GUNNISON, CO - September 9, 2017
It was a hunt that Rose Walker, a Minnesota native, and her husband Brent were looking forward to for weeks. Both cardiac nurses in Grand Junction, CO, hunting is more than just that. It is a time to unwind in nature, truly listen to their surroundings, and really breathe in the fresh, pine scented air.
Armed with a muzzleloader, which is a black powder rifle weighing about ten pounds, and a tag for a female elk called a cow, they hiked a few miles up to the same area where Brent and his family have hunted for years. They set their camp a couple days in advance so it would be ready for them to sleep and wake up bright and early for opening day, September 9.
Their day started well before legal shooting hours. The Walker’s headed into the woods early so that 30 minutes before sunrise, they’d be ready to shoot. Beyond the beauty and peace of simply being in elk country, the excitement of listening to elks bugle made the day go by quickly. When they finally sat down just a little before 6 PM, Rose started to drift asleep. She was jolted awake by the sound of rustling nearby. Then as Brent was putting on his jacket, she saw something.
“I whacked him on the boot and whispered, ‘shut up shut up!’ As I saw elk fur between the trees. A spike was the first to come out followed by two calves and two cows. Luckily, the spike only glanced at us and then went about it's grazing. The larger cow then broke off and made her way to the clear shot between the trees, stopped, and barely had a chance to glance our way when I shot,” Rose explained.
The nearly 600 pound cow elk then barreled into the timber.
“We heard thunderous crashing through the timber and waited a bit and went to find her before dark. After about 20-25 mins of looking, we couldn’t find her...”
Rose's first elk.
"...the larger cow then broke off and made her way to the clear shot between the trees, stopped, and barely had a chance to glance our way when I shot.”
They searched for any bit of brown fur or a blood trail, but found nothing. Finally, Rose saw a mound of brown fur among the brush pile. The couple ended up spending nearly 20 minutes clearing logs and sticks to get to the animal. After finding the cow, they saw that Rose’s bullet went through the ribs, the tops of both lungs, the top of her heart, and rested just under the skin of the opposite shoulder. Since there was no blood trail, the Walker’s predicted that the elk ran blindly on adrenaline for 75 yards until finally resting at the fallen timber.
From there, the real work began. It took the Walker’s nearly 45 minutes to field dress the massive animal.
“As my father in law says, the fun is over once that bullet flies. It's all hard work from there.” Rose said.
Brent’s dad, Jeff Walker, came to help the couple haul the elk out of the woods once it was quartered. Both Jeff and Rose carried 75 pounds of meat in their packs, while Brent carried 90 pounds in his pack. They hiked more than three grueling miles back to civilization.
What else do the Walker's gain from harvesting an elk? Two main things: satisfaction that they are contributing to conservation and free-range, organic meat that will last them the majority of the year.
According to Colorado Parks and Wildlife, 62 percent of the FY 2014-2015 funding for Wildlife came from licenses, like the one Rose purchased to legally take her elk. Another 18 percent of funding came from the excise tax placed on hunting and fishing equipment, such as the gun and ammunition that Rose used on her hunt. More than 50 percent of this revenue was then spent on Wildlife Field Management and Fish and Wildlife Biology Hatcheries.
And just how much meat did Rose gain from harvesting her elk? Nearly 115 pounds!
Thinking of the meat she and her husband would gain kept her thoughts positive through the difficult hike back.
“The only thing that kept me going was thinking, ‘Yes! I got this elk, and yes, I’ll put meat in the freezer’, but it was brutal.”
The Walker’s then spent the next two days processing and packaging the elk, wasting as little as possible. They cut up steaks, roasts, stew meat, jerky, heart and brisket. Out of the front quarters, they’ll also have hamburger meat, and a few bones will be saved and smoked to make stock.
Although it was Rose’s first Elk, her cow is a new weight record in the Walker household, and a fond family memory that they both won’t soon forget.