'Sign here and don't worry about the rest!' I said while handing my friend his elk application. He signed obediently and soon both of our applications were entrusted to the USPS. We had applied for one of the few party elk hunts offered by the state of Montana - a late season either sex elk tag. A 'party hunt' means that two hunters may apply as one for a certain hunting district. If one hunter draws the tag, his partner also draws. However, with the number of available permits declining each year due to increasing wolf populations, neither of us held our breath.
My friend, Adriele Rosheger, was quite new to hunting. In fact, he was relatively new to America. Born and raised mostly in Italy and Albania, Adriele had come to the states for a college education. Fortunately there were those of us who decided it wouldn't hurt to offer him a hunting education as well. He tagged along on a few bowhunting adventures, but had only physically seen a handful of elk, not to mention a real trophy bull. Adriele can speak four languages fluently, but so far elk wasn't one of them. He'd never fired a rifle, ridden a horse, taken or field-dressed an animal of any kind, yet here he was with his name in the hat for one of the most coveted tags in Montana.
Months later 'The Albanian' (as he is called by friends) phoned me saying that he'd received a letter from the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks. He was wondering if it was a bill. I couldn't believe it! I knew that what he held in his hand was not a bill. Sure enough, when I checked my mailbox I realized the improbable had occurred. We had both drawn tags! The following months were spent attempting to prepare the Albanian for the hunt of a lifetime. I'm not convinced that anything truly prepares a person for the actual hunt, but I did what I could to help him feel confident. Thankfully, I wasn't the only one interested in helping. Ryan Rigler, a friend and outfitter, offered his services as our personal guide, and my brother-in-law Tobin Kruse offered Adriele the use of his .30-06. A great deal of time was spent teaching him how to shoot.
Come January, we were both ready for our big hunt. I was personally hoping for a bull around 350 B&C. Adriele, on the other hand, would be ecstatic about any elk, including a cow, but I wanted him to take a good bull as well. Having not seen many big bulls during our pre-season scouting, I wasn't quite sure what to expect. On the first day of our hunt, we met him hours before daylight to help get his horses saddled up. Our hunting party consisted of Ryan, two of Ryan's buddies, my dad Monty, the Albanian and me. With Ryan leading Adriele's horse by the lead rope, we set out in the dark and frosty air. It was a chilly morning and most of us were still half asleep as we strained our eyes looking for that first glimpse of elk. In fact, the Albanian did fall asleep and was rudely awakened when his horse led him headfirst into a cold pine branch full of snow. We got a good laugh over that. He didn't fall asleep again and soon we all forgot our sleepiness.
Daylight revealed what most hunters only dream about. Bulls, bulls, and more bulls were moving up the hillside like ants (I guess there were some cows as well). Some were skylined on the top of ridges, showing their headgear with pride. Others moved silently across open slopes and through gullies. With so many bulls, it was difficult to decide which one to take. I didn't mind the 'dilemma.' We split up with Ryan, my Dad, and me going one way and the rest of our party circling around the other. A group of four bulls caught our attention as they moved across an open flat in single file at a little over 200 yards. They all appeared to be similar in size and had horns any hunter would be happy with. Ryan thought that the third one from the back was the best of the bunch. I quickly agreed and found the bull in my scope. By this time the elk had sensed something was wrong and had begun to spook. Without much time, I placed the crosshairs on the bull's lungs and squeezed off a round. The mountain instantly came alive with scattering elk. A couple more gunshots rang out informing us that the Albanian had also found a bull to shoot. After the shot my bull quickly disappeared into a deep sage-covered ravine. I was confident that I had hit him well. Ryan and I followed his blood trail for about 100 yards when we found him bedded in a small cluster of pines. Another shot and it was all over. Closer inspection found him to be a beautiful, heavy 8 x 7 with long tines and good main beams. Ryan guessed him to be well over 350. After hunting with my father for many years, the one thing we always do after a kill is remove our hats and give thanks to the Lord. You can bet I was thankful as we prayed over yet another wonderful gift from above.
Meanwhile, Adriele's hunt was still in the making. He had indeed found a bull- a monster that they estimated to be around 380-390 B & C - but was unable to connect. The fact that he was unable to find a solid rest probably played into the outcome. On his first shot he had taken his time, slowly squeezed the trigger, and promptly 'scoped' himself. We had another good laugh over that. I think all hunters have to grin when they see their buddy with a nice half-moon over their eye. Adriele and Ryan followed the giant bull hoping for another shot opportunity. As they crossed a steep creek bottom, Adriele's horse decided to rush the process a bit by leaping over the drainage. However, when he reached the other side, the horse placed his head directly between the hindquarters of Ryan's horse, causing both critters much discomfort. Fortunately Ryan was able to control both horses and Adriele was firmly admonished to keep control of his horse. Live and learn I guess. Their chase proved unsuccessful so they rejoined my party and helped haul my bull to the truck.
The evening hunt found us just north of where we had been that morning. Adriele had another learning experience when his horse slipped out from under him while crossing a steep slope. Thankfully he had the presence of mind to bail off on the uphill side. Neither he nor the horse was injured. As we continued along an open ridge, we found a group of six or seven bulls hanging below us in some sparse timber. One was a definite shooter - a great six-point with long tines and beautiful symmetry. Once again Adriele lacked a solid rest and the bullet flew harmlessly over the bull's back. The day ended with a discouraged and extremely saddle-sore Albanian.
Discouragement turned into anxiousness the next morning. We weren't seeing nearly as many elk as the previous day, and certainly not as many big bulls. In fact, we had found only one bull we considered to be a shooter and he had vanished into the dark timber as quickly as he had appeared. I began to wonder whether my friend had run out of chances. As we approached midday, all of us except the Albanian dismounted to use the men's room.' Just as Adriele decided to join us, Ryan spotted a group of four bulls crossing high above us. 'Too late, better hold it Albanian, you've got work to do!' We quickly but carefully closed the distance and found a nice boulder to set up behind. Unaware of our presence, the bulls moved past us single file at about 200 yards. One bull obviously dwarfed the others. With a dead rest, Adriele found the big bull in the crosshairs and carefully squeezed off a shot. The rest of us just prayed. Sometimes God answers prayer in a way we don't expect or want, but sometimes He answers precisely as we ask. Soon we all stood whooping and laughing as the Albanian grasped the antlers of his first elk. His bull turned out to be every bit as big as he had looked. The monster sported a dark, ivory-tipped six-point rack with great symmetry and mass. We could hardly believe what had just happened. Two huge bulls in two days! Not to mention many great memories! We definitely had much to be thankful for.
An official measurer later scored both bulls. The Albanian's bull ended up grossing 376 with a final score of 371 B&C. His main beams stretched the tape with measurements of 57 2/8 and 55 7/8. My bull proved well over my goal of 350 with a gross typical score of 390 6/8. After deductions, my bull met both typical and non-typical Boone and Crockett minimum requirements with net scores of 375 1/8 typical and 387 1/8 non-typical. He boasted main beams of 52 4/8 and 52 1/8. Both bulls had great spreads over four feet, just a little less than our smiles.