Northern Wyoming Daily News - Serving the Big Horn Basin for over 100 years

By John Davis

Memories of elk hunting


November 15, 2016

The other day as I was coming home from a walk along the river a young friend drove by and offered me a ride to my house. I climbed in, noticed that my friend had a rifle (he said he was going elk hunting in the coming week) and I asked him the caliber. “7 mm,” he said, which I converted to a .280. My elk rifle was a .270, and so .280 seemed about right to hunt elk. He talked about where he was going to hunt and with whom, and the conversation brought back memories of all the elk hunting I’d done when younger.

When I grew up in Worland, in the ‘50s, most men pursued deer rather than elk and I’m not sure why. In general, though, I think there were fewer elk in the Big Horns back then and people also had fewer four-wheel drive vehicles. But upon returning to Worland in the early ‘70s, I learned that many hunters had turned to elk hunting in the fall. So that’s what I did, starting with hunting around Lee Creek, and then, when we bought a share of a quarter section in the southern Big Horns, in that area, around the upper part of the South Fork of Otter Creek.

I shot my last elk in 1993 (when I was 50), and I haven’t hunted elk now for over 20 years. What the discussion with my friend revived was the memory of my intense involvement with elk hunting back when I was young (which I now define as being under 50). During the whole year, I looked forward to October and November, and I saw the period when I was on foot chasing the wily wapiti as the best time of the year. It was an all-consuming passion, especially after my hunting grounds coincided with the place where we spent the late spring and summer. When we were up on our place in the summer I’d take walks around the area and what I most looked for were signs of elk – droppings, tracks, and gnawings. I’d figure out different ways to observe, and then get to and through some favorite pole patches, spots where we knew elk liked to spend time. I would especially search for patterns of elk movement in September, trying to figure out where herds were likely to be on opening day.

My usual hunting companions were the two other owners of our land and, fortunately, they were experienced and astute elk hunters. More than that, they were usually available when I got an elk down. Another great thing about elk hunting was the companionship of my fellow hunters.

What is surprising in this whole picture is that a few years after I stopped elk hunting I forgot what a pleasure and a consumption it had been. I still hunted game birds, though, and perhaps most of my hunting enthusiasm was taken up by pheasants, chukars and such. Now I’m not even hunting pheasants and not until I talked with my friend about his 7 mm did I remember how different it was not many years ago.

When you’re young, you take for granted the gifts of youth, your energy and enthusiasm. They’re just a given and you don’t realize that someday you’ll lose the easy ability to spend an entire day in the field. When I was in my 30s and 40s, hunting wasn’t work and I didn’t see it as particularly tiring: charging in and out of canyons and up and down ravines was just part of the fun. But when you lose that energy, when you look up at a hillside with dread and not excitement, or when your biggest fear is getting an elk down in the bottom of a canyon, something very fundamental has changed in the way you view life.

Still, I envy my young friend, and I’ll eagerly look forward to his account about how his elk hunting trip went.

John Davis was raised in Worland, graduating from W. H. S. in 1961. John began practicing law here in 1973 and is mostly retired. He is the author of several books.


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