Editor’s Note: Brenda Valentine, the "First Lady of Hunting" ™ - from Puryear, Tennessee, represents women in the outdoors for the (NWTF) National Wild Turkey Federation and co-hosts Bass Pro Shops' outdoor TV shows on the Outdoor Channel and the Sportsman Channel. She’s been a member of Bass Pro Shops National RedHead Pro Hunting team for 17 years, a Mossy Oak ProStaff member, a pro staffer for Hunter Safety Systems and Orca coolers and a past national archery champion.
I was fortunate to get drawn to hunt one of the best public-hunting areas in Arizona. The day my hunt was supposed to start was the day my daughter was going to deliver one of my grandchildren. So, I canceled the first 2 days of the hunt to be on hand when my grandchild was born. When my granddaughter was born, and I knew she and her mother were doing good. I left for Arizona to hunt elk. The hunt was in mid-November, and the rut was over. The elk already had scattered, the hunting was horrible, and this was one of the roughest parts of the Rocky Mountain range. When I got to my campsite, all the other hunters were packing up and leaving. They said they weren’t seeing any elk, and they weren’t going to stay there and watch grass grow. One group said, “We’ve walked so much that we probably don’t have any skin left on the bottoms of our feet. The walking is either straight up or straight down. This is one of the most grueling hunts we’ve ever undertaken.” I looked at them and explained, “Well, I’ve waited a long time to draw this tag, so I’m staying.”
When everybody had left, quite a few guides were still in camp and went in different directions, scouting and trying to find an elk for me to hunt. When they came in from scouting, one reported that he had seen a nice bull on the side of a certain mountain. He spotted him feeding in some brush.
On day four of my hunt, we decided to go to the mountain where this lone bull had been spotted. When we finally reached the top of the mountain, the guide said, “Yep, there’s that bull across the valley on the other side of the mountain.” I searched for the elk. When I finally spotted him, he looked like a speck of yellow grass. I had my little backpack with nearly nothing in it - just some ammunition, range finder and binoculars. My cameraman only had batteries and the stuff that he needed to video the hunt in his. We were depending on the guide to have emergency equipment and possibly some snacks, but he didn’t have any.
When we finally got to a spot where we could look over the top of the mountain that we were on, we saw the elk on the opposite side of the mountain, feeding in thick brush. I lay down on a rock and used my range finder to learn the distance. He was right at 300 yards. I prepared to take the shot with my .30-06 single shot Thompson/Center Encore rifle. My two guides were young cowboys, and they said, “When you shoot the first shot, reload your rifle and continue to shoot until the elk is laying on his side.” When I fired the first shot, the elk went down instantly. I quickly reloaded. The elk got back to his feet, and I fired a second shot. He went down again. One guide told me, “Reload, and shoot a third time to make sure he stays down.” I shot the third time, and the elk never moved. We were all excited, clapping and giving high fives. But then when the thrill of the shot was over, we realized that this big 6x6 bull was all the way across a steep canyon.
We started getting concerned about how to go across the canyon, get to the bull and then carry him out. The guide said. “We can go down the mountain, cross the canyon bottom and climb up to where the elk is. Then, we can start worrying about how we’ll get him down the mountain.” By the time we got to the bottom of the mountain, the sun already had gone down. We were walking in pitch-black darkness. The only flashlight in the group was a small pin light with a green filter my cameraman had to find his gear and change batteries in the dark. We stumbled and fumbled around trying to climb the mountain in the dark. One of our guides said, “I smell the elk. We’re close.” Then the guide found the elk. He was sitting almost on the edge of a steep drop-off. Only a few weeds and bushes had stopped him, or he would have slid down a big, long rock slide. When we surveyed the elk with the little green pin light, we knew we couldn’t touch him, or he’d fall off the side of the mountain. One of our guides had a little piece of rope that reminded me of a clothes line. He tied that small rope to the elk’s antlers and tied the antlers off to a bush. I scooted down beside the elk, and my cameraman made two pictures of me with the elk.
