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Senior fills special tag for St. Helens elk

Edna Braden, 79, poses in the back of her new rig with her .270 rifle in Woodland, Wash., earlier this month. Associated Press
 (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
Edna Braden, 79, poses in the back of her new rig with her .270 rifle in Woodland, Wash., earlier this month. Associated Press (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)

WOODLAND, Wash. — Edna Braden has bagged plenty of deer over the years, and even a bear.

At 79, she’s finally filled an elk tag.

“It’s my first one!” she gushed at her Woodland home.

Braden, whose husband died in 1994, has a treadmill in her living room and keeps busy outside. “I have 30 chickens. I try to eat right. I take all my vitamins.”

Braden benefited from the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s decision to reduce the size of the Mount St. Helens elk herd by 25 percent over the next five years. Starting this season, the state has greatly increased the number of cow permits, including several hunts for those 65 and older.

Braden was one of 18 seniors to draw tags for Mudflow hunts in the Mount St. Helens state wildlife area in the Toutle Valley. The area is in the Loowit unit, where permits are required for hunting.

First Braden had to find someone to care for Floyd Smith, a veteran who lives in her home. He’s has frequent medical appointments in Vancouver. “He can’t be left alone,” she said.

“I had a little bout with cancer in ‘96,” Braden said. “The Lord spared me so I can take care of him.”

She put Smith in a respite care center for a few days and got her hunting gear together.

“This .270 I use was my Dad’s,” she said. “That means an awful lot to me. I always hunted with my Dad when I was a kid.”

She loaded her pride and joy, a 5-year-old Ford F350 king cab pickup truck with a V-10 gasoline engine and big tires. “I bought it myself,” she announced proudly, along with a 26-foot trailer.

For her elk hunt, she enlisted Mark Smith, owner of the Eco Park resort on Spirit Lake Memorial Highway, as a guide.

Smith said he likes to help seniors who have lost their hunting partners.

Early the morning of Nov. 29, Braden and Smith were driving the 3100 road from the highway to the refuge (hunters who get one of the special permits also get a key to the logging road gate).

Braden was excited, Smith added. “We saw 27 bulls. Bulls seemed to be jumping down all over the place, but we needed to find the cows.”

The cows, they discovered, were about 1,000 yards off the road that cuts through the wildlife area in the middle of numerous hilly hummocks separated by soggy stretches.

Braden and Smith stalked the wary herd for about 90 minutes. “It was raining and foggy and miserable,” he said.

Braden fell into a creek. “I thought she was going to freeze to death,” Smith said, “but she was dressed warm.”

Braden passed on a couple of possible shots because she didn’t feel confident she’d hit the animal squarely, but finally took a 175-yard shot. She wanted support for her rifle. “I kneeled down and plugged my ear,” Smith said. Braden rested her 50-year-old .270 on the guide’s shoulder and fired.

At first, she was afraid she had missed, but 30 seconds later a cow fell — the bullet had grazed its heart.

“I packed it out,” Smith said. “She was the cheerleader. It was the nicest hunting experience I’ve had.”

Said Braden, “It was one of the most important days of my entire life.”

Sons Richard and Darwin Rounds are envious, she said. “They’re still crying because they weren’t there.”