In November 2009, I shot my first elk. Well I killed my first elk. No, “shot” is correct- I shot AT several the year before. Often several shots at one or two but completely missed.
In the morning, Gen Yeager, our guide Berry, and I drove around looking for them. And we came upon a group. Gen Yeager set up to shoot one – realized it was a spike and shifted to shoot the cow (female elk). KABOOM! The elk was hit perfectly and blown over. Perfect shot.
I took the gun and set up to shoot another one, but by the time I had reloaded and set up, they were jogging away from us and the only good shot was of a bull. So this one will go in my book The Shot(s) I Didn’t Take.
We drove and walked out to the dead elk. I said a silent prayer and I took photos. Our guide gutted her, attached her to the hoist, and loaded her onto the truck. Just a few years ago I couldn’t watch the gutting.
The first time I went huntin’, Gen Yeager was afraid I’d lose my cookies all over his elk so he said: “Victoria, come look at the view over here. “ It was beautiful – much better than looking at the elk being gutted.
I never liked to cook because even a piece of filet mignon and especially a chicken looked and/or reminded me too much of the live animal.
In advanced biology in the college prep school I attended, we had to dissect animals, even the frogs grossed me out – maybe the smell of formaldehyde increased the nausea. We also had to inject chickens with different hormones to see what effect the excess hormones had. Since the advance biology class did this every year, we already knew. Fortunately we had one in our class determined to be a doctor and a little too sadistic for my tastes, but she enthusiastically asked each of us when it was our turn if she could do the shots for us. It also smelled pretty bad in that enclosed space where the chickens were kept. Our teacher NEVER went back there so she never knew. I think all eventually thought it was cruel, quit the shots, and just used the results from the prior year.
When I was a candy striper, they had to send me to the lunchroom for some water, because looking at all the tubes going in and out of the babies or patients was also too much for me. I would have loved to have been a doctor but a doctor fainting while giving a shot….NOT good.
So it has taken about 8 years for me to watch the gutting. I am not anti-hunting – we eat what we shoot.
So we took the elk to the butcher. Our guide helped skin it. All fascinating. I still stepped back because the idea of blood splattered on me….
We had lunch and went for a walk, relaxed and went out at 3pm. After driving a bit…it is sooooo beautiful here…Berry spotted some elk. He watched them for a bit.
He grabbed his binoculars, some sticks for a rest, and told me to follow him. He spotted some more and told me we were going to sneak down the trees (small brush) and would have to hightail it across an open patch to the other side. After, making our way down the steep hill through the rocks, he grabbed my gun and we hightailed it – me directly behind him. I had earplugs in ready to shoot – so my steps sounded like elephants to me. I wondered if the ground was shaking and if the elk could feel it, let alone hear it, the mile away. I also was breathing a little heavy – we were at altitude. I was glad for the exercise given the excellent and plentiful meals we were having.
We crossed a creek – jumping it best we could. Berry had jumped, then he handed me the sticks so that when I leaped, he could pull me with the sticks so I didn’t fall backwards – since I could only make it to the very edge which sloped back down into the creek. We ran across some more open ground that was a little boggy, then solid ground. We came to another creek which Berry, gathering up all his stuff (binocs, sticks, my gun, and his earmuffs) and rocking to get the most energy (no running leaps – too much brush behind us), he jumped the creek.
It was a bit far for me so I found another spot with some stalks on the other side – I leaped, got barely to the other side and those stalks saved me from falling back as I grabbed them and balanced myself. This time I did get some water in my shoe but didn’t mention it – it wasn’t cold and wasn’t going to hurt me. My shoe is waterproof but the water got over the top – the place I landed wasn’t quit as dry as it looked.
We scooted up the rocky hill to some brush. No elk. All that…Sigh. Good exercise though!
He spotted and turned around 130 degrees, gave me my gun, and started spotting. I saw the bull elk running 90 degrees to us – away from us. Oh well. Back to the truck and look for more.
Berry said: There’s some elk on the road and they’re coming towards us – we’ll just wait.
He grabbed my gun and showed me to hold it down – because the light was glinting off it.
I looked at the road from which we’d come and didn’t see any elk. I finally looked through the tree where I thought he was looking. Couldn’t see any.
Berry: She’s trying to jump the fence.
I peered around…and saw her! I kept wondering if Berry thought she was close enough because he had the sticks set up – for his binocs…and they were a bit high…
We snuck a little closer to the next bush/tree. And waited.
I saw a bull and two very young cows. They looked close enough….hmmm. But I can’t judge distances well. I just waited to get my next instruction from Berry. I also saw a few others grazing much farther away. They would walk towards us, walk away, walk towards us. Still too far away to shoot.
We snuck up to the next bush. And waited.
Berry: We’re going to get up to that cedar bush and shoot from there. Don’t worry about the bull and two young cows, they may spook. And don’t worry about the ones to our left – they may spook too. There are some just over that hill and hopefully they won’t go far.
We snuck up to the cedar bush – I went to Berry’s left. He said: No on my right.
