Close Encounter: An Elk story

A bugle pierced the cold morning air. It had come from well below us, so we continued working into a small clearing. We’d been following fresh tracks through the snow and it felt like we were close. We just couldn’t see them yet. The sense was so strong that I sat down to wait and let things develop around us. Twenty yards away my father settled under a tree, following suit.

Looking downhill to see how Matt was situated, I found him staring wild eyed past our position, and gesturing wildly. Uphill a bull let out a bugle so close that I could nearly smell his breath. The noise made it clear what Matt was trying to communicate. Spinning I saw two bulls charging down towards us. The rag bull peeled off, realizing he was out of his league. A large six-by-six stopped at 40 yards.

He snorted and stomped, agitated to be interrupted only part way to his destination. Impatiently, he surveyed the clearing and with it the motionless pack of camo-clad men laying between him and the other bull. I quickly sized up the bull in my binos. My dad was planning to be picky, but this was certainly a bull worthy of our efforts. I gave him the thumbs up, heard the safety click off and waited. The shot never came. Seconds ticked by in what felt like an eternity. The bull had enough. He wheeled and bolted out of our life.

Convening with my dad, I was desperate to know what happened. His crosshairs had perfectly bisected the bulls chest. But through the scattered timber, from his angle, he never had a view of the head. In an area where a brow tined bull was the only legal animal he couldn’t confirm what he was looking at. He made the only ethical decision and refrained from shooting.

It was our best encounter with the kind of bull we were looking for. For six more days we worked tirelessly. In the end we came home empty-handed. It was an outcome my dad was comfortable with. Long before our hunt he decided he would happily withhold from shooting an elk and avoid having to pack it out of the rough country we were hunting.

The fact that we didn’t harvest a bull hardly mattered. The time we spent together in country we love, is what we were truly after.

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