Well Worth the Work

-Jordan Seitz-

Dec. 10, 2011

Dec. 10, 2011

Allow me to set up what was “supposed to happen” on December 10, 2011. I was planning to drive to a private piece of property early Saturday morning, snowshoe up the first hill, out through rolling pastures, and intercept a herd of elk as they travelled from a haystack to the forest. I’d have my pick of the cows, shooting the second elk of my life. Afterwards, the landlord would bring up his tractor to help me load it; the hunt completed in a couple hours. Then my wife, Brooke, and I would cut a Christmas tree. The day didn’t go as planned…

When the elk weren’t where they were supposed to be as the sun rose, I convinced myself to trek to other side of the ranch in search of them. Spending several hours on snowshoes, battling a frigid headwind, I finally cut the herd’s hoof prints and began tracking them down; determined to fill my tag. Sneaking into a relatively open hillside a quarter mile into the timber, I noted all the shapely pine trees scattered through it. Looking about, I had the feeling the elk should be bedded anywhere nearby, and thought I smelled one. A couple steps later, I froze from another whiff of elk. Other hunts where I’d smelled elk flitted through my mind…the musky scent was potent; I knew one couldn’t be much farther away than fifty yards.

Searching the clearing, I was startled to see an elk through the branches of a pine right in front of me. I quickly shouldered my gun and through the scope determined it was a cow. Quickly maneuvering my body, I finally found a small opening through the tree by squatting down in the snow. There was a chance my bullet would deflect off a branch, but I felt confident I could thread it through. Knowing she wouldn’t stand still prompted me to quickly settle into my shot and squeeze my trigger. My inherited .375 H&H roared. I racked in a second shot as I straightened from the recoil and swung my rifle to follow her movements. She cleared the pine and entered some quakies. I hadn’t seen any tree branches move when I shot, but knew there was a possibility my bullet had deflected, so I wanted to get one more shot off. As she ran to my left, only her head, neck, and upper back showed above the snow. I trained my crosshairs on her head and fired again as she passed through a brief opening in the quakies thirty yards from where she’d first stood. My unstable crouching position caused my barrel to kick up high again as I rocked back on my heels. Racking in a third shell, I aimed, but she’d disappeared from my view.

Taking the Shot

Taking the Shot

Relatively shook up, I dug my spent shells out of the snow, and slowly made my way up to where she’d first stood from her bed. It was 60 yards. I glanced about and was perturbed by the absence of hair or blood. Puzzled, I looked up, surprised to see my elk down in the quakies about thirty yards away! Standing over my cow, absolutely thrilled by my hunt and a perfect shot behind her shoulder (though perplexed by the lack of blood), I was intrigued by the coincidence that she’d dropped right after my second shot…one I’d assumed had missed. That’s when I noticed a few drops of red in the snow by the back of her head. Closer inspection revealed a second bullet hole…one of my best shots ever! She was a hefty dry cow. I have no idea how many years she’d spent avoiding people like me, but her teeth were worn to her gum line.

My cow in the Quakies

My cow in the Quakies

I took photos and called Brooke. At first she was excited…until she learned where I was…claiming there was no way that I’d be able to get home with my elk in time to get her a tree since it was already 10 or 11 o’clock. My response was that I’d bring one back with me. An option she thought ludicrous when I admitted I didn’t really have anything to cut it down with. We ended the call with her saying she didn’t want a tree, and me promising to get her one. I had to quickly dismiss my frustration, because this was an exciting moment I didn’t want ruined. She later texted an apology, which I would have gotten if my phone was on, congratulating me on my elk and that she’d like a tree if I could find one. In any case, after removing my ivories, and getting my elk dressed out (not easy in deep snow by myself), I began looking with determination for a nice tree.

Only forty yards away, I found the perfect one. It was beautiful, but I was lacking a method to cut it down. I thought about shooting it, but dismissed the idea because my bullets were too expensive…leaving me with my gutting knife and a small cable saw. Deciding to make do with those things, I cleared away lower branches, and tried the saw. It was worthless on the frozen trunk. Grabbing my knife, I spent a long time whittling. Then I started just hacking until I’d cut away nearly a half inch around its circumference. My hand, arm, and shoulder were aching by that point, so I knew I needed to try something else, otherwise I had a long day of cutting ahead of me. Trudging to the other side of the tree, making a mental note that there weren’t any objects sticking up out of the snow, I proceeded to climb up. With my feet past the spot I’d been chopping, I took a firm grip of the tree trunk and began to sway back and forth, hoping I could crack the tree trunk to save some cutting. I gained force in my sways and then gave a big heave towards me. “Crack!” The tree snapped! I was launched from the tree and landed sprawled out on my back. Snow exploded everywhere. Slightly stunned, I rose, trying to shake the snow out of my clothes. Looking up, I discovered my tree had cleanly snapped at my whittled section, and all it needed was a little tug to finish freeing it from its base! I was very pleased with how well I’d cut it down with what I had, and quite amused by my free fall. I wasn’t, however, amused by the snow down my neck and pants. It was worth it though, because I had a darn nice tree!

Free Fall

Free Fall

It took the rest of the afternoon to drag my elk out of the timber and bury it in the snow along a fence line, and then drag my tree to my truck (the elk could wait, but I was NOT going home without the tree). I was exhausted, and at a loss when I discovered the landlord and his wife were nowhere to be found, and couldn’t be reached by phone.

Dragging Out

Dragging Out

Finally calling Brooke, she was happy to hear I was ok, and was thrilled that I’d gotten her a tree. She suggested I call a buddy of mine who very willingly came to my aid. He showed up with both our wives and a pair of snow machines as the sun sunk below the horizon. It was ridiculous how fast we covered the ground I’d toiled over all afternoon.

With my cow roped to back of the machine, the drag was so easy it felt like cheating! However, with my level of fatigue, I sure wasn’t going to complain! The neighbors saw our lights and met up with us, helping to hoist my cow into the truck. Everyone complimented me on my nice tree as I strapped it on top, but said I must have wanted an elk, especially a cow, pretty darn bad to have gone where I went on foot! Darkness had settled in as we pulled out onto the highway. I’m not sure what I was more proud of…my tree, or my elk!

I’ve had a lot of people tell me someday I’ll learn that an elk near the road tastes the same as one miles from it, and that I must be crazy to work so hard to fill a hunting tag (a habit I have)! My joking response was I that I needed to “earn” the right to get an easy elk. The truth is that I enjoy an adventure, prefer to work for my success, and love a good story. The following Monday I told the tale to my sixth grade students, had them rolling on the floor with laughter. That Christmas, the nice tree in my living room and my happy wife was a reminder about the importance of keeping a promise, carrying proper tools…and that one shouldn’t cut their tree so far from the road!

Well Worth the Work

Well Worth the Work