It was the perfect evening, ultimately too perfect. As I crept down the heavily timbered ridge I felt myself becoming part of the forest; almost Zen like. It was so quiet it was mesmerizing. Not a squirrel chattering, not a bird chirping, not a breath of wind. One of the rare moments in the woods that felt like being in a boxing match with a heavyweight contender named Vertigo. Utilizing everything my father had taught me on the mountain, I continued down the ridge at what felt like two steps a minute. Knowing one little twig, a nose sniffle or even a pant leg brushing together would sacrifice the remainder of the hunt, I felt my senses heighten and I went into full mountain mode. With a healthy dose of exhaustion, confidence, and a burning anticipation of the final daunting minutes of shooting light I caught movement to my left.
A ghost white silhouette drifted through the timber and then disappeared. The white only a mountain bull could portray. In fact, so white one could pull the trigger on color alone. Waiting for one more glimpse, I saw ivory tips. I “clicked” my safety to the off position. I had mentioned it was silent, but no person could realize how silent until the safety lever clicked forward. The bull stopped in his tracks and looked directly at me. I was in a position I have been in a hundred times before. If you are hunting timber bulls, most of the time you have to make a one second decision. Thinking I was a tough guy in the past, I have let some great bulls go this way. The thing about it, if you have a magical hunt in the dark forest and get lucky enough to harvest a rifle bull under a hundred yards, you have done something. With social media, TV shows and the new big bull hype, it has turned hunting into a wiener measuring contest. I’ve killed big bulls and rag horn bulls. And I will kill more of each, but I do promise you this, the size of the antlers don’t make up for the size of the hunt..no matter how hard you try.
Only being able to see a glimpse of the ivory horn, I swung back and held on the front shoulder. A reminiscence of what I’ve done year after year on mountain timber bulls. Being moments from shooting light, a six foot flame rolled out the end of my barrel. The bull wheeled and ran. It is crazy how things go into slow motion; I ejected the shell and I can still visualize the cartridge tumbling through the air until it hit the ground bouncing back and forth until it found its final resting place. Picking it up, I rubbed my thumb across its shiny surface realizing in the moment how truly blessed I am. I said a prayer that I made a good shot and for the magnificent creatures life. Lost in a glowing trance of bittersweet, I was violently brought back to reality with a loud crash that was to close for the bull to not be hit. Gently placing the shell casing in my pocket, I removed my GPS and marked my shooting position. Now dark with no moon, I slowly headed down the hill in the direction the bull went.
Following his tracks on the dry earth he headed for a downward hillside that I would almost consider mountaineering status. At this point, I still had seen no blood in my headlamp. Believing in myself I slowly kept following his tracks down the mountain. A couple more steps and it went from tracks to a six foot wide swath that looked like an excavator had made. Examining the scene, I realized I was standing in a pool of blood. The bull was running dead and this is where he had crashed. Zooming my head lamp in as far as it would go, I shined it down the mountain and could see him. The hill was so steep and coupled with cliffs that he had slid almost two hundred yards before being stopped by a fir tree. Here is where it doesn’t matter if you have killed 23 bulls or 1, you fall to your knees and tear up in ultimate respect, utmost gratitude, forgiveness and even a little remorse for taking such a special creatures life. Approaching my bull, he was a rack 5 point by a heavy horned goofy beam! His left main beam grew forward with a blunted brow tine and then a big long sword with one sweeping point. He was perfect.
It might be different for some, but since I was a little boy, my most magical memories in this world are following my dad up the elk mountain. I have spent a thousand mornings by my dad’s side staring at the stars waiting for legal shooting light. All I have ever known is bull elk and thick timber and with that comes the most driven and dignified man on the mountain. Cheers to that magical feeling, for those of you that know what I’m talking about.