Third Day’s a Charm
Hunting has been especially rewarding this year, sort of a tipping point in both my hunting aptitude and attitude. I have enjoyed it more than ever and have been slightly less goal oriented. Each morning, beginning the first day of my eight-day elk and deer season, I leave the house happy to be able to go for “an armed hike.” If I see an animal, if I can get a good shot and an elk or deer, it would make my day. If I do not get a shot, or even see animals, I will not be discouraged and think they have all left my area; I will simply enjoy the woods! This way of thinking is a new for me. I am not fearful of having an empty freezer. In the past when I have had a day without seeing animals, I began to believe they had all gone south to Cancun or somewhere for the winter. I know better; they are probably just watching me from cover of thick scrub or dark timber, playing hide and seek! It is not likely that the entire season will pass without success, but if so, for the first time since I began hunting 24 years ago, we could find other things to eat. For today, I get to go for a walk in the woods!
This is Monday, day three of my 2012 deer and elk season and I do not have to work. Well, I should work some at my home office but I don’t have scheduled appointments (medical practice to support my writing habit) until tomorrow. The morning is beautiful with clear sky and just enough dampness on the ground to be quiet, not crunchy. Enough leaves have fallen and mixed with the pine needles that I walk on a soft fragrant surface. Each silent step releases the distinct aroma of the deep forest after a nighttime rain.
Having seen elk in the same part of the forest for the past two mornings, I decide to go with the belief that they are creatures of habit and return to that same location. I will go past the north boundary of my property and towards the west property line of the Guthrie land where I have been for the past two days. Hmmm. Maybe I am a creature of habit, too. Erik will go east and further north and Loren will be at the very far north ridge of the Guthrie property. Ken got his bull Saturday night. More on that later, but for today, he is not hunting.
I am walking towards the location where I last saw elk yesterday. Before I get to the part of the woods where I angle due west, then have to cross a small open area where I could be in full view, I glance northwest and up. Gasp. Hold my breath. Brown bodies straight ahead, only about 200 yards away. They are moving, not running, but a purposeful brisk walk. With trees between us, and between each of them, but enough open space to give me more visibility than yesterday, I begin to identify gender. I have only a cow tag this week, so cannot shoot a bull. Even if I did have a bull tag, and I do plan to buy one for next month, I have to be absolutely sure to see the antlers and confirm that it is of legal size. A legal bull must have either four points on at least one side of his antlers, or brow tines over 5 inches in length. I know there are spike bulls (young, only one point on each antler and not legal for me to shoot), having seen one a week ago from my kitchen window.
I take two very slow and deliberate steps to my right so I can brace myself on a tree. Pulling up my rifle, again slowly, as they have not yet seen, heard or smelled me and I may get a shot. I put my scope on the third elk in the line; the first two are behind trees and still walking, now very rapidly and already out of range. The third elk, the one I can get a shot at, has head down behind a tree. As he lifts up, I see the headgear: spikes. A boy (bull)! Ughh! Lowering my scope, I remain silent and still, watching the three elk move in and out of trees heading east on the steep slope of the ridge. Two more follow, but none present me with possible shots. Did I mention that I am not good at holding still? I stay put as long as I can, maybe ten minutes, then I move east, still hoping to get a shot.
Soon I see a very large cow emerge into an opening. How far away is she? Two hundred, maybe two hundred and fifty yards? I’m not sure. Could I get any closer? I am really far away, below her on a steep hill and through a lot of trees. She is unaware of my presence, so I creep between trees, pretending she won’t see me, yet knowing I cannot camouflage myself completely and will be spotted if she turns my way. Finally I am where I think I can take a shot. This is a kind of a “now or never” deal, as I can’t risk moving any closer. I need to do something. (I remember a truism from previous years: a shot not taken will never get the freezer filled.)
Steady, raise rifle, adjust scope to 9 power, place crosshairs above cow elk (I think I am supposed to shoot high when shooting uphill), hold breath, remember not to reflexively jerk, pull trigger. Boom! The cow is now looking up, but does not seem to know where the noise came from. Not only that, but she does not seem to be injured. I am somewhat surprised, as I usually need only one shot to get my animal. Okay, the echoes from the hillside are in my favor, but I have completely missed my target. What is that stuff about shooting uphill? Oops, I have to aim low, as the bullet trajectory depends on the horizontal distance to the target…or something like that. Okay, steady, aim, shoot. Boom. Nothing. Third time, aiming even lower, is a charm and my bullet finds its mark. One very large cow elk falls, instantly killed by my third shot. WooHoo!! I am thankful to have a clean kill!
Next week: The work begins! Getting the elk from steep hillside to the freezer.