The double Bull deluxe ground blind has a Zipperless door for silent entry even with gear on. Equipped with the patented double Bull hub system, this blind is easy to set up and extremely solid. This blind has the same 180Deg front window that hunters have grown to love.
My Colorado Pronghorn hunt this year was quite successful, and I could not have done it without my Club XXL. It may have been my most important piece of gear for that particular trip.
Ground blinds can be an important component of any bowhunting strategy. They are particularly useful when conditions are not well suited for tree stands, or when any other hunting method would simply not be effective. They can be absolutely essential when hunting antelope on a waterhole or at a well used fence crossing, for example.
There are, of course, a great many designs and options on the market offered by a variety of manufacturers. Choosing the best blind depends on the kind of game that you will be hunting, and in the type of terrain you will be hunting it in.
Perhaps you are looking for a certain type of camo pattern to blend in with the background vegetation common to your hunting area. Or maybe carry weight is your most important consideration. Some pop-ups are much easier to set-up and take down than others (and for those of you that have been there – you know exactly what I mean, all cursing aside).
I am a rather large guy to begin with, so inside dimensions are of primary importance to me. I like to be comfortable, and I have found many pop-up blinds to be simply too small for my 6 foot 1″ frame. A dawn to dusk sit can grow uncomfortable under the best conditions. It can become torturous in the wrong blind.
For that reason I prefer to keep a fair amount of gear and incidentals with me, particularly when I can drive up to, or fairly close to the blind. There is nothing like an ice-cold drink from the cooler when it is 95 degrees outside, and even hotter inside. A full size chair of some kind can really make the difference too, though it tends to use up quite a bit of floor space in most ground blinds.
I found the Club XXL’s 58″ x 58″ base width to be adequate for one bowhunter, at least after some trial and error and rearranging. A few inches more would have been O.K. too.
The type of bow you are shooting may be the most important consideration. Like most of today’s archer’s, I shoot my bow without any cant, even though I do carry a recurve. I also most often shoot while sitting on a five gallon bucket, so the relationship between the window height and the height of the blind is critical. At 77″, it is tall enough to shoot my 62″ recurve.
But for me, it really is all about the windows…and to put it bluntly – they just ain’t right…
I much prefer a square or rectangular opening, and as you can see these windows are more triangular-shaped. At first use, they are confusing…at least based on other ground blinds that I have used.
As most of you know it is extremely important to work out the shot routine and possible shot locations long before the animal ever arrives. Everything needs to be right the first time too, because that may be your only opportunity for success. These windows had me baffled, and it wasn’t until several animals had come and gone and I had tried several combinations that I felt comfortable with the location and size of the shooting window.
It wasn’t my first choice for the blind location either. At first I had tried to stake it on top of a small dam, since it was obvious that several trails intersected on that end of the pond. It was not that high of an embankment, but when I tried to take a practice shot I quickly found out that the bottom of the window was too high to clear an arrow pointed at a slightly downward angle. There was no amount of shooting gymnastics that would make it work either, and my only option was to move the blind. Fortunately, I was able to work that part out a week before the season.
I found the shape of the windows to be distracting too. As we know it is critical to pick a spot on the animal’s vitals, and I found it difficult to do that when I was constantly wondering if the arrow would or would not miss the changing angle of the window.
And last, but not least, I was not impressed with the ability to change the size of the window openings. When fully open they were simply too large, and it was not easy to make them smaller and still be able to shoot.
I generally like to have at least two windows open for shooting, but with this blind that did not seem possible. I had to pick one and leave everything else closed, and then close that one down a bit more too in order to limit the amount of light coming into the blind. At that point it was dark enough inside to prevent those sharp-eyed pronghorns from spotting my movement, but they had to be in exactly the right place for me to make a shot.
So, with all of that being said, the Club XXL does have several good points. And after all, I was able to harvest one heck of a pronghorn buck in the end, so I can’t be too hard on it.
The blind is well made, and it is easy to put up and take down. It holds up well in the wind, and it blends into the surroundings fairly well without any tell-tale shine.
It would probably work better in the timber or brush country too, rather than in the sage and wide open hills of the antelope lands. In that kind of vegetation zone it would be possible to add some branches and other concealment and control the size of the shooting windows much more easily.
All things considered, it is a good blind for the money.
I do recommend it for many hunting situations, particularly for those who prefer the gun. I recommend it for the bowhunter too, – with reservations…
But then again, we all need more than one blind anyway, right?
*In the last two years I have used the The Double Bull Deluxe Ground Blind, alo mde by Primos, and I have come to really like it. It does have a double wide, zipperless door for much easier access, and the window design is much more compatible for a bowhunter. It is just tall enough for me to be able to use my 60″ recurve bow when shooting from my knees, which I prefer to sitting on a bucket, stool, or chair. To be honest, I still have some trouble when setting it up, but perhaps that is more my problem than a design issue. After all, I just have never been that mechanically inclined, and I am not so good at puzzles. You…?
This is not your father’s venison cookbook. Buck, Buck, Moose is the first comprehensive, lushly photographed, full-color guide to working with and cooking all forms of venison, including deer, elk, moose, antelope and caribou. Buck, Buck, Moose will take you around the world, from nose to tail. The book features more than 100 recipes ranging from traditional dishes from six continents to original recipes never before seen. You’ll also get thorough instructions on how to butcher, age and store your venison, as well as how to use virtually every part of the animal. Buck, Buck, Moose also includes a lengthy section on curing venison and sausage-making. Peppered throughout are stories of the hunt and essays on why venison holds such a special place in human society. Venison is far more than mere food. It is, in many ways, what made us human.
$22.92 USD In Stock
“For the wild animal there is no such thing as a gentle decline in peaceful old age. Its life is spent at the front, in line of battle, and as soon as its powers begin to wane, in the least, its enemies become too strong for it; it falls.
Ernest Thompson Seton, Lives Of The Hunted, 1901
“Obsessive pursuit finally led the bull of his dreams. Then something else took him over”.
There is a place I have been that many elk hunters must eventually visit. The mountains may shine amidst spectacular landscapes and it may look like typical elk country, but somehow things are different there. It is a land of mystery and natural forces inaccessible by horseback, jeep or other conventional means. Inward rather than outward, it is a journey of the heart on a path unique to each individual. It is a place you only know once you get there.
I found myself in such a place some years ago, while archery hunting in the high desert country of northwestern Colorado. Elk hunting had been my passion for a couple of decades, more often than not with bow and arrow as the weapon of choice. I’d hunted more than a few of Colorado’s limited-entry units with a fair amount of success. And my overwhelming concern had always been the pursuit of the big bull – the bigger the better.
He filled my dreams and consciousness and became part of my daily motivation for living and working in Colorado. I would find him, and I would launch a broadhead deep into his chest. Of course, with that event, fame and fortune would soon follow.
