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So Close, Yet So Far MAG
It was the second day of our vigorous, week-long hunt. The day before we had heard and seen elk in this very spot, and we were excited to try our luck again.
There were three of us: my dad’s best friend and our great hunting buddy, Bill, my brother Adam, and me. All of us were dressed in our favorite camo pattern - Mossy Oak Forest Floor, of course. Bill put his red dia-phragm call into his mouth, more out of habit than necessity, and we headed up the trail carrying our bows and our Maglites.
The trail to the desired basin was two miles long. It is actually more of a cattle path, worn from years of grazing. On our left was a grassy ridge that was relatively small compared to the tree-covered one towering above us to the right. The dry timothy grass crackled with each step. We stopped for a breather. With every lung-piercing breath of 20-degree morning air came a plume of mist from our mouths. We listened for a bugle in the distance.
Nothing. We moved on.
Finally, we reached the bottom of the basin. The sun was starting to creep over the mountains and it looked as though a fire were cresting the peaks as the deep oranges and reds penetrated my eyes. Bill went off for a minute so Adam and I sat down. It was then that we heard it.
It came from three-quarters of the way up the mountain, an eerie sound that made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. I’ve heard it a hundred times, but it always has the same effect. It was the bugle of a bull elk. Bill hurriedly rejoined us and we came up with a plan.
The day before, the elk had run from our calls because they had been over-called earlier in the year. We knew calling wouldn’t work, so we decided to put a stalk on the herd. We would make our way up the mountain and sneak through the trees until we were 60 yards from the herd and then start calling.
With each step our anticipation increased. Every time my foot hit the ground, it seemed as though thunder rumbled. Slowly, we proceeded. It seemed as though time hardly moved. We were halfway to our destination when I heard the crash.
I stopped Bill and Adam to make sure they heard it. We searched the lodge pole forest and the sound came again. Then, about 100 yards in front of us, I saw it: a dark, tan figure ghosting through the dense timber. Another came, then another. We had inadvertently intercepted the herd.
We dropped to our knees. The herd turned toward us and then disappeared into a thick patch of timber. We could still hear the soft mews of the cows. Above us on the ridge, one by one, they appeared. They were 60 yards ahead, too great a distance for a bow. By this time, the adrenaline was pumping through me like the water of a thundering river during spring run-off. Watching the herd, we saw some of them split and approach us. The first came. It was a spike, not legal in our hunting district. The rest followed closely. All the elk that split from the main herd were spikes. Above, more elk were starting to split. The second one, though, was a cow. Thinking that she was out of my range, I failed to draw back my bow. I whispered to Bill to shoot, but he was waiting for the bull.
We let her get away, but there were more above. We heard an ear-shrieking bugle from the trees. I saw one of the largest bulls I have ever seen. He was a deep black from rolling in a wallow. I counted six points to a side. He was up with the main herd though, and we couldn’t get a shot.
This was the end of the herd, or so we thought. To our surprise, five more elk appeared. The front two were spikes and they ran straight toward us! I was about to stand up from fright when they stopped and turned to face each other. They were four yards in front of us! I couldn’t believe my eyes. They didn’t even know we were there. Then, right in front of us, the spikes charged at each other. The smaller of the two saw he would lose and turned at the last moment with a yelp. The dirt dug up from their hooves hit me in the leg.
The final three were now in front of us. I couldn’t believe my eyes. The last elk that I thought was a spike had a four-inch brow tine. He was legal. By the time I saw it, the raghorn was past me. I whispered to Adam that the bull was legal and he drew back his bow. As the raghorn took one more step, I heard the twang of his bow release. The elk jumped and ran up the hill. Adam had missed. Thinking the elk was only 30 yards away, he shot right under him. We later paced off the distance to find it was a 40-yard shot.
We were disappointed that we didn’t have an elk on the ground, but were thankful for such a great experience. Never before had we been so close to such a magnificent animal. Even though none of us got an elk that trip, it was still a success. We went home happy with lots of memories and, who knows, there’s always next year.