All In

By Brock McMillan
Utah, 2011, DIY, Public Land

Brock McMillan - All InJuly/August 2012 EBJ (Issue 72) - My emotions were hard to describe as we carried my first elk off the mountain. I have hunted big game for more than 30 years and harvested many animals, but this was my first elk. I had never felt like this before. I am not sure if it was the years of anticipation, the physical demands of 15 days at 9,000- 11,000 feet, the mental ups and downs of the hunt, all of my friends that helped, or the gratitude of just being able to hunt. Gratitude because just a few months earlier, I had visited the doctor and the news was not good. I wasn’t going to die, but my hunting future was in jeopardy.

I had seven bonus points and carefully reviewed the draw odds before I applied. My anticipation was high, but in early May with the season opener only three and a half months away, I was lying on an operating table waiting to go in for knee-replacement surgery. My wife was worried that I wasn’t going to make it through the surgery, and I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to recover and get in shape fast enough for the season. In fact, I didn’t know if I would ever be able to hunt high country again…let alone participate in the hunt that I had planned and dreamed about for years. I checked with the regional wildlife office and knew that the surgery would enable me to defer my tag for a year. However, my good friend, Randy Larsen, was going to draw the same tag and there was no way for him to defer.

I tried my first post-surgery hike in early June. The hunt was just over two months away and I had done basically nothing since the surgery - definitely not the ideal conditioning routine when you’re middle-aged. The hike consisted of one mile each way and 1,000 feet of elevation, but that first attempt was utterly discouraging. I didn’t even make it half way before the pain and exhaustion were too much and I turned around. My wife could see the disappointment in my eyes. I continued to work and improve, but progress was slow and my optimism was fading. July 1 was my self-imposed deadline; we had drawn our tags, the hunt was only seven weeks away, and I had to decide whether I was going to hunt or defer my tag. The thought process was difficult; with the waiting period in Utah, it would take at least 11 years to draw this tag again. Ultimately, the decision was pretty easy - I WAS ALL IN!

By the time opening day arrived, we had scouted hard and knew where several good bulls were residing. We were hiking down the ridge well before light. I was with Randy and another good friend, JT Kaze. JT is an elk-hunting maniac that hikes like he is part mountain goat. JT’s brother, Griffin, was heading down the ridge across the canyon so that he could spot for us from over a mile away. My excitement was almost uncontrollable. We had watched the bulls in the canyon for most of the summer and I was sure that one of us was going to have a close encounter. As the sun began to rise, we were disappointed to find sheep everywhere in the basin we were hunting. We saw a couple of raghorns, but the big bulls that had been there all summer and just a few days earlier were nowhere to be found.

The entire first week of the hunt was much the same…sheep everywhere. We were seeing elk and I had been close to several smaller bulls, but the elk were not in the scouted locations and most of the big bulls had seemingly disappeared. Had they moved into dark timber after shedding their velvet? Had they moved to different drainages? Had they gone nocturnal? We had no idea, but as the first week came to a close, I began to understand the mental challenge of hunting elk with a bow that so many others have described. I was not discouraged, but I began to wonder if I would have an opportunity to close the deal on a mature bull. To make things worse, I had to be back to work Monday morning.

Brock McMillon - All In

For a full account of Brock's adventure, go to page 24 in the July/August 2012 issue of Eastmans' Bowhunting Journal.