I had the last 3 days all planned out to hang out with my daughters and scout for deer and have a daddy-daughter campout for a couple nights but we had a super cool surprise come up. The day before we were set to leave a good friend of mine asked what I had going on. His 10yo daughter had drawn a youth elk hunt and they had hunted the weekend but only had opportunities on bulls. He's started a new job and didn't have any PTO to use and his daughter was super bummed about not being able to hunt anymore. I remember when I was a kid hunting was everything to me. The drive home after an unsuccessful hunt was always torture, if only I could have one more day. I guess it's still like that. Anyway I jumped at the chance to take her out one more day. I told my daughters (9 and 11) we had a change of plans and we threw together a plan
We met Miss Missy bright and early and got her gear (earmuffs, binoculars, water, baby Yoda doll) and her rifle. We had one stop at the store and I had a list: water, Lunchables, hot chocolate. In our haste and excitement for hot chocolate we got Lunchables and hot chocolate and forgot the water. This would become very important later.
My 11yo has struck out on the AZ draw two years in a row now so I figured this was a good practice run for me. I've never actually hunted big game with my daughters yet, we've camped and scouted and shot squirrels and such but they've never seen a elk die. I was really hoping to make this happen for my buddy, for his new hunter and for my kids too. Now if I had one place in the world where if you said to me you have one day to kill an elk, I have one very best spot where I would go. I only have one spot like this. It just so happens Missy's tag was in this unit so that's where we were headed. It's a long drive on terrible roads that just get worse every year. As soon as we got to the "hot spot" we saw a herd of cows/calves from the road and so we parked to make a stalk. Here came my first lesson in hunting with children. I parked and said ok girls we have to be quiet and whisper and sneak. Missy you get your earmuffs and I'll get your rifle. I got what I needed and got the rifle out and ready and turned around and said ok do we have everything? Missy had her earmuffs, water bottle and baby Yoda doll. I looked at the doll. I looked at Missy. Missy didn't say words but the look on her face made it super clear that baby Yoda was coming on this stalk. Alright, baby Yoda came
We were unable to cut these elk again but since we were in my best hotspot I wasn't worried. We continued our journey to the very heart of elk country. We were on a mission. Missy talked the *entire* time. It turns out her brother's knees are bugging him which is bad for football. Grandma Sally and Aunt Jenny aren't speaking. Grandma Joan moved out of her old house. She's seen almost all the Star Wars movies. No more Netflix because they made a "bad decision." Etc.
We made several forays into the forest running some calf distress hoping to pull some cows out of bedding areas but no luck. The hikes were short and noisy. You know
So I said ok girls we are headed to the best of the best spot I have. After we take naps. My 3 minute diatribe about why naps are an important part of hunting were met with verbal disdain but after a short hike uphill to a shady spot overlooking a tank we all somehow fell asleep for awhile.
By 3pm the girls were a little bored and wanted to sit the tank. I was hoping to stay 600 yards up the hill to hopefully be able to ambush oncoming elk, considering how noisy we were being, but I finally gave in. Also it should be noted that we were out of water by this time due to my bonehead move and it was hot. So we dug the ice jug out of the cooler and brought it to the tank. We found a shady spot that had a little cover and a good view of the tank and we posted up. We sat the ice jug in the sun and every 5 minutes took turns drinking the runoff. Notice, baby Yoda was with us again:
After an hour and a half of waiting, watching, talking sorta loudly and much giggling I was losing my patience. I was digging around in my jacket pocket and found something exciting; an old sack of Redman chewing tobacco. After silently thanking the Lord I opened it up and took a plug. Missy saw me do this and asked what in the world that was. After explaining to her that it was poison she said "it smells good, I want some." I spent the next 3 minutes, this is not an exaggeration, fervently arguing with a 10 year old girl about why she could absolutely not try "just a little bit" of chewing tobacco.
After barely winning this argument I sat in exasperation and was basically lamenting the terrible, rocky, dusty, bumpy drive out when I turned for the 27th time to my left to say "we have to WHISPER or the elk won't come." As I did this I saw the distinct ass-end of an elk about 120 yards away walking towards the tank. Holy crap. Go time! It turns out it was a cow and a calf, we got set up to where they would pop out and sure enough here they came. We could see most of the tank but a slight berm blocked the closest edge to us. Didn't think a single thing of this at the time. We were set up on shooting sticks, the cow was drinking, and Missy spent about a minute trying to find the elk in her scope. It's a tough thing to do the first time and she was clearly excited. The elk took another 5 steps forward and started drinking again. Again, I thought nothing of this. Finally I saw her posture change and settle down and her finger went for the trigger. Oh boy I thought. Sure enough she let one rip and the elk went down! She had one follow up shot which she nailed and the elk was done! I congratulated her of course and we hugged and we had an elk down. Awesome.
Then I stood up. This cleared my line of vision from the berm and my exhilaration turned to pure horror as I could see the elk was still dead, and was 8 yards INTO the tank. This did not seem to not phase the children much but man I was crushed. We dug around and found a tow strap and I waded into the scum to tie her off so we could to tow her out. Missy happily took pictures:
We did get her out. Hero pics of kids with the elk (poorly positioned and covered in sticky, greasy, pond mud):
We were on a time crunch with darkness and out of water for hand-washing so we did the best we could. I could not be more proud of my girls. They've helped me butcher but this was the first time they've seen a death and elk guts and what not. They handled it like champs. They were like how do we get this meat out, what do we do. They were an incredible help and I am just about the proudest dad in the world. I had wondered what they were going to think and while they didn't pull the trigger they were all in with what it took to get the food off the dead, bloody, muddy animal. It was awesome:
Anyway it was a long night and this story was long but this was epic for me. I am honored to have put my good friend's daughter on her first big game animal and I am super excited for my kids to draw a tag. I'll have two kids in the draw next year. Can't freaking wait. We did go camping and scouting yesterday and just got home from that. Gonna cook up some elk heart to celebrate a great weekend. Cheers!