I have always paid attention to “The Book”, and to who shot what where. I wanted very badly to be one of those fellows with the 27 record-book entries, who had just returned from Montana or Mongolia, or that private ranch many hunters drool over. You know the ranch of which I speak, the one with a Boone and Crockett bull on every other ridge. I wanted all of it, the recognition from my peers and the life that would come with my great success. The more entries the better and as fast as possible. I ran for the goal and rarely looked back. I can’t say nothing else mattered, but by god it was close.
Then, one long-awaited day, I found myself hunting a special-permit area in Colorado. It was indeed the land of the big bull, a trophy area of epic proportions and about as fine a spot as one could hunt without paying the big money. The animals were there. I had a tag, and I would fill it. I would take what was mine and move on.
I hunted a grueling 10 days. The terrain was rocky and mostly open, with occasional brush patches and stunted cedars. It looked like a moonscape compared to the timbered high country I was used to hunting. Getting close enough for a shot was tough, yet I was able to pass up smaller bulls and often found myself within arrow range of elk that would make most hunters lightheaded. They made me lightheaded. They were the biggest-bodied elk I have ever seen, with towering, gleaming branches of bone. They looked like tractors with horns.
As so often happens in bowhunting, however, something always seemed to go wrong. I made so many stalks and had so many close calls, the events are just a blur. I eventually missed not one but two record-book animals. Each time a shaft went astray, I screamed and wailed with self pity, cursing my rotten luck and the useless stick and string in my hand. The prize was so close, yet always so far away.
Toward the end of the season, I glassed a small herd a couple of miles below me. Two were big bulls. One had cows, and the other wanted them. They were bugling back and forth and generally sizing each other up. I hurriedly planned a stalk and rushed downhill toward my dream.
I stalked and weaved and became enmeshed in a moving, mile-long skirmish line. More than once I slipped between the two animals as they worked their way through the brush and cedars. I saw flashes and patches of hide but was never able to loose an arrow. I knew that within few minutes a monstrous set of headgear would be laying at my feet. I felt I had been waiting for this moment all my life.
Soon the largest bull swung into the open sagebrush a couple of hundred yards below me, followed closely by a small herd of cows. Words cannot describe his magnificence. He was one of the finest specimens of elkness I have ever seen, with muscles that bulged and rippled under his skin. He was a bull of unique and exceptional genetics with a massive and perfect rack that appeared to stretch behind forever as he laid his head back to bugle. He was certainly at his absolute prime and, if the truth were known, perhaps a bit past it and didn’t know it. He took my breath away. Then I remembered why I had come.
Meanwhile, the smaller and closer of the two bulls had become even more vocal, and soon it became obvious he would pass very close to me on his way down the hill. He was not quite as large as the old bull, but he was big enough all the same. My bow was up and my muscles taut as I began my draw – and suddenly he was running and he was gone. I watched spellbound as he broke into the open and headed for the elk below us.
It was one of those unexplainable moments when time stands still, and you become something more than yourself. I could have been a rock or a tree or an insect in flight. I was at once both an observer and participant in the great mystery, a part of something far larger than myself.
The air was electric and my body tingled as the two warriors squared off. The cows felt it, too, and crashed crazily over the ridge. It was as if they knew something extraordinary was going down and wanted no part of it. The bulls screamed and grunted wildly at each other from close range, with quite a bit more intensity than I had ever witnessed. And suddenly they were one. They would have made any bighorn ram proud, as they seemed to rear up on their hind legs before rushing and clashing with a tremendous crack. I watched as they pushed and shoved with all their might, a solid mass of anergy and immense power surrounded by flying dirt and debris.
They showed no signs of quitting. Soon it dawned on me that they were too preoccupied to notice what I was doing, even though there was virtually no cover for a stalk. My legs carried me effortlessly over the rough and broken ground, and I was giddy with the exhilaration of the end so close at hand. The larger of the two was obviously tiring, and I remember feeling a pang of sorrow for an animal that would soon be beaten, probably for the first time in a very long time, and would now have to slink off humiliated and cowless.
They pushed and they struggled and, for a few moments, seemed to have reached a stalemate as I neared bow range. The old bull hesitated, then pushed, and when the other bull responded, the old bull spun like a Sumo Wrestler, took the uphill advantage and charged. I stood dumbfounded as the two hit the top of a shallow ravine and disappeared from view.
When I reached the edge of the drop-off, the fight was over. The old bull crawled slowly out of the ravine, managing to keep the only two trees between us all the while. He moved sorely and looked like he had just survived 10 rounds with Mike Tyson. I was probably the least of his problems.
I found the other bull where I knew he would be. I sent a shaft his way and ended what remained of his life, although his fate had already been sealed. A very long tine had done its job as well as any arrow ever could.
I collapsed by the side of that marvelous creature as if I were the one who’d just been beaten, and in a way I had. I stared off into space, confused, a little angry, and barely able to grope around in my pack for a gulp of water, half laughing, then crying. I don’t know how long I remained there before a distant bugle brought me back into the moment, reminding me of the work at hand and the long uphill walk back to my truck.
His head hangs in my den now, and I still stare at him in wonder and amazement. When my friends and family ask why I didn’t have him officially scored for the record book, I usually mumble some vague and incoherent answer, as the right words never seem to come.
For some reason, antler measurements have ceased to matter to me. It has something to do with realizing animals are much more than the sum of their parts. Hunting and the hunted remain a significant part of my life, but my reasons for hunting, and my life in general, have changed in some way I have yet to fully understand. Perhaps more than anything, I realize just how much I love to hunt. And that in itself is more than enough reason for doing it.
The bull’s proud head on my wall will always serve to remind me of that special place I have visited and hope to never forget.
I am, and will always be, forever humbled. Perhaps you have been there yourself.
“Elk hunting runs deep. Not that it’s always fun, because it isn’t. It’s a contrast in superlatives, ranging from agony to euphoria, and it will stretch your senses to the limit. It raises you higher, drops you lower, deep into your body, mind, emotions, and soul. You may like elk hunting, you may not, but definitely you won’t forget it”.
Dwight Schuh, Game Country, October, 1989
“A Bowhunter is a Hunter Reborn – Forever…” – Michael Patrick McCarty
Directly above is a photo of an original print from my personal collection. I have owned it for several years, and in fact found this at an antique store not long after I wrote this article. As you might imagine, it means a great deal to me.
I am unable to translate the title, nor identify the artist. I would love to do both, and also give proper attribution to the artist.
Can anyone help?
—”Michael Patrick McCarty, longtime bowhunter, buys and sells rare tomes and texts from his bookstore in Glenwood Springs, Colorado”
–Originally published in Bugle Magazine, May-June 1999.
