Jerry's View: Johnny and the Elk
I got a call this week from an old neighbor who lived across the street from me in McMicken Heights, near SeaTac airport years ago. He is an avid reader of this paper and has a million stories to tell about his life as a soldier in the Far East during WW2.
I was captivated by his numerous narrow brushes with disaster and his charmed life while I was building bombers at Boeing in South Park.
We chatted for the best part of an hour. He recalled a day in 1951 saying he had a permit to shoot an Elk and would like me to go with him to Yakima where the range was open for a weekend. He even offered to lend me a rifle.
We headed east in my battered old DeSoto sedan. The U.S. Baldy tires seemed ill-suited for the muddy back roads of the eastern Cascade range but we both felt it would do. I bought a hunting license that Saturday morning and we took off for Yakima.
Those mountain roads are not fit for a Billy Goat, much less an underpowered sedan. Johnny sat shotgun and nervously watched what he could see of the edge of the mud and gravel, which wasn't much. We slipped and slid up to a small parking area and pulled the emergency brake.
Johnny hustled out, grabbed his gear from the back seat while I unloaded the trunk of our necessary supplies. Boots, bullets and blankets. It was cold and wet as we set up our posts not fifty yards from the car. I went up a slight slope, Johnny went down a ravine.
In hunting season you are bound to hear bullets fly. We did, making us nervous that we might be in the line of fire. Hunters didn't wear orange vests in those days. No camouflage either. Just drab green or brown layers to hopefully blend with the trees and brush.
I moved further up the hill. In ten slippery minutes I caught a glimpse of a good sized Elk, not 100 feet away and more uphill than me. A novice gun enthusiast like me had enough sense to wait, make sure of my target and slowly loaded my bullets. I pushed the first round into the chamber. Out it popped, down to my feet. I reloaded a new round and again it popped out. I failed to understand the spring loader and the effort required to actually load the chamber. I had never fired a rifle before and was not even aware that there were "hunting safety classes" I could have taken.
It did not take long to figure out the loading process. The large Elk was kind enough to stay put, resting near a tree up the slope. I got three rounds into the magazine and slowly fired my first shot.... nothing. The Elk did not move. I fired again and watched as his rump sagged down. I fired a third time... nothing. I yelled to Johnny that I had hit my target. I was busy reloading when he yelled back, "quit shooting, that's a cardboard cutout!" Some hunter had previously left it in the woods for target practice. Johnny made his way up from the ravine. He congratulated me on a fine "rump kill" and we moved on.
A light rain did not help much but it did keep our "scent" down while we made our way through the undergrowth.
Out of nowhere a heckuva big Elk moved across the ridge. I spied it first, holding Johnny in his tracks so I could get off a shot. I was an accomplished rump shot artist at this point, again striking the beast in the hindquarter. The Elk bolted and stumbled. Johnny got a bead and fired a shot to the shoulder and another to the neck as he had a better angle than me. The Elk dropped to its knees and over on its side moments later. We scurried up the bank to stand proudly next to our prey.
Johnny had more "hunter" in him, knowing just what to do with 900 pounds of animal. He knew he had to get it back to our car so we hopped on the carcass and we both slid down the snowy hillside, 70 yards to the bottom of the ravine. Near a creek, we pondered our options. Before we could solve the dilemma of going back up the other side, a guy showed up with a small trailer and an army jeep. He had motored his four-wheel drive up the dry creek bed to help us. He offered to haul the elk up to the road. What a break!
Back in Yakima, our hunting day behind us, we thanked our saintly friend and loaded our now gutted elk onto the fender of my car.
We must have been quite a sight, traveling down I-90 in that sedan with the bald tires. The elk made the car tilt 15 degrees to the right, barely allowing the tires to clear the fender.
I pulled into our driveway, excited to show off our prized kill. My lovely wife came out, took one look at the fendered animal and began crying. Her remorse was inconsolable. I had killed a living thing and she would have no part of it.
Regretfully Johnny took the big animal over to the butcher later that day. I never saw a steak from it. It was my only big game experience even while it was the talk of McMicken Heights for weeks.