2016 Elk Hunt Narrative — Joe Carter Avid Archery Elk Hunter

It was kind of odd hunting this year. Unlike previous years, the Elk were bugling the day I arrived August 23rd and they never stopped. It’s like they never got the inner office memo! I picked my son up at the local regional airport on the 29th. We enjoyed nightly Elk serenades for the entire time we were on the mountain. On the morning of the 6th, my son and I hunted down behind our camp. The bull on this hill was quite vociferous, and not too shy at all. He just would not cooperate otherwise though. We made it all the way down to the ravine at the base of his hill in the dark with minimal noise and set up. Shortly after first light, I heard noise directly behind me and turned slowly to watch an old Tom Turkey and his 16 wards graze right by me. They were no more than 7-15 yards away. What a trip. What an adrenalin rush! Anyway, by 09:00 the hunt was a wash so we decided to make it back to camp. The sky was threatening again. Joe and I arrived back at camp via different routes. We both stowed our bows, put on coffee, and dawned jackets, and rain coats. I walked to the end of the road overlooking the canyon below our camp to take a look with my Binos. Just for kicks, I bugled, and received an immediate response from below. I bugled again, and when the response came, I just knew, he was on the move and coming toward me. I ran back to camp (30 yards), got my bow, put on my release, and returned to the end of the road overlooking the canyon. As I arrived at the lip of the canyon, I was just in time to see the tips of his antlers down off to my right teeter tottering through the brush. He was coming almost directly toward our camp and headed uphill. For lack of my range finder, I guestimated him at 30 yards, plus a few. When he stepped into an opening, his body from his lower chest and up was exposed. He stopped, or paused to step over some downed logs and I placed all six of my pins about mid body, just behind his right shoulder. A slight tensing pressure from my back, and the arrow was on its way. The arrow had that immediate tell-tale meat sound, and the impact knocked him to his knees. He turned, and staggered long enough for me to nock another arrow and release again. This time he stepped forward during the release, and the second arrow hit him further back on his left flank, but it too had that same tell-tale meat thunk that its previous quiver mate had made. He was gone in a helter skelter crash of brush and branches, leaving only a lingering image of where he stood just a moment before.  Did that really happen? Did I really spend the whole morning in vain, creeping  through the woods in major stealth mode, fully camoed, only to come back to camp and call in a bull  for breakfast wearing a rain coat and a plaid jacket? It was all so surreal and happened so quickly that I was astounded.

I was shaking, as I ran back to camp,…… all 30 yards. Through the brush, I could see that Joe Bud was sitting on the “John” with the Sears and Roebuck. Through excited breaths, I yelled to him, “I think I just got one”. “What”? I started gathering up meat knives, game bags, water bottles, and a ground tarp. I was fumbling with the knots on our meat packs when he arrived. 

Frame Pack Elk Hunting

“What did you get” he asked almost as astounded as I was. Through halting breaths I explained what had just gone down and he caught the excitement as well. An excited plan was put together, and we gathered up all the implements that we decided we would need. A bolt of lightning lit up the Southern sky and several seconds later the horizon replied with a deep throaty rumble. We dawned our pack frames and hiked the 30 yards to the scene of the crime. I was pretty excited for good reason. My son has Elk hunted with me faithfully for several years now but we always seem to come up empty handed. This was my tenth career Elk and I have told him over and over what he must do when he shoots one. We were now going through that actual process. “I was standing here”, I told him as we both crowded out the space next to a sage brush. “His antler tips were coming through the brush right down there”. “He paused right there by that log just forward of that bush and my first shot took him in the right shoulder, right there”. I could see the shot unraveling in his eyes. He made all the right conclusions and offered, “Then your arrow should be in the line right towards that tree trunk”. We advanced to the spot where I last saw the Bull. I started looking all around for blood but knew that it was too close, the blood would come eventually. There were some pretty fresh tracks though, and I knew that they would take us there. He whistled to me and I looked up to see him holding the pencil thin arrow with bright green and white fletching, all coated with blood. There was no Elk in sight but I was bolstered by that arrow in spite of the absence of an immediate blood trail. “It will come” I told myself.  A moment later he held up a short section of the second arrow. The vanes were green and white, as bright as they could be, but no blood!

