Improvised Elk Retrieval

We sat in the pickup and squinted into the lifting darkness at daybreak. Vague shapes gradually emerged three miles distant — fifty elk grazing along a hillside. We spent the next two hours creeping toward them.

Slipping into range we caught sight through the timber of dark legs gliding over snow. As I raised my rifle a crack rang out. Elk scattered everywhere. We sprinted up hill in time to see elk disappearing over the ridge at break neck speeds. Someone else with the same idea as us had been a fraction quicker on the draw.

Dejected, we walked in silence back-through the timber. Forty-five minutes later we were on fresh tracks, and I was out of time. My wife was leaving town. I had to be back before the afternoon daycare pick up.

Not wanting to ruin the hunt, I told my buddy to soldier on. I’d drive the hour back up the mountain at dark and give him a ride home. The plan seemed sound enough.

Once in town, and at home with my three-year-old daughter and eight-month-old son, the text came in.

“Elk Down!”

Then there was radio silence. It appeared a single text was all my buddy could muster. I was thrilled. It was now my job to retrieve not only my friend but his elk as well. I realized that, given my pint-sized companions, I needed backup. So I called another buddy and I told him the news. I didn’t mention my kids. He was in.

With sleds, backpacks, rope and anything else I thought might prove useful thrown in the back of the truck, I picked up our new volunteer. He knew he’d been sandbagged when he saw the slobbering infant but it didn’t matter. There was work to be done. Throwing the truck into four wheel drive we climbed the mountain. When the snow drifts became impassible we parked and decided to continue on foot. I had a rough idea of where the elk was and figured my friend and his elk ought to have made some progress toward the road by now.

Fall2011 021I had no plan for how to get two small children — one who was incapable of walking and the other who was about eye level with the snow depth — and all our gear anywhere beyond the truck. I improvised. My daughter got into a sleeping bag and sat on the sled. I figured I’d pull her. I then wrapped my son in an oversized jacket and stuffed him into the shovel pocket of my backpack.

Within 50 meters of the truck the sled had flipped twice in the uneven terrain, whitewashing my daughter. My son was fine for the moment, but I could tell our program wasn’t sustainable. We threw in the towel and sent our buddy onward. By bringing the truck and extra man power, we had done our job. There was no failure in staying at the truck, so that’s what we did.

The hours ticked by. We ate snacks, stayed warm, and bided our time. The kids were troopers. Well after dark headlamps bobbed in the distance.

Within minutes of spotting the lights we heard cheerful voices and saw silhouettes dragging elk quarters strapped onto sleds.  My exhausted friends piled into the truck and we all headed home, each wearing smiles wrought from the satisfaction that only comes from getting an elk.

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