With a loud growl, the wounded wolf lunged toward Jason dragging its back legs behind it. It was down, but not out. We were without a gun and had to think on our feet. I couldn’t just sit there and wait for it to die. Maybe a rock to the head would kill it? Of course, there wasn’t a rock in sight. I grabbed my knife and cut down a ten foot tall sapling. Using my knife, I fashioned a crude spear point. I would have to sneak up behind the wolf while Jason distracted it from the front. But, before we get to that, let me first tell you how I got into this ticklish spot in the first place.
The hunting party to the far north was made up of me, a city living wannabe cowboy, and Jason, a beast of a country boy. There were supposed to have been four of us on this adventure, but, with one week to go before the trip, two of the guys cancelled. It would be a lot more work without them, but there would be more opportunity for game.
We drove north from Kelowna for 18 hours until we eventually turned off the Alaska Highway near our trailhead. It was late, so we decided to set up a pup tent for the night and head off with the horses in the morning. As we approached the camping spot, I noticed something in the headlights. It was a hefty grizzly bear that I estimated would weigh in at around 600 pounds. We would definitely be spending the night in the truck. We woke to the smell of a northern October morning and began to organize our gear and pack the horses. This process is lengthy because, if it is not done properly, you may find yourself way down the trail with a complete wreck on your hands if one of the horses happens to go a little crazy, something you don’t want even under the best of circumstances.
It took us a good eight hours to load up the horses. We thought about staying in the same spot another night, but we still had a few hours of daylight left to cover some ground and we wanted to make the most of our time. With guns in our scabbards and snacks in our saddle bags, we mounted up. We had 10 horses in total: two riding horses and four pack horses each. The adventure we had dreamt of for a whole year was finally under way.
We made it a few hours up a cut line and decided to stop and make camp. We roasted some meat from our last hunt and boiled some potatoes, it smelled incredible. We sat and enjoyed the peace and quiet.
Our plan was to make it about sixty kilometres up the Prophet River and set up a wall tent camp for two weeks. We would be hunting the old stomping grounds of Jack O’Connor for Stone sheep, elk and moose, in that order.
Hunting on horseback is my favourite way to hunt, but finding a good trail to pack in on can be challenging. A friend had told me about a trail up the Prophet, but he had not been up that trail for about fifteen years. After getting lost trying to find our way around a beaver dam, we caught our first glimpse of elk. There was no time to get our guns out before they disappeared into the bush. After 10 minutes of searching for them, we headed back. You could almost smell the elk in this place.
Over the next few days we saw mountain goats, Stone sheep ewes and lambs, caribou, elk, moose and grizzly bears. We were finally hunting. We wanted rams, even though we also had tags for elk and moose. We rode high into the mountains exploring every drainage we found.
At one point we found old rotten ram horns. We were in the right spot, but for the life of us we just couldn’t find any rams worth shooting. Most days we covered 10 to 20 kilometres through awesome looking sheep country.
One night, while we were sitting around the campfire enjoying the taste of whiskey on our lips we heard a long, eerie howl. Around us the forest lit up with the wail of wolves—a lot of wolves. We counted their howls and there was well over a dozen. We were surrounded and they were uncomfortably close. Maybe they just wanted some of the fire-roasted ribs we were having that night, but I doubted it.
At 3 a.m. we awoke to the horse bells all around our cabin. Prints in the freshly falling snow told us that the wolves had come right through camp after the juicy horse meat. We considered bringing the horses into the cabin for the night for their safety, but decided that was not going to happen. We stoked the fire in an attempt to keep the wolves away. Finding the horses in the morning was not a problem. They had all made it through the night and were within a stone’s throw of camp. I volunteered to be the wrangler that morning and round up the horses.
On day eight we crossed the Prophet River again and happened to glance down into the sand. Over top of our tracks from the morning were fresh elk tracks. I looked up the trail and saw an elk. Slowly it lifted its head to reveal a gorgeous set of antlers. I looked through my binoculars and could only count five points, as it was staring right at us. Then it turned and trotted away and I saw the necessary sixth point and shouted to Jason that it was legal. Jason was already running after him.
I was holding the horses when I heard the crack of the first shot, but saw no reaction from the elk. Five seconds later there was another shot. At that point the elk was 180 yards away. It took off again and ran into the woods. Jason is a normally a great shot and he was upset when he walked back to the horses with a sombre look on his face. When I asked what had happened, he said the first shot somehow went off accidentally as he was removing his scope cover. The second shot from 180 yards was free hand and he saw a rock next to the elk blow up. It was the first elk he’d ever shot at and he admitted to having a bad case of buck fever. There was just too much horn not to get excited over. We had finally seen something worthy of our efforts and our spirits were up.
The next morning we awoke to three inches of snow, perfect conditions for spotting rams. Unfortunately, we were also socked in with low cloud for the next three days. Sheep closed on the 16th of October and we hadn’t seen anything even close to legal. The biggest ram we had seen was a quarter curl. We had three days of hunting left. It was time to forget horns and antlers and go get some meat. Cow elk were open and make for some fine table fare, so we mounted up and headed out in search of one.
We stopped for lunch after seeing a legal six by six bull elk disappear up a mountain into the clouds. I took my gun out of my scabbard, as I usually do, just in case the horse decided to rub up against a tree. I built a small fire and we sat down to eat our jerky and sandwiches. We heard a wolf howl in the distance and another answered.
“Do you want to go kill a couple of them?” I asked. Jason agreed. We jammed our sandwiches into our mouths and left the pack horses tied up with most of our gear.
