Leupold Banner

My first elk hunt, atmospheric rivers, and survival lessons

HuntNV

New member
Joined
Sep 23, 2021
Messages
22
My name is Matthew and I am a new elk hunter and novice hunter from Phoenix AZ having now been on 4 hunts in my life. I have been very blessed and have filled 3 of the 4 tags I have drawn in Nevada. I have filled tags on mule deer, pronghorn, and now bull elk, all rifle hunts.
My post riot rifle elk hunt started with months of preparation, escouting, a physical scouting trip, and physical conditioning. We arrived 2 days early with a full day of scouting set aside. I located a group of 40-50 elk with a 7 point herd bull, and 8-10 satellite bulls. That next day I hiked in the dark and come sunrise, no elk. I did not realize there were several spike camps set up deep in the wilderness and it sounded like the assault on Normandy in ww2. The next day the atmospheric river aka a bomb cyclone hit the mountains and changed everything.
For four days this storm destroyed our region, alternating dumping snow and rain so intense that we had to clear it every hour to prevent our tents and shade shelter from collapsing. No hunting was done, we were cold, wet, and in depressed. The fourth day we received a foot of snow in the first 3 hours of the day, we decided for to pack camp and move down the mountain. The next two days we hunted lower elevation since we couldn't access higher because of snow. We hoped all the snow would push the elk down their natural migration to the north, it didn't. After 2 days at lower elevations the snow finally melted enough that we could go back up to higher elevations, and this is when everything went to hell.
From a glassing spot up on a hill my hunting partner spotted a bull elk and some cows which appeared to both of us to be within a mile away. I slipped/fell down the mountain and immediately mapped out my stalk. I had 2 hours left of daylight and was going to need every minute to get to them in time for legal shooting light. After an hour and a half of fighting thru aspen groves, deadfall, and snow covered rock slides I reached the null that I could get a range on them. I couldn't believe it they were still over 1000 yards away. What we couldn't see was that the draw dropped off into a 30 degree snow covered slope with intense deadfall, thick trees, and horrible loose rock terrain. This was the perfect Randy Newberg definition of a sanctuary, and in the heat of the moment I decided it was worth the risk and I proceeded to continue my stalk. Everything was like moving on ice, the melted snow made everything slick and my trekking poles saved me more times than I can count. On one occasion my boots fell thru 6 inches of snow covered deadfall into a hidden snow melt stream. I had insulated boots and a water proof outer frogg toggs layer and high quality wool socks so I kept on my stalk and wasn't concerned. After an hour I made it to a perfect spot 2 nulls down the draw. I was testing the wind the entire time and the thermals were changing from up the canyon to neutral to swirling, and I knew I was on borrowed time. A bull must have heard me or seen me because he immediately ran over to my direction from the meadow and up the hillside and stared in my direction for a few minutes. I ranged him and he was 290 yards and at over a 20 degree decline from my null to his hillside. I had 10 minutes of shooting light remaining, as he turned to leave he presented broadside and I knew I had my shot. Using a borrowed Remington 7mm (my scope on my 270 that i used in my August antelope hunt had major problems and we could not get it sited in) I said a prayer and took my shot. The bull raced like he was shot out of a canon went fifty yards fell, tried to stand, fell and died. It was a miracle, a shot on the limit of my comfort level, and God delivered a single vitals kill shot with a gun I had only had time to shoot one other time. What I didn't realized when I took the shot was that although the elk was 290 yards as the crow fly's, it was another 1000 yards of traversing more horrible terrain. I knew I was paying for horses to pack the animal out so I did not have an ethical problem taking the shot but I also didn't know I had made a potentially fatal survival mistake at that point. After getting to the elk I took a rest break and changed into dry clothes, i notice that i forgot to pack my merino base layer top and bottom in my pack (the only day the entire hunt I forgot to do this) which was a huge mistake. It was now pitch black out and I started field dressing my elk using the gutless method. I had half of the elk dressed when I suddenly I lost nearly all motor function in my hands. I quickly realized that I was becoming hypothermic. After analyzing my body realized that the inside of my boots were wet. I had taken precautions but didn't realize that during my stalk both of my frogg togg pant legs had been torn to shreds at the bottom, and when I slipped earlier on the deadfall my feet got wet. It was so cold and wet out coupled with the adrenaline from the stalk I didn't even notice this and my body was now shutting down. I removed my sock liners, wrung out my wool socks and threw 4 hand warmers into each boot. I knew that I had to get out and get moving to increase my body temperature so I started the 1.5 mile ascent in the worst country I have ever faced in the pitch black darkness.
