October 31, 2013
Damn! Elk are Tough, Part 2
By Dave Hurteau
As I was saying, elk are tough. But before I get any further on that, let me address some of the comments from Part 1. Some of you said that the new Mossberg MVP 7.62 appears to be a brush rifle and not ideally suited to elk hunting in general. To that point, a couple of things: (1) We were hunting mostly timber and small openings therein, where shots were fairly close and where the MVP was certainly up to the job, and (2) Mossberg doesn't tout the MVP as the perfect elk rifle; they just wanted us the try it out on a cool hunt, and elk it was.
As for the .308 Win, my own feeling is that it is a perfectly fine elk cartridge within its limits, especially the Hornady Superperformance GMX load, which pushes a very tough 165-grain bullet 2,750 fps at the muzzle and 2,173 fps at 300 yards. As chuckles rightly pointed out, a solid-copper (gilding metal) bullet like this isn't going to expand much at speeds under 2,000 fps, and with the gun's short barrel robbing a little speed, we all planned to—and did—keep our shots under 300 yards.
As for horses vs. mules, the former tends to be more fun but also too impulsive or neurotic to ever be fully trusted—like certain girlfriends you wouldn't risk your future with. On my last horse hunt, half of the riders were unseated—one injured somewhat seriously, another banged up, and a third begging to spend the night on the mountain rather than get back on that Godforsaken beast. On the other hand, a good mule, while perhaps not as exciting, is steady and sweet. Look at this face. Now this is an animal you can have a relationship with (especially once the other hunters are asleep).
And now for the toughness of elk. I'd often heard that elk are the toughest of North American big game, but I had not personally seen the evidence. The last one I arrowed was dead before it hit the ground 60 yards from where I shot it. What's more, five of the six elk our group took on this trip with the .308 MVP went down with one shot.
Then, of course, there was mine. And while it would be perfectly reasonable to guess that mine took multiple shots because my first ones hit, say, the hoof or the kneecap, that actually wasn't the case. We spotted two bulls feeding across a canyon and stalked to within about 250 yards. I got seated and on the sticks, settled down, and shot at the lower bull, but he just stood there like nothing happened. I shot again, and still he just stood there.
Meanwhile, the higher bull walked down into view, and with Bushnell's Kevin Howard also on his sticks, ready to shoot, guide Dick Dodds said, "You're bull's hit, Dave. Let Kevin take his." The other bull was slightly quartering-to and when Kevin plugged him in the point of the shoulder, he went down like a carnival duck and came tumbling down the steep slope.
But not mine. Still, he just stood there. Through the scope, I could clearly see a stream of blood pouring from the shoulder crease, right where you'd want to see it. Dick noted it, too. "He's dead," I said to him. "He just doesn't know it yet." He agreed, but the rule with elk is, if he's still standing, you keep shooting. And shoot I did.
At one point I looked back at Dick, as if to say, "What the hell?" The bull had turned a bit to where the angle wasn't ideal. But still. I was beginning to wonder if he'd staked a decoy out there just to mess with me. Dick just shrugged, saying, "I don't know what to tell you. You're definitely hitting him." And as you can see, this was not all that big an elk.
Eventually, after more shots than I care to enumerate, the bull slumped over. When we got over to him, he was full of holes, several of which should have been fatal. All were pass-throughs except the one that entered the shoulder crease; that one I found in the far shoulder, and it had expanded reasonably well.
I was dumfounded. But not Dick; he'd seen it before, with a wide range of calibers. Veteran gun writer John Haviland, who took his 49th elk on this hunt, was also nonplussed, saying simply, "F-ing elk." Later, well-known bowhunter Bob Robb showed me a video clip of a huge bull he'd arrowed perfectly that nonetheless would not go at all gently…
So, are elk the toughest North American critter? I can't say; I haven't hunted them all. But after this hunt, I can say: Damn, elk are tough!