He now haunts my dreams and taunts me to try again, night after night. An unshakable vision, dangling on the edges of reality and cliffs of regret, permeates my memory of the hunt. When I close my eyes, I still see the bull running straight at me. Easily recalled, like an automatic replay button I have no power to stop, the experience has become tattooed on my heart, but the initial sting of a bloodless arrow wears off with each replaying. There is a whispered promise of encouragement to nock another arrow when September calls once again, because I know he is out there somewhere, running silently through the pines, occasionally letting a chuckle slip out.
But I'm getting ahead of myself, here's the story ...
Rocks, ruts, holes and aspen branches reaching across in attempts to intertwine and create a natural barricade, might leave you wondering if 'Road' was an appropriate name for what lead us down, down, down the rain-soaked mountain side. I hoped my gators would guard against weeds, dripping with liquid sunshine, threatening to soak me to the bone. Well-worn boots had kept the moisture out for the majority of previous days hunts, but they were tired of fighting the wetness and I wasn't sure if they would hold out for yet another evening hunt. Troy's boots had given in, and he now succumbed to the fact that his feet would be wet for the entirety of the hunt. Plastic bags wrapped around socks and then inserted into boots, were utilized in an attempt to prevent the squish. Wet.
If I could describe our elk hunting season this year in one word, that would be it. Wet. It rained most days. We attempted to dry out with one eye on the horizon, watching the sky for clouds threatening to wring out their rain-laden load on us once again. Dashes were made multiple times, through a muddy campsite, to rescue clothes airing out on a rope stretched between two aspen. The weather was relentless. Rain. Rain. Rain.
Working our way down a game trail on this evening's hunt, we told Dad to come along as far as he could. With a hip badly in need of a total replacement, Dad pushed on and I worried. Elk had frequently made an appearance just a few hundred yards from our unloading point, so I hoped it would pan out for him tonight. In fact, one of us filled a tag a couple of years ago in a pasture just above the initial part of the trail. Positioned strategically on the edge of a line of pine trees, Dad nestled in and once we felt comfortable that he had a good chance at an elk, we continued on down the trail. We would pick him up after last shooting light.
Designated as caller for the evening, Troy lingered behind as we snaked our way through the forest. Stopping every hundred yards or so, a few elk calls were let out, proceeded by a bugle. We have grown accustomed to hunting as a team and methodically worked our way over logs and streams to locate elk in the area. The "wolf pack," as called by some, was on the move.
The elk were silent that night, but that didn't mean they weren't interested. After a few unsuccessful calling sequences and reaching the point where it was time to turn around, we started working our way back to Dad. One last set-up was attempted. The plan was for three of us to spread out and cover an 'open' area just below a section of dark timber. Todd was on the left, Allen on the right, and I had the middle section. Troy could easily move below and attempt to convince any bull in the area to make his way past the hunters silently waiting.
Locating a small game path, I made my way up to the last sit of the evening. As I scanned the tree line above me, I guessed where an approaching bull might make an appearance. With the game path stretched out in front of me, I selected a spot next to a pine tree on my left, leading up hill. I had a shooting lane of 20-30 yards directly in front of me, which seemed perfect. *Or so I thought. Backpack unloaded. Arrow nocked. Distances ranged. Three quick cow calls were made to alert everyone I was set up and ready.
Showing off as it began to disappear and slip into the horizon, the sun splashed color across the canvas sky. I had visions of completing the picture with antlers in hand. My mind began to wander as my stomach reminded me it was empty. Focus, I reminded myself. The hunt isn't over yet. Troy was doing his best to sound like a heard of cow elk down below, sweetly calling to any interested bulls.
Then it happened. I caught a glimpse of antlers rushing toward me about 100 yards away. In a flash, bow was at ready and I had only a moment to realize I better draw my bow back - quickly! He was coming, silently running with a purpose and I was about to be face to face with a bull elk attempting to run me over in order to get to Troy. I knew that if I were to get a chance at a shot, I need to stop him. Without a mouth reed, I let out the best cow call I could just as he plowed through an opening. From a full run he stopped on a dime at the sound of my cow call. Here's the problem ... I didn't realize how fast a bull could put on his brakes! I should have allowed him to take a few more steps. I was now at full draw, looking through a hole in the pine tree on my left. I knew he was about 35 yards away, up hill. I had to take a shot. I was sure I could sneak an arrow through the opening. So I tried. Unfortunately, I caught a limb and my arrow fell short. A clean miss.
Playing this back in my mind, it sounds simple to wait for a few more steps before stopping him, but if you've never experienced a bull elk running toward you at full boar, while at full draw and attempting to stop him at the correct spot, then you probably won't understand. I now get it. Timing is everything and it is a learning experience. It is just another reason why I admire these animals and love pursuing them year after year. I loved every moment of it, even though it didn't result in a sunset picture complete with antlers. My unshakable vision of the silent running bull lives on in my dreams. Somewhere in the Rocky Mountains, I know he is out there. Somewhere in the pines, there is a bull running silently through the woods, breaking the silence every so often with a chuckle escaping into the moonlit sky.
*I don't know why it happens this way, but it never seems to fail that when you least expect an elk to step out, he will. It is also a guarantee that no matter how hard you try to will a bull to make an appearance in the perfect shooting lane, at the perfect yardage, it's not going to happen. If it has, then consider yourself blessed! There is definitely a skill involved in picking your set-up location in preparation for an incoming bull. (That's a whole other blog post.) Basically, the number one rule ... don't sit BEHIND a pine tree. There is a reason why you wear camouflage. Trust it. Sit in front of the pine tree, opposite of your caller. Give yourself the best shooting lanes possible, knowing the bull is most likely going to hang up behind the tree you are expecting him to step out in front of. They are smart, trust me. I should have been above the pine tree to my left. Hind sight is 20x20.
From the Draw
A website devoted to sharing bowhunting stories. From the draw in the mountains to the draw on paper, the moments live on.