Season was coming to a close. Many a long, cold, tiring day had ended in the cabin. There the sweaty long johns and soaked camo came off. A fire was kindled, grub was consumed and intense battles of cribbage and backgammon passed the hours until our tired heads hit the pillows. In the darkness amid the fire’s crackle, what seemed like seconds would pass and then the alarm would signal the start of another hunt.
We varied the areas we hunted based on where we would see the elk and the time of day. A lot of our morning hunts started at one particular spot. It was dark and the packs were donned, guns were grabbed and we started up…and up…and up. There was no trail, only the wash out from the spring run off as it fell to the creek below. In the dark the rocks and branches would come out of nowhere and trip you as you struggled to keep your feet. Falling on this hill could be dangerous especially with a heavy pack.
But morning after morning of making the ascent slowly ingrained in my mind where the rocks were and the trees to avoid. By the end of season I knew the trek well and made it confidently. With only the red light of my headlamp and the tree broken rays of moonlight illuminating my path, I marched once again up the hill. As we crested the top it opened up into a small meadow.
A large hill loomed to the left and to the right. In front of me and hidden from view by the heavy darkness was a rolling descending hill with many nooks and crannies that I knew, even now in the darkness, held elk. This expanse goes for miles and when illuminated by dawn will take ones breath away. As we had planned the night before, Tristan headed to the left and I made my way to the top of the hill on the right where I would sit and wait for the sun to give away the location of the elk. Tristan had a cow tag and I had a bull tag. This was one of the last mornings I had left to hunt and even though we had seen many elk throughout the season the stars had yet to align.
I slowly walked up the hill trying to avoid making noise as I had no way of knowing whether the elk were 10 yards from me or 10 miles. Finally reaching my lookout spot I shrugged the heavy pack from my shoulders and laid it down in front of me providing a rest. I laid my gun across it and pulled out my binoculars and rangefinder to set nearby in the event I needed them quickly. Then I sat down and leaned my back against a small pine to take in the stillness. I love the sounds that surround you when stillness settles back into the woods. We knew the elk often made their way across the very hillside I was on during the first minutes of shooting light and I hoped that this morning would be no different. Slowly the sunbeams crept over the distant mountains and plunged across the vast valley below. I rotated between scanning the countryside with my binoculars and my naked eye. After some time had passed I decided to get up and work up the ridge some more to get a look at some of the area that was out of my view. I crept along seeing a lot of fresh sign but no elk.
I finally crested the highest point of the hill where it was rocky and wind whipped. I peeked over the edge of the cliff and the blast of cold air was enough to send shivers down my spine. It was loud up high and without knowing where the elk were I didn’t want to be where the currents were so strong. I crept back down to my original position and sat down. About the time my rump hit the dirt I heard the exciting sound of Tristan’s rifle fire. I knew from past history that it was very likely he had just filled his tag.
I sat and watched for a long time hoping that some of the elk he had seen would run my way. No such luck. I sat for a while more and then decided to make a long loop around and hopefully bump into a bull bedded in one of the finger draws. Then I would end up over where Tristan was and I could help him work up his cow. I heaved the pack back on my shoulders and tightened it down. I grabbed my rifle and started off watching and listening as I went. I ended up losing a lot of elevation and came out a long way down the canyon from where I intended. I looked up at the mountain looming before me and sighed. It was hot and I was feeling drained. I readjusted my pack and set off. It took me about an hour to get to the area where Tristan had been sitting. I looked around and spotted him and his cow not far from me. I was so happy for him and so ready to sit down for a minute. As I got close he started to re-live his experience and I was taking it all in.
I dropped to my knees beside his cow and popped the buckles on my pack. As I lowered it to the ground I heard Tristan say, “There’s some elk! Come on!” I turned to look and high up on the hill above us was a small group filing through the trees. He started running up the hill to intersect them and called to me to follow. I gulped back my fatigue and grabbed my rifle. We darted our way to a break in the trees and I perched my rifle on a stump. There was a tiny opening that allowed us to see the vitals of the elk as they went single file through it. I settled my sights on the opening and waited. Tristan was calling out the animals as they passed though, “Cow, cow, spike, cow…” after what seemed like forever he said I see one coming that is tan like a bull and a lot bigger. As it reached the opening he tried to say, “That’s a legal bull shoot!” but as soon as I heard the word legal I let the 270 fly and hit him right behind the shoulder and out through the opposite shoulder knocking him off of his feet. The rest of the herd trotted off surprisingly calm. We ran up to where he was to make sure he was down and then the reality of it all started to sink in.
I had shot my first bull ever. I had pushed myself to the max and thought my hunt was done and then like the blink of an eye, the table turned. That is how fast things can happen with elk hunting. It is such a rush and we were both ecstatic. We now had two elk on the ground and it was already afternoon. Tristan headed back to his cow, which was not far from where my elk fell, ironically, even though they were killed hours apart from each other. He worked up his cow and I worked up my bull.
The mountain man came and helped us pack everything out to the Viking so we could get it all back to the coolers. By the time it was all said and done we were one beat and happy crew. I will never forget how tired I felt nor how happy I felt and I will never again allow myself to think the hunt is over until I am all the way out of the woods.