As we rode toward the howling Jason was on the lead pony and stopped with his hand up. “Wolf,” he said.
I looked down at my scabbard and my heart sank. I had forgotten my gun when we stopped for lunch. I jumped off my horse and grabbed Jason’s lead rope, while he prepared for the shot. Three shots later the wolf fell to the ground. Jason shoots an Ultra Mag rifle that only holds three shells. He got it on the very last shot. We were now out of ammo and he had left the extras with the pack horses.
This is where I started our story — I approached the wounded wolf with my spear. All I had to do was slip the spear into the bullet hole that had severed its spine and push it into the heart and lungs. I approached the wolf carefully. He was displeased and I couldn’t blame him. He was snapping his jaws at the stick Jason was waving to distract him. When I was almost close enough to step on him, I saw my opportunity. I aimed my spear and plunged it deep into the wolf’s chest. It instantly turned on me and grabbed hold of the spear, its jaws almost snapping the pole in two. I held firm as it thrashed about and ten seconds later its head went limp and let go of the spear. It was far and away the biggest wolf I’ve seen killed. Jason had himself another wolf for his trophy room. This one would make an incredible life size mount.
We collected the horses, and my gun, and rode back towards camp. Once across the river I looked up to where we had seen the elk earlier. Sure enough, there was a different elk standing low in the burn. It was a great looking bull with six by seven tines. I spurred my horse on in as straight a line as I could toward the elk. I tied my mount to a tree and made a mental note of where I was leaving it. I made my way up the steep snowy hillside, working my way toward the elk. Things were different looking at the hill from this angle and I couldn’t tell if the elk was to my left or right. I waved my arms for three minutes, although it seemed like much longer, until I caught Jason’s attention. He signaled that I was nowhere near the elk. I kept climbing as fast as I could.
As close as I could guess I was roughly 150 yards away from the trees it was bedded in. I chambered a round with the intention of being ready as I approached where I thought the elk would be. Suddenly, the elk was up and running 50 yards in front of me. I took aim, put the cross hairs on the front of his shoulder and pulled the trigger. Nothing happened. I had left the safety on. The trophy elk disappeared into the woods. I found my elk call in my pocket and gently mewed to him, but the forest was quiet. I sat down on the snowy hillside and just about cried. It was the biggest elk I had ever had a chance at and now it was gone. Jason watched the whole thing unfold. We would have to try for him again the next day.
I awoke feeling tired. We saddled up and rode along the river bottom again, checking the burns for another elk. After a couple hours, I spotted a nice cow across the river. It was Jason’s turn and it would be his first elk and as he set up for the shot I tied the horses to a tree. I checked the rangefinder, it read 600 yards, a shot was possible at that distance but we thought we could get closer. I took a quick look through my spotting scope to check for any tiny horns that might not be visible with just the binoculars. We didn’t want to accidentally shoot a spike bull, which is a bull elk whose antlers have not yet branched.
An elk emerged from behind some trees and my jaw dropped. It was a huge six by seven bull elk. I was flabbergasted. Was this the bull from yesterday? We snuck through the trees on the river bank and closed the distance to 260 yards. The bull was feeding along a path heading up toward some cliffs that dropped into the river. Jason leaned against a tree for support and took aim. His first shot was a hit and the bull staggered. He shot again, another hit. Since we didn’t want to track a wounded elk, I told him to shoot again. The bull was standing above the 300 foot cliff and, after the third shot, the elk fell and slid towards the edge of the cliff where it stopped. One tine had hung up on a log. A small part of me hoped it would fall and save me from having to climb all the way up there and deal with a huge downed elk on the edge of a cliff, but no such luck.
We managed to walk two of the pack horses up the steep slope next to the cliff. If they fell, it was a 200 meter drop and certain death. They were calm until my horse stumbled. I hauled on the lead rope and, somehow, it regained its footing. We managed to get our horses to within 50 yards of the elk. It was too rocky and dangerous to get closer. Any slip of a horseshoe on rock and the horse would be sent out to pasture permanently.
The elk picked one heck of a final resting place on the edge of the cliff. We could have used a rope to tie ourselves off to some trees, but we didn’t have any rope with us. Working on that cliff was anything but dull. Below the elk was a steep slope of about seven feet of loose dirt, beyond that was 300 feet of air. My stomach had that feeling you get as you look from the top of a sky scraper, only without the added security of shatterproof glass, it was much worse. We were as cautious as possible while dressing out the elk and, when we finally made it down to the river’s edge, I breathed a huge sigh of relief.
That night, as we sat in the cabin fleshing out Jason’s trophy, we talked about the day’s events. We wondered if it was the same elk I had missed. It would have had to travel a long way, but its point configuration made me think it was the same bull. We had one more day to go look for another elk and we planned on rising early and riding long and hard near where I had missed my bull. We would cover as much ground as possible and hopefully shoot a bull or cow right near the river.
We got an early start the next morning and by 10 a.m. had spotted a lone small legal bull way up the mountain, but it was just too dangerous to get to. We finished lunch at the spot we had seen my elk and decided we would head up stream in search of a cow. Not far from the hill where I had seen my bull two days ago, I looked up. There he was, in all his magnificence. I put my heels into my horse. This time I came out right below the elk. After three shots the bull fell over in a nice easy spot we could ride right up to. It turned out to be my biggest bull to date. What a trip it had been, two friends, off in the wild, on one of the greatest adventures of our lifetime.