The elk made their way up the ravine in a single file. It was a death trap for them, really. The ravine was steep on both sides, bordered with buck brush with a small game trail running down the middle of it. No way to turn around in a hurry. My brother had spotted the elk a few days prior following a predictable rout. Eat the alfalfa in the farmers’ field, make their way up a ravine and bed in the timber. They were like clockwork.All four of us had cow tags and were waiting behind a rock outcropping opening morning. We heard the elk first. The sound of one hundred and twenty hoofs is not mellow. The tension rose as the noise grew louder and louder until the lead cow came into view. The chill morning air was coming out of her nose in a white cloud of smoke. Behind her was a precession of antlerless elk, and one lone spike. They created a misty cloud in their wake.
When the herd was in shooting distance we all lined up on elk. Scopes on brown fir and safeties off; we all fired. Four elk fell to the ground. All hell broke loose with the rest of the herd. Elk clamored over each other, turning and spinning in confusion, before finally sprinting up valley.
We waited for a little while, making sure we had a vantage on any wounded elk, and then made our way down to the bottom. My elk was dead as a doornail, my .270 was more than enough. About 15 yards away from me I heard a loud crash and an “Oh, SHIT!”
The elk my neighbor Dick had shot was now standing in the buckbrush, just off the trail. One jump and she was in the middle of the ravine. Next she started to run – right at me. “Shoot! Shoot! Shoot!” was all I could hear as I sidestepped the elk charging me. Her side and my chest made brief contact; she left some blood on my shirt. After she passed I pulled up and let a round fly – I missed at about 20 feet. (I vividly remember the dumbfounded feeling of missing at that range. I literally saw only fir in my scope at that distance.)
I tried to cycle another shell and my gun jammed.
I turned around to look at the rest of the group. All standing directly behind me, guns in the ready position but no one was able to shoot. I was making a much better door than a window, as I was standing directly in the line of fire. The very nature of the ravine that led to success blocked all follow up shots.
I tagged and gutted my elk. With help we propped her up to drain. We had to find the wounded elk now. It really only had one direction to go, thankfully. The blood trail was also very heavy. Unfortunately we humans were not the only ones on the trail. Two small-ish bears (5 footers at best) had decided to trail our elk. When we arrived the elk had passed, thankfully. But the bears were sitting on their haunches looking at the carcass. They started “barking” at us as we approached, but eventually fell back to about 40 yards. They waited.
We tossed them elk bones for snacks and to try and scare them. It is unnerving to have that much dangerous company so close by, especially covered in elk-blood. But the bears would not give up easily for they knew the truth about elk. They are delicious.
As a wild game chef I frequently get asked how to use more ground meat. On game animals it is often the case that up to 50% of the meat ends up in the grinder. An elk only has two backstraps after all. If it can’t be roasted or cut into steaks the butcher will often toss it in the grind. Not there is anything wrong with that, it just leads to a lot of taco meat in most houses.
Variety is vital to eating an elk over the course of a year. It is a lot of meat for a normal family. One easy to accomplish method is the meatball.
Balled up and cooked meat is a staple around the world. Italians, Chinese, Japanese, American, Swedish, Turkish (often on sticks) – name the culture and it almost certainly has a ball shaped ground meat dish. Why? It is a cheap and easy way to use up what would otherwise be tough cuts of meat.
I am a personal fan of the Chinese/Thai mash up of Five Spice flavored meatballs with a sweet chili sauce. Lots of flavor and very filling. I like to serve it with white rice and a green bean salad.
Just remember – a recipe is just a good idea someone had and wrote down. They should always be played with. Like garlic, add more. Don’t like ginger, do add any. Have fun with food!
Five Spiced Elk Meatballs with Sweet Chili Sauce and Green Bean Salad
Green Bean Salad
1 Pound Frozen Hari co Vert (small green beans)
1 pound frozen shelled edamame
1 can black beans, drained
½ red onion, shaved thin
1 cup Ginger Soy Dressing – Store Bought
Bring a 2 quart pot of water to a boil. Make an “ice bath” – basically a large mixing bowl with a 50/50 ratio of ice and water.
When the water is boiling add the edamame and the Hari co Vert’s. Let stand in water for 3 minutes, stir one time. Drain vegetables into colander then add the vegetables to the ice bath. Let them cool, remove any excess ice and then drain in the colander. Refrigerate until ready to make salad.
When ready toss the hari co verts/ edamame mix with the drained black beans, shaved onion and ginger soy dressing. Serve cold.
1 Pound Ground Elk Meat
1 teaspoon Five Spice
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon garlic, fresh, chopped
¼ cup mayonnaise
½ cup bread crumbs
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
1 tablespoon sliced thin green onions
Salt and Pepper
1 cup Sweet Chili Sauce
Heat oven to 350°. In a medium sized mixing bowl add everything but the sweet chili Sauce. Mix well, by hand, for 2-3 minutes.
Using a small ice-cream scoop make 1 ounce meatballs, you should get about 18 from this recipe. Place each meatball on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake for 20 minutes. A little pink in the center is desired.
When done carefully transfer the cooked meatballs to a mixing bowl. Add the sweet chili sauce onto the meatballs. Carefully toss or stir to fully coat the meatballs with the sauce.
Garnish with thin sliced carrot and green onions. Serve hot.