I went on my first elk hunt, to Montana, in November, 1971. I did not get an elk. This year, four decades later, I hunted in Utah and did get one, which you can see here. He’s a 6×6, 8 ½ years old, and about 800 pounds. The handsome devil on the right is my guide Amos Ames, which is the finest name I’ve heard for an outdoorsman since Ted Trueblood. Amos has guided for elk for over 30 years, and is a forest-fire fighter, a rodeo clown, a cowboy-boot maker, and a general hard-case geezer.
An elk hunt is about the finest experience you can have standing up, and since I’m in a benevolent mood, I thought I’d pass along what I’ve learned from four decades of chasing the crazy bastards up and down mountains. Forsooth:
I. Thou shalt be in shape, for elk dwelleth not in the flatlands, nor where there is oxygen.
II. If thine ass resembleth 20 pounds of chewed bubble gum, bitter shall be thy lot.
III.** Thou shalt not whine that the pace is too swift, or that thou cannot get thy breath, or that thou seeest stars, for thy guide shall care not, and mercy shall not be yours.*
IV. Thou shalt not stuff thy pack with all manner of goods. Thou needst it not, and it shall do naught but rob thee of thy breath and turn thy knees to Jello.
V. Thou shalt not slam truck doors, nor speak above a whisper, nor tramp through the forests like the hosts of Gilead, for thou art in the backyard of thy foe the elk, and sharp are his senses, and he shall flee from thee.
VI. Thou shalt practice thy offhand shooting, for that may be the only shot that thou receivest.**
VII. Thou shalt learn to shoot as swiftly as the hawk flieth, and thou shalt not fiddle-f*** with thy gear, nor adjust thy scope, nor set up thy bipod, for thou hast not time.
VIII. While the elk yet moveth, thou must shoot, for blessed is he who endeth the life quickly, and accursed is he who letteth an animal suffer for the sake of a one-shot kill.***
IX. Strong must be thy bullet; all else is but the dung of horses.****
X. The worst day thou shalt have hunting elk is better than the best day of whatever else thou doest.
*As you can see, being in shape is right at the top of the list. There will be more on this.
** I had to shoot this one offhand, at 160 yards, then at 270.
*** After the first shot, which was in the shoulder and would have killed him by itself, he ran just over 100 yards and stopped, weaving on his legs. I shot him twice more, of which Amos approved highly. There are few worse experiences than tracking a wounded elk. For all concerned.
**** As Amos said, “The caliber doesn’t matter. All you need is a bullet that can reach the heart and the lungs. If you shoot them there they’ll die. You can show up with a .243 and I won’t like it, but if it’s what you can shoot that’s fine as long as the bullet can get it done.”