I activated my emergency SOS function on my inreach device, and using Onx maps on my phone I started the single worse hike of my life. I have never been more physically or mentally challenged like this, and multiple times my mind kept telling me to lay down in the snow and go to sleep which was terrifying. Without Onx maps I would have never gotten back to my car. I got misdirected and caught myself going the wrong direction at least 5 times, and this GPS definitely saved my life. Three grueling hours later I finally get back to my hunting partner and his son at the truck. I am out of water now and cannot stop shaking or form sentences. As a precaution we raced to the nearest town 3 hours away in Idaho and I went to the emergency room. At the ER I was diagnosed with dehydration and extreme cold exposure, but God had got me out of that canyon, and I protected my body. We weren’t able to get back until mid day the next day to start the grueling hike down to where I had field dressed half of my bull elk. The next limitation I overlooked was that my hunting partner had his 9 year old son with him. Even with a super 9 year old it took over 2 hours to get to my elk, my partner and me both agreed that the last 1000 feet were to dangerous for his son, and having my body beaten to hell I offered to stay with him because I wasn't sure I would make it out if I went that last 1000 yards. My partner went down did about an hour of work collecting things I left from the night before including my borrowed rifle, did what little work he could on the elk and then we began the 2 hour climb out of the canyon. At this stage in my hunting career I am solely a meat hunter, and this is the first animal I was unable to fully dress and pack out which really upset me down to my core that some of this animal was going to go to waste. The next day it took the ranchers 6-7 hours to reach and pack out my elk. I had shot my elk on Wednesday night, but the ranchers were not available until Friday morning due to the snow and the accessibility of the roads. They also had to drive twice as far because of the roads which means the cost to pack the elk out was more than doubled. We were able to salvage all 4 quarters and the backstraps but lost the other meat (although we lost 1 quarter to spoilage once we got it to the butcher and inspected it). I am grateful that we were able to recover most of the meat, but regret that we lost any because it goes against my morals as as meat hunter.
Although I filled my tag I do not consider this hunt a success, and I do regret shooting this bull in this impossible to access location. I thought I was prepared enough for this hunt and I was not. I was not prepared for a storm of this magnitude, I forgot to pack key pieces of merino wool in which in this country could mean life or death. I thought I was in good enough shape thru weighted pack hiking months ahead of time and it wasn't even close to good enough. The shortcomings of my physical fitness absolutely contributed to my inability to fully dress this animal and resulted in loss of meat. It also resulted in aggravation of a disc issue I have in my back, which is resulting in lots of discomfort. This time of year I never should have shot this bull in this location at last light, since there is so much time and energy required to field dress an animal of this size. My partner did not have an inreach device and the batteries in his radio were dead, so we could not communicate which was a critical mistake and huge safety risk. And most importantly I did not have extra socks or water proof sock liners, and I did not assess my gear and myself after my kill shot to prevent life threatening situations like hypothermia and resulted in the loss of a about a quarter of my meat. I learned more in this hunt about survival and mistakes than my previous 3 hunts combined, and I hope that by sharing my story other new hunters do not make the same mistakes I did. Not being able to hunt for 4 days couples with misjudging the distance of my bull drove my decision to take the shot that I did, and I thought I was prepared and ready to fully dress the animal which I couldn’t do because of me mistakes. I am thankful that we got home in one piece, and that I filled my first elk tag, but I also am filled with regret that I lost meat and put my family thru a very scary stressful situation that could have been prevented. I do find some comfort in the fact that other hunters saw a mountain lion on my glassing hill heading towards my kill, so at least the meat I couldn't recover likely didn't go to waste.
 

