Four Days

I've got blood on my clothes, hands and face … it's not from an elk, and it's not from me.

We continued our search for the bull I'd hit on the first morning for the following few days. We'd covered the country with our spotting scopes and feet, grid searched an entire hillside, but no bull could be found. With luck, he will survive. I called the Utah Department of Natural Resources and received the cell phone numbers of two different game wardens in my area. I left messages with both of them, but neither calls were returned. I was beating myself up with remorse for the bull, I called close friends, I asked for advice, I weighed all of my options and put some serious thought into it.

I decided to keep hunting. I would find another bull. Our first day spent hunting other elk was Saturday October 2nd. So begins Day 1.

Day 1
Time for a new area. Even though the new spot we'd be hunting was only 11 miles (as the crow flies) from our camp, the morning drive would take us over an hour. The alarm blared at 3:30 a.m., and we were off. Arriving to the new spot in the dark, Jeff and I anxiously found a spot to park and began hiking into the dark. In our morning mission, we only found 1 cow and 1 spike, but the evening hunt would be much different.

We left the truck earlier than usual that evening and headed down into a beautiful basin. After an hour of sneaking through some beautiful elk country we arrived in a meadow where two streams joined and setup in an ambush location. The entire meadow could be viewed within 200 yards of our location and we waited on the elk to arrive. As the sun began to set, bugles and cow calls started to drift from the adjacent timber, a cow ran from the timber and was quickly scooped away from the herd by a 6x6 satellite bull, a monster could be heard sending spine chilling bugles in the direction of the missing cow … we were right in the middle of it all!

The cow had left her calf behind and the distressed calf was calling like crazy from the timber, the herd bull was obviously close to her location and I began cow calling, trying to draw them both within sight. The herd bull bugled close to 30 times during the process of bringing the calf to me. I had her right in front of me at five yards by the time it was all through, but no herd bull could be seen.

We let the sun fall completely before working our way up and back to the truck in the dark, the process took us quite a while and by the time we reached the truck, we were once again completely spent. We piled into the Tundra and began working our way down the dirt road back to the main highway. Upon reaching the main highway (ahh pavement!), we started the hour-long journey back to our camp, I had texted my dad when we had reception to let him know we'd be back around 8:30, he replied that they'd have a "hearty dinner ready!" We were tired, hungry, and ready for some rest. We took the sharp corners of the mountain road easy heading out, unaware of what we would soon come upon.

The hazard lights of two vehicles could be seen clearly in front of us. A young man waving a flashlight flagged us down, he said there'd been an accident, could we PLEASE HELP.

I immediately pulled the truck to the side of the road, yelled and asked if anyone had called 911 … to which the man replied, "someone is on their way to try to call, there's no cell service here." Jeff and I both sprung into action. Headlamps and flashlights came flying out of the truck, I grabbed my Satellite phone and tossed it to Jeff, who immediately began trying to call 911.

I wasn't sure what the scene would be like, but I was prepared for the worst. A few years back I took a Wilderness EMT course through the National Outdoor Leadership School. I had become a certified EMT and I've used the skills I'd gained many times since the class. My certification has since expired, but the knowledge remains, time to put it to use.

There were five passengers in the small truck. All but one had been ejected as the truck rolled down the steep embankment to where it now came to rest in the shallows of a lake below. The only passenger properly restrained by a seat belt. A two-year old girl had also been ejected, but hardly had a scratch on her … the true miracle of the accident.

While we were working our way down the steep hill, someone called out from above, "We've got to find the little boy, he's still missing." The accident had happened about 10 minutes prior to our arrival, Jeff and I were the 4th and 5th first responders to arrive.

I ran from patient to patient, doing a quick check of their injuries and vitals, grabbing and advising the increasing group of rescuers to secure each person's head and neck properly.

It was time to find the boy. We scoured the hillside and lake for the little guy in the dark. Jeff finally spotted his tiny legs, pinned underneath the truck, face down in the mud, motionless. He was quickly pulled from below the truck and I immediately grabbed him.

I quickly did my best to clear his airway, checked for a pulse, and began CPR. He was long gone before my first breath, but I continued for 20 agonizing minutes with people crying and calling out for miracles all around me as I did my best to count compressions, give breaths, check for a pulse, and listen for any breathing. After 20 minutes fellow rescuers pulled me away.

"I have to continue until Medics arrived I told them," one rescuer leaned in during my final round of compressions… "Son you've done all you can, he's gone, let him go in peace."

The gentlemen was right. At this point it was a futile effort, and my skills could be put to better use on the other patients. I gently cleaned the mud and blood from the boy's face, properly adjusted his t-shirt, closed his eyelids, and wrapped him securely in a blanket. We then laid the tiny four-year-old next to his mother who was being attended to nearby and began working to stabilize her.

