It’s a Michigan Grand Slam!
I have been hunting for over 25 years and have enjoyed every minute of my time spent in the woods. Along with the great experiences of every adventure, I have been fortunate to take some record book animals along the way.
In 1996, it was a record book turkey that ranked #1 at the time for Crawford County. In 1997, it was a record book bear that was the first entry ever for a woman, taken with a bow. Then in 1998, a record book 17-point whitetail that ranked the second largest whitetail taken by a woman with a bow at that time. Wow, I was on a roll; what could be next?
The only animal that I did not have in the book was a Michigan elk. It is the tag that every passionate hunter salivates for, but never expects to draw. I thought I might just as well forget the ultimate dream of achieving the Michigan Grand Slam because year after year I apply, and year after year I am unsuccessful.
Luck of the Draw
Then it happened. I received a package from the DNR advising me that I had drawn a once in a lifetime either sex elk tag for the December 2009 hunt. I couldn’t believe it. It must have been a mistake of some sort – but it wasn’t. I was going elk hunting and I aimed to set the bar high – nothing less than a bull that would make the record book to give me a Grand Slam. After all, this was my once in a lifetime chance.
I began to review the list of guides in my packet and called several of them to get a feel for their hunting style and availability. I really wanted to make a hunt out of this. If possible a little stalking and sneaking, all the good stuff that gets your heart pumping so hard you can’t stand it. Most of them had limited space as others had already booked their spots.
Preparing for the Hunt
I then contacted a guide that still had some availability during my hunt period. I told him what I was looking for and we hit it off immediately. We talked for over an hour about every type of hunting you could imagine; this guy was a hunting fool and likes to do it right. He is selective and honest about what you should expect on the hunt. I knew then that I had found my guide.
We talked about all the preparation that was needed prior to the hunt. I told him that I knew how to prepare for a hunt but I wanted him to tell me exactly what he expects from his hunters and what type of “pitfalls” he had experienced with elk hunters in the past.
My guide said one of the most important things that the hunter needs to know is their capability to shoot at a
particular distance. He said that most of the time shots are usually within 100 yards because of the terrain. However, there could be an occasion where a 300-yard shot may present itself and only the hunter can determine whether they are capable of making that shot. I agreed and told him that I had planned on practicing at 100, 200, and 300 yards. In October I began shooting approximately 30-40 rounds through my .270 Weatherby at the various distances. I practiced using a rest, a shooting stick, and free handed at each distance. By the time December rolled around I was extremely confident that I could pull off a fatal shot up to 300 yards. I was ready and the time had come to go find my elk.
The Hunt Is On
My hunt began on Tuesday and things started off pretty slow. We did a lot of driving and looking and I was getting a bit restless. We ended up getting out and walking some ridges and were able to cut tracks of a couple groups of elk. We were able to get a glimpse of one group, but they bolted
before we could identify a shooter bull in the pack. The first day was coming to an end absent much excitement. I asked the guide if we could get out and take one last walk instead of driving so we parked and walked some ridges that the guide had recently seen some elk in. We came across a couple of fresh beds and tracks but no sight of any elk. The evening was coming to an end and they were calling for a dandy of a blizzard for the next two days. Things weren’t looking good.
On Wednesday, the blizzard had started and you couldn’t even see to shoot at first light. It was expected to last for two to three days. We did a lot of driving and visibility was minimal on and off most of the day. Needless to say, there wasn’t anything moving. Chad said he had seen the elk hold up for days in weather like this. Without any fresh tracks, the only way we were going to see elk was to sneak through some ridges and find them bedded.
The snow was deep and I am not very tall, but I asked Chad to park the truck so we could get out and start looking. I was determined to find some elk and not just wait out the storm. We headed
out on foot through the blowing snow. The snow was deep and the ridges were steep making it hard to get around. The first set of ridges that we walked did not have any elk on them. We did see six nice bucks, one of which was breading a doe.