One of the young strong cowboys said, “I’m pretty sure I can pull this elk up on the side of the mountain.” He took his pack and binoculars off and grabbed hold of the elk’s antlers. Remember, we’re all in the dark. Then, all we heard was rocks falling and crashing, trees and branches cracking and breaking, and the guide hollering. We realized that he was in the middle of a rock slide avalanche, riding my elk down the avalanche to the bottom of the canyon. Thick dust began to envelop all of us. We were coughing and choking. We were sure the cowboy was dead beside the elk in the bottom of the canyon. Finally, when the rock slide had ended, and the mountain was silent, I hollered down into the canyon, “Are you alive?” Then we heard some moaning and groaning and finally, “Yeah, I’m alright. Y’all will have to come down here and help me, but whatever you do don’t come down this rock slide. You’ll start another avalanche, and you’ll bury me and the elk. Instead walk down the backbone of the mountain for several hundred yards. Then find a way to get down in the canyon where I am.”
Remember now, the only light we had was the little green pin light. I said, “There’s no way we can find a safe way down this mountain in the pitch-black dark, since none of us has a flashlight.” But we walked down a little ways. I was carrying the cowboy’s backpack, his hat and my rifle. I sat down. My cameraman said, “What are you going to do, Brenda?” I put my backpack on, put one of the shoulder straps of the cowboy’s backpack around one arm, and held my rifle in the other hand. I said, “I’m going to push off and hope to land on a rock or a limb. Then try to get down the mountain to go help the cowboy and make sure he’s ok. I don’t know what I’m going to do after that. You walk a little bit farther down the mountain. See if you can find a place to get down. Don’t come down the mountain the same way I’m going, because you might start an avalanche that’ll cover me up.”
Then I said, “Okay, here I go.” I turned loose of the little limb I was holding, and I went on the ride of a lifetime in the dark. I couldn’t see what I was crashing into, but I could feel everything that I hit. I could hear glass break. I could hear my gun and packs crashing into things. I put my arms over my head, because I was rolling head over butt down this mountain. I could feel pieces of clothing and hide being torn off me as I rolled. When I got to the bottom of the ravine, I lay there for awhile. Then, I started feeling of my body to see if any body parts were missing. Finally, my cameraman, Ken Langguth, yelled out, “Brenda, are you alive?” All I could do was grunt. I thought I heard Ken go down the mountain and start to slide.
My ears were ringing, I was bruised, and I was covered in dirt. After awhile, I heard another avalanche. The boulders at the bottom of the canyon were about the same size as a refrigerator. I came to rest against one of those boulders, and so did Ken. Finally, when I could get up, I started moving to where I thought Ken was. At the same time, he was coming toward me. Ken had been able to hold onto his little green light. He checked me out. I was bloody and scraped-up, and had sticks and dirt sticking out from all over me. Then, I checked Ken out. I said, “Ken, just before you came down the mountain, I thought I heard you talking to somebody.” Ken answered, “I was taking into the voice recorder. I didn’t think anyone would ever find us, but this is a $150,000 camera. I knew somebody would come looking for this camera. I gave myself last rites. As I talked into the voice recorder, I tried to explain how we had gotten ourselves into this situation. Then, if anyone did find the camera and our bones, at least someone would know how all this happened. I really didn’t think you or me would come off this hunt alive.”
As Ken and I took his little green light and tried to find the cowboy, we looked at my rifle. The stock was broken in half. All the glass was busted out of the riflescope. Really, all I had left of the gun was the barrel and the action. Finally, we made it to the spot where the elk and the cowboy had landed at the bottom of the mountain. Although the cowboy was beat-up pretty bad, he didn’t have nearly as many scrapes, bumps and torn up skin as we did, because he was riding on the elk to the bottom of the canyon.
We gutted the elk in the dark. We took the little piece of string that looked like a clothes line that had been holding the elk’s antlers to the bush and tied a long stick between the elk’s back legs to keep them apart and help the elk’s meat to cool down. The sky lightened-up. We started feeling and walking our way out of the drainage. When we finally got back to our camp, we got some coffee and borrowed a horse and some pack panniers from a rancher who lived close to our camp. The rancher told us, “I know where you’ve come from, so don’t try to take the horse all the way to the elk. Tie the horse, go in, get the quarters, head and hide of the elk, and put it in the panniers. Then, the horse will help you get the meat, the head and the hide back to camp.”
This elk was the only one killed out of that camp that year. All three of us knew that except for the grace of God, we could have been the only hunters killed from the camp that year.
Check out Brenda Valentine at http://www.brendavalentine.com, or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/BrendaValentineFirstLadyOfHunting/info.