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Amy’s Leucistic Cow Elk Hunt 2022

As a birthday gift, my husband generously bought me a cow elk hunt on private land in the mountains of southeastern Idaho. This would be my first large game hunt. I was overjoyed! While most hunters seek the big bulls, I am more economical. In addition to spending time with my husband in the beautiful mountains known for spectacular views and filling my lungs with the fragrant smell of pine trees, for me hunting is more about harvesting game for the “groceries” and less about the “home décor.” As head chef of our household, my reward is throwing that juicy elk steak on the grill and hearing it sizzle, or filling the house full of mouth-watering smells as I bake up an elk-loaf. With our freezer nearly empty, November couldn’t come soon enough.

Late fall in southeast Idaho can bring a plethora of weather from cool crisp sunny days to heavy snowfall and blizzard-like conditions. The unit we selected to hunt usually does not get feet of snow until after Thanksgiving, but it is not out of the question. They had already had their first few inches fall and not melt away. It was looking like winter could come early. As a meteorologist (very helpful for hunting), I pay close attention to the weather. Though I prayed for a week of sunny skies with good visibility, the forecast called for snow and lots of it! So much for my visions of sitting on top of a ridge and glassing with my husband and brand-new Leopold binoculars. 

The day we arrived at the hunting lodge and met our guide, the weather was fair and calm, but as the sun set low on the horizon the ceiling was lowering with altostratus clouds giving that ominous sign all was about to change. Our guide was a nice young man who had worked at the outfit for a few years and seen his fair share of storms. I eagerly explained to him that though we had a few days to hunt, the weather would be the best during our first morning. Not wanting to get snowed out, I let him know I would be happy to collect my game on the first day and not draw it out with suspense. Afterall, I was only looking for a cow and not a big bull. In fact, I told him that if I could have my wishes come true, it would be to have breakfast at 6:15AM (per the chef’s schedule), head out around 7:00 AM, find my elk around 8:00 AM, fire my rounds by 9:00 AM and be back in the lodge with my boots off by 11:00AM!  Though this is highly unlikely to happen, one can dream, right? If the forecast held up, the storm would hit us no later than 10:00 AM and though I love the snow, I didn’t want to be caught in the storm. 

The morning of my hunt, I awoke very early; I was too excited to sleep! We had breakfast at 6:15AM, then bundled up and headed out into the elements around 7:00 AM. No snow yet. As the sun rose through the overcast sky, the visibility was still good, but dark clouds hung on the horizon. We went to the top of a ridge and glassed. The wind had picked up making it hard to hold a steady hand. All eyes were on the neighboring ridges. We spotted a moose and watched it scale down a steep slope. Then we spotted a couple buffalo that had slept late under the protection of a big pine tree. We kept glassing and getting blown around by the wind. The dark clouds continued to approach. Then, off in the distance, our guide spotted a couple of cow elk with a calf. As he pointed them out to me about 800 yards off, I was taken by their appearance. Their coats were much lighter than I was expecting. Any other time of year, they would have stood out like a sore thumb. But this time of year, they were well camouflaged against the white snow and harder to see. My guide jokingly asked me if I was okay taking an albino cow elk. I replied with an emphatic “YES!” 

The three elk were too far to shoot and were moving away from us. We had to reposition to get a closer shot. Luckily, they were meandering along a rather unimproved forest road and did not notice us. We were able to keep their road in sight and follow our trail along the neighboring ridge to get a bit closer while remaining undetected. The sky was darkening. The elk wandered into a patch of pines and we lost sight of them, but took the opportunity to get set up should they come out down the road. I plopped down in the snow and made myself a comfortable seat on my guide’s pack. My guide offered me his bi-pod as well to rest my new Weatherby Mark V rifle. It was the first time it would be used to collect a harvest and I was eager to see if it would live up to its reputation of a flat shot at long range.  

Waiting is the hardest part. We remained optimistic that the elk would continue on their path and come into view on the other side of the pines. And we waited. The sky darkened. As I peered through the scope, I could see the visibility drop on the neighboring ridges and then disappear into the approaching storm. The crosshairs kept raising and dropping with my chest as I breathed heavily with anticipation. I tried to keep the scope steady. Minutes passed by what felt like hours. The snow was starting to fall on the ridge where I waited for the elk.  Then as my heart pounded and my hope began to waver, there they were! First the mother and her calf, and then slowly, the other albino cow elk. I giggled as I watched the calf bounce around and my excitement began to well up in me. Stay calm, I reminded myself, I can release my enthusiasm after I release my rounds. 

One more step and a kill zone on my cow elk was in sight. My guide asked if I could see her and had a kill zone. “Yes,” I replied, “right behind the shoulder”. Wanting to make sure we were looking at the same elk, and not the mother of the calf, I said, “she just turned her head.” I was given the green light. Steadying myself, taking a slow breath in and out, I squeezed the trigger and my Weatherby let out a deafening BANG! The cow elk flinched. The mother and calf ran off. As my guide said,  “Hammered her! That was a great shot! Great shot!” I caught my breath, then put her back in the cross-hairs. One more squeeze of the trigger, and she was down. My husband proudly said, “400 Yards! Heck of a shot!” As the ice pellets began to fall, I was in awe that I  shot my albino cow elk at 400 yards! The excitement overwhelmed me, shaking, laughing, and crying, we exchanged fist bumps and congrats! I glanced at my watch, it was 9:01AM!  Then the snow and ice pellets fell harder. 

Wasting no time, we loaded up into our side-by-side, took a few trails over to her ridge and began looking for her. My heart was pounding again as the ice pellets came down harder. The visibility was dropping fast. And then, there she was, about 20 yards below the road we saw her meandering along. We crawled down the steep mountain side being careful not to slip, first our guide, then me, then my husband. I was amazed; she was a big lady. My two shots were only three inches apart. Also impressive, I thought. We snapped a few pictures and I tried to keep my eyes open as the ice pellets hit me in the face. Smiling into the wind is good for the photos, but painful in this storm. 

Luckily, she was close enough that we could hook her up to the wench, and pull her up to the road. We posed for a few more photos then flipped the side-by-side around and used the wench again to load her up into the bed of the side-by-side. Soon we headed back to the lodge where we found all the other hunters in our party. I was the only successful hunter that day. As I sat down on the bench to take off my boots, I glanced again at my watch – 10:58AM! Unbelievable, I thought! I had my cow elk and was back in the lodge just as I had said the night before. With the snow really coming down and starting to pile up, I was glad to be back. Mission accomplished! And who would have thought I would shoot an albino cow elk at 400 yards in a snow storm!

In the end, we got over 2 feet of snow in three days. My cow elk weighed 458 lbs (bone in) of delicious meat, perfect for grilling! Although I was not originally interested in more home décor, we decided to cape the hide. It was too unique not too. All the other hunters in our party harvested their game later in the week as well. We made new friends and lots of memories. It was a successful hunt all around.

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