Jim’s day started just as his previous day ended, in the saddle. He capably led his horse, Sarlie, up more than 1,000 feet of elevation and across more than four miles of timbered terrain.
Guide Shane Escott reminds Jim of some of the finer points of horsemanship.
But in any elk hunt, at some point you have to dismount and go forth on your own two feet.
Guides Shane Escott and Tom Kulesza discuss strategy. We are at the bottom of a huge sagebrush meadow where they’ve seen elk feeding earlier in the week. Our hopes are that with the cold weather and fresh snow, the elk will be out early to feed.
Tom, on the right, laughs about his crazy idea. He’ll circle the meadow, hiking for a couple of hours and bird-dogging through dark timber, to see if he cuts any fresh elk tracks. That way we’ll know if there are any elk in the neighborhood.
After a couple of snowy hours, Tom returns. He’s sweaty and tired, but he’s cut some tracks. Unfortunately, they’re all headed away from the meadow. We’ll probably spend the rest of the day hiking, hoping to spot elk before they spot us.
But before we trek, we decide to light a small fire to warm up and dry out some of our soggy clothes.
Jim glasses upper slopes and spots some elk feeding out. No bulls, but it’s worth getting a closer look. We quench the fire and start hiking.
It takes hours and we cover many snowy miles, but toward the evening we spot a herd of elk feeding out of timber.
They are in the middle of the avalanche chute when we notice that one of the bulls is legal. In this hunting district, a bull must have at least a 4-inch brow tine and branching antlers on at least one side to be legal. They’re 346 yards away. Jim makes a rest with my backpack and settles in for the shot. He’s shooting a 7mm Rem. Mag and 150-grain Core-Lokt bullets. He holds on the bull’s back and squeezes the trigger.
And the bull hunches up and tips over. He’s made a remarkable one-shot kill on the first elk of his life. It takes us a half hour to reach the elk. The snow is that deep and the slope is that steep.
Jim can scarcely contain his surprise and happiness.
I gather Tom — who has circled around the basin with the horses — and Shane for a group photo. I don’t think Jim ever stopped smiling while we quartered the elk and loaded it on the mules.
The next day, outfitter Layne Wilcox returns for the head. He uses some classy lashing to anchor the antlers to the pack saddle.
Wilcox has the head and the meat loaded and ready to return to camp.
Layne and Jim prepare to line out for the several-mile ride back to the tents.
Videographer Troy Batzler has joined the team and he borrows Jim for a quick interview.
Jim is still on Cloud Nine. He has killed his first elk, on public land no less, in his first full day of his Grand Slam Adventure. Is it luck? Probably, but also credit cold weather that is keeping elk on the move and great long-distance shooting.
Before he jumps out of the saddle, Layne turns to me and asks if I brought my elk tag. “Of course,” I reply. “Then you’re next, if you care to do a little elk hunting,” he says. I’m ecstatic. I wasn’t planning to hunt, but we still have two days and Jim is tagged out. Tomorrow will be my turn.
For Part 1 of the Grand Slam hunt **** For Part 2 of the Grand Slam hunt click here. click here.
After spotting his first elk the previous evening, OL’s Grand Slam Adventure winner Jim Ewing woke early for his first day of hunting elk high in the mountains of southwest Montana. He’d end the day with the first elk of his life.