I did. He put the sticks up – told me to sit – not my favorite for shooting but okay. He said move out from behind the bush. I didn’t want to – I didn’t want her to see me and run…
He moved me out a little – I resisted gently – he then realized we may be having a communication issue (one of the reasons he such a good guide): Make sure you are out far enough for a clear shot.
Me: Okay (and I didn’t move – I had a clear shot).
Berry: Do you have a clear shot?
Me: Yes (as I moved a rock out from under me)
He surveyed me and the elk – I kept fidgeting. He then whispered: Sticks too high?
He put them lower and said: Now take your time, don’t shoot until you’re ready. Undo the safety and when you’re ready, just squeeze the trigger.
I undid the safety making sure I kept my finger away from the trigger, aimed, held it to make sure I was steady, and shot – thwack! – and looked. The elk ran a few steps – and three cows, including the one at which I shot, stopped.
Me: Dang! I missed it!
Berry: It’s okay…
As we watched, (I don’t know how he knew so early): She’s hit!
Because she didn’t go down, I was afraid she was wounded and that is the biggest aversion I have to hunting – I just didn’t want to wound an animal – I wanted to kill it instantly.
I whispered: Shoot her again, Berry!
He whispered calmly: No, you can do it.
So being as I had to do it, it was on me to put her out of any misery, I gathered my wits and remembered to eject the shell and load a new one. I aimed but as I was doing all this, I saw the elk moved to the left, turned and moved back to the right, fall down, try to get up, got her hind quarters up but couldn’t quite get her front up.
She went down. We waited. I was readying to shoot her again – out of her misery, when we saw the legs kicking straight up in the air. She was dead.
We gathered up our stuff and headed towards her. I waved at where we had left the truck and Gen Yeager, a victory sign before we went out of sight down the hill. We walked down the hill and looked for the narrowest place to cross the creek. I dragged my back foot enough for some water to go over the top but who cares, we were busy… We walked up the hill and over to the elk.
Berry examined her: Perfect shot. Classic textbook.
Me: GREAT! I was relieved – it was the best shot to kill the elk and the least amount of suffering. I had a big grin, Berry had a big grin…he shook my hand.
He laid everything on the elk and said: I’ll go get the truck but it may take half an
hour to find a way back here with the truck – are you okay?
Me and my elk. I did a little prayer by her head. The sun was setting and I got to thinking. I’m here with good meat; I better hold the gun in case a predator wants it and me. Then I got to thinking when I saw the truck and then saw it disappear and thought I heard it was stuck, what would I do if they didn’t come pick me up.
I’d walk to where I last saw them. I’d go to one of the roads with the gun and try to head back to the headquarters. I had no survival stuff on me. And my heavy coat was in the truck as was my cel phone and my energy bars. Hmmmm. I wasn’t worried but exercises like this make one prepared for the times one may need to be prepared. I could keep warm by opening up the elk which I have read about…but all I had was my little, tiny, pen knife. Hmmm.
I was enjoying my first elk, the wilderness, the aloneness. Nice.
The truck came in sight. General Yeager leaped out of the truck (it requires a leap – it is very high off the ground) and gave me a big hug and a kiss. He was proud of me. We took photos. Berry gutted it. I wanted to go back and get my spent shell. Gen Yeager said: I have plenty.
Me: This is my first!
Berry said he’d go get it when he was finished guttin’.
While he was gutting my elk, I made my way back to the spot from which I had shot. I followed the big elk track across the creek – they know where the most narrow spot is!
I remembered that Berry couldn’t have taken that second shot without grabbing my gun – he had left his gun in the truck when we started stalking. I couldn’t find the shell. But where it might have popped out was a couple of holes. I looked in them as best I could – didn’t put my hand down there – might be an animal that bites – and had no digging tool…I was a little disappointed I had not thought to grab it when I ejected it – as if I could remember that with all the excitement of possibly needing a second shot..And I was disappointed I hadn’t looked for it (and really asked Berry to look for it) as we were gathering up our stuff.
Hmmmm. Just in case, I called to Berry – was it this bush?
No, over there.
I looked around the bush…then back a little. There it was – I didn’t realized we were back that much from the bush.
I picked up the spent shell. And a few pretty rocks – pink, yellow – while I was at
I retraced my steps – this time putting some small branches across the creek – and got back in time to watch Berry hoisting my elk onto the truck.
Gen Yeager: We’ll frame one of the pictures with the shell in a shadow box.
Very cool. Very creative and thoughtful.
Gen Yeager then said: “I could see you’all from the ridge. I saw the elk heading one way and another.
Then they’d eat a little grass and move another way. They knew something was up. I watched you and them. Then I saw the bull and two young cows and wondered why you were sneaking the other direction. Then I couldn’t see you. I heard the shot but neither of the two young cows were hit so I thought ah well, she missed. Too bad.
Then I saw your hat going down the hill.”
Berry said: I thought you’d missed at first because I saw the dirt fly up behind her.
It’s funny. All three of us thought I’d missed the elk. For different reasons.
We drove back to the main house. Berry took the elk and skinned it while we put our stuff away to get ready for dinner.
Everyone was excited for me – they had all been there the year before.
A classic textbook shot. Woo hoo!