Attachments

  • F91C337E-A88B-4943-9114-8AC6F63C4026.jpeg
    F91C337E-A88B-4943-9114-8AC6F63C4026.jpeg
    981.7 KB · Views: 44

neffa3

Well-known member
Joined
Apr 17, 2015
Messages
6,659
Location
Wenatchee
So a couple of things.
1. Merino layers weren't going to save the situation. If you got that cold and wet you needed a fire and puffies.
2. You have to balance taking care of your self with the animal. Gutless is great for the entire thing, but if you're worried about things all you had to do was gut it, and prop the cavity open with a stick it it would have likely been good for several days.

I'll leave it at that. But you might want to practice building fires in crappy conditions.
 

3855WIN

Well-known member
Joined
Jul 17, 2014
Messages
2,137
Location
Mississippi
Congrats. None of us want meat to go to waste. You got into a survival situation and made the right choice to get back to camp while you could.
 

mtnrunner260

Active member
Joined
May 26, 2015
Messages
205
Congrats on the elk and glad you made it off the mountain.
2nd on having a fool proof way to start a fire. Add a road flare to your pack.
What was the result of the SOS being activated? Did Garmin send a text to you accessing the situation?
Most situations will seem easy after this one.
 

HuntNV

New member
Joined
Sep 23, 2021
Messages
22
Ya that’s great advice, I am planning on working on my fire building skills in adverse conditions. I had a fire starter and dryer lint in my dry bag but everything was so wet I didn’t have confidence I could get one started in time because I didn’t realize I was as cold as I was until it was almost too late. I appreciate the feedback!
 

HuntNV

New member
Joined
Sep 23, 2021
Messages
22
Congrats on the elk and glad you made it off the mountain.
2nd on having a fool proof way to start a fire. Add a road flare to your pack.
What was the result of the SOS being activated? Did Garmin send a text to you accessing the situation?
Most situations will seem easy after this one.
Ya they texted me so assess the situation but I was so focused on my gps device and just finding my way out and back to my partner that I wasn’t paying attention to the inreach. They started mobilizing search and rescue as I made it to the truck and we were able to call them off. It’s so remote it would have taken them hours to reach me there was just too much snow
 

HuntNV

New member
Joined
Sep 23, 2021
Messages
22
Ya they texted me so assess the situation but I was so focused on my gps device and just finding my way out and back to my partner that I wasn’t paying attention to the inreach. They started mobilizing search and rescue as I made it to the truck and we were able to call them off. It’s so remote it would have taken them hours to reach me there was just too much snow
I will be a much better fire starter before I ever hunt again, especially in wet weather
 

LuketheDog

Well-known member
Joined
Nov 29, 2015
Messages
3,124
Location
Sedalia, Colorado
Not sure those SAR guys would've appreciated you sending them an SOS and then leaving the area since they put themselves at risk to come extract you. Sounds like you learned some lessons, hopefully you'll apply them going forward.
 

HuntNV

New member
Joined
Sep 23, 2021
Messages
22
We were able to reach out to them prior to their mobilization and they called it off once we informed them we were okay. The inreach people were great and facilitated all of those conversations. We also turned the sos off once I got into cell service and could make phone calls. The thread limits character count so we didn’t just abandon the area without reaching out to them. Yes we learned a lot from this one thanks for the feedback
 
Say Goodbye to Disposable Whites

Latest posts

Forum statistics

Threads
98,410
Messages
1,517,002
Members
31,019
Latest member
remmy120777
Top