We started off following the tracks since they were so prominent.   It was obvious that there was no elk in the canyon for the next 50 yards or so. “How far do they go” he asked. I told him that in the past I have never had one go further than 50 yards or so. I expected this one to go even less since I suspected he had been hit by two arrows. 

Within 20 yards, the first droplets of blood appeared. Without being told, my son removed a roll of toilet paper from his pack and tore off a length as flagging, which he placed in the bush above the droplets.   A very rewarding flush passed over me. All the things that I have been telling him for years had not gone unnoticed.  In one revealing gesture, it dawned on me that my son and I were a team of the same mind, on the same page, in a mutual endeavor to bring this hunt to a conclusion. There was no need to tell him what was next, or what we should do now, or what I thought the Elk would do. He knew what I would say. 

The sky opened up and saved me a breath! It was obvious that the blood trail would wash away in the impending deluge, and the horizon reverberated in confirmation. We started off slowly and quietly, half expecting to find the Bull in the next bush, attached to the very tracks that we were following. The blood trail picked up a bit, and established a pattern of sorts. My son was excited, pouncing on each and every drop of blood we came across. He was like a vampire, a natural at spotting the most indiscriminate amount of blood. I was a little more reserved. Two arrows, and 50  Plus yards, and the tracks were not meandering as they should, but rather progressing in a straight line……and the blood trail was not splashing onto the ground as I expected but more precisely, painting the sage brush at about belly level. My son was excited, I was guardedly alarmed. The pattering of rain was indifferent! 

At about the 300 yard mark, I had a very brief glimpse of what I believe was the very bull we were following. His eyes and one ear could be seen looking straight at me through the Oak Brush 200 yards in the distance, and then he was gone. My son thought it was a different Elk perhaps. Regardless, the tracks extended and the pace lengthened noticeably. A short while later, Joe Bud whistled again and held up the other half of my second arrow. The broad head was obscured by a lolly pop of tattered pulpy flesh. We huddled together for a short time, drank some water, and regrouped. The first arrow must have hit higher than the lungs or he would not have run so far. The second arrow must have hit further back and eventually worked its way out the right side of his body. We wanted to let him rest for an hour or so but the soil became hard and rocky, yielding tracks that were harder to follow. The Blood trail was diminished as well, and could not be relied on. Once or twice, we noticed that the Bull had double backed on its trail no more than 10 yards, but enough to throw us off for a while. The blood trail was now a hands and knee event. The rain which had stopped for a while, decided to pick up again. The trail was now decidedly going downhill in a straight line towards the ravine in the distance. The blood trail was now just random, as if someone had occasionally dipped a sage brush branch in a daub of blood.  We were now in the bottom of the ravine about ¾ of a mile from camp, following a fairly level cow trail that ran along the banks of a steep gulch. The pace was steady, the blood trail very intermittent and my prognosis not so good! By 12:30, we were at the 1.2 mile mark from camp. The sky decided to stop messing around and opened up in earnest. We were at the top of a gulch marked by dirt, dirt, and more dirt. The only thing evident was a plethora of Elk tracks leading down to the muddy foot wide creek at the bottom.

Wide Creek Bottom Elk Hunting

At 61 years of age, I was spent! Not so my 30 year old fireman son. While I sat at the top of the ravine panting, he ran down and up the other side, following the last vestiges of the blood trail which soon petered out on the opposite side of this ravine. Bummed, dejected, and beaten, we called it. After several hours, and a mile plus downhill trek, we retreated back to camp. It was now going on 14:30 and we needed water, food, and some respite from the long day that had started that morning at 04:00. The meat knives and sharpening stone made a mocking jangle in my pack as we headed back to camp.

