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The Completion of a Michigan Elk Hunting Odyssey- The Third and Final Segment of the early season- October 2nd-5th
Mon, 12 Oct 2020 17:23:47 EDT
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Daybreak on Friday, October 2nd, was on the chilly and frosty side in the Pigeon River country, which was an atmosphere I had been hoping for, to up the ante a bit on bagging a cow elk, something which was proving to be quite challenging to do. During the 8 days of hard hunting during the previous 2 segments of Michigan's early elk season, we had encountered cow elk only one time, but had located several bulls, some real dandies too, during it all. I had 4 days left to fill my antlerless elk tag, and remained optimistic that the pieces just might come together. If not, well folks, it is after all, known as hunting and there are never any guarantees.
We had parked the truck on the side of a logging trail and hiked a quarter mile uphill, to sit at the edge of a small clearing in the hopes of ambushing one of the early morning cow elk that had appeared on the trail-cam. My two hunting companions were my elk guide, John Jones of Atlanta, and my son Jake, who were seated behind me while I sat at the ready with my rifle resting on a tri-pod "Trigger-Stick".
It was primetime, during the first rays of daylight, and we were enjoying watching ruffed grouse pecking away on the ground, when we heard a metallic scraping sound beyond the other side of the clearing. Then we picked up the twinkling sparkle of headlights through the brush as a vehicle was easing its way ever so slowly along the logging trail. It turned out to be a Chevy Equinox (fortunately all-wheel drive) maneuvering slowly around deep ruts and doing some occasional scraping of the low undercarriage, but all in all, being quite skillfully driven over some very rough ground.
The car came to a stop beside us, and the passenger window came down, revealing two elderly ladies sitting in the front seat who gave us a cheery greeting and asking if we were elk hunting. It turns out they were doing "elk viewing" themselves, and we had a pleasant chat for a few minutes. They then wished us happy hunting, we wished them happy viewing, and they proceeded slowly on their way, and we were left marveling at what we had just witnessed. Yep, our hunt was over at that spot, but we were left chuckling about our amazing encounter with the two very adventuresome ladies. It was, after all, public ground and they had every right to be there, and more power to them! It was time to go to "Plan B".
This proved to be quite fortuitous, as we soon found some very fresh elk tracks along an isolated trail. The tracks had been most likely made just before daybreak, but they had been created by several elk, and included smaller tracks meaning cows and calves. We never visually located any elk the remainder of the morning, but we had a good idea of where to focus our evening hunting efforts. There were finally some cow elk close by in that particular area, and hopefully they would make an appearance before the official quitting time arrived as darkness settled in.
According to John Jones, when it comes to hunting public land elk, the majority are taken by hunters who are patrolling the endless trails and backcountry roads with vehicles to locate elk in a seeming endless landscape. When elk are located, it is time to quietly exit the vehicle, uncase the empty rifle, load it, and proceed in a stalk until a shot is possibly provided. It isn't as easy as it sounds, either. This was the technique we employed that evening.
No elk were located until a half hour before quitting time, when John suddenly stopped the truck, backed up a short ways and said to get out and ready the rifle. This means he had just spotted elk, and he has never been wrong in this regard. John is a very amiable character who is a real joy to spend time with, but when he spots elk, his whole demeanor changes. He suddenly becomes totally focused and intense in getting his client into position for an effective shot. After two decades of guiding Michigan elk hunters, he is truly good at what he does.
In our case, due to the fact I presently have a bum knee, my son, Jake, sits behind me with my cased rifle. Upon our exiting the vehicle, Jake uncased the empty rifle and hands it to me. I then slip in the magazine and quietly bolt in a round, and by this time John is at my side with shooting sticks in hand and ready to lend me his arm if needed while I hobble along during the stalk. During this particular event, we eased through the brush and John pointed out the elk which was meandering our way. I got setup on the bi-pod shooting sticks while both John and Jake glassed the slowly approaching elk, which turned out to be a dandy bull. We then slipped away without alarming the bull and resumed our hunt.
Quitting time was less than 15 minutes away when John spotted more elk, and we were out of his truck, and performing our stalk. I didn't see them until we had eased through the brush just off the trail, and John set the shooting sticks up for me. What I saw were 3 elk spread over the hillside and the far left one was the elk John had me focus on, which he verified was definitely a cow, and at 153 yards, according to Jake using the range finder. However, when I sighted in on the cow, I wasn't comfortable with the shot, just a gut feeling sort of thing, and I whispered such. John then motioned me over about 10 yards to the right, and I got ready on the shooting sticks again with the middle (verified) cow elk.
By then, quitting time was only 10 minutes away and Jake let me know it was a 130 yard shot. My Leupold scope was set on 5X, the cow was standing fully broadside and with no obstructions, but in the fast gathering darkness, I still asked John for reverification with his binocular that I was seeing matters correctly, which I was. I then put the crosshair on the "sweet spot" (which had been recommended to me by an experienced elk hunter) and touched the trigger.
Well, folks, muzzle-brakes on rifles for controlling recoil sure don't make good flash suppressors in lowlight. John told me to reload another round in my Ruger American bolt-action, but it wouldn't have done me any good because I couldn't see a thing. However, a second later John exclaimed- "she's down"! The cow elk had performed a "180", took two steps, and then dropped dead. My bullet (6.5 Creedmoor, 143 grain Hornady ELD-X) was a complete pass thru, and had obliterated both lungs. The beauty of it all, was the (400 pound) cow elk had dropped only 20 feet from an access trail, meaning an easier extraction process, if such can ever be the case with elk. We were able to drive the truck right up to dead elk and use the headlights to do matters.
First on the agenda was properly tagging the cow elk and immediately notifying MDNR Dispatch of the kill and its location, which can be a challenge when you keep losing a signal for your cell phone, which happens regularly in that neck of the woods, but we finally got 'er done. We had the cow elk field dressed by the time MDNR Wildlife Biologist Shelby Adams arrived and very professionally verified my kill, and attached a plastic tag to a back leg. It was then time to haul the elk out, and with the temperature being just above freezing, the carcass wouldn't have to go to the local meat processor until the following morning.
I must admit that I slept real sound that night with the knowledge, that after 9 days of hard hunting, I had successfully bagged a Michigan elk, which had long been on my bucket list.
And anyone who believes hunting Michigan elk, cows especially, is a slam-dunk affair, well, folks, they quite obviously have never tried it!