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My First Elk

By Bob Anderson

It would be nice if this was a story of my youth, but unfortunately I did not get my first elk until I was fifty years old.  This story actually started about ten years earlier when an old friend invited me to hunt on an old homestead his family owned a ways out of Heppner, Oregon.  This place is what we can honestly call “a little bit of heaven”. It is a couple of hundred acres of pine interspersed with meadows, springs, small canyons and plenty of elk. It is surrounded by about sixteen thousand similar acres.

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It was opening morning in early November. The temperature was in the forties and the sun was out. We had walked only a couple of hundred yards up the hill from the cabin and were on the edge of about a ten acre meadow. My friend and his brothers told me to take a stand at the edge of the timber and they would circle around to the top of the hill and then work the timber behind and above me. 

It was probably a half hour before I could hear something coming through the trees behind me. It wasn’t in a hurry, but was definitely putting ground between itself and my fellow hunters. A moment later, not more than twenty feet to my right, a bull elk burst out of the trees and starting trotting across the meadow. My crosshairs were on him instantly. He was at least a five point, though not large. The dilemma, it was the first year that only spikes could be taken during second season. So, he got to live. I got a tremendous memory and a bunch of ribbing from the ranchers, though they later thanked me for not being a slob hunter.

So, this brings me to my “big day”. It is ten years later and I have seen at least fifteen elk taken maybe twenty, but never had a shot at one myself. The Lord knows that I have helped pack out most of them and shared a steak or two over the campfire, but I was never in the right place.

It was Saturday morning the first weekend of November. It was cold with about six inches of snow on the ground. My friend Frank was the first one up and stoked the woodstove and started getting breakfast together. I was up right away and helped set the table for the four of us. Soon we were wolfing down eggs, fried potatoes, country sausage and coffee.  I was bundled up pretty good with an insulated jean jacket, polar fleece and Schnee pac boots. I carried my old Remington 700 carbine in 30-06 and ten shells, 180 gr. Nosler Partitions. My old trusty Gerber “Shorty” was on my belt and I was ready to go.

When we left the cabin it was still dark, but clear and the stars blazed like a million diamonds.  I was to hunt a place called “Cabin Canyon”. Obviously there was an old cabin at the head of the canyon that had long ago returned to the earth, but the name stuck. Leaving the cabin, you have to hike up the hill, about a five hundred foot gain in elevation, and then strike out on an old logging road. The elevation is about five thousand feet and we had about six inches of snow on the ground. It was cold enough that the snow was a wispy powder and didn’t make much noise as we walked through it. When we reached the gate everyone had a different place to go, so I headed for the canyon.

Because it was clear, everything was lit up and visibility was excellent and I didn’t need my little Maglite. When I arrived at the canyon, I worked my way slowly down the west side about three hundred yards down from the road and took a stand behind a small fallen pine. I leaned my rifle into a small piece of brush and built a small fire. This fire was less than a foot in diameter and produced very little smoke, but was adequate enough to provide some warmth.

From my position, the canyon was open meadow to the far side, about three hundred yards; maybe a little less. The far side was pine trees. They were thick up high to the left and then thinning out in front of me. There was then an opening of about fifty yards and then more timber.

I had been in this position for about an hour when I notice some movement to my left, up high on the far side of the canyon. I couldn’t tell what it was, but knew that whatever it was they were moving too fast to be a hunter, but could be a deer or an elk. I put my binoculars away and picked up my rifle. I chambered a round; I never, ever, carry it loaded. I put the crosshairs on the opening and within moments a cow elk crossed into the clearing. This was followed by several more cows and a couple of calves. They all moved on into the timber and continued down the hill. Then three elk came into the clearing, two cows and a spike bull. Of course, the spike had to be behind the cows. I placed my crosshairs where they needed to be on the spike and waited for the cow to move.  A moment later she moved and I adjusted my aim and pulled the trigger. A second later I heard the “thump” of the bullet hitting, but to my dismay he didn’t fall. I had instinctively chambered a new round and my crosshairs had found the target, but the cows had surrounded him again; so I just kept the sights on him and hoped for an opening. He began walking forward and then turned and started back up the hill, still surrounded by a couple of cows. Then, suddenly, all I saw was four legs going straight up in the air; then nothing. The cows continued up the hill and disappeared. I broke out my old pair of Zeiss Jenna binos and scanned the area and could see nothing.

A few minutes later I decided it was time to go investigate. Instead of taking off across the canyon, I decided to go back up the hill and cut across high and then drop down on the clearing. When I got up to the old road, I went down it until I cut the track of the elk coming down. I walked a bit further and found where the two cows and crossed going back up the hill. At that point I proceeded down the hill. When I got to the clearing there was nothing, no sign of blood, so I decided to walk an ever expanding circle until I crossed something. On my second leg of the circle, I stepped over a log and there he was. He was beautiful. His fur was shiny and healthy and there was no sign of blood anywhere. When I rolled him over in the snow, there was only one hole in his side behind the shoulder.  I fired a couple of signal shots and then began dressing him out. When that was done, no one had appeared; so I fired a couple of more shots. Since there was plenty of snow on the ground, I went ahead and skinned him. Still no sign of anyone; curiosity got the best of me and I began to probe the gut pile to see where he had been hit since it definitely wasn’t the lungs. When I picked up the heart there was a hole dead center through it. It was so perfect, I had to figure that God had lead that bullet to its mark, since I had shot offhand with gloves on at what turned out to be about 275 paces. Finally, Frank showed up and he was as excited as a dad whose kid had just gotten his first deer. 

That night there was plenty of celebrating and storytelling and the most fun was watching Frank tell how he saw the whole thing from the other side of the canyon and how I got “his elk” before it got to him. Turns out that was the only elk taken that year and I guess the first is always the “best”.