What Went Wrong?
Two of our hunters walked back into camp just as I got the last mule loaded with elk.
One said, “Anybody want a bull elk? There are two up in the corner of the horsepasture.”
It was the third day of the first hunt. Three hunters had gotten bull elk on the second day. They decided to stay in camp, hunt deer and relax instead of going to town with me.
I said, “I haven’t got a license yet, plus I’ve got eight mules loaded and I need to get going.”
A high-pitched voice shrieked from the cooktent, “I want an elk.”
It was Michele, the cook.
The tent flap exploded. Michele ran toward me with her Browning BLR and pleaded, “Dennis, will you take me?”
WE all walked out of the trees that obscured the horsepasture from camp. Sure enough, two rag-horn bull elk grazed 700 yards away in what we called the horsepasture.
I looked at the ground, rubbed my left hand over my forehead and eyes, and thought I know better, but this wouldn't take long. “OK,” I said, “let’s hit the trees.”
My pardner, Socks, me, and six mules packing elk from Lynx Creek, Bob Marshall Wilderness, Montana.
We had an almost direct route from camp through timber along the east side of the horsepasture. It brought us within 80-yards of the nearest bull and about 120 yards from the farthest bull elk.
I motioned Michele to the ground beside me and instructed, “Lay down and get a rest over this deadfall.”
She said, “I can’t shoot laying down.”
I may have looked at the ground and rubbed my forehead and eyes again, not sure, but I said, “Well, get situated, get a steady shot and hit the nearest bull right behind the groove behind his shoulder.”
She shot. Nothing.
I had my Steiner glasses. The bull didn’t wiggle. I said, “Take another poke at him.”
She shot. Nothing.
“Where were you aiming?”
Right were you told me to.
I said, “Shoot again. Take your time and squeeze one off.”
She shot. Nothing. Not even a flinch. Neither bull was concerned with us in the least, and both of them had seen us by now, and both went on grazing.
This went on for five shots. I figured she was out of shells and indicated I was going back to camp—I still had eight mules loaded and tied to the hitch rail, and I still had 19 miles of wilderness trail, 30 miles of gravel road and “town business” to conduct before sacking out in the evening.
I was wrong. Michele fished out a whole box of Remington Core-Lokts from her jean jacket pocket. I am sure I looked at the ground and rubbed my forehead and eyes that time. The box and her inability to shoot prone indicated we were in trouble.
She reloaded and fired one. I decided to wait two minutes before each shot. I can’t say why, but I couldn’t believe that every shot had missed from that range. I hoped that he would keel over before we emptied the box.
Somewhere in the process the nearest bull laid down. The farthest still continued to graze.
Michele shot everything but five bullets.
I said, “Reload.”
After the reload, I said, “Now, we’re going to walk up on him. When we get 25 yards away, I want you to shoot him in the head.”
At about 35 yards, Michele couldn’t stand it. She said, “I’ve got to shoot him, NOW.”
We had walked into a depression between the bull and us. Michele kneeled down and shot. Dirt exploded five yards in front of us.
I said, “Where were you aiming?”
“At his head,” she replied.
“Let’s move closer and get this hump out of the way.”
At 20 or 25 yards—with both bulls looking at us, one lying down chewing cud and another grazing—Michele let loose, blowing his jaw off. The bull jumped up and ran out of sight in a patch of timber.
I was at a loss. I had to get moving, but tracking a freshly wounded bull was stupid. I told her we would wait for 30 minutes. That isn’t long enough, but I had to get going.
We set in the horsepasture and watched the other bull graze off. Down below, it looked like most of the crew and hunters were watching the exhibition through binoculars and spotting scopes. Must have been great fun—like Elk Hunting TV.
We walked into the timber and found the bull dead on his feet about 100 yards in. I said, “We’re going to run up on him and you shoot him in the head.” I ran up, put my hand on his hip bone like a domestic cow and pushed him over. She shot him.
