“How will I know they’re coming?” I whispered to my hunting partner.
“Oh, you’ll know they’re coming” he chuckled with a sparkle in his eyes. “They won’t be sneaking up on you; they will be trampling down anything in their path!”
“OK” I said as I carefully and quietly began to thread my way through the dense thicket. I slowly approached a partial clearing just before ascending the small hill on which I would take a stand. There I would patiently await my quarry. The clearing was sparsely dotted with large Ponderosa pines and towering yellow tamaracks whose shade provided cool protection and camouflage as well as a softly carpeted floor of fragrant pine needles. What a perfect haven from the hunters combing the surrounding area.
I tried to blend in along the fringe of pines, keeping the mild breeze in my face so I wouldn’t be scented by the crafty beasts who could manage to silently cruise the forest floor while I managed to step on just about every brittle branch I came upon, no matter how diligently I tried to avoid them. They had earned the Indian name “Wapiti,” which translated into “ghost of the forest.” It was certainly an appropriate name for the animal that had mastered the art of silent movement, considering an average elk weighs anywhere from 400 to 1400 pounds and could easily be crowned by a thorny rack of antlers measuring an average of 50 to 60 inches across the widest point.
My partner and I had often hunted deer together and we made a great team. This was my first elk hunt and I was eager to locate the animals that had left their scent in passing through this peaceful, secluded little haven. We had tags for an early cow hunt. I had never seen an elk out in the wild and didn’t quite know what to expect. But I was a good shot and knew I could do this.
I had developed a routine of harnessing my thoughts as I hunted. My mind would replay dozens of scenes from the professional hunting programs I constantly watched, as well as the numerous tips and techniques I had gleaned from listening to others sharing the experiences they had while hunting these amazingly intelligent beasts. I concentrated on controlling my breathing and limiting my movements. I pictured the animal in various approaches so I would know where to place my shot. I had trained myself to be calm and patient and it had always paid off for me with a wonderful harvest of wild meat for the winter.
Each animal I had gotten in the past had always been taken with one shot. Only once had I missed my target. I had been caught off guard when a doe sailed past me from behind. I had missed twice but on my third shot I had managed to bring my concentration back under control and successfully brought her down.
Because of all the stories I had heard about large elk sneaking right past hunters while maneuvering their massive bodies and antlers through brush and trees, my senses were on high alert. I scanned the tree line and thickets to detect the smallest disturbance as I moved closer to my destination where I would find a perfect spot to hide myself and wait for my hunting partner to flush them in my direction. I had just crossed the small clearing and stepped back into the dense forest when I peered back one more time through the trees watching for any sign of ears, eyes or the twitch of a tail. I strained to hear even the slightest sound – – nothing!
And then my partner’s words came rushing to my mind: “Oh, you’ll know they’re coming!” How right he was – for ahead of me and off to my left came the thunderous sound of hooves and the trees sounded as though a bulldozer was crushing through them at top speed.
I quickly raised my 30-06, slipping the safety off as I took my stance. In less than ten seconds four huge cow elk burst through the trees into the clearing at about 50 yards. They seemed to be a blur as they came through and yet I could see their eyes wide with fear.
The lead cow shot past me and as I swung to follow her in my sights, she disappeared through the trees. I took aim on the second cow and dropped her just as she went behind a large pine with a fallen log next to it. I could see her legs still running through the air as she lay on her back on the forest floor. She tried to rise up and I shot again, hitting her behind the front leg and then watched her relax back down into the pine needle bedding.
The third cow had swerved to the right and raced up the hill at the sound of my shot. As I glanced to see her disappear, the fourth and final animal bolted past me and circled to my left. I was standing next to a large Ponderosa as she skidded to a stop before me. This old gal tried to double back and had come up right behind me before she realized it. As I had turned, I expected to see her rump disappear through the trees but to my surprise I saw her wide eyes, flared nostrils breathing hot air right in my face and stiff-legged skid. Before she whirled away to make her escape, I realized she was so close I could have touched her nose. I actually thought she was going to “trample anything in her path” as I had often been told, and that would have been me!
As she disappeared through the trees, I had to chuckle at such an amazing confrontation with this beautiful wild animal. I had hoped to see more than a couple of elk that day, but I certainly didn’t expect four of them to race right by where I stood, giving me the perfect opportunity to be successful on my first elk hunt. Nor did I expect to feel the breath of one of those animals right in my face as I stared back at her with eyes that were as wide in fear as hers had been! If I hadn’t been in such shock, I may have been nimble enough to touch her nose and what a story that would have been!
All these thoughts went through my mind in a flash. I turned back to the clearing to locate the animal I had shot and found that my legs were trembling as well as my hands. I shouted for my hunting partner and he stepped out of the trees only a mere 20 to 30 yards from where this incredible scene had taken place in the space of less than five minutes. Together we found my elk and so ended my first elk hunt. Not only had I bagged a beautiful animal, but I had gained an exciting story to share at the campfire for many years to come!