December 31, 2016
-Jordan Seitz-

Drawing the late season cow tag near my home isn’t as easy as it used to be. However, this year I was one of the lucky ones.

I waited until Christmas break so my father-in-law Dirk could join me, and so I’d have the time to mess with it. For goodness sake, at the onset of break I still had to process the frozen quarters from my bull that were packed in the freezer!

Days passed as I waited for timing and weather to line up. New Year’s Eve was the day.

Dawn was barely breaking as we left the truck and crunched past the building’s at my friends’ ranch. We topped the first hill – where we would stop to glass – with perfect timing. It was a beautiful clear morning and our breath hung around as we peered across the meadows up to the foothills. “Jackpot!” I exclaimed when I spotted a cow and calf beyond the first set of cottonwoods. We watched them a few minutes and Dirk mentioned his hunt had “already been made” by just seeing them.

About then, I realized I’d forgotten to replace the shells for my rifle that I’d placed on the dash of the pickup when we’d gone predator calling the previous week. I still had the three shells in the Cannon, but was slightly uneasy continuing without my usually backup half-dozen. It would cost me at least 15 minutes to get them, and we needed those minutes to hunt. When Dirk said I’d just have to treat it like a muzzleloader hunt, I shrugged off the nagging doubt about having enough shells and we quickly continued on to where we could drop out of sight along a creek bottom.

We made good time under cover of the trees and creek bank. The snow was terribly crunchy when we cut across a meadow corner, trying to keep a patch of willows between us and the elk, hoping they might think we were one of their own even if they heard us.

Finally, we were where we needed to be…and of course, the elk weren’t. Their slow feed was still too fast and had just moved out of rifle range. On a positive note, we noticed two other groups of cow elk, all in places we could get to if we hurried. 

Returning to the seclusion of the creek, we made our way further up the meadows. My second attempt for a shot was still too slow.

At that point, I knew we needed to make a decision, because the elk were out moving us. We’d had a fun hunt already, so I suggested we call it a day, and be happy with the success of just seeing elk. Or I could take off running, and try to catch the elk before they hit the timber. Dirk would then follow my tracks to meet up later. Basically, Dirk’s response was, “Go!”

With his encouragement I took off running…which wasn’t smart in knee deep snow, because by the time I got back up into the next open meadow, I was already sucking wind. I slowed, but still moved as fast as my lungs would allow. My goal was to get to the last patch of aspen, and use it as cover to sneak the last 100 yards for a shot. I made it there undetected, but didn’t plan for a straggler cow to bust me at 50 yards as I crunched through the trees. Feeling like my chance was slipping through my fingers, I hurried through the aspen, crouched through an open section of willow, and then quickly snuck through the last chunk of trees to where I could drop my pack and put my crosshairs on tawny hide. The group of 20 or so cow elk should have been within 1-200 yards. Instead, the busted cow spooked them up the hill and they were all about 300 yards away on the sky line. I couldn’t line up a good shot. As the last couple cows fed over the ridge hill top, I decided not to rush and shot and wait. Once their heads disappeared, I grabbed my gear and sprinted toward the top. I crept over the apex, expecting to see the herd standing in the sagebrush below just before the timber. No elk. I looked around trying to figure out what happened. Finally deciding they had either charged away without stopping, or they were very close right below me, still on the hill. Creeping a little further, I suddenly saw several cow heads facing me from about 40 yards below me. I ducked, dropped my pack, and crawled forward several yards. Then I shouldered my rifle and stood, hoping I’d moved enough for a shot. I had indeed, but the cows didn’t tolerate my intrusion and the whole pack started to run. At around 80-100 yards, they all stopped. I scanned over them with my crosshairs, trying to find one standing at a good angle, but one that also was a mature cow and not a calf. At this time of the year, many of the calves were quite large, and their dark manes sticking straight up due to the cold, making them look even bigger.

Finally settling on a mature cow quartering away on the left of the group – this all occurred within seconds – I took careful aim. The cannon kicked and the herd took off running again. My cow was hit hard through the back hip, but she was still travelling well and keeping up with the rest. I rushed my second shot when the paused again over 150 yards away. They were over 200 when the group paused one last time before entering the timber. My cow slowed in the deepening snow, so I grabbed my pack, threw it down in front of me, and lined up a prone shot. As the echo subsided, my elk was still alive and bedded on the edge of the trees.

That’s when the enormity of my situation hit me. I was 2 miles from the truck, I’d shot my last of three shells, and my elk wasn’t dead. Right away I knew I should have saved that shot, but in the moment I’d been paranoid that my cow would get away either into the timber and waist deep snow, or she’d turn around and speedily cross the last meadow onto the neighboring property. I’d been confident that my last shot would have anchored her, but something went awry. Later I’d discover that my first shot had taken out the offside lung, and one of my subsequent shots had passed behind the ribcage.

Trudging back down the hill I tried to figure out what I should do. Dirk had watched the whole thing through his binoculars, seen the elk run off the first time, heard the cannon’s report, and seen me jarred from the recoil of the shots.

We met up down below.

He said, “Three shots, that’s not good.”

I told him my first shot had put the cow down, but that she wasn’t dead yet.

Once he knew that, he got excited and we shared a Mountain Dew he’d packed in to celebrate.

Leaving our packs and my now useless rifle, we hiked back up the hill to survey the situation.

Looking through my Nikon 12x glass, I felt excitement rise back up inside me as I exclaimed, “That’s a dead elk!” She’d expired shortly after I’d turned around. 

As temperatures slowly rose out of the single digits thanks to the clear skies and rising sun, we spent the next several hours enjoying the moment and quartering the elk. 

We left the quarters in the shaded snow, I packed the loins on my back with the rest of my gear, and we began the hike back to the truck, scouting a route for the Land Cruiser because Brooke planned to meet us and ease our pack-out!

The final couple hours comprised the wildest snow ride I’d been on in many years, as we revved the motor and sent rooster tails of snow flying. Despite the clutch losing pressure, we managed to bounce, baha, roll, and blast our way over and through ditches and drifts, nearly getting stuck several times. The reward for the white-knuckle ride was parking within 50 yards of the elk quarters! Ironically, Archie – who’d fallen asleep just before Brooke met up with us – didn’t wake up the whole time! I guess that’s one way to rock a baby to sleep…