November/December 2012 EBJ (Issue 74) - My heart felt like a trapped frog leaping inside my chest. The frog couldn’t see for itself, but it was trying to escape through my throat to get a view of the first bull elk that I had ever lined up in my sights. I stood frozen at full-draw on this "rag” bull, and tried to remember every piece of advice I had received for this moment. "Don’t focus on focusing, just breathe evenly, stay as still as you can, and let go of your arrow with a clean, straight shot.” I can do this.
I thought about every perceptible detail that my hunting partner, guide, best friend, and husband of 10 years, Brent, had coached me on for these five seconds. There was nothing between me and this majestic bull--just my frog that felt like he might actually break through my chest if I waited any longer. I cursed my body for not allowing more blood to flow into my stiff, frozen hands. Doesn’t it know what I’m about to do? Instead, I felt my cheeks flush red. The bull turned his heavy head to the left, and just before my fingers were to become unresponsive, I exhaled. I can do this.
Everyone likes to remember themselves as being calm and collected when they recount the epic story to their friends about their first bull, but any sportsman (or sportswoman) knows that all the coaching in the world doesn’t matter when it’s just you staring at a huge animal, with a bow that suddenly feels like it was ratcheted-up to a 300-pound draw in the sub-zero temperatures of northwestern Montana. This is the moment that makes the hours of hiking of desolate mountain sides, the weeks spent in basements and backyards target shooting, and months of anxiously scouting all worth it. You can’t have the reward without putting in the work, and you certainly can’t experience the thrill without accepting the challenge.
I never took the shot on the rag bull that day, and I thought I’d never forgive myself for my decision. How many people get that opportunity, and how could I pass on it? My husband was resolute. He was confident that I would have another chance. As always, he was right.
On an unusually warm morning in late September, Brent and I woke at 3 a.m. and drove to our favorite hunting spot like we had on every possible day we could. We parked quietly and made one last gear check before taking off into the dark. We followed our headlamps for a little over one mile and settled into a spot above the basin where we could start to bugle as the daylight crept over the edge of the earth and into the beautiful Montana sky. It became evident within minutes that we wouldn’t need to bugle at all; they were already well into singing back and forth on their own. Who needs American Idol when we have Mother Nature’s duet happening in front of us? We watched the sun rise together and I felt every ounce of my previous hunt’s disappointment rush back to me as confidence and enthusiasm.
We estimated at least five bulls to be in the singing competition, and they were very far away. This was going to be a long hike. Listening to the calls, we got moving and found them over the next ridge. We followed the herd for quite some distance, careful not to give away our position as we crept ahead of them perpendicular on the ridgeline. Finally, we were able to let out a bugle of our own and instantly got the attention of one large bull that was ready for his close-up. He was heading our way and coming fast. I feared that the frog in my chest would be waking soon, so I kept my breathing slow and collected as I hurried down the ridge in the direction my husband gave me to intercept the bull and hopefully get a clear shot before he found the other elk.
For a full account of Juli's adventure, go to page 28 in the November/December 2012 issue of Eastmans' Bowhunting Journal.