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A moment not often experienced or understood - 2020 Archery Elk Hunt

Since getting into hunting, I've been able to see and experience some pretty incredible things. Some very humbling and gratifying things. 

Hunting to me has been an ongoing mental, physical, emotional and spiritual journey. It's one of the many reasons why I continue to do it. An experience I had last back in September of 2020 has really stuck with me. I was out hunting alone in the mountains when a big storm was scheduled to hit all across the western states of America. I remember deciding to hike back to camp around 4pm as those big dark storms clouds began to swallow up the sky. The wind was the first thing to pick up, followed by the rain and thunder. I had made it back to camp just as it began to downpour. Lighting flashes became hectic and I continually had to press on the roof of my tent as the water would pool itself on top causing my tent to collapse. All night trees fell left and right of where I slept and the sound of thunder echoed in my head. It was quite exciting as I actually enjoyed crazy storms, however a part of it was a little daunting. 

The next morning, I woke up and got ready to trek back out to the mountains. I left the tent just as the sky was beginning to take color. The clouds were beginning to break and the atmosphere was calm. The mountains above me were blanketed in snow and everything below was soaked in water. Almost right off the bat, a bugle came from the timber and I made my way toward it. I couldn't believe the amount of water the leaves and underbrush held. Within the first 10 minutes I was soaked. I think jumping in a lake would have left me less drenched. And with the higher elevation I got the more snow I ran into. But the elk were bugling and the action was pretty decent. I played cat and mouse with a young bull that I bugled back and forth for a good 20 minutes, but he never had the confidence to show himself from the thicket. By the time 9:30 rolled around, the woods began to silence. So, to avoid pushing them out of their comfortable spots, I gained even more elevation to follow the thermals as they changed upwards and found a nice little opening to take a break and “dry out”. It was impossible to find a piece of dry ground, so I pulled out my rain pants that I had stuffed in my pack and laid them on the ground to sit on. The only reason why I wasn't wearing them is because they were much too noisy. I proceeded to take off my gators, then my boots, then my socks, then I stripped off my pants, leaving my thermal layer on. The amount of water I wrung from my pants and socks would have supplied a family of four for a week in a desert. It was quite chilly outside, I believe on the higher end of 30 degrees. After hanging my clothes in various trees, I sat down on my rain pants in a small pocket of sunshine that pushed its way through the pines. It was hard to get comfortably warm, but thankfully I wasn't cold enough that I was shivering. I figured I'd hang out for a while, so just for precautionary measures I ranged some of the trees around where I was to see how far they were. Then I pulled out some snacks and started playing with my phone.

After about 20 minutes or so, a bugle blared from behind me. I didn't think much of it as I figured the bull would catch my scent. So I ignored it and continued to mess with my phone, not even 5 minutes later, he bugled again coming almost directly to my right. My adrenaline spiked and I quickly grabbed my boots, not even bothering to grab my socks. Just as soon as I was about to tie up the first one, I saw antlers peaking over the horizon to my right. I slowly looked over as he walked the ridge line. As I kept a very close eye on the bull I grabbed my bow by my side and waited for the bull to look away. He moved down just below me and looked directly away from me and I stood up as I drew back. Having already ranged, he was standing close to a tree I had ranged at 45 yards. At this point the bulls vitals were not very visible so I could only hope he'd give me an opportunity. Either he could turn around and go back up the hill on the same path where he came from, or continue downward and I'd lose my opportunity. Luck had it, that bull turned right around and followed his tracks back up. As soon as his vitals were clear, I let out a soft cow call with my voice that stopped the bull. He looked straight at me standing broadside. I found my mark through the peep of my bow and pressed on the trigger of my release. There was a loud thump of impact and the bull pivoted, crashing through the underbrush around the ridge. I stood there in disbelief, one boot and all.

Couldn't believe that just happened. I replayed the scene in my head as the wave of emotions and uncertainty began to take over. I gave myself a few minutes to get my emotions together as I grabbed what clothes I had hanging in the trees and put them back on. Even though they were far from dry. After about 10 minutes I walked over to where the bull had been standing and found where the dirt was turned up from when he took off. I followed the tracks for about 20 yards without any sign of blood and stood there, playing the shot in my head again. I could've sworn I hit lungs, but trying to pinpoint where an arrow goes as the animal runs off is quite difficult. I sat for a few minutes deciding if I should go a little further or give it more time. Gave it another 10 minutes and followed the tracks again. Finally I found the first spot of blood, it was a good color. I kept following and began to find bigger pools of blood. Then bubbly pools of blood, indicating lungs were hit. It was a relieving sign and the uncertainty started to turn into excitement. I continued following his trail and started to catch whiffs of the musky smell of a rutted up bull.

I was on a steep, thick face and was constantly looking up trying to spot the bull and at the same time looking down to follow the tracks and try not to slip and fall. At one moment I paused on the hillside and looked around, I knew he was close by. Then I caught a glimpse of something probably about 40 yards below me tucked up under a pine. It was him.

So much relief came upon me. I carefully made my way down to him, soon realizing that the bull had not yet expired. Immediately my mood went from excited to concerned. I couldn't tell where my arrow hit as the bull was in an awkward position with his top line facing me. I also did not have a good angle to put another arrow in him. There was nothing I could do but watch the bull fight against his failing organs. I was uneasy and began to pray that the bull would move just enough for me to put a follow up shot on him. It was so hard to watch him struggle. A hunter's whole goal is to perform the most ethical shot on an animal they can and it's about the worst feeling when that fails. I continued to pray and talk to the bull just wishing he'd flip to one side or the other. To my relief he moved just enough to get another one right in his heart. And at a close 5 yards I took my follow up shot. Soon after the bull began to fade quickly. After he moved I noticed I got full penetration through his lungs on my first shot. Which is a good shot. This bulls' will to survive was just so strong and it blew me away the amount of resistance he was having to not give up. 

I sat my bow on the ground and carefully walked up to the bull. I remember sitting right by him as he took his last breaths. I couldn't help but shed tears and have an overwhelming flow of emotions take over. I carefully stroked his neck as he passed into a different world. Feeling that is something of another sort. I could feel his spirit in his body move on. I just sat and honored him, soaked from head to toe. What an amazing incredible opportunity to be able to harvest such a resilient animal. He would now become a part of my life. Not only food for my family and I, but a memory that I'll remember forever.

I began to admire the beauty of him. The contrast in his hair, the old scars and wounds from his life journey, the beautifully textured antlers that were covered in mud and grass from tearing up the woods. He was absolutely stunning. I was beyond grateful to harvest this bull and proceeded to begin breaking him down and getting the quarters and extra meat put into game bags before the sun set.

Then it was onto making multiple trips off and on the mountain to bring him back to camp. That bull ended up having some of the best meat I've had off an elk and left my freezer very full. To be able to get some of the cleanest and leanest protein there is and knowing exactly where it's from is pretty amazing. It's just even more amazing that I was able to work for it and have an incredible memory behind it. Hunting is a way of life for me. It keeps me alive and makes me feel alive. Not only that, but I feel a connection with my heritage and ancestors who went out and did the same thing.

I cannot wait to have more experiences on my hunting journeys. They are all unique and have their own lessons and obstacles and it continues to strengthen me as a person in more ways than one. 

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