Sunday, December 11, 2011

I Shot My First Elk and Rolled My ATV

In the spring I put in for British Columbia Limited Entry Hunting draw. I was lucky to win a female elk draw for North Vancouver Island by Sayward.  I'm a meat hunter so I'm not particularly interested in horns.  They make a thin soup.
Laura, Gilbert and I headed out from Vancouver on Thursday night, catching the ferry from Horseshoe Bay  to Nanaimo.  We spent the first night in Campbell River before going on to Sayward Junction  to stay at the Fisherboy Cabins and RV Park.  The Fisherboy was terrific.  Laura and I loved the cabins The owners bent over backwards to be helpful and make our stay all we wished for.
Friday I got out to Elk Creek logging road but didn't see anything. I was glad to do the drill, a little slow driving in and watching in the Ford F350 diesel truck, unloading the Polaris 500 Sportsman ATV, a bit of driving about. Then stalking quietly along a mountain trail with Gilbert at heel behind me.  Didn't see anything but shot a can with the rifle confirming all was well.
Back in Sayward we had a great pub meal at Cypress Tree, grandma's home cooking,  before early to bed so I could be up before dawn.
Filling the truck at the Sayward Junction I heard from another hunter out for the last day of deer season that he'd seen the Elk herds around Eve River. At Fisherboy they'd told me the same.  Can't argue with local knowledge.  It was snowing when I headed up the highway and found the turn off.  A logging truck pull out turned out to have a perfect split level to unload the ATV. I put the Ruger Stainless Steel 30:06 we'd named 'sexcaliber' years ago when it came shining out of the box like a great modern sword, onto the front rack.  I put my Mossberg lever action 30:30 as a back up in the Polaris Rifle holder at the back.  Gilbert was in his sweater and harness strapped in behind me.  The snow was falling great flakes and the roads were slippery. I was glad to be on the ATV with the truck parked safely.
I took the East Main and found I was riding alongside a river, maybe the Eve. The wind and flurries of snow were coming into my face muffling sound and ensuring my scent wasn't going to give us away to upwind game.  I was headed for the Adam when I found tracks and droppings. I parked the ATV at that. An exciting moment.  Gilbert was really excited to be out of the harness and beside me as we stalked along the road. I just stepped into the bush to look through to the clearing when I saw a great elk head.  I was looking at the face 50 yards away and then just as quickly it was gone.  With Gilbert at my heels I ran a ways backwards to where there was a pile of slash which I climbed to the top of trying to get elevation to see the elk.  I waited and used my binoculars to look the whole valley over  Then I back moved up the road a bit and climbed an even big pile of slash and wood to binocular the area further on.  I wouldn't have seen them without the binoculars.
But there on the other side of valley I saw the female with another one, whose gender I couldn't tell as it was standing more in the woods.  I lifted my rifle to get the female in my sights.  She was looking at me from what I figured was 300 yards away. (Later with the Bushnell RAngefinder I found it was only 200 yards)  I didn't lift the shot but aimed at the chest just below the neck. BANG. I don't know if I hit her with that shot. But she turned to follow the other into the bush.  I had a broadside shot then, bolted home another shell,  sited on the heart  and BANG.  That definitely hit. She shuddered and stood still. I remembered Bill Mewhort telling me moose hunting that they're big game so keep shooting till they're down.  I bolted home another shell. BANG.  I was shooting freehand without a rest almost tippy toe on top of the slippery mound of slash and wood.  She was staggering when I got another shot off. BANG. That one hit for sure too because she sat right down and rolled over. Down and dead.  I gave thanks in prayers.
But now the work began. I got my hatchet and rope from the ATV and had trouble just climbing down the hillside into the valley. Crossing the valley where there'd been logging and the ground was all strewn with stumps and couple of year old growth was a struggle in itself. I knew I was in for a hard day of work.