After that walk we decided to head over and walk the ridges where we saw the two beds the evening before. Chad had seen two bulls frequenting that area during the past week. We started still hunting along the ridges with the wind in our favor.
After about 45 minutes we spotted an elk bedded on the ridge across from us. The elk had its head down and was about 400 yards away. With the snow it was hard to tell if it was a cow or a bull. We took our time and scanned the area for more elk. Moving a little closer to get a better look we spotted a second elk. They were both bedded in some thick brush. We were finally able to identify that they were both bulls, however their antlers looked small and spindly, possibly 5×5’s that would never make the book.
We kept sneaking closer and closer. The first elk stood and started to feed down the ridge towards us. At that point the snow had fallen off his antlers and we decided he was a bit bigger than we had first thought. We kept watching the bull trying to determine whether or not he would score at least 240 and we just couldn’t be sure at that point. As he got to about 150 yards, I decided to prepare for the shot as it became obvious that this was a nice bull and he would score well.
As I steadied my gun on a tree, the wind swirled and the elk turned and started to head back up the ridge. The other elk stood and they both started zig-zagging their way to the top of the ridge on alert. I tried to get on the first bull two or three times but each time he had stopped there was a tree blocking his vitals. Then I heard, “he’s going to the right and he’s headed for that small opening.”
They were on the move and I was running out of time. I was sitting on my butt like turkey hunting to steady the gun on my knees, but I couldn’t find the elk through the trees. He grabbed me and pulled me over about four feet. Then I could see the bull and the opening he was headed for. I put the gun up and he stopped perfectly in an opening presenting approximately a 200-yard clear shot of his front shoulder.
She Shoots, She Scores
As I looked through my new Zeiss Conquest scope, (I love this scope), I squeezed the trigger of my .270 Weatherby which seemed to take forever to go off. I hit the bull. He took a few steps and went down, kicked a few times and it was over. I hit him right in the lungs – what a relief!
When we approached him we were pleasantly surprised to see that he was larger than we initially thought. A beautiful huge bodied 6×6 dressing out at 585 lbs. that green scored 298. What an awesome feeling to be standing over such a majestic animal!
The guide rolled up his sleeves to field dress him, but I wasn’t going to let that happen. After all this would be the only time in my life I would have an opportunity to field dress my own Michigan Elk.
Grand Slam Honors
Being the first gal to achieve a Michigan Grand Slam is quite an honor. These four animals are the only ones I have in the book to date. Each one was a phenomenal experience.
My first animal was my turkey. I didn’t know much about turkey hunting and was surprised that it ended up being the largest ever taken in Crawford County at the time.
The second was my bear. It was the first time I had ever bear hunted. What a unique learning experience and a hell of a lot of work too! I really enjoyed the bear. It was the first entry by a woman with a bow and drew a great deal of attention. It was very exciting and fun sharing my story with so many people and hunters that have the same passion for the outdoors as I do.
The third animal was my 17-point buck. Again another great experience. And as they say, I saved the best for last.
I never thought I would have the opportunity to complete the Michigan Grand Slam because of the odds of drawing an elk tag. It was quite an honor to be selected for a Michigan Elk hunt and to be successful in harvesting such a magnificent bull.
I won’t say this is a great “ending” to my hunting career. But, I will say that it very nicely completes a 12 year chapter in my life that was focused on nothing but hunting every free minute of every day.
I now have a two year old, Autumn (named after my favorite season), and my hunting time will be a bit limited for the next year or so until she is quiet enough to join me in the woods.
My bull elk ended up officially scoring 291-7/8 with Commemorative Bucks of Michigan, and was aged by the DNR at 12 years old.
Dawn Adlen-Pratt has been an avid hunter for over 20 years. She is the Assistant Director of the Finance Department for Macomb County Community Mental Health and resides in Clinton Township with her two-year-old daughter, Autumn. Dawn looks forward to the day that she can take Autumn hunting and nurture her evident interest in the great outdoors.