There have been “elks” (not the correct plural of this word…that would be “elk”) in my life for as long as I can remember. My dad was an “Elk”, having belonged to the Elk’s Club in my hometown in Illinois.
No real elk in Illinois.
The Elk was the mascot for the Round Valley High School where I taught in the White Mountains of Arizona. Two of my children were “Elks” as members of various sport teams.
One of the most popular tourist attractions in the area is to spot a herd of elk grazing in the meadow near a highway. If you see cars parked along the side of a road you can be fairly sure that they have spotted a herd of elk in the tree line.
Many a fall evening was spent quietly sitting on the back porch of the Bunkhouse watching a herd in the meadow just a few feet away. The shrill call of a bull would echo across the meadow as he let every other bull know that this was his territory and his herd of cow elk. One night we actually witnessed two bulls fighting with their huge antlers locking and unlocking as they head-butted each other. These are wild, haunting sounds to experience.
One of my first elk memories after arriving on “the mountain” occurred during a junior high game in Round Valley. As a spectator in the gym watching my daughter play volleyball, I noticed that people started whispering to each other and one by one began leaving the gym.
I asked someone sitting near me what was going on. She said that a man named Slade had pulled up outside the gym with an elk he had just killed. Everyone had to go outside to admire it. It was a “trophy bull elk” I think she said.
This was a frequent occurrence around town in the fall season. Often, as you ate in a restaurant or were shopping at the grocery store, you would notice people going outside to look in the back of a hunter’s pick-up truck.
The ones that got the most attention, of course, were the huge bulls with the enormous racks (antlers). I often wondered how long they could drive around town with their trophy before the meat went bad. It is quite an accomplishment to be able to provide so much meat for your family. They have reason to be proud.
Son HD was drawn for elk while still a student in high school. On his particularly early morning hunt, he had killed the cow elk, field dressed it, taken it to the butcher, and still made it to school on time. We were very proud of him and enjoyed the meat from his hunt immensely.
Daughter JC…not so much.
It’s a different world to live where hunters hunt. Many people drive very big trucks covered with mud and camouflage clothing is the norm.
The local drugstore sells the usual sundries, some groceries, magazines, cosmetics, candy, cards, guns, ammo, camping gear, alcoholic beverages, and, has a pharmacy.
The process to hunt elk is intimidating and requires much patience and knowledge.
You get a hunting license, submit an application for an elk tag and wait to be drawn. You could do this over and over, year after year, and not be drawn.
After you are finally drawn for a tag, you must travel to the unit you were drawn for and camp to see if you can pinpoint an elk migration pattern.
Time to hunt! You spend a week in the woods and never see an elk.
Try again next year…or whenever.
If you are one of the lucky ones, you get your elk. Now what?
You have to hang it from a tree upside down, skin it, and get it to the butcher shop. Be sure to tell the butcher to include sausage when he processes the meat so you can make this recipe.
You will then rent a locker and are able to go to the locker to pick up your meat, as you need it. You will have elk burger, elk roasts, elk steaks and elk sausage.
If you make it this far, you will have plenty of meat to share and lots of stories to tell. A bull elk weighs about 700 pounds. A cow, 450 pounds.
For a fee of $4000 or so, you can hire a guide and he does all the work. There even could be a guarantee that you will get drawn and not only see, but also kill, an elk.
It probably seems like lots of work to have to kill an elk to get to make elk gravy…but that’s what is required.
Elk Sausage Gravy
1- pound elk sausage
2-Tablespoons bacon grease (You add your own fat because elk sausage doesn’t have much fat.)
½-cup chopped onion
2-Tablespoons chopped garlic
4-Tablespoons white flour
2-cups whole milk
¼ -teaspoon black pepper
¼ -teaspoon white pepper
½ -teaspoon paprika
¼ -teaspoon nutmeg
Sprinkle of cayenne powder over top of mixture
2-teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
To make the gravy, melt bacon grease and butter in a 12” skillet on medium heat.
Always save the bacon grease when you fry bacon. Pour it into a grease container. I have an aluminum one that has a strainer built into the top. Store that in the refrigerator until you need it later.
Add the onion, garlic and sausage to the melted bacon grease and butter.
Stir to mix it together and cook for about 10 minutes. It must be browned, crumbly and completely cooked.
Sprinkle the flour over the top of the cooked sausage in the skillet and mix it in well, stirring frequently until the flour is lightly browned and cooked, usually about 5 minutes.
The flour must be incorporated into the meat and fat or the gravy will taste like raw flour.
Pour in the milk and turn up the heat to medium-high.
Add the spices and mix in well, stirring constantly.
If it’s too thick, add more milk, a little at a time, and stir until it’s the right consistency.
If it’s too thin, sprinkle some flour over it, a little at a time, whisking it into the mixture until it thickens up.
Serve with fluffy buttermilk biscuits.
The moral of the story: You learn where your food comes from.
So many people today forget that a hamburger from McDonald’s comes from a cow.
When children are asked where their food comes from they reply that it comes from a grocery store.
What if there wasn’t a grocery store?
When I was young, my parents would buy a cow and had it butchered. The meat would be stored at the “Locker Plant” in a locker. Mother would pull up to the front door, give me a key and I would go in to retrieve what she had asked for. The meat was wrapped in white butcher paper and had a hand-written label saying, steak, roast, hamburger, etc.
I remember particularly that in the summer when I was always barefoot, I would go in and walk on the cold floors in the room where the lockers were and the frozen meat was stored. The floor felt like I was walking on sponges. It was a strange feeling. I didn’t like it in there. The door was very heavy and had a big knob you had to push from the inside to get out. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to get it open sometime and would be locked in there. Scary.
Fortunately, the “butchered cow” event still happens in our family. Two very good-looking teenage grandsons have mastered the skills of running a cattle ranch…the rounding up, roping, branding, etc. Their father’s family has been cattle ranching in Arizona for over a hundred years.
I wonder if they could rope an elk.