We eased down the drainage, paralleling the beaver ponds and glassing up through the aspens and spruce to make sure we still knew where they were. Still there? Yup. Keep on walking. The sun still hadn’t cleared the horizon and these elk were headed for the dark timber, following some 30-year-old cow with an IQ of about 140. But they hadn’t seen us yet, and the wind was in our favor. This just might work…
I was thrilled, but when I caught up to Mark he was distraught. The bull was hit hard, he was sure. He had lain down for a while, but when his herd crossed the creek into the timber he staggered to his feet and bolted after them. There was a blood trail that any moron could follow, and I was sure we’d find him piled up in the shin-tangle timber. We didn’t. He broke off from the rest of the elk – a good sign. He laid down again – another good sign. He got up and ran like a striped ape when he heard us coming – not so good. I must have prayed 20 times that we could find this bull and put him down – both for his sake and for Mark. He bled less and less until I was on my hands and knees looking for drops of blood the size of a pinhead. Finally, he was hardly bleeding at all.
But we stayed on him – for four hours, up one ridge and down the next, back and forth across the creek and up through the black timber and down one elk trail and another until we tracked him into a dense stand of willows along the creek. We heard him get to his feet and crash out ahead of us. I stayed with the sketchy blood trail and Mark sprinted to the edge of the willow thicket. Again, I heard the rifle speak once, then again with that same telltale “whack”. I knew it was over.