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The elk hunter: during a span of 28 years, you might see a lot of changes--or none at all.

STANDING HIGH on an open south slope, I heard a bull elk whistle in the aspen trees on the opposite north slope. It was early September 1981, at the head of Roan Creek, north of Grand Junction, Colorado. This was my first out-of-state elk hunt.

Eagerly I plunged down the slope, driven to kill that bull. Yet I was afraid. Would I even glimpse him? Would I ever get a shot? Doubt riddled my mind. After all, I'd been elk hunting for a decade. I'd killed three cows in my home state of Oregon, but a bull? Never. I'd seen them, called them in, and missed them. Something always went wrong. I always messed up. So I was afraid of just another close call. Another failure.

Entering the trees at the bottom of the draw, I blew my elk whistle. Immediately the bull responded. He was close. I shivered with fear. Would I ever even see him?

Running ahead, I stopped behind a small fir tree and broke a couple of branches to clear shooting lanes. Hearing the commotion, the bull responded with a loud bugle. I nocked an arrow and stood motionless. He seemed to be coming, but what did that mean? He'll smell me. I'll mess up.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Then, magically, the four-point bull was striding in front of me, 10 yards away. Somehow I got my bow drawn, aimed, and released smoothly. As the elk crashed away I stood shaking, disbelieving. Had I just killed my first bull elk?

Waiting a half hour, I regained my composure and took up the trail. The blood weaved through the aspen grove for 200 yards, and, then, there he lay.

For a long time I sat by my elk, smelling his rich, rutty smell, stroking the tawny hair, gaping at the four-point rack. Look what I have done. I've killed a bull. Am I finally an elk hunter?

IN 2009, 28 YEARS LATER, I returned to Colorado and killed a beautiful 6x6 elk (see "The System," page 50). Comparing the photos from these trips, I can't help but reflect on the changes. In 1981, I was shooting a Jennings T-Star, Autumn Orange XX75 2216 Easton aluminum shafts, and self-sharpened Zwickey Eskimo broadheads. My bow-sight comprised three brass pins, and I shot with a finger tab.

My wife, Laura, had made my shirt by alternating tiger stripe and WWII cotton camo. Completing my wardrobe were cotton WWII-camo pants, a Jonesstyle hat, and old tennis shoes.

I had no rangefinder, and I'd made my elk whistle out of PVC pipe. Cow call? What was that?

No states had limited-entry trophy units or points systems then. We just bought tags and went hunting. Besides, killing a trophy bull was the farthest thing from my mind. I just wanted to kill an elk with antlers. Size did not matter.

HOW TIMES HAVE CHANGED! In 2009, I wore synthetic microfleece clothing that hermetically protected me from heat, cold, rain, and wind. My Gore-Tex boots guaranteed comfort and silent movement.

My 2009 Hoyt TurboHawk delivered more power at 50 pounds than my T-Star did at 60. My carbon/Kevlar arrows assured strength and accuracy. My modular broad-heads required no sharpening, just a change of blades. I used a laser rangefinder and a fiber-optic sight that almost aimed itself.

With various mouth diaphragms, I could produce bull bugles, growls, and grunts--plus cow squeals, mews, and chirps.

More than anything, my expectations had changed. Playing the system, I'd accumulated 11 preference points to draw a premium unit, where my goal would be to shoot a 6x6 bull--or bigger. Wow, had things ever changed!

OR HAD THEY? Looking at the photo of my 2009 bull, I recall the moment when cameraman Steve Jones and I heard that elk in the distance. Driven by hope, we plunged down the mountain after the source of that sound.

Yet I was afraid. Sure, I'd killed many bulls since 1981, but I'd messed up on dozens of others. Would this be just another close call? Another failure?

When Steve and I hid in a root well, I produced a cow chirp, and the bull responded immediately. He was close. I shivered with excitement. He seemed to be coming our way. But will he smell us? See us? Doubts ...

Then, magically, the mud-caked 6x6 materialized from the trees and strode in front of us, broadside, 30 yards away. Despite my awkward kneeling position, I somehow reached full draw, aimed, and made a good shot.

The bull thundered out of sight over a knoll, but seconds later Steve and I heard a crash and walked down to see the dead bull tangled in a fallen snag. For a long time I admired my elk, smelling his rich, rutty smell, stroking the coarse muddy hair, admiring the six-point rack. What a privilege to hunt such an awesome animal. What a thrill to be an elk hunter.

Yes, when looking at the photos from those two hunts, I realize how greatly things have changed since 1981. At the same time, when looking behind those pictures, I realize that nothing has changed at all.

By Dwight Schuh, Editor
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Title Annotation:THE WILD SIDE
Author:Schuh, Dwight
Publication:Bowhunter
Date:Jun 15, 2010
Words:860
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