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The Elk Hunt
By Austen Brauker
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Rated "G" by the Author.
Story about my elk hunt experience as printed in the tribal newspaper.
THE ELK HUNT
by Austen J. Brauker
This gift was given to me on Friday morning, about 8:45 a.m. I am honored that this animal chose to come to me and make this sacrifice for my family and all those who accepted gifts of steaks over the past few days. Elk are beautiful creatures and I have the utmost respect for them and their medicine. I am glad they are being maintained here in the state of Michigan and that the foresight of our ancestors, thinking generations ahead of their own time, has secured these hunting rights for future tribal members. It is an important act to maintain our tribal sovereignty by exercising these hunting and fishing rights. Because of them I was able to take part in the following experience…
I went up to Pigeon River, without a guide, without much clue as to how to proceed, and all alone. Most people drive around and look from the car for tracks and then follow them, hoping to stalk one down, so this is what I did. The first day I followed some fresh tracks. There were five sets of them winding through the snow, so I picked the biggest prints and stuck to them. I watched how they were behaving by reading the signs and noting what they were doing as best as I could determine from the evidence they had left behind. Soon, I came upon blood, then shortly after, a pile of guts, clearly letting me know that I was too late with this bunch. Someone else had gotten there first. The second day I followed a single set of tracks deep into the woods. It was snowing huge slow flakes and a golden eagle buzzed over me while I crossed an open field. The tracks led up to the edge of a river and then started up again on the other side. This one had gotten away too. I found some different tracks and followed them too. I was getting a bit disappointed because I was stalking so many tracks, trudging through the noisy snow, without ever seeing anything. Each time they were smarter than I. It seemed comical at some level. The Elk kept hearing me coming, crunching through the snow, long before I ever saw them. I could see by their tracks that they would run ahead and watch me from the next hilltop, slowly coming after them, and then bound away as I got close again. I wondered how it was possible to sneak up on one of these beautiful animals. How do people do it? (This is a good time for a hunter to put down some tobacco and ask for help, just for future reference) What was I missing? I kept at the task. I kept trying. I figured that the reason why 90% of the people who go hunting up here for elk will pay good money for a guide is because there is some secret, something I obviously didn’t know. I finally figured out what it was. The secret is….be really quiet, don’t give up, and try to shoot straight.
On Friday morning I was a little late getting into the woods. There was a continental breakfast at my hotel and the oatmeal and waffles took some extra time. I quietly got out of my car and headed to where I had seen some fresh tracks the day before. There were new ones all around, criss-crossing the same places where I had stood and scanned the tree line the previous evening. I was too late again! I followed these new fresh tracks anyway, thinking I had just missed them. There were two huge sets of tracks. Why oh why did I have to eat those extra waffles? They were surely long gone by now but I figured that I would follow them anyway, and hope for the best. I went about 10 steps and then would stop for a long pause. I listened for a minute or two each time, then took a few more slow steps. I went down one hill and into a valley. The tracks led me up yet another hill. As I neared the crest, I saw him. Its distinct rear end and characteristic “love patch” was facing me from directly over the hill. The animal turned and I instantly saw the antlers. It was a good sized bull. (Fortunately, I had one of the few, highly coveted bull tags that were given out). The bull elk turned in the morning light and was magnificent in his glory. It was a glorious sight! Amazingly, I stayed strangely calm. I knew that this moment was meant to be. I slowly took four or five steps to a nearby tree, wondering to myself, where is the “buck fever” that I have had for deer that were less than half this size? I raised the gun. I was calm and my thoughts were almost completely blank. I just watched the beauty of the slow and powerful movements as it shuffled through the snow. I steadied against the tree and pulled back the hammer. I fired and the hammer smacked against metal, making a loud noise, but there was no explosion, just a loud metallic “whack” that caught the elk’s attention. The bull casually turned to look for what had made the sound, but thought nothing of it. My dumb “blank mind” and “clear thoughts” had made me forget to click the safety. So much for my moment of Zen! (There was a lesson for me in this somewhere). I pulled back the hammer, again, and this time clicked off the safety like I should have done the first time. I beaded down on him and took a slow breath. This time when I pulled the trigger there was the sudden crack of a 30-30 bullet. It echoed through the hills. The elk didn’t move. I expected the big bull to fall down, but he just calmly turned and looked at me. He didn’t even seem fazed. What the heck? Did I miss him? Was this gun sighted in wrong? What was going on here? I watched him. He started slowly walking toward the hills where the trees were thicker. He seemed to be going at an uneven pace, not as fluid as before. I was almost sure I had hit him. I remembered Sgt. Szynski saying that sometimes they will just look at you, even after a “kill shot”. Indeed, this is what had happened, but I wasn’t so sure. I also realized that the further away he went, the further I would be hauling his heavy body through the knee deep snow. What the heck, I shot him again. This time he flinched a bit. Not the reaction I expected, but he took a few steps and then fell down. He floundered a bit and then stood up again like nothing had happened, walking at least another 30 yards. I watched him through the scope. He finally fell down for good. He sat with his head up for about five minutes, while I got out some tobacco to put down on the ground and smoked a cigarette. I shed a tear or two for him in that quiet moment as we sat together and he died. His head finally fell to the side and I turned the opposite way, walking back to my car. I unloaded the 30-30 and prepared to carve up this enormous pile of meat. I was all by myself and the task was a hard one. He had to be cut into pieces. I skinned him and quartered him up, (more like “eighthed” him up), dragging back as much as I could pull at one time with some ropes that I attached to a tarp. It took all morning, I didn’t have any food with me either, but then I found one of Deb Davis’s homemade cookies and gave a big thanks to her for making such a wonderful treat, a good surprise to find in my pocket to hold me over. The bloody job took all afternoon, and finally, just after the sun had set, my eighth and final trip to the car was completed. I shut the hatch on the truck and headed out for the main road. It was a very emotional time when the realization hit me. It flooded in all at once. So many thoughts. Thinking of this powerful animal. The wisdom of our ancestors to secure these hunting rights for us future generations. Lots of personal reflection. Quiet. My uncle Al, who died of Cancer with one last incomplete wish, to go elk hunting with his friend from Alaska. I was doing this for him too. My family. Being able to provide this gift to them. My wife. Our love. The love medicine of the elk, and now I could wrap her in a new elk blanket a symbol of how much I love her. It was all so much that I began to cry a deep thankful cry, tears started streaming down my cheeks and I thanked like crazy in all directions for everything I could think of. It went on like this until I hit the highway at Vanderbilt and realized I couldn’t be doing this at 70m.p.h. on the highway. I pulled myself together. I made it home to Manistee and started cutting steaks that night. (Another step I am doing at home and by myself. Though-I did take the rib cages, the neck, and some miscellaneous cuts over to Don Koon to have some jerky and sausage made.) I am having the elk head mounted in a European style, which is just the skull and antlers together. This way I will have a bigger blanket to give to my beautiful wife. (Thank you Victoria! I love you!) I will have a feast of elk meat soon, to share with the community, probably in January. I have gifts for those who contacted me in advance and believed that I could do this. Thank you. My freezer is full now. My family is taken care of for another season (or more!)with the blessing of wonderful tasty meat.
Austen J. Brauker
Site: Austen Brauker
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