Easton axis shaft made specifically for the traditional archer. Constructed of high strength carbon-composite fibers with a wood grain finish. Straightness tolerance of +-.003″. available in sizes 600 (7.2 GPI), 500 (8.1), 400 (9.0 GPI), and 340 (9.5 GPI). includes x nocks and hit inserts. Factory fletched with 4″ feathers.
$80.68 USD In Stock
Like many things in the world of sporting gear, the choice of a proper fitting bow, arrows to match, and the appropriate accessories to make it all work well together is a highly selective and personal choice.
It can also be a bit intimidating, for the combinations available in today’s bowhunting world are virtually limitless, if not mind-boggling. One person could not possibly try out even a small fraction of the more popular products, though it would surely be a whole lot of fun to try.
So what’s a conscientious and inquisitive bowhunter to do?
Well, my strategy of late has been, in many ways, to return to the archery days of my early youth. Mine was the days of Fred Bear and Frank Pearson, to name just a couple of the more obvious icons. It was long before Mr. Allen, or Mr. Jennings, appeared on the scene.
To be honest, I had already given up on those things with wheels a few years back, along with many other items of the mechanical kind. Not that there is anything wrong with that type of equipment, and power to you if you prefer the compound bow and some miscellaneous gadgets. It’s just no longer my particular cup of tea.
Still, it took me several decades to fully and unapologetically embrace the fact that I simply love the elegance and simplicity of the stick and string. In my view, archery has always been much more about art and intuition than science, or physics. Pull it back and let it go, I say, and watch the arrows fly.
Today’s modern recurves can offer all of that and more, with some remarkable engineering to go along with it. They can also be shot with surprising precision.
Lately, my current setup consists of a 60″ Hoyt Satori Traditional Recurve at 50# draw weight, Easton 340 Axis Traditional carbon shafts (with three pink 4″ parabolic cut left-wing feathers and Fred Eichler Custom Cap Wrap from Three Rivers Archery), and a 200 grain Helix Single Bevel Arrowhead (in left bevel to match the left-wing feathers).
I chose a Selway Archery Quick Detach Quiver to complete the package.
The Satori is available in several riser and limb configurations, and in this case I selected a 17″ riser and a shorter limb package which works very well in the confines of a ground blind or tree stand.
If pressed, I might agree that the 50# draw weight may be a little light for a big game animal like an elk, but then again, perhaps not.
I am a big believer in the use of heavy, weight forward shafts. With that in mind, I have attempted to compensate for any draw weight deficiencies by adding a 75 grain insert up front, with a big chunk of steel on the pointy end. The end result is about 610 grains of quick and unadulterated death.
However, as you might guess, it is pretty slow by compound bow standards, and it is definitely a close range affair. But in the end it is very stable, quiet, and target bow accurate. It also hits very hard, with penetration to spare.
As you can see from the photos below, first hand experience has shown me that the combo is very effective on big game from pronghorn to elk, for example. Both of these animals were literally dead on their feet when the broadhead hit them, and were recovered within one hundred yards of the shot.
The Leupold Gold Ring 20-60x80mm Spotting Scope optics deliver a high magnification, incredibly bright, high resolution image across a wide field of view, all with best in class eye relief for easy, full field viewing with or without eyeglasses. The prism-less Folded Light Path (FLP) system uses mirrors to compress a long optical system into half its length. The magnesium housing make this high powered optic lightweight and extra rugged.Features:- Digital Camera Compatible- Xtended Twilight Lens System- DiamondCoat 2- Magnesium Housing- Front Focal Plane (FFF)- Tripod Ready- 100 percent Waterproof and Fog Proof- Folded Light PathSpecifications:- Actual Magnification: Low 20.00 x, High 60.00 x- Linear Field of View (foot/1000 yard): Low 121.00 foot, High 42.00 foot- Linear Field of View (meter/1000 meter): Low 37.00 meter, High 13.00 meter- Angular FOV (degrees): Low 2.30 degrees, High 0.80 degrees- Twilight Factor: Low 69.30, High 40.00- Exit Pupil (mm): Low 4.10 mm, High 1.30 mm- Eye Relief (mm): Low 30.00 mm, High 30.00 mm- Objective Clear Aperture (mm): N/A- Length (inch): 15.50 inch Length (mm): 394.00 mm- Weight (ounce): 61.80 ounce- Weight (gram): 1752.00 gram- Close Focus Distance: 25.00 foot- Close Focus Distance (meter): 7.60 meter
A seasoned and wise old billy of the mountain goat kind is many things, yet above all things, an extreme and elemental force defined by chilling winds, lightning, and mother nature in all her raw and naked glory. He can be found, if you dare, in that dizzying land of avalanche chutes, jumbled boulder fields, and rarefied air far above timberline. And find him you must, for he will not find you.
Add to this mix a man who longs to do just that, yet wonders if the body will still follow the wishes of the mind. Somehow the mountain slopes have become even steeper over the years, and the realities of the inevitable aging of flesh and bone are fast approaching like ominous, black-dark thunderheads over the peaks. This combination of animal and man may or may not be a match made in heaven. But it is a miraculous association none the less, built solidly upon a foundation of hope and lofty dreams.
If you haven’t guessed by now, I was successful in Colorado’s annual big game application lottery this year, and I don’t mind saying that I must have been a perplexing sight at the Post Office a few weeks ago. Only another big game hunter would recognize the shell-shocked posture, wide open mouth, and classic thousand yard stare of a person holding that coveted, newly printed tag.
Ten years are a long time to wait for a hunting permit, so I hope you will forgive me for not being able to think too clearly just yet. The receipt of what is most likely a once in a lifetime permission slip has a way of immediately reorganizing one’s pressing list of priorities.
You might say that the mere thought of this adventure gives me considerable pause, as well as a strange and vague uneasiness in the innards. After all, mountain goat hunting is not for the faint of heart under almost any circumstances. Stories of its practical difficulty and sheer physicality are legendary, and in fact, sometimes terrifying.
Just two years ago a goat hunter died not far from where I will be hunting, and I doubt that I will be able to discount that kind of fact. He had been successful too, but then fell from a cliff while packing out his goat.
My license is for Game Management Unit 12 in the Maroon Bells – Snowmass Wilderness Area near Aspen, and it would be hard to find a more picturesque backdrop for a backcountry expedition. It may also be one of the more challenging units in the state due to limited access and other factors. In other words, it is brutally rugged and unapologetically unforgiving. The goats are a long, hard hike with a heavy pack from most almost any trailhead.
Legally, I may harvest a male or female goat, and it is a rifle tag. However, in Colorado the regulations allow me to hunt with a bow & arrow if I so choose, and I do. I was born a bowhunter, and a man must stay true to himself in matters such as this
Perhaps it is testing the fates to leave the rifle at home, since it is not easy to get the job done no matter what the weapon. I would also like to locate a mature billy and place myself within range of my recurve bow, a short-range instrument to say the least. But I’ve never had trouble creating boundary stretching goals for myself, and there’s nothing wrong with setting the sights on high.
