Tuesday, March 17, 2015


      The first two days of Mark’s elk hunt were not great. It was hot. It was windy. There were people everywhere and every one of them had a pickup truck, a trailer full of ATVs and a case of beer. On the third day, it all changed. We were on a ridge overlooking a big basin long before daylight. There wasn’t a soul in sight. The wind had calmed a bit. And as the darkness began to give way to the dawn, I began running the spotting scope over the finger ridges a mile away. It took all of a minute to locate them. At least forty elk, ghostly in the half-light, feeding and moving slowly to the southeast. If we could get down into the timber, we could head them off.
        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…
   When we got to the point where we figured our path and theirs were just about to intersect, we split up. I took one small draw and Mark took the one to the east. I was about halfway up it when I felt that feeling – the feeling you get when someone or something is looking at you. I stopped behind a small limber pine and peered around it. Two spikes were looking right at me from the ridge above the next draw. I just did a slow fade down to my knees and curled up in the sagebrush, waiting. Sure enough, the .30-06 roared once, then again with a satisfying “whack” at the end. The elk all headed south, and as I eased up behind the tree again, I could see a 6-point bull staggering with his head down, obviously hit. He dropped below the ridge out of sight.
       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.
       I found Mark standing by the bull at the edge of the timber. He was shaking, and he didn’t have much to say. I didn’t either. It was enough to just be there. We just knelt beside the bull and gave thanks that this great wild animal had given his life to feed our families. We gave thanks that he had not escaped mortally wounded. We gave thanks to be in wild country and to be together. I think back on that moment now and I’m sad for the bull. I wish he had dropped like a rock on the first shot. But I’m happy for my brother and his courageous, ethical heart. Life is like that sometimes – it ain’t always easy. Sometimes it doesn’t go like you planned and you have to just doggedly stay on the trail. Thanks for reminding me of that, brother.


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