Working hard to harvest
November 28, 2012
Filling an elk tag with faith and fortitude
Weary from a long day of cutting meat, Brad Boner still had the energy to haul two quarters of his elk down from the mountain last week. With a little help from friends, Boner only had to leave one hindquarter hanging in a tree overnight. Citizen photo by Hope Strong
Every successful elk hunter has a favorite spot in the mountains, and the day after Thanksgiving, Brad Boner pulled into his before sunrise. He turned off the ignition to his vehicle and sat silently to collect his thoughts.
“I spoke out loud to my father,” Boner said. “I’d never done that before.”
Boner was sporting his late father’s .270 rifle that day, wearing the man’s old hunting vest. He had been up the ridge that he was about to hike four times this season, and he really wanted to bring something home.
“Well dad, mom’s in town,” Boner spoke into the darkness. “It’d sure be nice to bring her an elk.”
Two years ago, Boner had successfully harvested a yearling around that same ridge, but he was disappointed last season when another hunter had spoiled an opportunity for a clean shot.
“You can do your homework and try to get everything right, but there might always be someone else out there,” Boner said. “Last year, I’d climbed up a mountain and was able to traverse around to get on top of a herd. They were walking right toward me, and everything was perfect with the wind in my face. With the elk approaching at 500 yards, I saw another hunter scrambling up from below. The herd did a 90 degree turn, hopped, and they
were gone in the opposite direction.”
That was the closing day of the season last year, and Boner has wanted another opportunity since. He’d crawled out of bed well before dawn a dozen times this year and he had tracked the movements of the herd he was after last Friday. With only a few more opportunities to fill his cow tag this season, Boner headed into the woods hoping for a chance.
“I knew that being in the right place at the right time is a lot of it and that getting lucky doesn’t hurt,” he said.
Boner hiked a ridge in the Big Hole Mountains that he had grown to know well. He’d seen where elk had crossed the ridge recently and made his way up to the top of the mountain where he would sit and wait. Almost to the top, Boner thought he should pause to glass the ground he had just covered with binoculars.
“Something told me to take a quick look, and I saw a row of elk coming up at me,” he said.
With the wind again in his face, Boner took a position on the mountainside and waited for the herd to approach. When the first cow popped her head up, Boner made a successful shot, not waiting to see what was coming up next. Boner had squeezed the trigger at 25 yards, but he wasn’t sure if he had made a good shot. With a brief opportunity to fire again, Boner decided he needed to see if he had landed a mortal wound. It didn’t take much reconnaissance to find his harvested elk. Now the hard work of field dressing and quartering the animal needed to begin.
With his grandpa’s four-inch blade, Boner field dressed the cow in less than an hour, but it would take nearly five more hours to quarter the animal. Not wanting to lose any meat, Boner worked to keep the hindquarters intact, but it wasn’t easy work on the steep hillside. Two miles into the mountains and alone with his kill, Boner had neither horse nor mule to help pack the elk out. With good reception, he made a couple cell phone calls to enlist help hiking the meat out, but three men could only carry so much, and he had to leave a hindquarter hanging from a tree overnight.
With an assignment to shoot again on Saturday, Boner needed to be in Teton Village with his camera for Jackson Hole Mountain Resort’s opening day. With precious meat still on the hillside, he knew that the elk’s carcass and its entrails might also entice a bear or other predators to the spot where he’d left the last of his elk behind.
“I brought bear spray back up the next day, but it wasn’t spooky,” Boner said. “I’d never seen signs of a bear up there before, but you can never be too careful.”
Rising again before dawn on Saturday, Boner hiked up to the mountaintop and waited for it to get light. When he was satisfied with the situation, he made his way down the ridge and retrieved the last piece of meat. But before hiking out, Boner satisfied his curiosity by locating his single shell casing and measuring out the distance of his shot. At 25 yards, it was a good shot; his father would be proud.