Elk hunt from the past“How on earth do you remember the dialogue?” readers have asked. My reply: “I have a lot of empty space in my head where I store it all … in addition, I take notes.”
By: Bernie Kuntz, The Jamestown Sun
“How on earth do you remember the dialogue?” readers have asked.
My reply: “I have a lot of empty space in my head where I store it all … in addition, I take notes.”
So when I stumbled upon notes from a January 1989 late season elk hunt Laurie and I made to the Gardiner, Mont. area, I had to write the story, which has never been published until now:
Across the Yellowstone River is a series of benches forming the shoulder of an enormous mountain named Electric Peak, and on those foothills I can see animals moving about, even without the aid of my binocular. When I bring the glass up I see elk … hundreds of them staging just inside the Yellowstone National Park boundary.
When she comes out of the Gardiner motel where she reserved a room, I hand her the binocular. “Take a look across the river.”
“Amazing!” she gasps.
To avoid competition with other hunters on Laurie’s first elk hunt, we have hired a guide from a private ranch for the princely sum of $100 to gain access to the private ground. We meet Edwin the following morning in Corwin Springs and drive to the ranch which borders the Yellowstone River on the east, the Gallatin Range on the west. We see mule deer, antelope, bison and a pair of bull elk and a calf elk before entering the real hunting territory.
Laurie’s first opportunity comes quickly — three cow elk appear behind a sagebrush knoll, they reverse direction as Edwin applies the brakes to his old Suburban, Laurie piles out and tracks the cows in the dim light of early morning. She fires and misses and the cow calmly climbs out of sight. As the morning wears on, she has another opportunity at a cow elk but is too slow and can’t get off a shot. Then she passes up an opportunity at a calf elk.
When I spot two cow elk grazing higher on the mountain, I say, “If nothing else, we can go after those two.”
“It would be a tough drag,” Edwin replies.
“I’ve taken them out of worse places,” I say. “I’ve got a saw and packframe along just in case.”
During the stalk we see a six-point bull at close range, but Laurie’s permit is valid only for an antlerless elk. When I spot four elk lying in the snow on a bench above Spring Creek, half mile south of The Devil’s Slide, we quit the stalk and return to the Suburban where Edwin waits.
“How about if Laurie and I climb up the side of the mountain and come out near that finger of timber? Then you could bring the Suburban up the road and pick us up?”
“Sounds like a good plan,” Edwin says.
We labor up the steep grade, I carry Laurie’s .30/06 and set an easy pace. Laurie, who is not fond of climbing mountains, says, “I don’t want to be doing this.”
“You’ll be alright. What is an elk if you don’t earn it?”
We continue to climb, the slope becomes less steep but the snow is deeper. When we reach the snow-choked road, I hand her the rifle and put my finger to my lips. We ease along, Laurie in the lead now, and then we see the elk, still bedded in the snow. They are about 85 yards away, five cows and two young bulls … Laurie crawls to a sagebrush plant, gets a rest, and at the shot the cow on the far left slumps and dies. The remaining elk run out of sight.
We wrestle the big carcass, later determined by a biologist to be about 10 years old, and while I am field-dressing it, Edwin bounces around the corner in the Suburban. We drag it down the snowy road and with much difficulty manage to load it whole into my old pickup.
In those days, the state issued more than 3,000 elk permits for the late season Gardiner elk hunt, but with predation from wolves and other large predators, the Northern Herd has dropped in numbers from about 19,000 to 4,000, and the late season hunt is no more.