It would be easy to become overwhelmed with all of the logistics involved. A great deal of contingencies must come together to be successful, which means of course that a lot of things can also go wrong. It would be fair to say that this hunt begins when you open that long-awaited envelope, and I suspect that I will never really feel fully prepared. And the fact is, even though I hunted them in Alaska forty years ago, I really don’t know all that much about goats.
Luckily, Douglas Chadwick does. A wildlife biologist, Chadwick spent many years studying this fascinating animal and famously called him “The Beast The Color of Winter”, in his book so aptly named. He was the first biologist to immerse himself in their everyday doings so completely, and to read his words about his life among the goats leaves one in awe and admiration of an animal that frolics so easily upon a place of such majesty and formidable beauty.
Every aspect of a mountain goat is improbable. At first glance their outward appearance can severely contrast with the splendor around them, for they do seem to be built from an odd and incongruent collection of body parts. They perform highly impossible, unbelievable feats in impassable terrain, clinging to tiny footholds on cliffs where even angels fear to tread.
Few people get to spend much time with them, if at all. If you do the encounters are more like the desperate escapades of a tethered astronaut who must return to base after a measured length of time, or face terminal consequences. To hunt them is a hard-won and precious gift.
Yet, Chadwick also refers to them as creatures of habit, perhaps to a fault. Throughout the year they move from winter and summer ranges as conditions dictate, returning to the same areas each season. In late summer and early fall they will often feed in the same sunlit meadow in the early morning, and then return along a well-worn path to bed for the day on the same protective ledge.
That’s a very exciting bit of news, since I am a creature of habit myself. I also have a large reservoir of patience, gathered over a lifetime of hunting experiences.
There’s some other things I know too. Concealment and ambush are the bowhunter’s stock in trade, and it is an extremely effective hunting strategy under the right circumstances. It is one of the few advantages in our little bag of tricks, and if you know anything at all about the severe limitations of archery equipment, you will know that we need and welcome any advantage that we can find. It’s not much, but it is…enough.
And so, the time is at hand. The exercise program and the preparations have begun.
“Let the games begin”, I cry, and I pray that the arrow flies swift and true. I plan to savor every breathless, lung-busting, leg-muscles-turned-to-jelly thrill of it all.
You can believe that I will be in that special place called mountain goat country this September; watching, high on a ridge where brilliant blue sky crashes hard against rock and snow. I shall sit with back to granite, eternally waiting for that great white beast to turn in my direction. Hanging there on the mountain, part of it, with a shining smile upon my face and a razor-sharp shaft on the string.
Wish for me to possess, if just for a moment, the fortitude and wilderness spirit of the goats themselves. Wish me the providence and predatory skills of all high country hunters everywhere, be they two-legged or four. I am no doubt going to need all the moral support I can muster, and perhaps a portable oxygen tank to go.
It is what mountain dreams and big adventures are all about, and it looks like I am on my way at last, god willing…
Master bowhunter Rocky Tschappat with another beautiful bull in a long line of Colorado public land, elk hunting trophies.
The “Bull Of The Woods” has stumbled and fallen, but maybe, just maybe, there is another out there just like him, waiting for us.
You do make it look easy, even though we all know, it is not…
“Few indeed seem fitted for archery or care for it. But that rare soul who finds in its appeal something that satisfies his desire for fair play, historic sentiment, and the call of the open world, will be happy” – Saxton Pope, Hunting With The Bow and Arrow, 1923
“Fresh king size elk burger for a starving elk hunter” – Rocky Tschappat.
And might I add, that’s gonna be a lot of burger…
For an elk hunter’s taste treat sensation, try:
Venison (Elk) Patties Oregon
It is a particularly good recipe for that big old bull that passed the tender stage some years ago.
2 pounds of venison (or elk)
1/2 pound of salt pork
1/8 pound of butter
2 cups of finely chopped scallions
3 teaspoons prepared horseradish
1 Dash of Tabasco Sauce
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon of dry mustard
Put venison and salt pork through a meat grinder twice. Blend thoroughly and add salt and pepper. Shape into patties 1/2 inch thick and 4 inches in diameter and place on waxed paper. In a skillet melt butter, add scallions, horseradish, Tabasco Sauce, dry mustard, and Worcestershire. Blend ingredients, and cook until onions are tender. Spread this mixture over every other meat patty, then cover with adjoining patty and press together. Place the pressed patties on a shallow roasting pan and slide under a preheated broiler. Broil for about six minutes on each side and serve on toasted buttered rolls.
* This recipe is taken from Game Cookery In America and Europe by Raymond R. Camp. It is my go-to wild game cookbook, and I highly recommend it for hunter’s and fishermen everywhere.
We generally have a copy for sale in our bookstore stock, if so interested.
And, as you can see, Rocky can be tough on cow elk too, and he took this one just a few days later.
Pronghorn can provide an almost endless parade of entertainment for the perpetual watcher of wildlife, and I am always a most captive audience.
The most common sighting of an antelope for most people is that of an animal running away at an almost unbelievable speed, or perhaps just a view of their ears and head as they watch you from a long, long distance, before turning to leave.
Setting up in a blind near a water hole is a sure way to gain some close encounters of an animal not so easily observed. With luck you’ve already put in some blind time yourself, and if not, I hope that you will get to do so soon. You will not be disappointed.
With that in mind, here are just a few images from my August bowhunting adventure in Northern Colorado.
And yes, I did get my buck…but that, is another story!
A fine pair of Mule Deer bookends, taken near my ground blind while on a bowhunt for Pronghorn Antelope in Northern Colorado.
“From that day on I have been a lover of mule deer…They were my first love and still remain my strongest…Somehow he sight of an old mule deer buck, head high, antlers lying along his broad back, returns me definitely to my childhood and the day I first felt the mystery of wild game and wild country”.
Jack O’Connor, Game in the Desert, Revisited, 1977
There is no better animal to hunt with a decoy than an antelope buck. Flash the Antelope Buck decoy to a rutting pronghorn and get ready for an exciting encounter. The antelope rut is short and bucks have little time to tolerate challengers of their harems. You have little time to close the deal on the buck of your dreams. Make the most of this short window with the ultra-portable Antelope Buck decoy.
$69.19 USD In Stock
Ode To The Pronghorn
“Plainly speaking, a Pronghorn is nothing more than ‘prey on the prairie’, in the natural scheme of things. Just ask the prowling coyote, or one of his peers. Yet, he is not so easy to capture or kill. His speed is most obvious; his eyesight legendary. Still, you might just say that he just doesn’t look all that tough.
Well, you would be wrong…
Hunt him fair, and hard, and you may begin to discover an entirely different aspect to his personality. Hit him well with a broadhead or bullet, but perhaps just not well enough, and you will learn what he is truly made of.