Although I had work to do, I wanted to know what had happened. I told Michele to get some of the crew and a couple mules, and I would skin him, but not gut him. The crew had time to gut, quarter and pack the bull.
Me, a horse and nine mules packing elk, deer and duffle out of White River, Bob Marshall Wilderness, Montana. I'm walking out of the mountains, 'cause I didn't have enough mules to pack all the elk and deer. You may see one deer loaded on my riding saddle.
Skinning showed something odd. In addition to one shot to the brain and one shot through the jaw, the hide had 14 bullet holes in it. No gut shots were found. Most of the bullets entered and a few had exited.
While I have never been fond of the 7-08 for elk hunting, this situation was its worst demonstration. It is possible that in this case, the Browning BLR had too short of a barrel to get the optimum velocity from the 7-08. I had been concerned that Michele’s marksmanship was suspect, but the bullet holes proved she had done her job.
The 7-08s track record on bull elk isn’t good.
If an elk hunter want an elk rifle in 7mm, then get a full-powered model, like a 280 Remington, 284 Winchester, or 7mm Magnum of whatever flavor suits your pistol. You may also want a rifle with a 22 to 24 inch barrel, to exploit their velocity.
I’ve got to get going.
Addendum (added 14 Nov 2011):
Since I originally wrote this in 7/12/09, I have received multiple comments--all anonymous--and most have been unprintable due to language. People commenting have found too many "things" in this story that they cannot accept. Why, I do not know.
Granted, I wrote this poorly, but if just one of the commenters, or those that took me to task at their favorite "hunting/shooting forum" had made constructive comments in a polite manner, I would apologized and have rewritten it immediately. No one did. Everyone, comfortable in their "hunting/shooting forum chairs" decided that I was a liar, a bullshit artist, or possibly some Muslim terrorist. (Those are the comments that I can republish without using four-letter words and racial slurs.)
In the story, I stated that Michelle had "done her job." That does not mean that all her shot hit. In fact, most missed. Additionally, I stated that there were 14 bullet holes in the hide. Fourteen holes in a hide from bullets that entered and exited does not equate to 14 hits. Do the math.
Some "knowledgeable" armchair elk hunters believed that this post was some sort of "cowboy humor." The only humor was my comments on the barrel being only 20 inches long. I doubt that that made any difference.
Some believe that I hate the 7-08. To the contrary. I own a 7-08. I just don't use it elk hunting. Not because of my experience with Michelle, but from seeing many elk not go down after several shots. True, it comes down to the hunter being a marksman, but the 7-08 is one of those cartridges that has little overkill, and when an elk is not hit well, or the elk doesn't provide a good angle, the 7-08 lacks. For those who don't read any more of this blog I must add that my elk hunting/guiding/outfitting experience reaches back to 1972. My experience hasn't come from watching my own 40 elk die, but from multiple hunter's elk die during multiple years of hunting.
My point of this article dovetails with the original goal of this blog, "give new elk hunters the best chance of taking a bull elk home." The 7-08 doesn't do that.
Some worldly elk hunters have cast dispersions on my characterization of the elk not leaving, running away, or otherwise acting scared. Besides hunting/guiding/outfitting elk hunters, I have herded elk for Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, and chased elk on horseback when I was a kid. Not all elk run away when shot at or chased. I'm not an elk psychologist, so I am not sure why that is.
Some of the commenters stated that I was "highly opinionated." I am guilty as charged. 40 years of watching elk get gut-shot, jaws blown off, high hits in the ass, legs blown off, and wobbling off into the timber has given me an opinion. I can think of nothing less satisfying and more despicable than writing someone else's opinion, or writing a story intended to satisfy one group or another. I am not a politician.
The aggregate total of the comments to this story proves to me that what people "believe" in their heads is more important than experience. If my experience doesn't jibe with what is in other's heads, maybe the others haven't been in my moccasins.