Jeff had successfully gotten through to 911 on the satellite phone and we had ambulances and a helicopter on its way, he also monitored the little girl to make sure she was being cared for correctly until the medics arrived. I had a rescuer properly hold the woman's head/neck and I sprinted for the truck to grab my extra Sitka layers to keep the patients warm. With a handful of clothes, I went to each person and did my best to completely cover them up. Others had brought blankets from their vehicles and the only thing we could do now was monitor the patients and await the arrival of the ambulances.

I went to the mother and spoke with her quietly as she drifted in and out of consciousness, gently wiping the mud from her eyes. EMT's and ambulances arrived shortly thereafter, roughly 45 minutes earlier than expected thanks to Jeff's solid work on the satellite phone (there wasn't cell reception for 20 minutes in either direction on the road). The satellite phone proved to be the most important piece of safety equipment we had.

I went to the father on the hillside and helped other rescuers load him onto a backboard and carry him up the hill and into the ambulance. As quickly as we had happened on the accident, it was over, we were left to mingle with fellow rescuers. We made the drive back to camp in silence where dad and John had hot soup ready for us.

Day 2
We woke up the next morning (Sunday) late after deciding to sleep in. My dad, John and Jeff all had other responsibilities to attend to on Monday, so we packed up the entire camp and headed down into one of the front-range towns for a burger. We spoke quietly of the accident, of elk hunting, of family and watched football on the television. It was good to be out of the hills, good to get a big, greasy meal; good to clear my head a little bit. Everyone else would soon be taking off, and I'd be left to hunt alone, based solely out of the Tundra, with four remaining days to get it done.

I said goodbye and hugged everyone, thanking them for their effort. I told them to drive safe and stopped briefly to replenish my supplies of gas and Gatorade. That evening I hunted hard covering more miles than on any previous day of the hunt. I chased every bugle I heard, turning down 4 bulls under 50 yards and making the four-mile hike back to the Tundra under the cover of darkness without a headlamp, which I haven't been able to find since the accident.

I checked in with Katie again that evening and she continued to support my decision to stay and finish the hunt. It had been a difficult choice to hunt other bulls after the first day's events. Then I couldn't find the bull in subsequent days. And then there was the accident. Now all I wanted to do was go home and hold my family close. I wanted to get the smell of lake water out of my clothes. I wanted to wash the visions out of my head from the accident and the blood from my clothes.

Day 3
Once again I woke early, but this time I was sleeping in the back of the Tundra literally at the trailhead--a great change from the previous days when we'd had to make the long morning drive prior to first light. I had set my sights on a ridge with a bugling bull I couldn't get a glimpse of the evening before and was soon hiking his direction in the dark.

It wasn't long before I heard bugles and dropped off the steep ridge into dark timber to chase the bulls I was hearing. I turned down a 5x5 who exploded from his bed in the timber but who stopped quickly at my cow call on my way to the bottom. Halfway down the hillside I spotted 4 different bulls working about 20 cows on the adjacent hillside… and they were headed down towards me! They were most likely planning to bed in the very dark timber I was in now, so I made it quickly to the bottom.

I got in tight to five different bulls once I reached the bottom. The wind was perfect for me and I hoped a good bull would be among them. Unfortunately, this wouldn't be the case. The biggest bull was a 5x5 old, herd bull on his way down. I held my 1x scope on him at 20 yards and told myself if he made it to five yards I'd harvest him, but he never got that close and I chose to do some video of him on the opposite hillside instead.

The elk had really turned it on this morning, no doubt helped by the dropping temperatures and low-pressure system that was currently hitting the area. I hiked out of the steep canyon and once again decided to drive out of the canyon to get some lunch and check up on my messages. My dad had filled my mother and sister in on the events surrounding the accident and I had messages to return from both of them. It helped to clear my head to talk about the events, gave me a chance to speak outwardly about what it meant to experience the situation and it was great to catch up with some family. I called Katie, updated her on my evening hunt plans and returned to a different trailhead.

At 3:00 p.m., I decided it was time to get moving, it was much earlier than I'd been heading out on evening hunts throughout the trip, but the cold front had the elk talking late this morning. Most likely they'd be talking early tonight.

I had only made it about 200 yards when I spotted elk below me in the basin to my left. Cows were streaming out of the aspens! This was good. I sat on the hillside awaiting a big bull to join the group of 16 cows, but nothing showed.

There has to be a bull with all those cows, I thought … time to drop in.

I descended into the basin using the cover of aspens to hide my approach. I reached a stream running along the bottom of the bowl in about 5 minutes and anxiously checked the wind. The wind checker material hit me right in the face.

Yes! I still didn't know if there was a bull among the cows, but there had to be!
I began picking my way toward the cows who were now above me, bedded in a small meadow among the pine and aspen trees. It was elk heaven. Wallows, grass, great bedding areas; it had it all. There were also perfectly spaced trees that would allow me to sneak right into the elk. I was preparing to cross the stream, taking each step as light as possible, when the bull bugled for the first time. Now I'm hunting, I thought! There's even a bull with them!