Elk camp has its own sort of roller coaster moods, influenced by the weather, meals, blisters, and good or ill luck. We were riding a sullen wave of the latter. The next morning was the last of Joe Bud’s time in the mountains, so we set out hunting again despite the poor weather. I was determined to help him fill his deer tag. Unfortunately, we were back in camp, laying in our bunks by 0830 listening to the intermittent spatter of rain. My son had retrieved a book from my duffle entitled “Elk Nut’s Playbook”.  I paid him no mind, engrossed in my own apparent failure. “Hey” he says, “Listen to this”. “It says that arrow wounds are usually more lethal than not”. “It goes on to say that a wounded Elk will go downhill to water and then bed down nearby.” “You shot him twice, he has to be down”!  I had to agree with him on that account, and I liked his rosy disposition, but a mile or more away from camp was a 500 pound animal that had decided he was a cat and still had 8 lives left. Unfortunately I did not have the same energy to generate such an optimistic outlook. “Listen” he says, I am going to throw on some parachute pants and a “T” shirt and I will be down to that ravine in 15 minutes max. I won’t take a bow or a pack, or anything.  I furrowed my eyebrows and looked at him. “15 minutes, are you sure”? I had forgot what it was like to be in the prime of life! I did tell him to take some bear spray and a radio, if on the off chance he saw anything, give me a call. He suited up and looked like a marathon jogger with his parachute pants and tennis shoes. The bear spray gave him attitude.­­ All he lacked was a sweat band, and ear buds.  I had to suppress a comical laugh!

Our radios are pretty small. They are actually the smallest radios you can probably purchase. They are cheap too, so I was absolutely floored when 10-15 minutes later I hear my radio crackle to life from over a mile away, “Dad, I found him”!  Think “G” force, flash back to what it’s like to be at the bottom of a plunging roller coaster ride and then all of a sudden change directions, kind of like an express elevator. One moment you are here, and the next, you are unexplainably going there! Elation! I had so many questions I did not know where to start. How far from where we lost the blood trail, how about the rack, is he intact or had the critters got to him, etc.?  I did not have time to air my questions when  His radio crackled back to life, “I moved him into the shade as best I could” he said, ” I’m now right below camp, will see you in a few”!  I am an operating engineer by trade and logistics is second nature to me. My son left camp, hiked a little over a mile downhill, traversing an elevation change of 540 feet in an 8,500 ft. atmosphere, found a 500 lb. Bull elk, wrestled him into the shade, and was now on the return trip a few hundred yards from camp. All in the span of 20-30 minutes.  Awesome, that’s pretty awesome, and anyone reading this that has spent any time in the Western Rockies would have to agree. 

So… the mocking knives and wet stone came out of the bag again, this time with a smug, and confident smirk! We did not go off so halfcocked this time. We took plenty of water, pack frames, enough parachute cord to tie down “Gulliver” ten times over, and a Pack Wheel, that proved to be “Oh so Sweet”!  Brady, if you ever read this, many thanks to your attention in detail building this rig. The Pack Wheel was strapped to my pack frame, and away we went.

We arrived back at the gulch where we had lost the blood trail the previous afternoon. We hiked down to the water, and up the other side, then about 75 yards up into the brush to where my Son had found the Bull. About 19 hours had transpired since we were last here.  It was 09:30. The carcass was teaming with flies, but there were no openings in the skin other than the arrow wounds. There was no odorous smell of decay yet either. The carcass showed no signs of bloat, and was not especially ridged. The night had been down in the lower 40’s so there was a good chance the meat would still be good. We took a few photos, chopped away some offending branches to improve our work area, and then laid out the contents of our packs.

Bull Elk Down Hunting with Pack Wheel

Bull Elk Hunting with Frame Pack

My wife is a nurse, and she often provides me with cast off medical supplies. One of the best things I carry in my pack is a blue surgical operating tarp. It weighs next to nothing, and unfolds to a 4’ X 5’ sheet of blue cleanliness. This is where the meat sacks get stowed just prior to transport.

