Thursday, January 30, 2014

Ozark Mountain Elk Hunt

Hunting in December is cold and can be a miserable experience.  I left Council Bluffs in a snow storm with reduced visibility and one lane open on the I-29 all the way to St. Joseph, Missouri.  Great news then took place.  The snow stopped and the left lane opened up.  The bad news was the moisture did not stop but became a light freezing mist.  At times it was like driving on a skating rink.  East of Kansas City the interstate was like a display of a demolition derby.  They drove fast on the ice and drove tight behind the person they were following.  Driving slowly and steadily, with a lot of concentration, I was able to drive out of most of it at Columbia, Missouri.  Then I turned south to St. James, Missouri.  The next day the hunt would be on at High Adventure Ranch.

I have been here before and shot a really nice Arkansas Razorback.  So the ranch would not be a new experience.  Hunting elk would be different as all of my previous trips had been in the mountains.  This time I would be hiking through the hills and valleys of the ranch.  The trip had been previously arranged, and the plan was to hunt and harvest a management bull.  This is a bull that has matured, but the rack is kind of skimpy.  That was okay with me as I wanted an affordable price and meat.
Looking out from the balcony of the lodge you can see the panorama of the area and observe the type of terrain you will be hunting .

The lodge is set up with two bedrooms and a common bath.  This is my bedroom, and as you can see, I dumped my bag and headed to the woods.
The lodge has all the amenities and is a great place to stay.  Plus, there is a kitchen area for whipping up some snacks.  However, you won't need to do that because the meals in the main dining room are outstanding.  The food is heavy and lots of it.  You never go away hungry.

The main dining room is ready for large and small groups.  There is also an area to sit back, watch some TV, and take it easy.  With the snow depth on the ground and walking the hills, a person would probably make use of this area between meals and hunting.

This is the kind of terrain that the guide and I walked in.  After about an hour, he walked and I struggled at times.  Wearing too much clothing was a mistake.  I should have recognized that the temperature and climate would be warmer when arriving.   We tried to stay on top of the ridges and look down into the sides of the hills and valleys.  We were after a 4 x 5 management bull that had been previously seen in the area.  My budget was set up for this type of bull, but we were going to have to work for him.
This is a typical view.  You would move to the top of the ridge and see if there was an animal in the timber.  Then back up and track his movements to a spot where you could get a decent shot.  Shooting wildly into the timber is a really bad idea and the shots will not be long.  Also, visibility is limited as  the timber becomes more dense and dark.

After several hours, it felt like my bottom needed roller skates to keep moving through the snow and timber.  We moved to the top of a ridge with a trail and small road on it.  The guide had seen the 4 x 5 on several occasions in this area.  However, he did not appear and we could not spot him.  As we moved slowly along the trail at a distance of about 50 yards, a giant bull stood up and looked straight at us.  We stopped.  Then slowly we stepped backward to a spot where we could get behind some cover.  Then another one came up from the valley below.  We stood still.  I could feel my heart pumping and I am still not sure if it was from all the walking up hill or the two bull elk that stared at us.  Each was a minimum of a 350 class bull or bigger.
To the left and to the right are the two big bulls that stood up and started heading across the trail in front of us.  The wind was right in our faces and they were not more that 50 yards out.  They were staring right at us.  Periodically they would lift their noses into the air trying to smell what was in front of them.  The tree I was behind hid my movements as I brought the camera up to take the picture.  This was truly amazing.

They moved across the trail in front of us.  We stood as still as possible.  Then a third one came up and moved out right in front of us.  He stood and stared.

He must have stood there for ten minutes staring at us and not moving.  Notice the low slung belly and the cape that is not as dark as the other two, which means he is younger.  But the exciting thing about him is the rack.  Notice how the right side is shaped.  The guide commented that this was unusual.  He said, "Take him if you want, but it is out of your budget."  At that moment, budget meant nothing and he had to be had.  The guide believed he was five years old, but he could be younger.  Young meat was preferred.   

He crossed the trail and started feeding on a pile of branches with some type of leaf on them and it was believed the shot was lost.  We could not move for fear of being seen and a shot through the branches was bad idea.  If he continued  down the hill there was a small opening in the trees where a shot could be made, provided he moved slowly.  All of a sudden he turned around and started to back track.  Stepping out from behind the pile of timber, he stopped and looked straight at us.  We stood extremely still.  The rifle was already mounted to my shoulder and his head was right in the scope.  The gun got heavy.  I pushed my hand holding the gun against a tree to steady the shot.  It helped, but the gun stayed heavy.  I said to myself, "Be patient."  Then he took two more steps forward and turned again to stare at us.  That was a fatal mistake for him.  The shot was made with a Winchester Model 70-300 Win Mag.  The bullet was a Nosler 180 grain.  It was over quickly.

This is the biggest animal I have ever harvested.  Upon examination, the guide said he was a lot younger than he believed and probably was at least four but not over five years old.  His teeth were all intact, his cape was not real dark, and he probably had not participated in the rut.  He weighed in at 525 lbs. before we field dressed him.  This was the most beautiful animal I have seen. 

What an exciting day.
Good hunting, good fishing, and good luck.  Hank


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