This past Sunday Joe and I rounded up our four horses and headed into elk camp. After a 4.5 hour ride we arrived and set up camp, where we spent the next three nights with Strawberry, Yolanda, Taz, and Ruger in some beautiful, rugged, wild country at 10,000 ft. among the bighorn sheep, mule deer, and elk.
On opening day we rode down the canyon of the drainage we were camped in and saw once nice bull headed for the hills, literally. On day two we saw three cows, and several bighorn sheep, including a group of six rams. We moved camp a few miles further up in preparation for our final day.
With frost on the inside of our dome tent, we were up early and headed out while the full moon was still high in the sky. We began the ascent up the switchbacks that would lead us over the top of a pass and into the next drainage, which we were confident that no one else had recently been in. About 2/3 of the way to the top, at 11,300 ft in elevation, two raghorns appeared in front of us on the skyline. After a look through the binos, Joe cow-called as we stepped off the ponies to observe. As the elk walked behind a small hill, I moved another 40 yards closer before they reappeared on the horizon, putting me within 330 yards. I laid down and got as comfy as I could resting on a rock, lying just above an old rock Indian blind we rode by as we came up the canyon. Holding steady, my first shot went through the lungs, the second through the spine, resulting in an immediate downward tumble. Joe’s whoop of celebration echoed off the mountains around us as the remaining elk scurried away across the canyon. After three years, I had my first elk.
“Look at where we are right now, this is what matters,” Joe said as I walked back down to him and the horses. And he is right. The experience is what matters most, beyond whether an elk is harvested, or how big it is. Being out in the backcountry and living simply off the land, appreciating the cycle of life, and respecting the wilderness and its inhabitants for all that it is. While riding 40 miles and packing an elk out horseback is a lot more work than dragging and loading it into the back of a pickup, the reward is also greater, in that the experience is fuller and more intense. More sore backs and sore horses, too. But I appreciate the hard work of the horses and humans involved, and respect the elk and the life it was living in the mountains. I am grateful for its harvest, as it will feed our family for the next year, and that bull will graciously enable us to continue to make meals from the mountains.
This afternoon we butchered the elk at the shop, and made our first meal with our fresh elk meat this evening.
Cajun Elk Backstrap
1. Cut backstrap into 1/2-inch steaks and marinade in Italian dressing for at least 4 hours.
2. Heat oil in frying pan until it bubbles, I use just enough to cover the bottom of the pan.
3. Dump in steaks and season with Cajun seasoning; we use “Cajun Campfire” from Hi Mountain Seasonings.
4. Fry on medium heat for 2 minutes, flip, cook for 2 minutes, and repeat cycle once. Steaks should be cooked to medium-rare at this point.
I served these steaks with Ranch and Bacon Diced Potatoes.