OK, obviously the elk isn’t 60 years old, I am. I’ve lived in Idaho all my life and love the outdoors. Those of us my age and older know how it is, your mind has a hard time accepting the limitations of your years. Luckily the body is there to remind you, or you might do things both body and mind later regret. In my case, my younger hunting companions seem to have more difficulty accepting my advancing age than I do. “You can climb these mountains better than men half your age,” they say as I’m gasping for air and pounding on my chest trying to restart my heart. So it was no surprise when Lance Sellers, 15 years my junior, called wanting me to apply for Idaho’s only controlled archery hunt. He wanted to do a group application, three younger commando types and me. “There’s BIG bulls there.” Lance explained, “and lots of them.”
My mind pictured me packing a whole 400-class bull up a steep hillside with a huge grin on my face. The thought was only momentary as I snapped to reality. “You don’t want a 60-year-old guy holding you back,” I replied. “Are you kidding, you can climb those mountains better than men half your age and this IS for your 60th.” Oh no, the half your age thing! I can’t go with these guys, I thought, They’re just being kind and I’ll die trying to be half my age. “You know I have bad joints!” “It’s OK, The hunt ain’t that tough,” Lance replied. “You know my luck drawing controlled hunts (my lack of success drawing is almost legendary), I put in 16 years and didn’t draw a moose tag.” “It’s all of us or none of us,” he said. Out of excuses, it occurred to me there are only 15 permits and I can’t draw on anything anyway. Chances were slim to none that a group application would be drawn, why argue?
“Congratulations man, we actually got four of the fifteen permits,” the voice on the phone exclaimed. “Get ready for the hunt of a lifetime!” A hunt of a lifetime, this could be the last hunt in my lifetime. “August 30 is only a few months off,” he announced and hung up. Well, now I was torn between childish excitement and fear of the physical challenges that might be ahead. My mind and body were in serious conflict over this one. The three other guys were about to wet their pants from excitement and, I, because of my age. Lance was already packing his gear and it wasn’t even July. Time to stud up once more old man, I told myself with a whimper.
A week later we were bouncing along rough dirt roads scouting new country. A quick trip only requiring a sleeping bag and good humor. It dipped below freezing that night, but I hardly noticed as I mused at my hard cot, loud snoring and Lance, in his briefs, yelling and searching for some phantom creature in the middle of the night with his flashlight stuck on strobe. The next morning Lance thrilled me with a ride on the back of his Fat Cat. We bounced over goat trails at what my backside estimated to be at just under 50mph. The great 2008 elk adventure had begun!
I usually hunt from my property in the Idaho Mountains. Maybe not world class hunting, but we manage to get a few each year. As I get older the idea of a soft bed, hot shower and home-like surroundings seems the better base camp. I once had pack animals and every year hunted elk in the back country. That ended when I discovered cabin hunting. One of the great things about owning get-away property is that it eliminates much of that annoying free time you may have had prior. The past few years I have been aggressively updating a number of things at the property.
One of my projects required a roof over a deck and I was hurrying to finish before the hunt. Lance dropped by to put a curse on me as I was working one day. “Don’t fall off that roof and hurt yourself before the hunt,” he said. You can probably guess what’s next! A few days later I had both shoulders packed in ice after a ladder kicked out dropping me without warning. Luckily I hit the deck and a few other things on the way down or I may have been seriously hurt. My right arm was a solid bruise from the shoulder to below the elbow, with a half baseball size bulge at the shoulder. The left arm looked OK, but wouldn’t respond to commands to move in some directions. With injures like these I had to act fast. I pulled my bow from it’s case and tried to bring it to shooting position. The only thing I was likely to hit now would be my foot. I could neither lift nor draw the bow. In denial, I was sure it would be better in a few days. Back to work on the roof, damaged arms and all.
I have a rule against hunting during Labor Day weekend. Let all the people have their fun, go home, and then I venture out to hunt. August 30th was opening day for archery and Lance had been living at hunting camp for a couple of weeks prior. He likes to get there a little early! I had exercised my aching arms to a point where I could actually shoot my bow a few times, though not real steady beyond 30 yards. Both arms hurt most of the time, even keeping me awake at night. Not improving quickly, I made a trip to the doctor. After examining the injuries he wasn’t thrilled with delaying treatment because of the hunt, but put things off for a month. He gave me some pills to take the edge off the pain and muttered “you were safer when you were a fire fighter.” Lance set me up with a great hunting opportunity and I was determined to see it through, if possible.
I arrived Tuesday the 2nd in time for an evening hunt. That evening and the next day were what elk hunters dream of. Elk were singing and visible almost everywhere we went, but not real aggressive. That is, until Thursday morning. There were three of us and Lance was trying his best to get an elk in front of the old guy (me). We have called for each other for years, but this trip he told me I was to be the shooter. At this point I would just like to say that you are fortunate if you have a hunting companion the likes of Lance Sellers, though tough to keep pace with at times. Back to the hunt! We located a number of elk in an area consisting of open hills and valleys with large patches of brush and timber. The plan was to circle in above them before daylight and get position on the bulls. Deer watched as we moved along the edge of the brushy cover. We stopped to glass the hillsides and
Lance spotted elk on a far ridge. Even though hardly visible, with binoculars he could see one was a bull. Lance had misplaced his grunt tube and suggested I call to see if the elk would respond. I did and the bull returned the bugle, although very faint. I tried again. “That bull is coming,” Lance said in amazement. Hard for me to believe, but sure enough I could see it working it’s way into the valley a ridge over. Lance requested that I stay and call as the two of them worked their way downhill for an intercept. Honest, I was OK with staying up on that point as they scrambled into the valley. Soon the bull appeared on the center ridge and cut loose with a cloud of steamy breath floating into the air around him. Cool, I thought as I enjoyed the show and watched the bull advance into the valley below. Then things changed quickly.
As the bull neared the bottom, I quit calling and Lance took over with the cow call. No dice, this bull wasn’t interested in cows, he was coming for the bull on the point (me). HOLY CRAP! HE’S NOT STOPPING. I turned, grabbing my bow that was peacefully resting on the ground behind me, and ran about 50 yards along a brush line until I found a small spot where I could hide. No sooner there than I heard rocks rolling down hill and antlers appeared on the point where I had been calling. At that distance, how could a bull know the very spot my call came from, I thought. I watched as Lance continued to call and the elk searched for the rival bull. I was sure he would eventually work his way around me and back down hill to the other hunters. Just in case, I readied an arrow as the bull slowly followed my path along the bush line. I then remembered Lance spraying my hat with “his formula”. Man, it was like this elk was stalking me.
Ever think someone or something is listening to your thoughts? I thought to myself, with bad shoulders, I better take this bull now if he gives me a good shot. At that instant, the bull stepped out at around 15 yards and intently stared in the other direction. After the shot I thought, I hope he doesn’t run down hill, as I watched him spin around and run up to the trail we had just walked in on. Although taking care of an elk in the field is never easy, my shoulders and I felt blessed watching elk meat riding to the truck on Lance’s Fat Cat.
All in all a nice bull, especially considering how close I came to missing the hunt due to injuries. As I told Lance, “this bull may not be a record breaker, but he has 400-class memories.” Lance and the others went on to fill their tags with nice bulls as well. Thanks again Lance and Happy 60th to me. Got to go, the Doctor is waiting!!!