First Elk - Thank You

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Lil-Rokslider
Joined
Apr 19, 2023
Messages
122
Location
SD
I'm a little behind on getting to this post but finally got around to it.

First off I just want to sincerely say thank you to all the members on here who have taken the time to post their valuable insights and information that they have learned over their hunting careers. It provided me with a head start for my first ever elk hunt and I was able to learn so much prior to heading into the field. This is a longer read but if you take the time I hope you enjoy it.

I had the opportunity to hunt an early December cow tag for the Southern Black Hills in SD. I planned for a 10 day hunt. I was stoked, to say the least, when I learned I was successful and called my wife, dad, and brother when I learned of my luck. Fast forwarding a bit I increased my workout regimen, scoured this site to absorb information, poured over OnX maps and practiced further distances then I ever had with my rifle. When the day finally came I packed up my stuff, headed across the state, met up with my dad at hotel (later on I camped in my Subaru Forester or Brother's truck but my dad is almost 60 and said he wanted a hotel) and tried to sleep as much aa I could prior to opening morning.

Day 1: I went over plans with my dad the night before and right away in the morning and had picked a couple glassing spots for us with him sitting at the top of a mountain with ability to glass in all directions (easier climb) and I went another way that had less of a view but was a glassing point into a couple drainages and north side of a mountain with scattered trees. I set my tripod up with my binos and began to scan. Shortly after a cloudy sunrise I was looking at north slope of the mountain and something stood out that caught my eye. I turned the binos on the object and I confirmed my first elk sighting of the hunt! Actually, the first elk I have ever seen in the wild! I was overjoyed to have an elk within half a mile of me on my first morning of my first elk hunt. What was really fascinating is that it happened to be a bull, which upon further examination was a 6x6. Nothing huge but still an elk I would be elated to take. Problem was is I had the wrong tag in my pocket. I quickly messaged my dad so that he could reposition for a look from his viewpoint. What was funny was that while I was watching him I was totally oblivious for 10 min to another one standing close to him. I was just locked on him because even though I had a cow tag I could not believe my luck. After seeing the second one I started to scan the rest of the north slope. In the next few min I found a total of 11 elk. However, all of them were bulls ranging from two 6x6s to spikes. Even though there wasn't a cow it was such a fascinating experience. Unfortunately, I had the good view but my dad was only able to see 3 of the bulls from his position once he moved. I watched some bed and the others slip into the trees. The rest of the day produced no more elk.

Day 2: My dad and I went back the next morning to the general area of where we had found the bulls hoping we could see some cows that might be nearby. However, we only saw some deer and some great views. That evening I found another great glassing point overlooking a eastern facing right that then wrapped and had a north facing slope with scattered trees again (I do not have any experience with timber hunting so I knew that I needed to use my glass and find open or openish slopes). My dad and I were again in different locations. On the north slope there was this small bowl and in the bowl there was this tightly packed group of trees and some deadfall. I remember reading on here about late season bulls finding these small pockets to hide in and not moving far. While looking at that pocket of trees several times I thought to myself that if a bull would pop out anywhere in my view that I would guess right there. And 5 min before sunset I scan over to those trees and just outside of it stands this gorgeous 6x6 bull! Which would end up being the biggest bull I would see from the whole trip! I felt vindicated that my thinking and learning from here had paid off like that and that quickly. I scanned for others but none others were to be found. Unfortunately my dad never got to see him but my dad was happy I had the chance to see the bull.
 
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Lil-Rokslider
Joined
Apr 19, 2023
Messages
122
Location
SD
Day 3: My dad and I set up looking over a couple ravines with slightly different view points in what to me seemed like great elk country. It was a chilly and blustery morning and of course no luck on any elk. My dad unfortunately had to leave that afternoon and I set up in another spot that evening overlooking the north side of a ridge was some ravines coming down from it with a great view but no elk.