Gilbert found her before I did He was running a few yards ahead and just stopped when he saw that big body lying there in the bog.  I gave thanks then.  I'd shot an elk, my first one and it was big.  I took a picture or two before settling into field dressing. It was like doing a moose. Once I had the field dressing done I began quartering.  I was really glad for the hatchet.  I was a couple of hours  do this,  The adrenaline was gone and I was exhausted with all the cutting ahd cleaving.  I was thankful for my Bowen Island hand made knife that kept a mean edge.  Gilbert began keeping an eye on the bushes when I was almost done the quartering.  He began grunting like he was smelling something he didn't like.
I always keep my rifle handy when field dressing.  But here there are cougar and Gilbert's barks hurried me along.   It's an awkward thing to wear a rifle and haul quarters up a hill but we've all heard the stories of guys getting mauled by bear while hauling meat out.   I got meat the first hundred yards up the hill figuring if I left the offall whatever was bothering Gilbert would be less likely to bother us. The shoulders were an easy pull but the hind quarters were murder.  I missed a back board.  I'd carried a moose out a mile or so with quarters on the back board, 20 years younger,  and that was a whole lot easier than pulling these dead weights over the countless logs strewn all over.  I had to get the elk up to one ridge down through a valley then up the hill to the road. It was a bout a half mile or more but it seemed like forever.
I'm a desk jockey and I think a cowboy or logger wouldn't be so fagged by all the pulling and hauling.  I began getttin charley horses in my thighs. I had chocolate bars and a red bull but I really needed an airlift.
I finally had all the elk, my rifle, hatchet and clothes a hundred yards down from the steep incline to  road.  That's when I figured I could use the winch on the Polaris.  I figured I'd just drive it down the incline as far as I could then run the winch down to haul each quarter up.  I'd left half the ribs because I'm not a big fan of ribs in general and just half the ribs were almost as heavy as a hind quarter.  So 4 quarters and ribs to hauld.  I tied the rope together and ran the rope on the winch out.
That's when the winch didn't work. I tried to get it to come in on 'in' but it wouldn't. Instead it hauled in on "out".  Once it was in then it simply wouldn't go out and I couldn't find a release lever and promised myself for the umpteenth time that in future I'd read all the instructions.   I'd counted on using the winch to get the atv back up the slippery slope over the logs if need be.  In the mean time I hauled the rest of the meat up to the atv stopping and working out charley horses.  Then I turned the atv without any meat on it and tried to head up the slope.  I knew I was back heavy.  I just didn't know I'd catch on a log and with the trapped back wheel and that initial burst of low power speed I'd literally lift up and flip  back over , ass over tea kettle.
It all happened so fast. I just remember the ATV lifting, and me going back with the beast coming down on top of me. I was glad I had a helmut on because it hit a log and then I was just lying there trapped under the ATV.  As I'd gone over I'd felt my lower back stretching impossibly as my body was pushed forward into the saddle.  The back seat and windshield additions helped me. First thing I did was wiggle my toes.  All's well when you can feel your feet.
Gilbert was right beside me licking my face and obviously distressed.  I was so weak and in shock I couldn't get the ATV up but I could release the extra gas tank and with that off I could shimmy my body out from under the TV.  I thanked God to be free.  Then I turned off the ATV.
I didn't think to take a picture. I wish I had. It was like a sick upsight down turtle.  A sad sight.  My back was aching something fierce and my legs were cramping. It was all I could do to get myself up to the road.  Carrying my rifle I headed back towards the truck.  It was going to be a long painful walk.  Gilbert was a great companion.
I had a radio and tried calling for help on different frequencies but it's not like a phone. Someone has to be listening.
With a charley horse in my thigh, my low back killing me and miles to go I put the radio away and began praying seriously  Jesus help me.
I believe in miracles and I believe in the power of prayer.
Steve Mitchell came around the corner in his superduty truck.  I told him I'd rolled my ATV.  I think I looked a sight.  He said, "hop in" and we drove the couple of miles back to the wreck.  We walked down the hill.
"First thing we have to do is right this thing " he said. I'm used to being  around crazy people so just went right along with him.  Together we pushed. Sure enough it turned over. Steve is a strong man and I figure his pushing accounted for 90% with me adding maybe 10% to the equation.  But there was the Polaris upright.  Next thing Steve did was get the keys from me and started it up.
