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Campfire Tales - Elk

By Scott Irving

Hunting with kids is a lot of fun and very rewarding. They are eager to learn and full of questions. Even with 40 plus years of hunting (just when I think I’ve about seen it all), a hunt like this comes along that leaves me still has me scratching my head.
This is the story of my son’s 1st elk. Tyler has been tagging along on hunting trips with me since he was 5 years old. He started out by shagging birds for us on dove hunts in eastern Washington. He now hunts everything from birds to big game animals. I have enjoyed watching him grow and mature through the years becoming a hunter. He has been hugely successful hunting deer but had yet to take his first elk. Last year he also drew an antlerless elk tag for western Washington, and the week after I filled my tag we set off to see if he could fill his.

After working Friday night late, we got up early Saturday morning around 3:00 a.m. Then we left the house just in time to arrive at the hunting area. Tyler recently got his driver’s license, so he was able to take on the driving duties while I got some more rest. I told him what exit to take off the highway and to wake me up when we got there.

It was still dark when we arrived at the exit. We gassed up the truck; I got some coffee and then took over the driving duties. We were getting close to the hunting area. We went over the game plan for the day and had another discussion on the definition of an “antlerless” tag.

Since I already had a cow in the freezer, we decided that if the opportunity presented itself that he would take a calf instead of another mature cow. We are blessed with a full freezer and a 175 pound calf would be plenty to wrestle with at this point. If he only had an opportunity for a cow elk then friends and neighbors would be happier still; since we share the elk we harvest.

We got into the hunting unit before first light and parked the truck. The area was near where I had shot my cow elk the week before. It was going to be a beautiful day as the sky was filled with stars.  We started hiked into the forest. We then quietly moved up a ridge that had a view of the clearing where I had seen elk the week before. Daylight broke as we neared the position so we sat down behind some cover and got comfortable.  The plan for this morning was to sit on this spot for couple hours and see if any elk would move through, however, the morning passed uneventfully so we decided to get up and do a little still hunting.

A lot of hunters can sit for hours on a spot if they think it is advantageous. However, I tend to get downright antsy after a couple of hours and have to move around. It works for me. Although, I’m sure there has been times when I have missed shot opportunities because I gave up on a spot too soon. The great thing about big-game hunting is everyone has their own style and preferences in hunting; so once you find a technique or method that works for you, go with it!

We eventually hiked back to the truck and went for a drive so we could check out a part of the hunting unit I had not been to yet. This unit is fairly typical of western Washington elk country with lots of steep, rugged terrain with plenty of clear cuts, and early reproduction growth; or what the locals call “Reprod”. Which Elk go to bed down in or go to when they are pressured for protection. It is thick, nasty stuff, and extremely difficult to hunt. I have friends that have been successful hunting in the Reprod, but it is not fun. I avoid it at all costs unless there are positively no other alternatives. We spent the next couple of hours hiking into an area where we found a lot of very fresh elk sign. I found a neat Black tail deer shed, and we startled a porcupine which quickly climbed high into a tree. We did not see or hear any elk but put this spot into the memory bank because of all the fresh sign we saw. It was getting close to noon by now so we hiked back to the truck to eat lunch.

It was a beautiful, cloudless day with temperatures in the 50’s and we could see Mount St. Helens to the south and Mount Rainier to the north. These are the moments that make hunting so memorable, and provide memories that I will share with my son for a lifetime. We decided to drive around a little more and then pulled over to take a nap since the elk would be bedded down for their midday nap, too.
We pulled off the main line and parked in a depression near the top of a large clearcut. It was around 1230 by now and as we were both tired from the early drive down here. I eased my seat back, and it did not take long for me to fall asleep. I woke up around 2:00 and looked over at my son who was still sleeping.

After taking care of nature’s business, I looked out across the clearcut. Suddenly, eight 8 or nine cow elk and calves appeared, and they started to feed. My jaw almost hit the ground. I’m standing next to my truck taking of “business” at 2:00 in the afternoon; and a small herd of elk are feeding maybe 130 yards away!

We had parked in a depression, so evidently they could not see us. However, I knew it wouldn’t be long with that many eyes before they would see us. I quickly went back to the driver’s side of the truck and opened the back door to get the rifle. I whispered to Tyler to wake up and told him how close he was to filling his tag. Excitedly, I grabbed the rifle. Then told him, he would need to crawl out of the truck on the driver’s side since the elk were feeding toward us on his side of the truck. He quickly got out, and I handed him the rifle. He could not see the elk. I whispered to him, “that he needed to crawl through the brush in front of us and then get into a sitting position to shoot”. He no sooner got there when the elk started to come into view.

He had a brief opportunity at a cow but then a calf stuck his head up and saw the truck then stared at us very intently. I knew it was now or never as the elk would probably bolt as soon as this one panicked. I told Tyler he had better take his shot now. With 1 shot from my trusty old .270 we had another elk down! The elk was facing us head on, and the bullet caught it right through the neck. I knew without a doubt that it was dead before it hit the ground.

Nice Elk
Tyler was one excited young man let me tell you! He had just made a 1 shot kill on his first elk and added some more delicious protein to the freezer. I was extremely happy and proud of him, as well. I gave him a slap on the back and shook his hand. He had just entered the world of elk hunting. You never know how a hunt is going to unfold. Sometimes you can hunt for days in cold, wet conditions hiking up ridges or down into canyons. If you fill your tag, you usually have quite a chore packing it out of the mountains. This was not one of those hunts. We were less than 100 yards from my truck and got his elk packed out with very little trouble. I told my son to be thankful
for this trip because it would probably be the most unusual and quickest elk hunt of his career. Definitely, we will have a lot of fun around future campfires telling others about how he got his first elk!

 The work begins