Day 4: First night in vehicle but with my sleep setup I felt I actually slept better than the hotel. So well that I actually slept till sunrise. My glassing point that morning proved to have a limited view so I headed back to vehicle early. While driving on FS road out it started to snow heavily and all of sudden through the white curtain I saw an elk standing not 150 yds away. By the time I stopped the vehicle and stepped out to get a better view it was out of sight and gone. I never was able to confirm if it was a cow or bull but it was still another elk sighting. The snow stopped after a a half hour with about an inch on the ground. Not having any luck in my general area finding cows I relocated to a different part of unit and met up with my brother that afternoon. My brother drove around in the evening while I sat over a meadow. No elk sighting again tonight. (I will just say quick that throughout this whole trip we seen a good amount of whitetail and mule deer with a couple nice whitetails and 1 dandy mule deer buck that would have no doubt gone on the wall. I did have my bow and archery tag with me just in case such a situation arose but my main focus was elk as I shoot a mule deer with bow or rifle every year. However, my brother was the one who had the best look at him in rifle range one evening and the next morning when I went back to that same spot just in case I never saw him again.

Day 5: My brother and I sat in some new country after receiving a tip from my dad's friend. I set my brother overlooking one canyon while I overlooked another. A bonus was that we had a great view for a couple miles that overlooked an old small burn that I did not expect. Well just after first light, out in the burn I spotted some more elk 2 miles away. I contacted my brother to keep tabs on them from his view point while I changed view points to get closer. Since it was early and cloudy I could count over 10 elk but wasn't sure on bulls or cows. After I closed to about a mile I found they had slipped into a small canyon. My brother stated that 10 went into trees on back side of canyon and 7 came to the front side. Of course the 7 that I could now see on the front side were all bulls and what we figured had to be cows were on the back side. (I had better glass than my brother who kept eyes on them the whole time so nothing was ever conclusive). I was happy to have finally located what we believed were cows but with the way the wind was blowing and terrain was set up, my best opportunity was coming straight at the bulls and hoping I could see through the trees to the back side of canyon to get a shot. After another 45 min of working my way closer I got to within 500 yds of a couple bulls. At this point I could not see any cows and when looking back for signals to my brother he never seen the cows again. I decided at this point I would just try and get closer to the bulls to get some pics and have some fun. I ended up cutting the distance to 325 yds of a 5x5 and a small/medium 6x6 that were bedded. The 6x6 was in a prime spot where I could have easily taken him in his bed. After several min I decided I would let them be and leave as they spotted me. However, the 6x6 stood up and stayed broadside at 325 for a minute, then walked around a tree and stood broadside for another 30 sec. For a first bull I would not have hesitated to shoot him so it was mildly frustrating to be in that position with only a cow tag but so much more it was an amazing experience, and one I will always cherish. It was just a surreal experience. To finish the day we sat in the general area again but seen no more elk.
 
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Lil-Rokslider
Joined
Apr 19, 2023
Messages
122
Location
SD
Day 6: My brother glassed a big meadow a couple miles away while I overlooked the same burn from the day before. I did not see any cows but I saw the same 7 bulls from the prior day. My brother, while glassing the other meadow, came across 3 raghorns. Unfortunately we did not see any more elk for the rest of the day.


Day 7: There was one final spot my dad's friend stated that we could try so my brother and I stayed together that morning and hiked to a spot overlooking a large meadow a couple miles long. It had easy access to it so I wasn't hoping for much as many people could get to it without any issue and even had a place where you could drive along and see a good portion. However, it was supposed to be a good elk hangout for late in the year so we gave it a shot. Unfortunately my suspicions were confirmed with no elk in the meadow or surrounding foothills. My brother had to leave after morning sit and head home. In the early afternoon I decided that I would finally pull out the last card I had in my deck and call in a favor. One of my former patient's wife (I am a PT) has a daughter and son-in-law who work for the forest service in the Black Hills. I kept in contact with them patient and his wife as we really got along well when I worked with him. She stated that if I was having trouble locating some cows that I could call her and she would give me their numbers. I got the numbers, called, and met up with the couple at their house. They went over some overlooked areas where I might find some elk and the guy was gonna call so coworkers to see if they had any info. He did say where I was looking were good spots and that he appreciated the work I had put in with hiking and glassing. However, he stated the thing I was not wanting to hear that I had heard before my trip. That my best chance might be to drive the FS roads in the morning and evening to spot elk. I was bummed to hear this as that's not the way I wanted to hunt. I decided I would give it a try and see what happened. He also mentioned that I did shoot one that I could give him a call and he would help me pack it out. Driving around did not yield any results that evening.

