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