“Shoot a Big One”
By Ross Huntbatch
I left for a late season elk hunt with my wife Marilyn’s usual last words following me out the door: Shoot a big one. I didn’t stop to get into the argument about any elk being a big elk.
When my brother-in-law Dave Pattie and I arrived at the cabin it was a sunny, -30°C afternoon. We got our gear stowed and a fire lit by 2:00 p.m., then went for a walk to look for sign. The trails and tracks were there, now could we put an elk in them?
Back in the cabin, we watched a cow elk walk out of the heavy cover and stroll past the cabin. She was followed by two more, then three after that, and a couple more behind them. It was only 4:00 in the afternoon. How do they know it’s Sunday? We watched them mill around for awhile and then move off. We were encouraged by seeing the abundance of sign on our walk, but after that we couldn’t wait for morning.
We started out in the darkness the next morning. The elk were there; I could see their shadowy outlines moving through the trees. There just wasn’t enough light to pick one out or to tell whether they were bulls or cows. When the light did come, it came too late.
That evening I dug myself into the deep snow, near where the elk had appeared the day before. After a time, a lynx appeared on the trail and would jump off into the deep snow after mice, and then back on to the trail. The elk never did show themselves in the early evening again.
The remainder of the week went pretty much the same each day. Mornings were spent so close to elk you could hear their hooves as they walked on the frozen, hard packed snow. In the afternoons we’d walk to different areas, sometimes in waist deep snow. Evenings, waiting to see if they would think it was Sunday again. Dave had to get back to work on Friday, so I put him on the bus and returned to hunt alone for the last two days.
The following morning I returned to the same location as the first morning. It was a cold -34°C, and I could again hear the elk walking, making their way to the thicker timber. I couldn’t make out a target in the low light, and then all was quiet. Just as the sky was lightening, I heard the sound of a walking elk in the hard snow. Dropping to one knee, I could make it out this time… it was a bull. Two shots and one laboured run in the snow later, I was beside my elk. He was a large 5x5, with 10 inch bases, and long G1’s and G2’s.
After spending the rest of the day learning first hand how to manage a large animal by myself, Marilyn’s parting words came back to me. Shoot a big one. I was later surprised to find that the elk had only one ivory eye tooth – Manitoba Conservation aged the old bull at 13½ years old. Even though he didn’t make the record book (scoring 313 2/8) and was on the decline in his antler development, I couldn’t have been happier in harvesting this elk.
Why the old bull lingered a little later that morning, no one knows. I have tremendous memories of that frigid morning with just the two of us at dawn. A first-class mount done by Bob Pauls and Marilyn’s hanging of the trophy completed the hunt.