Day 8: I drove around in the morning without any results. The FS guy then messaged me and said a friend had seen some 15-20 cow elk in a little pocket right off a main highway a couple days prior. I went and checked it out and found a lot of elk sign and what looked like the elk had been hanging out in the spot for a couple days. But the sign was at least over a day old and they were no longer there. The evening drive produced nothing as well.
 
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Lil-Rokslider
Joined
Apr 19, 2023
Messages
122
Location
SD
Day 9: I drove around in the morning and checked a small burn that the FS guy said held some elk here and there but still the same results. I was getting bummed by this point and trying to stay mentally strong but I can say I was wearing down. Part of it was I was hunting by driving and that wasn't appealing to me. For the evening I decided that I wanted to glass again. Before I had met up with the FS guy and his wife there had always been one area I had wanted to check out but I knew it would likely not be the best glassing point but I wanted to give it try. I hiked up to what I figured was the best viewpoint. When I got to the top my suspicions were confirmed and my view was not that great. I had a good view on to some private ground but other areas were hard to see through the trees.


But then my luck turned! Just off the private and into the public I saw my first confirmed cow elk bedded just over half a mile away. I scanned the gaps around her and seen a few more bedded and up moving around. Being that it was not far from sundown I knew I needed to work fast. The wind was in my favor so I quickly scampered down from the glassing spot and hurried to cut the distance. When I was about halfway to the elk I realized I made a rookie mistake. I had not properly Identified where they were bedded based on the surrounding features. I was pissed with myself for my carelessness as I should have known better after all the spot and stalks I had done on mule deer over the years. After a moment I decided to climb a small ridge off to my side to hopefully get a look into a couple different spots where I thought they could be. Luckily, they had not moved much and I was able to find them quickly. I was now about 350 yds away ( in my range) but there were too many trees in the way and I could only see small body parts of the individual elk. Also I still had time, the wind was steady and blowing towards me and they did not know I was there. Down to my left was a pile of trees that the FS had piled up to burn later in the year.

I snuck my way to the pile and crawled around the side of it and setup up my rifle as I was now seeing elk through the trees and had one standing broadside just on the other side of some low handing branches of an evergreen. I ranged the evergreen at 140 yds. I just needed the elk to step out from behind it. Sure enough it did but of course it was a small 5x5! I was like you got to be kidding me. There was kind of a line of trees obscuring the other elk I could see moving around but I knew there were definitely cows as I could hear them mewing (really cool to hear them chatting) and would see a bald head here and there. In the line of trees there was a 10 yd gap that I had seen the rump of an elk in when I got setup moving from right to left. On the left of the gap were the elk through the trees I could see and on the right it was thicker cover. I could hear elk from the right side so I told myself to be patient and focus on the gap. Now it is right about sundown and into the gap stepped this calf who stood for who knows how long broadside. I was sorely tempted to shoot the calf but at this point I hesitated as I knew there were cows and wanted to hold out. It was a gamble but the herd was starting to move out to my left and anything to the right of the gap I figured had to step into it soon. I left the calf walk and sure enough in stepped another elk. It was a spike. At this point I'm mostly remaining calm but just can't believe that all these elk up to this point in 9 days in my crosshairs and I can't shoot any.

