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The Back Porch

Pondering the Elk Hunt

Pondering the Elk Hunt

This story is featured in Montana Outdoors September-October 2014 issue

The older I get—just turned 60, with 50 long gone from the rearview mirror—the more I’m convinced that elk hunting is a young person’s game.

Two years ago I called in an elk calf and thanked the Almighty it was not a full- grown cow or bull.

That’s because I was 3 miles from the truck and, as I slowly made my way down the mountain, groaning under a bulging backpack, I thought to myself: If I break an ankle, I hope someone can identify my
remains next spring.

Speaking of downhill, every hunter,
especially every elk hunter, should memorize the following: Always shoot uphill of the truck.

As for youth and elk hunting, I ran into a young friend—early 20s, in the military, in shape—who hunts the same area I do. He told me he was on a nearby hill the previous week, spotted elk about 2 miles away, and took off on a run toward them.

When I tell people I run, it’s a figure of speech. But when my friend says he runs, he does. He also got his elk. I’m telling you, it’s a young person’s game.

Another observation: If I shoot an elk one year, why can’t I return to the same spot and shoot one there the next year?

Last year I went back to where the elk calf ran to me the previous season and nothing happened. I mean, I did my part. Must be poor wildlife management.

Another question: Why is it that it wasn’t until the end of last season that I found a note I wrote to myself the year before: “Next year better boots, better pack.”?

Well, at least I found it before the elk season begins this year. Anyone know of a good deal on hunting boots and backpacks?

Another thing: Why is it that year after year I bring too many clothes when it’s warm and too few when it’s cold? You’d think a person would learn.

One thing I did learn last year is why a wind-swept ridge is called wind-swept.

As I sat on the gale-battered ridge early one morning toward the end of last season, it wasn’t long before I actually started to hope that no elk would appear. My fingers were so cold after an hour of sitting still in near-zero windchill that I wasn’t sure I could pull the trigger.

You know you’re cold when you’ve eaten your lunch by sunup in a failed attempt to stay warm.
So why, you may ask, do I continue to go elk hunting? Each year it gets harder. The mountains are taller. My muscles ache more.
I could quit and say I’m just getting too old for it. The thing is, I know an 86-year-old man who shot his elk two years ago near Bozeman and spent five days packing it out. So there’s the shame factor if I were to hang it up.

Honestly, I don’t know.

But I do know that when I go out this fall, I won’t squeeze the trigger unless I’m uphill of the truck.Bear bullet

Bruce Auchly manages the regional Information and Education Program in Great Falls.