For in his veins roars the blood of the fiercest warrior. His heart is the heart of the lion, and it will not stop beating so easily. May we all fight for life, all life, as tenaciously. It has been an honor to pursue him, all of these many years…”
What do antelope, wily coyotes, and wild fires have to do with each other, you might ask? Well, since it seems to be the year of surprise and big adventures just let me take a minute to tell you about it.
Let me also say right from the start, that no – I’m not making it up. Ernest Hemingway once said that the secret to his writing was that he had no imagination, and that he had to experience a thing to be able to write about it. Or something like that, said he, I am quite sure.
I would not be so brazen as to compare myself to Hemingway, but I can relate to his predicament. My imagination has never been that well-developed, and in some cases it just wouldn’t matter. No one would believe you anyway.
I had decided to treat myself this year to an unguided, private land archery pronghorn hunt in northwest Colorado. Bowhunting for the king of the high sagebrush desert is one of my absolute favorite endeavors, but years of public land hunting have taken their toll on both body and spirit and have worn me quite thin. Tags are increasingly more difficult to draw, and competition for a prime waterhole has become fierce. It has become, quite literally, more than I can bear.
And so, reluctantly, I yield. I yield to the younger guys, and gals, and to those much hungrier and more aggressive than I. Private lands held the key to my peace of mind, and a waterhole all my own.
I found the right place.
Mine was a very special slice of mother earth, a true oasis, home to pronghorn, and sage grouse, mule deer and a myriad of small and furtive creatures. To sit there, relaxed and hidden, even for part of a day, was worth every penny that I spent.
The antelope on this particular ranch were plentiful and had been only lightly hunted for several years, creating a healthy supply of trophy class bucks.
Weather conditions were perfect. It had been hot, dry, and windy for several weeks. Water was in short supply, and they were very, very thirsty. Cautious and still careful when coming to drink, but not wound like a heavy spring as they so often are on more heavily hunted ambush spots.
So, as you can see, all factors suggested that this would be a very special bowhunt, and indeed, it was. You could say that I was more than successful by standard measures, though perhaps not exactly in the way I would have liked. Still, “success” is a very special word in the life of a bowhunter.
Yet, this is not so much a story about success, or strategy, or any of the many things involved in a great antelope hunt. This is a tale that begins after the shot. It is a story about follow-up, pursuit, and… recovery. I made a great shot, but not a clean kill, though deadly in the end. It happens, and when such circumstance lays its burden upon you it is always bittersweet.
But to backtrack a bit, there had been one major glitch in my gittyup, which was my choice, or lack thereof, of a bow for this hunt.
I am a traditionalist at heart, and I almost hate to say it but I prefer to shoot a finely tuned compound bow with a sight and release when hunting trophy pronghorns over the water. Archery has always been a game of inches, and those inches are particularly critical when a live target is involved.
Yes, the distance is short and you can generally pick your shot, if they stand still long enough. The reality is that an antelope presents a relatively small target with an even smaller vital area. More importantly, they can jump a string like no other animal on the planet. Their reactions to the sound of an arrow coming out of the bow can stretch the outer limits of acrobatics, and belief. Arrow speed and precision rule the day.
Unfortunately, I was unable to follow my own advice this time. To put it plainly, I am injured. My shoulders have not been working like they used to for quite some time, and a fall on the mountain a month ago really shook me up and has left my joints out of whack. At this point I am still unable to draw my compound or my heavy recurve, but I had booked this hunt a year before and was just unwilling to admit defeat.
I filled my tag with an off-the-shelf 40# Samick recurve named the Spirit II, with no sights and three leather-covered fingers on the string. It was like being twelve years old again.
I had positioned my pop-up blind on a mild slope above the stock pond one week prior, to let the animals adjust to a new-found element in their world. First light on opening day could not come soon enough, and the action began right away.
The first two small bucks came to drink at 7:30 a.m., stared at the blind for just a moment, and had their fill. They strolled about without a care in the world, and I knew right then that things were going to go well.
From then on out I was visited about every half hour by does and fawns and bucks of all ages and sizes. It was my own little wildlife show.
At one time I had a juvenile buck at 16 yards to my left and his brother at 16 yards to my right. The buck to my right must have been really parched, and I had to laugh as he worked himself out to the center of the pond and sprawled out like a half-drunk teenager. He slurped and sucked the murky water like he had never tasted anything so good.
I passed twelve legal bucks that morning, and there were five or six that would have easily qualified for the Pope & Young record book. Two of the bucks were particularly nice, but they approached from directly across the pond and left without giving me a perfect shot.
Time just flies along when you are so completely entertained, and it was 1:00 p.m. before I knew it. It appeared that the action had slowed down, but as I reached for my thermos and my last coffee of the day I heard the sound of thumping hooves in the hard-packed dirt behind me. It was a buck, and he flew past the blind and dropped his nose in the water before I could grab my bow.
This buck was big – old and solid and my mind screamed “shooter”. That on-board computer that we all call a brain only took a moment to calculate and prepare.
The arrow was gone as if someone else had released it, and I remember being somewhat amazed as I saw it hit within a millimeter of where I had been aiming. I knew immediately that it was over, though I stifled the urge to celebrate, just yet. Still, I knew that within mere minutes I would be working to get that wonderful meat that I love so much out of the hot sun and into my cooler. Or so I thought…
The buck bolted away from the pond, and then…just stood there, barely out of range, stock still, but a bit wobbly. He stood, and I waited, and waited…, a couple of minutes stretched to five, and then ten, and then I knew that something was terribly wrong.
I ran the image of the shot over and over in my mind, and I knew that without a doubt I could have not placed the shaft any better. It was simply impossible for this not to be a fatal wound.
The buck obviously had other plans, though it was another 45 minutes before he finally began walking again and disappeared over the hill. Certainly, it was simply impossible for him to go very far.
And again, as so I thought…
I peeked cautiously over the top of the hill and found him bedded at about 35 yards, looking away. One more little half-step, and I watched in horror as his head whipped around and he stood…and then ran like he was never hurt down the hill and across a wide open valley.
He didn’t stop until he was 700 or 800 yards away, and for the first time I felt that terrible pang of anxiety of a great hunt gone bad. A bowhunter’s worst fear is to leave behind a wounded animal, and I was beginning to seriously doubt that I would be able to recover this wonderful trophy.
And then, he stopped, and again, just stood there. I stared, took a good like through the binoculars, and prayed that he would just give it up. And then, he laid down, gingerly, and there was hope again.
By now it had become obvious to me that somehow my shaft had penetrated one lung, but not both, even though the buck had been standing fully broadside when I released the arrow. Perhaps the broadhead had hit a rib or other bone, or he had somehow twisted before it had arrived. Either way, it was a deadly wound, and this animal was in big trouble.
Unfortunately, this buck did not get the memo. Before long he was on his feet again, heading for an area of tall sagebrush far up the ridge. I could do nothing but sit helplessly and watch him go. Hope can be a fleeting thing.
