June/July 2013 EHJ (Issue 137) - The bull took a deep breath, exhaled sharply, and took a step. His muscles flexed as he moved up the steep, slippery slope. Then a hind hoof slipped on the thin layer of fresh powder, grabbed the sharp edge of a rock, propelling the beast upward. He leaned deeper into the slope, his long front legs finding some traction on the ice-crusted lichens that clung to the rock scree. A branch cracked beneath his crushing weight, upending a rock and strewing a line of dark soil across white snow.
The mighty animal stopped and listened, his head lifted, nose into the wind. Nostrils flaring, he tried to catch the scent of danger as his eyes scanned the slope below. He not iced the dark, contrasting dirt he had kicked up over the snow and likely wished the storm had remained a bit longer to cover his tracks. Continuing uphi l l, he turned and contoured back above his trail, watching closely for the pursuer below. Again the bull checked the wind for scent and listened – nothing. The swirling wind was not in his favor, and he knew it. He started again, heading for the ridge top and the cover of the thick firs on its leeward side.
I didn’t hear the snap of the branch or the clunk of the rock, but the sign was there. Pausing again, I scanned the trail ahead and above, being careful not to miss a thing. Countless times I have watched bulls double back above their trail to watch for danger. I assumed by the size of the track and scat, the length of the walking stride, and the elk’s habit of avoiding narrowly spaced trees, that this was a legal bull worth shooting on this final weekend of the general big game hunting season. An hour earlier, his tracks had split from a group of four elk and circled uphill. I had followed my instincts and stayed to his tracks.
I pulled my cap lower against the cold wind and checked the tightness of my earplugs. I dislike wearing them in the woods, missing the sound of a hoof striking rock or the cough of a feeding animal. But with earplugs, I would save my hearing from the hot load of my .44 magnum revolver. When the shot opportunity presents itself, often at close range, there is rarely time to fiddle with ear protection. Long ago I had taught myself to focus on sight alone, and this was the sense that I now depended on.
For a full account of Todd's adventure, go to page 56 in the June/July 2013 issue of Eastmans' Hunting Journal.