"Do you want me to drive this out of here for you," he asked.
"Sure," I said. "I'm a doctor so if you don't make it I can help you. It's just that I can't help myself."  He laughed and with a fair amount of cursong and wheeling about in the logs and moss he had it on track and drove it up the incline over the lip and onto the road.  Amazing.
Then we were doing more of  the 90%/ 10% thing Steve and me hauling the quarters together up to the road.  I couldn't lift them at all there but he lifted them like they were half the weight into the back of big truck. Steve is a big and strong man.
"I'll follow you back to ensure the ATV doesn't break down."  he said.
"Mind if Gilbert goes with you," I asked.  Gilbert was cold and wet and I didn't know where his harness had got to.
"Not at all."  You could tell Gilbert thought the warm truck cab was a great idea.
Off we went. Me doing 30 km for the next half hour wondering how I'd ever have walked that distance in the pain and cold. I realized alone I'd not have made my truck till sometime in the middle of the night. It was already dusk.
At the truck, I got the ramp out and Steve drove the ATV on.. Then he carried the quarters over.
I asked him what I could give him
"I just know what it is to be broken down out in the woods. I couldn't take anything."
"What about ahind quarter."
"Too much explaining if I was caught with it." he said throwing the final hind into my truck.
"It would have cost me hundreds to get a tow truck out here. That was my plan. Could I give you a few hundred for your time, at least"
"I couldn't take it," he said.  "But I'll follow you to Sayward to make sure you make it back safely."
"Then take this, " I said handing him a knife. "It's my favourite folding knife. Keep it to remember the day you saved my life."
He liked that and smiling got back in his truck to follow me back to Sayward.
I was glad for the company. I could mostly only go at 80, my back killing me and concentration hard in the snow and wet slippery road.
At Sayward he pulled along side to say "You should be okay now" before driving ahead to the restaurant.  I drove onto Fisherboy where Laura met me at the cabin.  I was seized up by then and had trouble getting out of the truck .
" I flipped the ATV and hurt my back a tad." I said hobbling into the cabin.  Gilbert was beside himself to see her, telling her all about his adventures in ecstatic barks.
She was all for taking me to hospital whereas I was intent on getting into the hot shower and then the hot tub.
"I got an elk, " I told her. "It's quartered in the truck.  Steve Mitchell, is an saint. Remember that name. I'd spent three or four hours pulling those quarters through hell when I got to the 50 yards from the road and tried to get the ATV down a bit where I could winch them up the steep incline. The winch jammed and trying to drive out I flipped the ATV. I hurt my back coming down. Nothing broken just ligaments stretched.  I was caught underneath which upset Gilbert but I got free and walking out til Steve came. He got the ATV upright. Drove it up the incline then we hauled the quarters up to take them back to my truck in his truck.  He just drove behind me all the way back here to make sure I was safe. We were 30 or 40 km up the road and some 15 km back in the bush."
"Steve Mitchell," she said.  "I wish there was some way I could thank him for getting you two back here."
"I got an elk." I said between groans.
"I think you should go to the hospital."
"They'd not do anything."
"You're in pain. I"ve never seen you in such pain"
"It will make the elk tastier for all the effort."
Much to both our surprises we didn't even have an aspirin or tylenol between us.
"I'll see if they have some ibuprofen or tylenol at the store"
I stayed in the tub trying not to move until she returned with meds.  I took three or four times the recommended dose then lay in bed watching funny Christmas movies.  Humor helps.
"Did I tell you I shot an elk," I asked Laura again.
She'd given Gilbert a bath because he was covered in mud and blood and so wanted to cuddle.
It's morning now.  I slept quite a bit.  Gilbert had me up a few times in the night growling and together we checked the elk in the truck. He's pretty proprietary when I've shot game.  Now it's time to get going.  It was a really cold night but it's going to warm up as we head south and I want to get the meat to the butcher without delay.
"Laura, did I tell you I shot an elk?"

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