Warm rays of sunshine, long-awaited since the cold darkness of early morning, poured through the Pinion pine trees. At first, they were weak and shallow, but they soon began to warm the soft brown soil beneath me. Shadows retreated, and that familiar sensation of sunlight beating down against your back brought comfort to my half-frozen body.
As my watery eyes wandered through my binoculars, my mind’s thoughts also wandered through heaps of memories, dreams, and expectations.
As I paused my glassing to blow into my fingers, I noticed the contrast of the sunlight and shadow. The rays of sunlight beat down, and it’s waves absorbed by everything it touches. So much more to absorb awaited us that day, my trembling hands would soon find.
It was November, and I was lucky to be along-side my Brother Spencer on a limited entry bull elk hunt. I say lucky because my Brother had waited fifteen years to accrue enough points to draw a tag, and in my eyes, there is nothing more exciting than hunting the biggest of Rocky Mountain Elk.
This late season hunt had the elk down from their summer ranges in the nearbye high rockies, they were now spread across their wintering grounds which consisted of a desert-like landscape, though still seven thousand feet above sea level. Sagebrush, Ceadar trees, and Pinion Pine’s covered miles and miles of country, all the way up to the pinetrees and aspens that grow above.
It was there in this landscape that my Brother and I waited, looking for the elk who’s tracks and sign were spread through the draws and hills.
With the help of some friends, we had wasted no time in getting close to the herds of bull elk that typically gather together after the rut. We had hiked several miles everyday, looking at elk, figuring out their patterns and bedding habbits.
We’d even had a look at several good bulls, but not long enough to make a play on them.
I knew this hunt wouldn’t be easy, nature has a wonderful way of testing you. Elk are an extremely tough animal, and bringing one down is no small task.
Today was our fourth day looking at elk, and trying to find one that would make all the time and effort worth it. And perhaps even more importantly, one that thirty years from now will still remind us of the amazing adventure and privilege it was to get him.
This particularly cold morning started out with a bit of a bust. We had moved to a slightly newer area but still close to where we knew the bulls to habit, and in a hasty move we were busted by two bulls who were paying better attention than we were.
Elk can be both like ghosts, and like a plague. So many times they have surprised me by being nowhere, anywhere, or at least somewhere besides here. And then suddenly, out of thin air, they appear.
In hopes that it had been just the two, and confiding that they would make their way off and hide. We continued our plan, moving slowly towards a high point that would give us a good outlook towards known elk territory.
The biting cold was just starting to loose its grip on our day, either that or the rush of blood and adrenaline took it from us.
Time for action
We walked over the last of what seemed like endless highpoints, and there before us stood the ghost we had been searching for. He walked slowly up a clearing about five hundred yards from us, and as far as we could tell, he had no idea we were there.
We watched his antlers glistening in the sun, and my brother got into position behind his rifle.
It wasn’t just any rifle either, it was there for a reason. Years of diligent practice had paid off, and there was no doubt that my Brother could park a bullet right through the boiler room.
It happened so quickly that I barely had time to get all my gear ready. I was hoping to spot the shot through my spotting scope, but instead watched through my binoculars as I fumbled blindly through my pack.
Everything went quiet as we anticipated the shot, the bull stopped his walk, and stood broadside to us, his beautiful color shining in the warm sunlight.
I watched silently as the bullet trace arched through the air, conditions were ideal for spotting the trace. Time slows as it often does in these tense moments, and I watched the trace disappear as it hit the bull. Seconds later, as the bull staggered, we heard the report come back to us. The sound of a bullet hitting flesh is a very recognizable one, and sure to get a hunter’s blood pumping.
The big bull continued to stagger about, as he forced himself to run, almost directly at us. Looking through my binoculars I thought his right front shoulder was broken, then I finally put hands on my spotting scope and pointed it at him. As he slowed down to stop, his legs looked buckled, his elbows almost touching. He crashed forward into the sagebrush, and lay there, head still up and looking for the threat.
Round two was hot on its way by then, again I watched the trace rise and then fall. The bull was laying down facing us, Spencer aimed the kill shot to go right inside his shoulder. The impact was severe, and the bull instantly dropped his head to the ground, leaving his mighty crown laying sideways in the brush.
We made our way over to the big bull, and as usual it was absolutely surreal. The size of these animals always impresses me, as does their beauty.
There is something majestic about every one of these animals, each one a fighter, each one a champion of his environment. This bull had actually broken his leg, either by accident, or someone broke it for him. But this incredible animal survived, and healed. His shoulder wasn’t broken, his right leg was crooked, it had healed at an angle.
Majestic almost doesn’t do honor to these magnificent creatures. Their strength, and their endurance is beyond impressive. Their instinct and natural wisdom, born of an unimaginable series of lifetimes that led right up to this one. Not only do I feel an incredible debt of gratitude for all of these merits, I feel inspired by them. Much the way the sunlight is absorbed by everything it touches, the merits, memories, and all that this animal is, will soak into our minds and memory.
Love, honor, and respect for these animals. It takes a lot of work to get the best of one, they live here everyday, they fight to survive, simply put, they are better at it than we are. The only way to feel good about besting an old warrior, is to be the best of yourself. Living right on the razor’s edge of your dedicated hard work and skill, and the utter failure of loosing him. And then, having triumphed, recognize the lesson, the hard work, and even the luck. You can see now why I said lucky before, lucky and grateful to have had such majesty, reflected upon us.