A Lesson in Tracking: Finding a Wounded Elk

By Hunting NetworkOctober 15, 20104 Comments

LAST UPDATED: May 8th, 2015

Although my elk hunting season started with archery equipment, it ended with a rifle. I realize that this is a sight dedicated to bowhunting enthusiasts, but I learned a very important lesson in hunting, no matter what weapon you choose to use. After spending 14 days in the field over the course of 6 weeks without seeing a single bull elk, just hearing their teasing bugles, I began wondering if my Area 99 tag would have to wait until the next draw to be filled. On the last day of our three day hunt we walked about two miles passed the wilderness boundary to an open park mixed with grasses, sagebrush, willows and aspens with small running creeks throughout the bottom.


Perfect setting for a nice bull elk.

It was a perfect scene after seeing a cow, calf and spike elk and I just knew there had to be a bull running around somewhere. Soon after, my friend, Joe, stopped me and said, “There’s a bull and it’s a nice one.” That’s all I needed to hear. What I saw could have been different, however. It was certainly a bull, but he was quartering towards me and was soon on the move. I took my shot and knew it wasn’t a good one. This is when the painful task of tracking a wounded animal began. Anyone who has ever hunted elk knows they are some of the toughest animals to take down and sometimes they simply refuse to hit the ground. This was one of those elk. When we started our pursuit, we saw one single drop of blood and another about 20 yards away. I knew we were going to have a challenge in front of us and anyone who knows me knows how negative and impatient I can be. I immediately thought the worst and had to get a small cry session out of the way before we could continue. Thankfully Joe is single-handedly the most patient person I’ve ever met and while keeping his wits about him, was able to get things under control and we began looking for more sign of the bull together. The elk was bleeding very little, the snow from the day before had melted and the muddy ground was frozen from the low temperatures of the night before, so we had little to work with. After covering close to a half mile, winding through the trees, we totally lost any sign of him once again. It looked in the dirt like the bull had maybe hit the skids and stopped suddenly, or possibly laid down, turning up fresh dirt. We assumed he would move down hill as opposed to climbing over the rock hill to the east but after finding no further sign of him on the slopes below, we started over once again at the sight of the scuffled dirt. This was the fourth or fifth time we had circled back to the last known location of the bull and I was beginning to get desperate. Joe kept me calm all the while hiding his anxiety about the potential of not finding this bull and what it would do to my hunting in the future. We began heading up the rock slope to the east and I was stunned to see the bull running up the steep, slick rock using only three legs. It didn’t take long to realize why the bull was able to move so far, so quickly, without losing a lot of blood. As he ran, I was able to connect with two more shots before he lay down on the highest point he could find. When I saw he wasn’t getting up, I realized I wasn’t either. I had sat down and literally couldn’t get to my feet. Killing a good bull is something I’ve only ever dreamed of and after losing one 4 years ago, I was sick at the thoughts of possibly losing another one. No one likes to lose an animal, but I’ve yet to find someone who takes it as hard as I do. It’s not something I can let go of easily and knowing the will power of an elk was not helping calm my nerves throughout the ordeal. After seeing the downed elk, I could have lost it all over again, but I simply just had to sit down. Joe helped me to my feet and we were able to claim the trophy together as we worked equally as hard to get it.

After retrieving the 5×6 bull, I don’t know who was more excited that it was over: me or him.

I suppose my entire purpose of writing this is to advise people to be patient when tracking an animal. You never know what direction they could take and getting frustrated simply will not be beneficial to your cause. Having a good hunting partner that is as stubborn and smart as someone like Joe is also helpful but is not always available. Had I been by myself I honestly feel I would not have found this bull and the ending to my story would be much different. We were able to end our hunting trip with pictures of success and a story I have learned a multitude of lessons from. Hopefully, anyone out there reading this, learns something too and is able to keep composure while tracking a kill and they too can bring their trophy home with them.


Though packing wasn’t easy, it was a task I was grateful and thankful for.


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