Quartered Bull Elk Ready for Pack Wheel Game Cart

As we prepared to field dress the young bull, my son’s appreciation of the task and the size of Elk in general became apparent.  “Geez, how does something this big sneak around in the woods without being seen”? We snapped a few pictures then dawned blue surgical gloves and set to the task at hand. I stressed that we needed to proceed with extreme caution, that what we were about to do was perhaps the most dangerous part of Elk Hunting, and that if we were careless, we might receive a life threatening cut. “You work on that end, I will work on this end, control your knife strokes and pay attention to where your hands are at all times”! I explained to my son that we were going to follow a Gutless field dressing. I normally carry a very light weight Schrade folding knife in my day pack. In the past, I have butchered several Elk with just this one knife. This time however, I had the bag of “Mocking knifes” to choose from. We started with some red plastic arrangement that looked like a pair of brass knuckles with a razor insert. It looked pretty cool, and weighed even less than the case it was transported in. It was dismally ineffective at cutting the hide though, and soon broke.  As the hind quarters were bagged, we inserted small shirt pocket meat thermometers into the quarters in the thickest portion of the meat. During the night or perhaps even that morning, the meat had come down to the mid 50’s range. Initially, I directed my son as to where, and how far he should cut the hide. I let him do it on his own so he could appreciate just what a task it is, and just how well an Elk was put together. He struggled with removing the hind leg, and I showed him how to study the joint by flexing the leg back and forth, cutting the tendons as you manipulate the leg. When we had completely dismantled and bagged the Elk, the logistics of transporting the Elk back to camp played on my mind. I was soon surprised at my young son. To me he will always be “My Young Son”, but in reality, he is a 32 year old accomplished Fireman. The Captain in him asserted itself, and the logistics were taken from my hand as he explained how we were going to get this Elk back to camp. I had no choice but to listen and surrender the driver’s seat. I was secretly both relieved and very proud though I was not too sure it would work. The plan was to portage the sacks of meat, and the head, down the ravine, across the stream and to the Pack Wheel which waited 150 yards yonder. We would each take one heavy hind quarter the first trip. We would return and I would get the head, and he would get both front quarters and the sack of loins which in itself left me a bit skeptical. Once the Portage was complete, we would load both hind quarters and the head onto the Pack Wheel, and then he would take off with both front quarters and the loins, and race back to camp, “His words, not mine”, and I would follow. The quarters each completely filled the Axiom Randonee Aero 60 paniers that I had purchased for the Pack Wheel. Though these paniers were perfect for this young 4X4 bull, a larger bull would have wanted the custom canvas paniers that Brady had supplied with the Pack Wheel. I helped him put on his pack frame and told him that it felt like a 90 lb. sack of concrete. I was not too far off, it later weighed 87 lbs. 10 ounces on my digital bow scale. I dawned my empty pack frame, and followed with the loaded Pack Wheel.

Pack Wheel Single Wheel Game Cart Loaded with Bull Elk Quarters

Pack Wheel Single Wheel Game Cart Loaded with Bull Elk Quarters and Head

This was my first real test with an Elk on the Pack Wheel. Two years prior, my son and I had loaded it up with a complete spike camp and 24 liters of water. It worked flawlessly as we hiked in two miles over a well-used but bumpy cattle trail. The trail before me now was a cattle/game trail as well, but heavy sage brush encroached on both sides of the trail such that I would need to force the load through the sage brush. The trail would take me a full mile to the base of the hill at the bottom of our camp. It was a gradual winding ascent of 300 vertical feet over a mile, so the grade was not the problem. The brush would prove to be the biggest obstacle, but even the brush was not all that hard to navigate. I would build up a head of steam and start ricocheting off the sage brush from side to side. While the brush slowed down my advance, it was also thick enough so as to aid in keeping the Pack Wheel upright. It was a series of 40 yard bursts followed by a bit of panting and a short break. The Pack Wheel is a marvel. As long as you have two hands on the handlebars it is quite easy to balance and move a load of up to 150 lbs. or so. My present load, (Two hind quarters, head, and Pack Wheel weight) amounted to 157 lbs., and I had no problem balancing it, or propelling it along this game trail. Occasionally I would need to take a water break and park the Pack Wheel with its load intact. The procedure was to simply apply the brake and then let the handlebars go forward allowing the weight to pivot over the front of the wheel. The load would come to rest on the G4 tines of the rack. Reversing the procedure, I would simply hold the brake, apply my right knee to the circumference of the Pack Wheel and pull back on the handlebars. The load would pivot back and over the wheel with very little effort, coming to a natural balance. After a mile, the only muscles that were mildly affected were my upper rib area, my forearms, and my glutes! Key word here is mildly! In effect, this device allows me to extend my elk hunting career a few more years down the road. Even so, after a mile, I came to rest at the base of our hill in dwindling light and quite exhausted. 

