When you shoot an elk and he slides 40 feet downhill to the edge of a cliff, you know you shot him in a bad spot.
I was public-land hunting in the Uncompahgre Plateau of Western Colorado. Extremely warm temperatures had driven the elk into cool canyons, making them tough to find and, as I found out, even tougher to extract. We were nearing the end of a two-week road trip, living off of bad food and not enough sleep, so I was happy to get a clean shot at this beautiful bull, but the minute he hit the ground I knew I was in trouble. I knew the meat could spoil quickly in this unseasonable heat and, given we couldn’t pack it all out in a single trip, there was no time to waste.
I first tied the elk off to a couple small trees, to make sure he didn’t slide off the edge into the abyss. I used the Gerber Vital Pocket Folder and Gerber Gator Premium to dress the elk and cut the meat into manageable pieces to be packed out. (You can see a video on my quick and easy process for field dressing called the gutless method here, or read it on the Gerber Range.) I spent the next two and a half days hauling heavy packs up and down that canyon—traversing fourteen hundred vertical feet with each load, through thick oak brush and over rugged terrain—packing the elk out piece by grueling piece. My final trip with the head and antlers made me reconsider the wisdom of shooting a bull of this size, his long beams and wide-reaching tines catching every root, rock, twig and tree trunk on the way up. Finally, thankfully, I got every last piece out of the canyon and to my truck. But the bull definitely got the last laugh. It was one of the toughest extractions I’ve ever had, and I hope I never shoot another elk in a spot like that again.