A couple of miles later I was on top of that ridge, having made a long, winding circle out of his line of sight. I gave it my best guess, and I tried desperately to locate him as I peered through the brush.
It was important to see him before he saw me, which can be a tall order to fill when dealing with pronghorns. I finally saw him about 80 yards below me, head up. He saw me first; he was up and he was gone.
It had become obvious that the only way to recover this antelope was to forget about stealth and push him hard and fast. The key now was to keep him in sight and deny him any chance to rest and recharge. Of course, that is easier said then done.
The air was desert-lizard dry and dead calm, with shimmering bands of heat rolling ahead like a mirage. I was beginning to feel like one of the bushmen of the Kalahari, and I thought of a documentary film I had once watched.
For the bushmen the hunt really didn’t get started until they had lodged an arrowhead in the body of an animal. Arrow placement was not always so important to them, because it really did not matter where it was hit. A non fatal arrow still takes its toll, and pursuit is what they do best.
Always moving, tracking and trailing, never quitting. Here, the earth becomes quiet and still. Perception slides into the realm of discernment and immaculate vison, and most of all human concerns vanish upon the wings of an ancient prayer.
But, there was an ill wind on the way that day, and things were about to get very strange…
The first thunderclap went off over my right shoulder, causing me to stop suddenly and stare up into a slightly hazy but otherwise cloudless sky. I looked far to the southwest and saw the darkening horizon of an approaching storm, as the wind came up and another boom of thunder rumbled over my left shoulder. I took a step and saw a bright flash over the near ridge in front and to my left, as the sun burned the sage through a faltering sky.
It took some time, but I found my buck. He was really tucked in the brush this time, but stalkable. I did my best to use the roll of the hill to close the distance. At forty yards, I nocked an arrow. One more step, I thought, and then he was up, again, and pounding down and away along the edge of a rough-looking ravine.
Not to be outdone, I quivered my arrow and made a run for it. He looked tired and stiff, and I remembered thinking that this would be his last good run. I was ready to put this cosmic misadventure far, far behind me. I was not planning on telling too many people about it either.
It was then that I saw two coyotes rise from the shadows and come to rapt attention as all hell broke loose.
They had been bedded in the shade under a deep cutbank, and they must have been shocked out of their paws when an obviously wounded and otherwise compromised antelope practically bowled them over.
From that point on it was all just a blur.
They were on him in a flash, nipping at his heels as one coyote really poured it on and outflanked him to his right. The buck turned and gave one last burst of speed as the other coyote swung to cut him off. He turned again, but it was too late. He began to slow, then stopped…and waited for what was surely next to come.
I had some catching up to do, and the last thing I wanted was to watch a pair of big, snarling coyotes rip and strip my precious prize. I screamed for all I was worth as I stumbled down the draw, racing to insert myself into that classic standoff between predator and prey.
One coyote stood in front of the buck, looking up from under his nose. The other hung back and behind, sliding back and forth and looking for an opportunity to charge and hamstring the buck in one quick, surgical slash.
I wished that I could tell you what happened next, but I can’t. I had to go down again before I could climb to the other side, and for what seemed like forever I was out of sight of the action. When I reached the top the buck was down on his side, and still. The coyotes circled, ready to dive in and tear. I was almost there…
I screamed at the top of my lungs and screamed some more, and they either could not hear me or were simply too focused on the kill. Finally, when I was about fifty yards away they spun around to face me, in obvious shock and disbelief that I had seemed to materialize out of nowhere. Both hesitated just enough to make me a little uncomfortable, and then they turned-tail and bolted like their hair had exploded.
Half-stunned myself, I followed their progress while gasping for air, sighting down my sweat covered nose, and saw…fire.
Oh my God!…
Thick, billowing clouds of black smoke rose steadily from behind the next hill. Now it was my turn to be jolted with a wave of electric current, and I practically dropped my bow in the dirt right then and there.
A blast of wind snapped me out of it, and I turned behind me to see a wall of black clouds and dust headed my way. I dropped my pack at the downed animal and stood, a bit confused and unsteady on what had suddenly become very shaky ground.
But not for long, for I had some decisions to make.
The quickening wind buffeted and swirled, and I watched with almost morbid fascination as the plume of smoke twisted to the east, then to the north and away, and then back around – towards me. Could this really be happening, I mumbled?
More than once I put down the urge to step away, and run. I have seen wildfire in action, and I know how fast it can move and how rapidly things can go seriously wrong. I began to cape and quarter, and I can tell you that my knife was cutting along much faster than normal.
I suppose the next decision was not really all that tough at all. I was over 1 1/2 miles from my blind and another mile from my truck. To carry out everything in one load in my small pack was not possible, as much as I had wished otherwise. I wondered what might be left when I returned to gather up my second load.
A bow or a pair of binoculars can be replaced. Antelope horns are funny looking things that stand upon the head and are made out of hair, and I am pretty sure that the coyotes didn’t care much about them either. Meat is meat, red and real, made of fiber and protein, and in death, gives life.
I took the meat.
It took what seemed like forever to arrive back at my waterhole, and then another tough bit of time to return with my truck. The wind flew steady and the rains came, hard and wild, and then were gone as fast as they had appeared.
The fire laid low, for a while, and then took off with renewed vengeance as I marched back towards the cape and horns and other gear. I saw the flashing lights of trucks and other emergency vehicles in the distance, approaching fast. It was going to be a long night for a whole lot of people.
I cannot fully explain that series of cascading events that occurred on that day, and the images on my mind are still close at hand. I could find no tooth marks or punctures on the buck, so I can only assume that having a coyote in his face was finally enough to push him over the edge. The arrow was broken off deep inside his chest just exactly where it needed to be. It should have been a very swift demise right from the beginning.
I have never encountered a tougher animal.
I am also quite certain that those coyotes are also a bit perplexed. After all, just how is it that a big, easy meal could literally appear in their bedroom, die without apparent cause, and disappear just as fast into the hands of a raving, two-legged lunatic? Like I said, some things you simply cannot make up.
A native american friend once listened carefully to a somewhat similar story of mine and said that what had happened had been the universe talking to me. I didn’t understand it at the time, and his words have stuck with me for a good, long time. I would like to think that I am beginning to understand it now.
I have learned a few things about my role as a hunter.
It’s all about respect, for life or death is a most serious business and there is no going back. Life is precious; hard-won and even harder kept, considering that so many factors conspire to take it away.
It is the hunter’s responsibility to kill quickly and cleanly, and in most cases, that is exactly what occurs. The topic of wounded game is never pleasant to talk about. It will never be politically correct, and it is a conversation most often avoided as if it had never happened. When discussed at all, it is usually spoken of in hushed and guarded tones, even among friends.
