Black Hills Rifle Elk Season

Black Hills Public Land Elk Of A Lifetime

After 14 years of applying, in 2017, I finally drew a tag for Black Hills elk. In our family, you don’t take this news lightly! It was decided that my dad and my husband would come along with me and we each took a week of vacation. My mom’s cousins offered to allow us to stay at their cabin and one of them would come along on our hunt to help scout.

We started planning immediately and the excitement only grew in the months leading up to opening day. Since we had planned to be hiking and walking for ten plus miles a day, we decided they would carry packs filled with essentials while I would only carry the rifle. The largest rifle that I personally own is my 243 Savage so, it was also decided that I would borrow my dad’s trusted 30-06 Winchester model 70 that he had purchased nearly 40 years before and had used on many hunts. This was also the first rifle I had learned to shoot with. My dad started to send my husband and I videos of elk bugling so that we could get ourselves acquainted with the sound. He would tell us about the smell that a bull elk puts off and how we may even smell them before seeing them. During our many deer hunts in the years leading up to this, dad was always good about pointing out signs of elk such as “rubs” on trees so we already knew what to look for.

The day before opening morning, we arrived in the Hills with the idea that we would drive around in some of the areas that we may want to hunt during the week. My dad told us to keep our eyes, ears and noses open and if we saw, smelled or heard signs in any of the areas, we knew that’s where we would start in the morning. While driving around that day, we found an area that showed all of the signs, including a small bull running around in a valley, more than likely kicked out of a herd by a larger bull. This was the area we decided to start with the next morning.

Opening morning came early and, in the dark, we all loaded up in the truck to head to the area we had picked out. We strapped on our gear, laced up our boots and started our hike. From the road, we hiked up to the top of a ridge. It was there that we heard bugles in the distance so we decided to start heading toward the direction of the bugles. We made it down off the first ridge and, just before the top of the second ridge, we could hear that the bugles were getting closer and they prepared me to start moving quicker to get to the top of the ridge. By the time we got to the top, the sun was starting to come up and we knew it was legal hunting time. Walking slowly, I saw what looked to be the back end of an elk so I signaled to the group to stop. When I was able to catch my breath and take a harder look, it appeared to be a small herd of about 60 elk with one bull, a decent bull by any standards, standing about 150 yards away from me. I decided then and there that, even for opening morning, this would be a good bull to take. I shouldered the rifle, got the bull in my sights, took the safety off and had my finger on the trigger, ready to take him. Just before squeezing the trigger, I heard and saw movement out of the corner of my eye. I dropped the rifle and glanced to my right quick enough to see another herd coming our way and, in that herd, was the biggest bull elk I had ever seen in person, trotting about 65 yards right in front of us. I stated, “I’ll take him instead”, turned myself and the rifle around and took my shot, the heart shot, before anyone else completely realized what was happening. While only giving the bull enough time to take one or two more steps, I fired another round, the lung shot. It was only a matter of seconds and he was down. As soon as the first shot rang out, both herds began running all around us and we were surrounded by 100+ elk running, an experience I’ll never forget. Only minutes after seeing the first elk of the morning, we were walking towards the 6×6 bull I had just taken down less than an hour into opening day. There was a light fog still floating close to the ground and that, combined with the sun shining through the trees, the view was something out of a dream. And, laying there, was my first bull elk that I had ever shot, with my dad’s rifle, while he and my husband stood beside me with the biggest smiles on their faces, making the experience that much more memorable.

By Tiffany McQuisten

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