even–looking for intestinal parasites. Both Chuck and I (well I am speaking for Chuck without verifying, but I am pretty sure I am right) were fascinated with the process and the contents of the body cavity. (I did not get to go looking inside the intestines for worms–there was too much else to do.)

The heart is HUGE!

Too bad I don’t have pictures, but once you start the process, you get rather bloody, which does not lend it self to using a camera.  And of course I was more interested in participating than documenting.

After we finished, we propped open the body cavity (with a stick) to help cool the meat.  We headed back to home base to get the horses, Alameda, Cinco and Squirt.

Bull elk have a strong odor and so does blood.  Squirt kept pushing her nose on my shirt and inhaling deeply. She was curious but not upset.

We hiked back to the kill. I walked Squirt and she carried my pack, but I still toted my gun.  Not as easy as it might seem when leading a horse, too.

I have been to the ranch a fair number of times moving cattle around and I am confident I can get back to the cabin from most places (in the daylight), but re-locating that bull would have probably entailed as direct a retrace of my footsteps as possible followed by a zig-zagging search pattern.

SHF1 took an alternate route that was easier for the pack stock and led us right to the bull.  SHF2 showed up a bit later based on verbal instructions (and the sounds of our voices as he got closer). Impressive on both counts.

It was steep (it is uphill to everywhere!!) and I was pretty beat, so convinced Squirt to allow me to “tail”. I got behind her and held her tail so she could drag me up the hill.  Her lead rope was nice and long and I used it more like a buggy rein (I being the buggy).  I was pleased at how fast she caught on, especially given the lead-like feeling of my legs! It helped that we were third and following Alameda and Cinco!

Skinning and quartering a 500lb+ animal (live weight) to take all available meat,  keep it clean, while instructing green horns (Chuck and me) and keeping your knives sharp, is not fast or trivial.  SHF1 shot the elk about 9:30am and we were loading the quarters at dusk.

SHF1 (Peter, head), SHF2 (David, in blue), me loading the horses. Chuck is heading the photo shoot. Alameda and Cinco carried the quarters, Squirt got the neck and to balance that out, our packs and some rocks on the other side.

It was a long day. Eighteen miles all told (says Chuck’s Very Reliable GPS).

Long day!

We still had to hike back!  I ate five squares of a ginormous Trader Joe’s Bittersweet Chocolate with Almonds before we hit the trail and then again every evening before our home bound treks.  The sugar and cocoa kept me from bonking every time.

We got back in the dark.

Squirt. not quite unloaded, but I have already undone my box hitch.


Cinco carried the hind quarters.

Alameda carried the front quarters and the head. She never batted an eye.

 It was a fascinating, and exhausting day. I don’t think I could have made it without the chocolate bar.

Next week:  The Rest of the Trip or How to Miss a Point Blank Shot.

About BlogPatty

Here's the skinny: I have a thing for horses. They make sense to me. I have a small horse training business (it's a "boutique" training business, not because it's super fancy, but because the horses get a lot of personal attention). I also go by Dr. Wilber, and teach biology full-time at a Central New Mexico Community college.
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6 Responses to An Elk-Venture, or Saved by Chocolate

  1. Susan says:

    Good stuff, Patty! I’m looking forward to Part II!

  2. Patty says:

    Thanks Susan!!

  3. sharon Tolbert says:

    thanks for sharing, Sharon Tolbert

  4. BlogPatty says:

    Hi Sharon! No problem–it was fun for me to do and to write about!

  5. doranna says:

    What awesomeness! I should have asked you to save me the heart for the dogs. If any other reject meat comes out of this one, I am your disposal unit!

  6. Patty says:

    If it were MY elk I would have! Next time!!!

Comments are closed.