But truth can be stark. Realities must be faced, even when they are hard. It goes without saying that it is even harder on the animal. Perhaps that is never more evident than when a big game animal simply refuses to succumb.
A wounded animal deserves much more than concerned consideration. It deserves our full attention, and all of the resources that we can muster. We owe them that, and more. We owe them everything. They give up their lives so we may live.
Call it God, or Grandfather – the creator of all things. Call it Spirit; call it whatever you will. There is a life-force which permeates every living cell of every living thing, dancing and vibrating with everything there is and ever was. It is wide-eyed wonder, a masterful mystery, and a gift of all gifts.
It can speak to you about the eternal spark of elemental and sacred things, in a way that simply cannot be ignored. You may hear it, if you listen, in a place where the hunter meets the hunted within the heartbeat of the world
Occasionally, you need a little help from your friends, even when they didn’t intend to offer it. It also helps when they have fur and fangs and a lust for a belly full of meat.
Sometimes, the universe can play clever tricks on the cleverest of all creatures, called coyote. I see them now, in my mind’s eye, pacing and pondering, howling at the heavens in hunger and unfulfilled need. Strange things can happen in the land of fire and new beginnings.
“Lightning across northwestern Colorado is suspected of sparking about 30 fires over the weekend, keeping firefighters running from one blaze to another… More than 4,000 lightning strikes hit northwestern Colorado on Saturday and Sunday”.
The biggest fire eventually grew to more than 1.5 square miles before being contained. “The fire was pushed in multiple directions by erratic winds from passing storms”.
There is a good chance that I witnessed the very first lightning strike that started it all.
—-From the Glenwood Post Independent, Tuesday, August 18, 2015, and from 9News.com, Denver, Colorado,
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My head throbs and the blood sings in my ears as I slowly climb towards the new day, and when I look behind I can already see my truck parked far below in a meadow of willows and lush green grass.
It had been a rough night with little sleep, but I had put a bull elk to bed here the evening before and I was exhilarated by the prospects of the coming hunt. It is a feeling for which I have found no match in that other world we all mostly live in. The world of bills and mortgages, marriage and children, business, and so on.
At that moment I am a free and joyful being with the promise of new country ahead, and I tend to wax poetic at the drop of a hat, if at least in my own mind. It has always been times like this that I am most clear and most right with the world. I am hunting. I am alive. I love elk, elk hunting, and elk hunters. Or should I say that most of the time I do, for it is not easy to find love in my present condition. I have a terrible mountain hangover, made worse because it is a hangover derived without the pleasures of drink.
I have become more than a little touchy at altitude these days, and the night before had again brought headache, shortness of breath, and the beginnings of altitude sickness. I’ve got to stop hunting at 11,000 feet, I told myself. I had said that for the last three years too, but of course I had convinced myself that things would be different this year, better, and here I am again. Hunting the high country of Colorado is an annual ritual that I cannot forego; to miss it would be more than I could bear. A bull elk bugling among towering peaks and impossibly blue skies can do wonders for one’s attitude and make most troubles seem far, far away.
This morning is different though, and it is a reminder of some realities I have done my best to ignore. At the age of fifty, and with over thirty years of elk hunting behind me, it has become obvious that these mountains are getting steeper and it seems almost impossible to cover the ground I once did. My bow seems heavier, and I don’t see my sight pins so good anymore. As I gasp for air and cling to a small spruce tree to keep from falling backwards, my body screams with the thought that maybe, just maybe, this endeavor is really not fun anymore. I don’t even want to think about what might happen if I happen to put an elk down in some impenetrable canyon far from camp. I have done it before, and this consideration is always in the back of my mind, like some recurring night terror I wish not to confront but march determinedly towards, ever closer.
To put things simply, I hurt. My body seems to be put together with junk parts that are worn and metal fatigued. I’ve got a knee that has bothered me for years from a knee cap smashing fall in a river, and it smarts like the dickens if I tweak it the wrong way, which is often. The other’s not so good either, and on a bad day I can tweak both knees, like today. It would be comical to watch me hobble about if it were not so sad. The toes on my right foot have suddenly decided that they no longer fit in my boots. In fact, my feet don’t seem to work quite right and appear to belong to someone else. The bottom of my soles seem to always catch some unseen obstacle as I stumble about at the risk of losing my dignity, grateful that no one is near to witness the spectacle of it all. I’m carrying way too much weight, and I’m not talking about what’s stashed in my pack.
It’s early in the season and the day warms quickly, and the sweat runs down my forehead as my glasses fog over. Is is really worth it, says I? Do I really want an elk that badly? At fifty, I may not be too old to hunt elk this way, but I fear that I have a pretty good view of the end of the road from here. I think of some of my friends, and realize with some sadness that it is already too late for some, and I wonder just how that happened. Only yesterday we were quite a little group of extreme elk hunters.
But now, a great friend has some chronic health problems and he spends much more time on his ATV then I know he would like. Another has found religion and for this or some other reason rarely hunts anymore. A friend that I had lost touch with informed me the other day that he has had not one, but both hips replaced, and will now leave elk hunting for the younger hunters. And another is the father of a young son that he loves beyond words, and he spends his time teaching him what he has learned of the mountains in his fifty years, caring not if he ever again takes another elk for himself. I don’t see them much anymore. I miss them, and I miss who we were.
A faint, whistling bugle snaps me from my circumstance, and at once my attention is focused like a beacon in the gloom. My heart skips a beat, and all my minor ailments, in fact all my troubles, vanish as if left behind for some other person still rooted on the steep slope below.
It takes some doing, but I struggle to the top and sit for sometime, until another bugle, closer, allows me to get a better bearing and plan a strategy. I cow call several times, and another bugle from my left lets me know that there are two bulls coming my way. I need a shooting lane, and I pick a spot to set up and must cover ten more yards. As I take the last step and begin to kneel, I hear the all too familiar crash of spooked elk, and I see hide flash through the trees and a bit of antler from both bulls. My last half step was one too many, and I have bumped them. I cow call in vain, already knowing what the result will be. Soon, I sit and smile and have a pull from my canteen. Just another “almost” in decades of “almosts” and very close calls.
“Catch Me If You Can” Photograph Courtesy of David Massender of Glenwood Springs, Colorado.
This is why it is called elk hunting and not elk shooting. Bowhunting can be so frustrating. Still, I am happy because this is success, in many ways. It is a new area for me, and the elk are here as I had suspected. For a long time most of my favorite hunting spots were largely untouched and I had little competition with other hunter’s. Hunting pressure has always been a consideration on public lands, but lately it seems that someone has beat me to almost every spot, and for a time it upset me. I’ve had to search for new spots, never knowing if it was worth the walk, or if I would find other hunters.
I’ve noticed something different though. My competition all seem to be much younger than I remember, and they all look hungry. They look fit…eager, and determined. They drive beefy, jacked up jeeps, with large tires and lots of chrome parts shining in the sun. I don’t recognize the music blaring from their open tops.
