Elk Camp, Idaho

 

Almost as predictable as the change of season, is the fact that Burt will head into the mountains of Central Idaho and set up his Elk Camp for a month long stay.

  If you are looking for elk camp, try these simple directions: drive north about 1,082 miles to the old dirt road, go left five or six miles down the dirt road, if the horses are at the end of the road, take the horse about 10 miles West, if not, start walking.  Camp is the white outfitter's tent with the blue tarp on the North edge of the trail next to the river.  That is where we found Burt & Jim.

 In Elk Camp, I hunted with Burt, Fred Trenkle and Burt's friend, a crusty old fellow named Jim. Camp is a dirt floor outfitter's tent with a wood burning steel can furnace.  It is a bit cozy when four hunters are in camp but very adequate shelter in the snow and comfortably equipped. 

Elk Camp with Old Jim

The typical day in Elk Camp begins with re-lighting the camp fire and heating the prior night's meal.  Some things in Elk Camp never change.  Food is one of them.  The staple diet of Elk Camp is a cast iron dutch oven pot filled with a make shift stew of beans and whatever else might be around camp.  Burt typically rides in with a 50 pound bag of some type of beans which become the season's staple.  This season the beans were Navy beans.  Last season it with was Great Northern Beans.  The only difference between breakfast, lunch and dinner is the time of day you scoop the beans out of the pot.

On this trip, the horses were a bit lame from packing out Elk on the prior afternoon, so Fred & I hiked the 10 miles to camp.  Knowing that we would be tired and hungry, Burt decided to surprise us on our arrival at camp with a special meal, he called his "Private Recipe Stew".  It was a sort of ham and beans dish that was hot and seemed to fill us up.

 

Burt, Jim and Burt's pot of Private Recipe Stew

After the long hike into camp, Burt dished Fred and I a big ole bowl of Private Recipe Stew, in the morning we had another bowl and for lunch, we enjoyed a third bowl.  As the bottom of the pot drew near, Burt announced, "because we enjoyed Private Recipe Stew so very much I'm gonna share the secret family recipe... You start with a heaping pot of Navy beans, add a few vegetables, a dash of salt, a bit of pepper and one diced "private part" of a bull Elk, cut into bite sized pieces!"   Suddenly it was not so tasty. 

I told Fred that I didn't think having an Elk johnson in your mouth necessarily meant you had a problem...unless of course, you enjoyed it. Burt seemed to be the only one "enjoying it".  Fred & I, both felt a bit violated!

The Wapiti, or North American Elk, grow to a height of about 5' at the shoulder and to a weight of 750 to 1,000 pounds when fully mature.  The bulls have thick brown fur on the neck and head and grey and brown fur on the back and flanks.  The Elk has smooth antlers which attain significant lengths.  The bulls shed their antlers in March and re-grow them each year in late spring.  By fall, their antlers are fully mature averaging about 4' each. 

Hunting from Elk Camp typically begins with a horseback ride up densely forested mountains, or lengthy hikes on vertical terrain.  It is not for the weak of heart.  When the Elk are bugling, they can be called in or located with cow calls.  When the Elk are not bugling, its like looking for a needle in a hay stack.  Despite their grand size, Elk are capable to move through the forests with agility, speed and stealth.

 

 Hunting the ridges meant steep hikes through dense forest

Elk also have a very keen sense of smell that assists in eluding the hunter.  When the hunter stalks into the wind, the wind favors the hunter by moving his scent away from the animal.  When the wind is at the hunter's back, it favors the Elk, as the hunter's scent will arrive well before the hunter.  While stalking a bull into the wind, the musky scent of the bull was evidence that we were in very close proximity.  As we neared the crest of the ridge, the winds began to swirl and the shift in wind favored of the bull.  As we continued the stalk, we arrived upon a steaming pile of Elk droppings. In light of the proximity to our prey, the difficult winds, and the investment of time and effort to stalk the animal, Burt decided extreme measures were appropriate.  Taking a hand full of the small droppings, Burt packed his lip as if it were a plug of tobacco.  "Breathe in through your nose... and blow out through your mouth... the turd will mask our scent," advised Burt. 

Always wary of a good practical joke, I figured Burt must have substituted Raisonetts or beef Jerky through slight of hand.  With this in mind, I watched Fred very closely to ascertain whether or not I was the target of their practical joke.  Fred quickly followed, picking up the steaming pellets, mashing them into a warm ball and then packing his chaw of Elk dung.  It gave a whole new perspective on that old adage: "Having a potty mouth!"

In absolute disbelief these guys were actually dipping with Elk Skoal, I quickly pointed out, "You fellas obviously want this Elk a heck of a lot more than I do!"  Having passed up the pinch between my cheek and gums, we never did find that Elk.

On this trip, the Elk were not bugling, so after 7 days of looking, we headed off to hunt with the Bauscher boys.  Hunting with those Bauschers was like shooting fish in a barrel.  The area we hunted was thick with quality bulls.

About 10:00 AM, while traversing a snow covered slope, Fred pushed a world class 7 X 6 bull out of the woods below.  As the bull broke away from the woods and headed for the ridge, I took my shot and dropped the bull on the snowy hillside. 

It was thirteen and a half hours later when Fred and I would have the beast skinned and hanging in the shed.  Moving 1,000 pounds of elk off a snowy hillside takes patience, strength and a sense of humor.  As we began to cape the shoulder of the bull, I straddled the antlers and Fred went to work on the neck.  In an effort to shift the body, Fred gave the bull a nudge causing it to roll over down the hill and the antlers suddenly shifted.  As the antlers twisted, they acted as a catapult and threw me like a rag doll about 10 feet down the snow covered hill.  With knife in hand, I cartwheeled another 20 yards down the hill before coming to a stop.  After brushing off the snow, inventorying my fingers and concluding I had no injuries, Fred & I sat down and had a good laugh.

Pulling a bull off a snow covered hill is an all day project.  After caping the shoulder and removing the head, the Elk was split vertically along the spine. We took the shoulder cape and rack and hiked out to find a horse.  After riding back in, each half of the Elk was draped over horse back and then the horse was led off the slope to the nearest road.  We would repeat this process a total of six times as we lent assistance to the other members of the hunt had also taken bulls.  Two of the three bulls harvested this day easily qualify for the record books.

 

Upon return to the barn, the Elk halves were hoisted with winches where the task of skinning began.  A couple hours later, six Elk halves were skinned and hanging.  The hides would become gloves and Elk skin chaps, the meat would be sent to the butcher for processing and the racks would be mounted to commemorate the magnificence of the animals.

 

Rich Bauscher, his son and I with the Elk capes

 

Fred pauses for a photo after a long day's work

 

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