Idaho, 2009, DIY, Public Land
My legs felt like rubber from the now 6.5-mile hike and my mind was filled with thoughts of missing the biggest bull I had scouted this season. The chance of fulfilling my dream of harvesting a 380 bull elk had just slipped through my fingers and there was nothing I could do about it. Then, with a toss of a branch in hopes of kicking out a deer to tag, I got my second chance. Dad always says, “I’d rather be lucky than good,” and today it was good to be lucky.
My luck really began about ten years ago. I tagged along with my dad everywhere he went, whether in a tractor on the farm, in the mountains near my home, or even being at a Hunter’s Ed class watching as my dad taught. Dad gave me the greatest gift possible, the passion and desire to be in the great outdoors.
My quest for a big bull started five years ago when I was only 12. My dad took me archery hunting in the mountains near my home and I arrowed a 320 6x7 bull. It was my first big game animal and I called it in by myself. I knew then that Idaho’s real gem was not the potato I grew up farming.
As the seasons came and went, my passion grew deeper for the bulls we chased in archery season every year. The day I learned I drew a rifle elk tag in my chosen unit, I knew I had my best chance to fulfill my dream. This was the season I had been waiting for and I was ready to set my plan in motion.
Early scouting made me feel that my chances of getting a big, mature bull were not too promising, but once I started calling for my dad in archery elk season, my focus returned. A chance sighting of a large 350-class bull got me pumped and I now knew that the big bulls were there. My season was just 20 days away.
Opening day came during the worst time of the year for me and Dad. It was in the middle of sugar beet harvest and the day before one of the biggest games of my high school football season. The chances of my dad getting away from harvest were slim at best, so I called Archie, knowing that he and his brother Cody had deer tags in the same unit. They were more than eager to tag along.
Opening day arrived with great anticipation and getting some breakfast in my knot-filled stomach wasn’t an easy task. The knot in my stomach was replaced with a knot in my throat and a smile on my face when I saw Dad emerge from downstairs dressed in his camo with his hunting pack on his shoulder. I knew how hard it was for him to be gone from his work during harvest to help me. And to think that I thought the bond between us couldn’t get any stronger!
We drove to the same area where only five days earlier my parents had watched a herd of elk with a huge bull in it. This herd was the same one we had been on in archery season.
It was 30 minutes before light when we headed for the cedars. As we were walking, we heard a tremendous bugle and all of my senses kicked into high gear. Cody whispered to me that I was going to get this bull right here and right now! Little did we know that the bull had different plans.
After an hour of cat and mouse and a two-mile hike, we finally set eyes on him. The bull wasn’t the one I was looking for. This bull was a very large five-point; one that had been seen hanging out with the bull I had come looking for. We made our way back to where dad had set up a spotting scope, hoping to make a new plan.
Using dad’s spotting scope, we found the bull I was looking for within minutes. This was the bull we called “Big Six”. Cody and I started a stalk across open country to the cedars where the herd was heading.
The deep terrain held us in cover until the last 350 yards. From there, Cody thought it was best to belly-crawl through the sagebrush until we could get under the crest of the hill between us and the elk herd. Three different bulls were sounding off, and the chaos allowed us to get in closer.
As we settled in, a deep and raspy bugle echoed through the dense cedars. Chills shot through me and my hair stood on end. There is no bigger rush in the world than hearing the scream of a large bull elk less than 100 yards and the bull not knowing you are there. It reminded me quickly why I love to hunt.
Within a split second, everything changed. The cedars erupted and elk were moving in every direction! What happened? The wind had been perfect and I was sure the elk had never seen us. Nevertheless, the elk were moving out fast.
Suddenly, we saw a huge bull pushing 12 cows on the ridge and Cody said it was now or never. In the excitement of the moment, I raised my rifle and fired two shots. The first one was high and to the right; I must have jerked the trigger. The second shot felt good, but without a noticeable reaction, it was hard to tell. Just as quickly as he appeared, he was gone.
I found out later that Dad had been watching from a high spot but couldn’t tell which one I had shot at because there were no less than seven bulls and 43 cows that had scattered. According to what he could see, none looked hit.
We worked our way up to where the bull had been when I shot and looked for any sign of a hit. Finding nothing, we hiked on about 1-1/2 miles while tracking them. There was still no sign and the elk were still moving fast, so we stayed on their trail another half mile.
Frustrated from missing and tired from five hours of hiking, we took a break to regroup. Dad and Archie headed back to get the truck while Cody and I kept hunting.
It was now midday and we were over six miles from where we had started. Cody and I decided that since I had missed my chance at a bull, I would push some small pockets of brush on our way out, hoping for Cody to get a deer. My legs were sore from the long, hard hike and my mind was heavy with thoughts of missing the biggest bull I had ever seen.
With the toss of a branch in the brush pocket I was pushing, something sounding like a freight train came roaring out of the brush pocket. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing! My body went into autopilot as all of my 4-H Shooting Sports training took over. I cycled the bolt, took the scope covers off, shouldered my rifle, found the target, and switched the safety off. My heart pounded, but at the same time, things were in slow motion.
KABOOM! The vision I saw still burns in my head as I watched the huge bull slide to a stop. Overwhelmed with emotion, I drew in some fresh mountain air while realizing this moment was real.
Dad had been watching us in his spotting scope and had seen what he viewed as me calmly drawing my rifle, taking aim and firing. I don’t remember this, but he said after a few seconds I started jumping in the air before falling to my knees. My bull officially gross scored 397 non-typical and netted 385-2/8 B&C.
There isn’t anyone else in the world that I would have wanted to share this experience with than my dad, my lifelong best friend Archie, and his brother Cody. I have learned that there is more to the hunt than shooting game. The true measure of a hunt is the memories you create with friends and family. I c ould not have asked for anything more. With my dream fulfilled, this day proved that it was truly good to be lucky!