His bugle was deep; he was definitely a large animal. Now it was time to get a look. I worked my way toward the bugles very slowly. There were lots of cows, which meant lots of watchful eyes. I didn't want to blow this stalk because this could be my bull. I could tell the bull didn't want to leave the meadow and I wasn't going to attempt to call him away from his cows. Time to be a ninja and put the sneak on.

I tip-toed my way through the timber. I was getting close--maybe 60 yards now. From time to time I would make out movement above me, but each time it was a cow. The bull continued bugling. I knew I would get an opportunity. I put my rangefinder away, wherever he showed up now I'd hold directly on him.

All of sudden there he was, ahead of me, completely obstructed by timber. But I could make him out through some small openings. I lifted my Leicas slowly. This was a good bull. I could make out his lower 3 tines on both sides and they all were long! Decision made. Now I just need to get a clear shot.

Just about the moment I'd decided this would be my 2010 Utah Muzzleloader bull, something began raking a tree between me and the bull… a mule deer emerged and both the bull and I stared at him.

Please don't bust me, please don't bust me, I silently pleaded to the buck, who eventually fed off to my left, never noticing me. I was hidden behind a small tree in head to toe Optifade, but the bull continued to stare in my direction.

There is no way he sees me! I kept telling myself. What is he looking at? I haven't even made a move or a sound since getting to this spot.

We continued our stare-off for over 5 minutes. I could sense his uneasiness and prepared to make a move into the meadow. My chance was coming and my instincts soon took over. The bull glanced away from me for just a second and I could hear the initial cows beginning to move. I must've been spotted by one of them unknowingly and that had sent the bull looking in my direction. I glanced at the bull as he began moving to his left following the first few cows. I took a few steps to my right as the first cow hit the opening above me at 40 yards. I cocked the hammer on my muzzleloader and here came the bull. I put the tiny dot from my 1x scope on him and squeezed the trigger.

Through the smoke I watched as the bull took three more steps and fell right in front of me. At 40 yards, my shot had gone perfectly through his heart and he expired in only seconds. WOW! That's how it's supposed to happen. At this point I was solo and only .89 miles from the truck. Time to get to work.

I used the Sat. phone to call my wife and let her know I was in for a long night. I also called my friends Shane and Shaun in Odgen to see if they could come down the next day to grab some photos of the hike out with the bull. They'd meet me at my truck at first light; ready to help pack some meat. But my goal was to get it all packed out before they got there!

I moved quickly. I have always dreamt someday of having a full-body elk mount. I'd never harvested an elk with such a beautiful hide. (And this close to the truck!). So I decided to skin him out whole and pack the entire thing out.
This process takes a long time. I made cuts up the back of each leg, and one the length of his spine. I worked down one side at a time, then folded the skin back against the meat, working to flip the elk on the other side to repeat the process. Once I had the elk completely skinned, I removed the head and caped out the skull. Now I had a huge hide blanket where I could pile the meat.

I removed the quarters, backstraps, tenderloins, and neck meat from one side, set them in the antlers, flipped the carcass over, removed the hide completely, and removed the remaining meat from the other side. I typically use the "gutless method" of field dressing to keep everything clean, but I decided to inspect my shot after I was completely done removing the meat. A bull elk's heart is the size of a football, no wonder these animals can move so gracefully around these mountains … My shot was true and had completely passed through the bull, only hitting the heart.

I pulled out the 6 game bags I carry in my Longbow pack and laid out my loads.

Day 4
I was able to get all the meat and the entire hide out before crashing at 3:45 a.m. Shane and Shaun arrived at 6:30 with a bunch of ice for the meat and salt for the hide. We made the trip to grab the skull and antlers together and we were on our way to get some burgers!

No time to rest. When you have an elk in your truck, the only place you should be heading is to a processor, and mine is Yellowstone Processing just east of Bozeman Montana. The night had been in the 30's, and now, with the meat on ice, I had plenty of time to get back home. I called Katie to check in and she informed me that my sister, Sara, who was an expecting mother, was in LABOR! Now I was in a race with Mother Nature to make the birth of my new godchild.

I made it to Bozeman after the nine-hour drive at 11:45 p.m., where I quickly met Katie at the house and transferred the hide to the freezer and the meat to my garage (with fresh ice). I grabbed a quick shower and we made it to the hospital around 12:15 a.m. to wait with my parents for the good news. At 6:21 a.m., my first nephew was born.

Knox Andrew Crow! 7 Pounds, 10 ounces! I hadn't slept but two hours in the last 51, I had filled my Utah Elk tag and returned home with all the meat safely. I had witnessed the birth of my godson, Knox and I had pushed myself to the limit.

This was an especially emotional hunt for me. I had come full circle as a hunter, dealing for the first time with wounding loss and the decisions surrounding that, then making a perfect shot. I had also come full circle with life and death. I had closed the eyes of four-year-old boy for the last time, and watched my godson's eyes open for the first time.

What a wild four days.