Their smiles are broad and have that certain twist, and the glint in their eyes tell me that the long and grueling hike they just completed was just a warmup. They can’t wait to coffee up and leave me behind, as they strike out to see what’s over the next ridge. It suddenly dawned on me that they remind me of my friends and I – many years ago. Hell, they are us, I thought, and now I know that this is simply the natural progression of things in our world. We are here to pass the torch, and the young guns are more than happy to receive it, even if they have to pry it from some of our hands. I for one will not go down easily.
I agree with many who feel that a hunter is born and not made. I believe that a wise father knows that desire can be encouraged, but not coerced. Yet, an elk hunter must find some further dimension, grasp it tightly, and hold onto it for all he’s worth. In the end, the final product is hammered from iron, tempered by fire and ice, and honed to a razor’s edge by deep, dark canyons, jumbled black timber, and high windswept ridges.
A path so chosen produces legs of spring steel, the lungs of a mountain sherpa, and the heart of a young and fearless lion. An elk hunter must be confident and sure-footed, like the mountain goat on an impossible ledge. Above all, he must be eternally optimistic and willing to improve his skills and knowledge in the teeth of setback and hardship. For it is not easy, this elk hunting.
An elk, after all, is more than happy to accommodate the most determined individual. The more I hunt them, the more respect I have for every aspect of their nature. As worldly survivors they have few equals. Build a luxury golf course on their winter range, and come the heavy snows you will finding them lunching at the ninth tee and sleeping by the barbecue pit in the backyard of the neighboring house. Let loose a few elk in some of the west’s most forbidding country, throw in enough water and some sparse vegetation, and watch them thrive and multiply. Place an arrow from an errant shot in a non vital area of his anatomy, and if it is not too bad he will suck it up and hang low until the wound heels and he can be found bugling in the same spot next year. Elk give perspective to the concept of what it means to be tough.
From our point of view he is a pitiless and unaffected creature, and he expects nothing of you that he would not expect of himself. He is a “game animal” with a lot of game. He believes strongly in equal opportunity, for he will take on all comers with hardly a care. Should you decide to enter his backyard and hunt him, you can tread lightly and show little effort, like many, and experience small success, like most. Hunt him big, and you can peg the throttles until the rockets burn out. He can take it. Can you? Your choice.
Once committed, he will meet you head on and wear you out physically and mentally, a little or a lot. He can grind your hopes into gritty powder and turn your dreams into nightmarish obsessions. He will turn and happily watch from the hill above, as you beat yourself bloody on the rocks. He waits, until you sheepishly stop to pat yourself and make sure that nothing is permanently broken. Pick your poison, because it is all the same to him. In the end, your efforts are most often fruitless and only slightly annoying to him, and he shakes it all off like a december frost upon his back. If you are lucky or good, or both, and you take him, it’s O.K. too. It’s nature’s way, and the only way he knows. To take an animal in this adventure means little. It is the effect upon your person that matters, and if in the end your character is better or worse for the effort.
Last week I hunted with a very close friend who just happens to be the best elk hunter I have ever known. His hunting skills are just simply on a whole other level than us mere mortals, and he has always defined the term “advanced” in the concept of advanced elk hunting. I pick my friends wisely, I guess. Just a few short months ago he underwent major surgery, with complications to follow. While recovering from his complications, a blood clot suddenly passed through his lungs and could have killed him. Later, a second clot should have killed him, but did not. He suffered some minor lung damage, and had not completely healed from his ordeal. The doctor had told him that it was not quite time to hunt, but opening day is opening day and not often found on a doctor’s calendar. I suspect that the doctor may have disagreed with the idea more forcefully, had he known my friend’s style of elk hunting.
He wanted to hunt for big mule deer on our favorite ridges above timberline, and I had an elk tag. At first light we spotted several good bucks on the open slopes, and knew immediately that this was going to be a good day. Yet, as eager as we were to get started I thought I detected some slight hesitation from him as he geared up. We would have to move a long way down before climbing a long way back up in order to get around and ahead of the bucks. Our first step towards the bucks committed us to some tough hiking.
Our plans worked well, and we had continuous action well into mid morning. The bucks were numerous and respectable, and we attempted a couple of classic stalks on bedded deer. It was high country mule deer heaven, and it was a wonder just to be there. My friend was not able to let an arrow fly, but by all measures it was a successful day. Played out, yet satisfied, we turned for home with the promise of a cold drink in out near future .
On our way, however, we glassed two small bulls feeding in a meadow far below. My friend was determined to go after them, because I had helped him with his deer hunt and he wanted to return the favor. I tried to talk him out of the idea, but already knew he would have none of it. I knew by watching him that he was in great pain, even though he tried his best to hide it. I also knew that the last thing he needed was to drop off another impossible ridge and lose the precious elevation we had recently gained, and adding even more miles to our trip. Truth be known, I knew I would hurt badly before this day was done. I hoped I could make it.
We were very nearly successful in taking one of those bulls that afternoon, and surely would have had not the always troublesome mountain winds swirled at the last second. Left with a merciless climb ahead, I tried to concentrate on the ground just past my nose and could only wonder what we had been thinking. Towards the top, I struggled with all I had and had ever had to keep up with my friend’s unrelenting pace. I was glad I could not see the pain on his face, because it might have broke me.
Nearing the top, I practically had to lift my legs with my own arms and the thought of crawling was a distinct consideration. The fact that my friend had out hiked me in his condition would have embarrassed me had I not discovered the solid and unbreakable foundations of his character many hunts ago. After all – he is god’s own elk hunter, marching on.
The look on his face as he drove from camp later that day told me all I needed to know, which was that he had pushed himself past the limits that even he was aware he possessed, and I felt badly that I had contributed to his pain. He called me a few days later to let me know how much he had enjoyed our hunt together. In fact, he told me that it had been the best day of bowhunting in his life and he wanted to know when we could go again. When indeed? We shall hunt together soon, should the god’s smile again and we are both still standing, I thought. I am glad he could not see the emotion on my face.
At the age of fifty, I have learned that life, and death, has a way of placing things in proper perspective for those who listen. Hopefully, with age comes the wisdom to know what is important and what is not, and with it the courage to face the choice. My physical skills and mental drive have declined precipitously, and it is hard not to mourn for them and become despondent over the loss. I am aware that I am certainly not the elk hunter that I once was, but that is good. I also know that I would not be the man I am today had I not hunted elk, and that is better. Elk have a way of marking the true bearings of a man in a way known only to himself.
Occasionally, the meaning of life can be reduced to the simple act of placing one foot in front of the other, and the only question left in the end is if you will, or will not, take that step. For me, that silent footfall will always contain more meaning when placed next to the deep and profound track of an animal most loved.
What more can be said of elk, of life, and of a hunter’s heart?