Backcountry elk hunting in west-central Idaho, two men jumped a bull and a few cows while scouting mud holes and scanning the horizon. To their dismay, something was left behind.

Jeff McConnell and Brant Hoover, from Boise, heard the distinct sound of a mother elk calling for her young.

“What we didn’t notice was a calf in the wallow,” Jeff told The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. “It was wallowing around and we could hear it like it was using the wallow, but after a while we heard a cow mewing in the woods. It was like a lost cow mew as if she was searching for her baby or something so we stood up and saw this calf was stuck.”

The young men approached the calf slowly so as not to add any additional stress to the animal, but quickly backed off as the shrilling prompted the mother elk to come charging out toward the calf.

“When we got really close, the mom came charging into the meadow and was barking at us from 45 to 50 yards away. We both ran away from the calf because we were like ‘Oh crap something may happen here!’ because they can be mean when you’re close to their babies,” said McConnell.

Assessing the situation after the mother backed off a bit, the young men realized they needed to formulate a plan after they were unsuccessful in freeing the calf by hand.

Deciding to put the camera away, they gathered sticks and branches in an attempt to create stable footing for the young animal and themselves, grabbing her hind legs and pulling the elk out as much as they could. In a disheartening turn of events, after being removed from the wallow, the young elk jumped back in the mud when confronted with the two men.

“We both grabbed a hind leg,” Jeff said. “I started to pet her and she calmed down as we pulled her out as far as we could. We just got on the other side of the mud hole and tripped and she kicked the crap out of us. From there, she had the option to go between us to her mother or jump back in the mud and she jumped back in the mud. We were disappointed. It started to rain and we needed to get out of the woods. The mud stunk and we were covered in it. It was sticky and nasty.”

Using the same line of thinking, this time the men Jeff and Brant grabbed larger-sized logs to once again head back into the mud after the calf. Yet again, they secured the animal by her hind legs, but this time they were sure to drag the calf a good ten feet away from the mud hole. The moment they let go of the animal, the young hunters raced back to the wallow to ensure she did not return to the muddy pit.

“She stood up kind of slow. You could tell she was tired. She walked a little bit, looked back at us, and kind of trotted away. Then we both looked at each other like ‘That was the coolest thing that will probably ever happen to us in the middle of the woods!’ We both said we wouldn’t leave until we got her out of there. Hiking out of the woods, we couldn’t stop talking about it. It felt pretty good to know we did the right thing by rescuing that animal. It was pretty cool. We couldn’t sleep. We talked about it all night,” Jeff added.

In a time when hunters are under such heavy scrutiny, stories such as this one need to be told. These young men could have easily sighted both the calf and her mother with their bows, filled their tags and have been on their way. Instead, they sacrificed their hunt (and clean clothes) to ensure this calf lived another day and would hopefully grow to one day bear calves of her own.

True outdoorsmen care deeply about the game they pursue and pride themselves on the ethical and fair chase principles passed on to us by generations past.

Watch the video below:

H/T: Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation