Following the successful antelope hunt a few weeks earlier, my long time friend and business partner Brian chose to step up the challenge for my custom 300 Blackout chambered AR15, aka “Broadsword.” Brian had an elk tag burning a hole in his pocket and I just so happened to know of a great late season area where bulls liked to hole up after the rut. Two days before his arrival I managed to scout, locate and pattern a small group of 6 mature bachelors. Two were five plus years old. The hard part of locating them had been accomplished. It was now time to plan the assault.
As elk often do, they found the most remote and difficult terrain to relax in. To reach them, a short hike and an 1800’ elevation loss was required. This type of mountainous terrain requires planning and without the proper tools, skills and mindset, it can be daunting. A good map and GPS as well as knowledge of terrain are essential. The OnXmaps program was key to the planning and execution of the mission.
The morning and evening feeding location of the bulls was a mere 200-300 yards from private land. Knowing this before hand, as well as how to conduct the stalk, was invaluable.
Brian drove the 2 hours North to my location right after driving another 12 hours from California (No excuses!). We quickly gathered gear, confirmed zero on the 300 Blackout Broadsword. Next, we drove up the eastern face of the Big Horns till we reached the insertion location. It was two p.m. giving us six hours to drop the ~2.5 miles before feeding time. Our goal was to set up near a predetermined group of trees estimated to be 200 yards uphill of where the elk habitually fed.
After a last minute gear check and the thrill of the hunt driving us, we hiked north along a plateau. Once we reached the previously determined knife ridge, we began the rapid decent to a saddle located approximately a half mile from our ambush point. The amount of elk sign to this point confirmed our hunch about the popularity of the area. Well-worn game trails were everywhere and the saddle had a major “highway” running through it. From the saddle we began to side slope north again on the less sparse west-facing slope. Recognizing the terrain from our reference notes, we closed in on the small group of trees we established as our ambush point.
The wind was still good so we continued to close on the dining area. As is often the case, once we reached the location we determined that in order to have clear shooting lanes, we had to adjust our position downhill from the planned spot. As we were getting set up the first bull elk appeared out of the timber a mere 150 yards below us. He was feeding to the south into the open hillside. Minutes later three more bulls fed into the opening. We watched patiently for ten more minutes to see if the other two bulls would join. We knew there were six total but the light was fading and soon the thermals would shift and betray our presence.
Brian had established a good solid platform on his Mystery Ranch pack despite the difficult terrain and I began ranging the largest of the elk, a mature 5X5. I could hear Brian begin to regulate his breathing and prepare for the moment.
The line to sight distance to target was 220 yards. I relayed this as well as wind to him and cleared him hot as soon as he had a good broadside shot. I glassed through my Maven 10 power binoculars as the bull fed and then turned to offer the shot.
Exactly when I imagined I would squeeze the trigger, Brian fired Broadsword breaking the still mountain silence. I could clearly see the vapor trail and impact of the round. It hit directly under the bull’s chest! He stood there, now fully alert and debating on which way to run.
Brian attempted to follow up with another shot but was greeted with the dreadful “click” sound of a misfire. The target bull ran to our left, then reappeared 80 yards directly side slope from us. Brian had cleared the jam and as the bull stood and stared at us, Brian once again attempted to place a round in his chest. Another click and I heard some choice words. By this time the bull had seen enough and had run directly under us towards the safety of the timber he had recently left. Before Brian could clear the weapon the bull made it to home base. His friends were not quite so quick.
Another bull, a smaller 6X6, followed the first bull’s route at a slow trot. I ranged him at 65 yards and quickly relayed that to Brian. He didn’t need the info and in typical Fallujah house clearing fashion he point shot the elk. The Remington 125 grain OTM did its job. The bull Elk instantly dropped and rolled down the steep slope out of view.
We both took a quick breath of relief as we moved down slope slightly to confirm the animal was down. Once we had a visual and could see the elk was indeed never to be on hooves again, we celebrated and talked about the last few seconds of chaos.
Neither of us could explain the initial shot and miss. Brian felt extremely comfortable, as did I, with the range estimation. We located the two misfired rounds and saw they had clear firing pin marks. We chalked that up to faulty ammo. The big 5X5 had an angel with him that day.
We closed the distance to our trophy and found that the bullet had broken the bull’s neck at the base. Not the preferred behind the shoulder shot placement, but I always say don’t punch a gift horse in the mouth. Chalk that up to another learning lesson in the book.
If you have ever been on a successful backcountry elk hunt, you know that the real work begins after the kill. There was no exception here. We began the daunting task of butchering the 800 pound beast on the steep incline. We quartered and de-boned him. and secured as much meat as we could carry. It was close to a hundred pounds apiece for the initial trip out. Packs loaded, we trudged our way back up the mountain. We dropped our packs at the tailgate just after midnight.
The next morning in a test of true friendship, we recruited our good friend Chris to assist in moving the rest of the meat off the mountain. If someone is willing to hike 5 miles of rugged terrain, half of it with 60 pounds on his back for nothing but the camaraderie, then he deserves the term!
Luckily, the temps were in the 20’s overnight and would only climb to 50 during the day. With only 5 hours of rest we headed back up the mountain and had the meat back to town by noon.
Broadsword had tasted blood once again. With new ammo and solid performance at the range I felt comfortable he was ready for battling the wary prey of the Rocky Mountains once again. The next test was to be high mountain whitetails. But that is a tale for another day…