Arrogantly, we did not scout the area, because I had hunted there for the last 3 years straight, and several times before then. Worse, Josh is as crazy about snowboarding as I am about hunting and guns (if that's even possible). So he decides to schedule a fun-in-the-snow trip the two days before opening day, vowing to return on time Thursday evening for us to depart with Gary to his place in Pinetop.
He came home early all right. And cancelled the hunt right then and there because he had hurt his ass, I mean his tailbone. The pain bothered him too much to sit for another 4 hours of driving. Opening day was shot. So was Saturday, after a doctor's visit and medication did not conquer the pain sufficiently. However, he asked if I could take him for just one day, on Sunday. Forfeiting bull elk opening day is bad enough. I agreed.
Brutality hit at 2AM when the alarm went off. I picked up sonny boy's sorry behind, set the cruise control to 70, told the 4Runner to head for 3B, and took a nap. Well, almost. I was certainly tired enough, and we had been in 3B often enough that a good vehicle ought to find its own way. In fact, the only things we had going for us were that nobody else was on the road and that we did know where the elk show up more frequently. That fueled our optimism.
We arrived in hunting country as planned at first light, drove our usual roads to see if anything had changed, which it had not. You could call it road hunting, I suppose, except that any outsider would have guessed we'd be participating in some road rally instead. Potholes shook the suspension and shot pain into bruised tailbones. Tough!
We did not see a single creature. "Can you walk"? "Yeah" (he might have agreed to walking just to get out of the bucking Toyota). "Ok, I know where we have a good chance to find elk." At least we were out now, sucking in fresh mountain air smelling of autumn and wapiti hunting! I directed him to a rather steep, heavily wooded hillside. In a total boost for my ego, Josh had immediate excitement as we circled to the lee side. A bull busted from cover, and was gone in a flash. Josh never had a shot. I would not have either, had I been the front man with the Mauser.
That rifle, by the way, is chambered in a wildcat, .338 Win Mag opened up to .375 caliber. Its 20 inch barrel make it both light and a joy to carry in the 'barrel down' position, where the left hand naturally rests against the forend, therefore doesn't have to shift, and enables extremely quick shouldering. But hey, we had seen a bull, and it wasn't even 8:30AM yet.
Totally motivated we drove to the next hill, Spike Hill as we refer to it. More whining: "It hurts when I have to walk uphill!" OK, let's play the odds. I showed him where to stand in ambush, as I would storm over Spike Hill in hopes to push prime American red meat his way. There was nothing to push.
"There are several hills lined up across the main dirt road, with an old logging road running along it." "Yes", he responded, "I remember that road, it's flat, I can walk that." "Good, I'll follow the ridges. They have bedded there before, maybe they'll come your way." It was another long shot, but the trees were far and few in many places along that logging road, and he just might get a long shot, literally. As I angled up the slope towards the ridgeline I kept looking back down at Josh to make sure neither would get too far ahead. About the fifth time I checked on him, my heart kicked in the turbo.
The lad had that meat gun against his shoulder, aiming almost straight ahead. Frantically I looked that way. However, being higher than him, and about a hundred paces from him, I could not see what he aimed at. Whereas he only had tree trunks in the way, it was tree tops with too many branches and needles for me. I yanked the binoculars into my face, wildly covering terrain, until finally I saw her through a corridor within the branches! A cow was minding her own business, walking calmly almost towards our position. A second cow followed shortly after. And then my breathing practically stopped, as the corridor filled with antlers!
I swear I had more bull fever then if I had been the trigger man myself. I tracked the big boy for several yards, often obstructed by branches. As he stepped behind some tree tops, completely out of view for me, the blast from the .375 Durham echoed through the timber. A confused cow fled to the left, away from us. Another imitated the first, followed by a spike bull. No sign of Mr. Big! Then the silence shattered again, not by another shot, no. Junior bellowed out a triumphant "Yahoo!", as yet another spike disappeared into the woods. I rushed back down to the road, yelled instructions to Josh to chamber another round (which he had already done anyway) and keep the gun ready just in case. "Dad, he's down!" was his unconcerned response. Indeed, now I finally saw the bull again, down and calm. We approached. "Man, is he big!", followed by a satisfying chuckle, is all Josh could utter. "Yeah, congratulations! And we'll be working on him for the rest of the day" I added, while poking a finger into the bull's eyeball to verify that he was truly gone. He was a 6x6, very symmetric, but not overly wide at what later measured 32 inches. Still, an awesome trophy for a first elk, on a one-day hunt, with ass throbbing.
He was also too heavy for me and Sonny boy to drag away. So we did the red work where he'd fallen, five steps from the dirt road. It was up to the 4Runner, then, to drag the bull over to a suitable oak tree, and pull him up in stages to allow me to skin at comfortable working height. At around noon his 'pants' were off.
Some twenty steps from where the elk was hanging we rigged a makeshift butcher table. Three small oak trees had struggled out of the ground in triangle formation. We nailed cross-members against those and pinned a board on top. I would spend the entire afternoon at that workstation before all meat was de-boned. Lantern light aided us for the last hour. The nicely chilled boneless bounty filled a 100 quart and a 54 quart ice chest.
We finally pulled out at around 7PM, extremely happy, and also quite beat. Still, this day against all odds left plenty to talk about for the long trip back to the valley. The two main ingredients had come together for a successful hunt. Luck is one. And most important is that you believe -- that you enter the animal's domain with confidence, confidence of arranging a meeting.
By the way, Josh confessed that, when first detecting the elk, he was hoping I had not seen them, and that his shot would totally startle me. Kids! He did one thing right, freezing until the lead cow quit staring in his direction. Then inching forward about five more steps (which I did not see, because I was looking for and at the elk at that time) to get an open shot as the critters all passed through a sizable opening. He also knelt down for his shot of about 120 paces. Tremendous luck was on his side as well, for he led that walking bull too much. The 260 grain Ballistic Tip entered the throat, and exited through the neck. I'd say three inches lower, and the bull would have run off, suffering who knows how long with a nasty hole through the throat. No wonder he dropped like a sack. A .223 would have done the same with that neck shot.
After twenty two long hours the bed was paradise!
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