I have a quote that I always remind my son, Austin (and sometimes myself) of any time we get down in the elk woods, or at home:
Nobody said life would be easy, they just promised it would be worth it.” – Harvey MacKay.
And in a hunters life, it is so worth it!
As the shadows grew long on that warm September evening, Austin and I crept into position. The night before, we had located a bull that would only bugle an hour after dark. I explained to him that since it was early in the season, the bull was probably still in his summer pattern and would probably be in the same area this evening during shooting light. All we had to do was place ourselves in the “red zone” and hold our cards tight until just the right moment. Then, with just enough calling to peak his interest, he might drop in to see who his new neighbors are. After waiting for the sun to fade from the tree tops and the thermals to suck our scent downhill, I began calling VERY sparingly. Less than 15 minutes into our routine, a young 5-point bull quietly emerged 20 yards from Austin! “SHOOT”, I kept thinking to myself as I waited for his bow to go off, but the bull faded away just as silently as he had approached. Austin explained that the 4-foot tall ferns were covering the bull’s vitals and no shot was presented. Good choice, Austin.
Hunting with kids can test the patience of any hunter, but it’s something I’ve been waiting for since the day I heard I was going to be a dad. I’ve noticed the things I find second-nature in the elk woods, are often something that needs to be explained more than once before they sink in 100% with the kids. I know I’ve told Austin several times, “Draw your bow when the bulls vision is obstructed by trees or brush.” This fall, in another set-up, a bull came in quickly and caught Austin off-guard at about 3 yards! He had set up right behind a giant hemlock tree and he couldn’t see the bull running straight up the ridge to us until it was too late. Instead of letting the bull pass and drawing his bow when he was clear of the elk’s peripheral vision, he continued waiting for the bull to walk behind a tree. It never happened, and I had the hapless bull in my lap- AND I DIDN’T HAVE A TAG! No matter how many scenarios we had talked over, the one that we failed to discuss was the one we had happen. That’s the fun part of elk hunting, though. No matter what you set out expecting, it can change in a heartbeat.
There are also the hunts that end with a blood trail to a downed elk. Finally, after all the struggle and sacrifice – there’s success! These are the moments that are quite surreal. It is an emotional and sometimes confusing time for a young hunter to feel the high of killing a bull elk, but also the sadness of taking the life of a creature so wild. The pride and sense of accomplishment of a father or mentor at this time is hard to match, even with our own best personal accomplishments.
Regardless of whether the hunt ends with high fives over a mountain monarch or the sharp pain of blowing it when you have been so close to notching a tag, you can be sure the memories will last a lifetime for you and the young hunter. And that is why elk hunting is so addicting to young and old alike.