Pack Wheel Single Wheel Game Cart Loaded with Bull Elk

My son’s race to camp had been put in check by the 87 lb. load he had strapped to his back. I could still see him on the hill up ahead, about 500 ft. above me and within sight of our camp. From my point of view he was probing the finish line at the gates of heaven, and I was stranded below at the hinges of hell. I took a long break at the base of our hill before unloading the Pack Wheel for the final portage up the hill. I removed both paniers with their quarters intact, and unstrapped the head from the Pack Wheel frame. At this point, I removed the handlebars and collapsed the Pack Wheel into portage mode. I strapped one of the panier/quarters to my pack frame and started the long haul up hill. My son passed me on the way down with an empty pack frame and handed me a much needed bottle of cold water. I was completely exhausted when I made it into camp. To my surprise, he showed up shortly after I arrived with the second quarter and the Pack Wheel. It is kind of humbling knowing what you were once capable of and coming face to face with the effects of time. My son was literally running circles around me with the lion’s share of this Elk. We split a beer, and then he went down the hill to retrieve the head. I was just in awe of all the sacks of rich red meat that we had retrieved and stowed on the rack of my Yamaha Rhino. I produced my bow scale and started weighing the individual bags. The Hind quarters came in at 56 lbs., and 51 lbs., the front quarters were 32 and 33 lbs. and the loins were 22 lbs. The head with rack weighed 38 lbs. I believe the 29” Pack Wheel was 12 lbs. Our stripped down old school aluminum back pack frames came in at 2 ½ lbs. each. That’s 194 lbs. of meat, and a 38 lb. rack/head, and this was a small bull.

Back to the ATV with Bull Elk

We inserted thermometers into the rest of the meat sacks and positioned the meat to cool on the Rhino rack overnight. My elk camp comes complete with a portable bear fence that encloses the kitchen and dining area, so we parked the Rhino inside the fence and were good to go for the night. We were both too exhausted to even eat dinner. We had some M&M’s and some Advil, and then washed up as best as we could before crashing for the night.

Joe Bud’s flight left the local regional airport at 1:45 PM the next afternoon, so we awoke early that morning to pack up camp. The meat thermometers were now showing 43 deg F. We emptied the two ice chests, placing the remainder of our cold stores into two of those COSTCO type cooler bags. The bags of meat were further trimmed using an ax to cut off the leg bones at the next closest joint to the quarter.  We placed portions of the remaining blocked ice into gallon zip lock bags and then placed two of these in each cooler for the long ride into town. 

In town we purchased 30 pounds of Dry Ice. The zip lock bags were removed, the bottom of the ice chest were mopped out with hand towels, removing any pooled blood, and the meat returned. We also purchased several newspapers which we used to cover and insulate the meat sacks, filling up any air pockets. We wrapped up the dry ice in newspaper as well, then placed it above the meat, dividing the dry ice between the two ice chests. We took care to keep the ice from touching the meat so as to prevent freezer burn. Once the ice chests were closed, we used duct tape to go around the outside seal between the lid and the chest housing. It would be two days before I could process the meat in my garage but I was confident the meat would stay very cold.

For the next 12 months, I will reflect on this hunt, and count my blessings until next year. This was a very special hunt for many reasons, but the bonding experience with my son was easily the best. Thanks buddy for finding my Elk and getting us both back to camp! 

Thank you so much for sending us your story Joe! This was very kind of you. Thank You!

While Joe very successfully uses bicycle panniers to haul his elk quarters, we do highly recommend that you use our Meat Panniers that are specially designed to hold quarters and boned out meat very securely. If you do use bicycle panniers to haul game meat we would recommend that you wrap a bungee cord around the middle of the panniers and the frame to hold the panniers in a more secure fashion.


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