November 21, 2014
In 1985, I was living on Molokai and my supervisor on Maui asked me to assist a crew from Georgia who worked for the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study team. They were looking into whether feral pigs were carrying bovine tuberculosis and acting as potential vectors to domestic cattle. Much to my surprise, I met a girl who could out-hike me, wield a large syringe and draw blood from a pig’s beating heart and had the tactile finesse required to remove portions of a pig skull with a saw and expose the trigeminal nerve for sampling. Needless to say, I was impressed and it was love at first blood. Five years later, Jeanine and I were married. To this day, she is affectionately known to me as “pig woman”.
Over the years, we’ve enjoyed lots of outdoor activities together and we’ve tried to share those experiences with our kids. Living in Oregon, there are ample opportunities to get out and explore and partake in the beautiful wild landscape. We recently got to go on an adventure by ourselves to eastern Oregon for an elk hunt.
Our dear friend Bitsy graciously offered Jeanine a November elk tag and it was an offer we couldn’t refuse. We drove 10 hrs to the ranch in Imnaha and quickly settled in amongst friends who were all ready for the next morning’s opening day elk hunt. We were anxious to see what the promise of a new morning would bring. However, we were nervous because the full moonlit evening would mean elk heading to cover before sunrise which could make finding them a little more difficult.
Day 1. We got to see elk on distant ridges but, none were close enough to put a hunt on. It was clear skies and the full moon was just setting as we scanned the slopes looking for any sign of elk. At least the weather was good for taking pictures.
Day 2. Good friends John and Bitsy located some elk in a draw and put us onto them. Jeanine and I started the gradual climb uphill and the slope got steeper as we progressed upward. Were the elk still there? Did they already leave the draw without us detecting them? Did we spook them out of the draw? Somehow, I had a feeling they were still there but we couldn’t be certain. It was our best chance and we opted to climb up the steep hillside slow and steady.
As the hillside got steeper, doubt increasingly crept into our thoughts. Were the elk really still here or did they slip out undetected? We took one last break to get our wind back. We decided it was time to take a peek around the corner and glass the draw for elk. “Knowing” elk and how fast they can walk, we looked further uphill in the draw in search of yellow butts and chocolate necks. When suddenly directly across the draw stood a lone spike bull and slowly the bushes around him began to reveal cows and calves up on their feet and slowly assembling for a departure from the draw.
We dropped to the ground and tried to look like a rock on an open hillside. Jeanine quickly set-up for a shot. The wind was still in our favor but, the elk knew something wasn’t right and some started to line-out single file out of the draw. There were about 17 animals standing and slowly moving. Jeanine’s tag was for a cow elk and the majority of them were cows. One stood broadside across the draw and was just staring at us trying to determine what those dark blobs with orange heads were on the open hillside. I was afraid the cow was within seconds of taking off with the others. I let panic creep into my voice as I told Jeanine she better hurry up and shoot. She asked me to range the distance. I replied, “It’s in range. Hurry before that cow leaves!” I ranged that cow elk to be 189 yards. I told Jeanine it was well within range of her Tikka T3 Lite .30-06. She squared up the shooting sticks and flicked the safety off. I had my binos on the cow and waited for the rifle’s wake-up call.
KA BOOMMM!!! Nothing. I couldn’t tell whether the cow was hit or not. It just stood there completely still and the others milled around and started to slowly climb out of the draw. I whispered loudly to Jeanine, “Shoot Again!”
KA BOOMMM!!! This time, I saw the cow flinch slightly but, it still just stood there. I whispered louder, “Shoot Again!”
KA BOOMMM!!! The cow moved forward and down into the draw. The other elk were well on their way out of the draw quickly marching steadily up and out. I knew by the behavior of that cow elk that she’d been fatally hit and was headed in an opposite direction than the herd. We picked up our gear and headed to the draw. A few minutes later, I found the cow laying still near the bottom of the draw.
Evaluation: Hiking up a steep hill, 1 foot upward & 3 foot slide downward, rocks rolling out from under your boots, breathing hard, pulse and head pounding, add adrenaline dump from whispering/screaming husband and elk popping up all over the draw… I’d say Jeanine did a great job shooting under those conditions and she delivered well placed shots that resulted in a quick humane harvest of some of the finest natural protein around.