Well, finally in stepped another elk and a quick glance I could see it was a cow. I let out a "Hey" and she stopped broadside right in the middle of the gap. I settled my crosshairs for a high front shoulder shot and squeezed the trigger. I opened my off eye and seen/heard the impact and she dropped without taking another step! I quickly racked another round, seen no movement, so I picked up my rifle and started running. ( She was close to boundary line so I went high front shoulder to drop her and make sure she went no where). I busted through that gap and instantly came within 50 yds of a herd of elk that had wondered what just happened. They didn't stick around upon seeing me and my focus stayed on the spot where she dropped. As I came up to her she was just taking her last breath. In that moment I could not believe that after 9 days it finally all came together. I started to finally get the shakes and was so thankful, grateful, and blessed to have had that opportunity. I thanked God for the moment and the hunt.

Now the work was to begin. I called the FS guy up and he drove down to where I was to help me with the elk (lucky me, I know). Well on my way back to my vehicle I noticed a spot where we could pull the vehicles up to and have a less than half mile walk over mostly flat ground. He brought a game cart and in under and hour after he arrived we had elk quartered and all meat back to his truck. I followed him back to his place where he let me hang the quarters in his barn to cool overnight. They were such a wonderful couple and had a spare bed and offered the room so I could stay the night and not have to get hotel or sleep in my vehicle. The next morning I went with them to church and then they even made me breakfast. I was so thankful for their help and their hospitality. They did live in Wyoming for over a decade before moving back to SD so he had harvested several elk and told me it was the easiest elk packout he has ever had. It was a smaller cow and he figured she was a 1.5 years old. I gave them a portion of a backstrap and the two tenderloins for all they did for me. Only a couple of days ago he said he took the backstrap out of the freezer and said it was some of the most tender and best elk he has ever had. I know I have made a lifelong friend and we plan to meet up in the future whenever we are on the same side of the state again.

I know that was a long read but again thank you to everyone on here and if you made it through to the end I hope you enjoyed the write up.
 
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Deerhunter6250

Lil-Rokslider
Joined
Dec 21, 2019
Messages
290
Great story I can't believe all the bulls you saw. Way to stick with it. To many people give up early in the hunt.
 
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Lil-Rokslider
Joined
Apr 19, 2023
Messages
122
Location
SD
Great story I can't believe all the bulls you saw. Way to stick with it. To many people give up early in the hunt.
Ya I never knew I would be so good at finding bulls😆
It was over 20 in total and each one was awesome to see!
 

poboy2214

FNG
Joined
Mar 5, 2019
Messages
48
Thanks for taking the time to write this up. I love reading these recaps. Also, good job sticking with it. Hard to keep your head in the game after that long.
 
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Lil-Rokslider
Joined
Apr 19, 2023
Messages
122
Location
SD
Thanks for taking the time to write this up. I love reading these recaps. Also, good job sticking with it. Hard to keep your head in the game after that long.
Thank you for reading. I really enjoy recaps as well and thought I would share!
 

Firehawk

WKR
Joined
Jan 29, 2014
Messages
784
Location
Northern Utah
Way to stick with it and keep pushing. It can be so frustrating sometimes. Congrats on many fine meals. I am eating elk tenderloin tonight myself.
 
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Lil-Rokslider
Joined
Apr 19, 2023
Messages
122
Location
SD
Way to stick with it and keep pushing. It can be so frustrating sometimes. Congrats on many fine meals. I am eating elk tenderloin tonight myself.
Thank you. I've already enjoyed some of the elk burger I made and it's been great. Soon I'm gonna be grilling some steaks!
 

Smoke10

FNG
Joined
Jan 2, 2022
Messages
28
Congrats on your cow! Hopefully you can draw a Black Hills bull tag soon after all those bulls you saw!
 
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Lil-Rokslider
Joined
Apr 19, 2023
Messages
122
Location
SD
Congrats on your cow! Hopefully you can draw a Black Hills bull tag soon after all those bulls you saw!
I sure hope so. Problem is it will likely be a OIL tag even for SD resident in the Hills. But I will enjoy every minute of it
 
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