My heart was beating to the point that I thought I was going to have a heart attack. A huge bull elk had just exploded from his bed a few yards in front of me. It had completely taken me by surprise. The timber was thick enough that all I could catch was a few fleeting glimpses of him through my scope, as he rocketed away. After my beating heart, & breathing began to return to normal, my 13 year old son calmly asked "Why didn't you blow your cow call?"
This was to be his first actual elk hunt. The year before he had accompanied me as well. But this year he had his own rifle. I had tried for several years, to talk him into a 30-06. That was what I hunted with & I thought it would be nice to both have the same caliber, (for ammo purposes). But he wouldn't hear of it. Since we mostly just hunted elk, he wanted an ELK caliber. After reading stories from the "experts" in all the hunting magazines, he wanted a 338. So that was what he was carrying.
Any way in the excitement, I had completely forgotten my cow call. Of course being the "perfect" hunter that he was, he made fun of me. After letting the woods calm down for a bit we resumed our hunt. Because of his young age his mother was concerned for his safety, like someone mistaking him for an animal. So he was wearing a very large & very bright orange sweat shirt. Because of it's visibility it was very easy to keep track of him in the woods. We were side hilling around the draws & finger ridges. This is the way I hunted this area before & had worked fairly well. So as the old saying goes' "If it ain't broke don't fix it."
In the course of our hunt he would either be above me, or below me. He would be as close as 20-30 feet some times, & at others he might be as much as 100 yards. But he was always at least partially visible. His orange sweater stood out very well.
At one point, there was a nice flat opening up below me that I wanted to hunt through. So I began watching up the hill, watching for him. My intent was to catch his eye, & motion him down to where I was so we could go through this flat. I keep watching for him for several minutes, but had not even caught a glimpse of his sweater. I was beginning to think that maybe he had gotten ahead of me when I finally saw him. He was perhaps 60 yards behind & 40 yards above me. I was just standing there waiting for him & not paying much attention to what he was doing. After several minutes I noticed that he wasn't moving, & that he seemed to sitting down. I was thinking maybe he was tired & taking a break, or maybe even answering the call of nature. So I just chilled. I was keeping one eye on the flat below, hoping to catch sight of an elk anyway.
All of a sudden, KA-BOOM. He had fired, jolting me out of my reverie! I quickly spun around, & just caught a glimpse of an animal running. It looked like a deer to me. That was just fine. I figured that since this was his first time big game hunting a deer would make him a happy camper. Besides it was only about 800 yards back to camp. I eased up the hill toward him & where I had seen the animal. There was a bench that was about 20 yards high at that point, so it was difficult for me to see much of anything that was going on, on top.
About the time that I got to the base of the bench, KA-BOOM!, he had fired again. This time I got a pretty good look at the animal when it ran. It was an elk, but I didn't see any horns. As we were hunting in a bulls only unit, my concern was that he didn't shoot a cow. I was saying over & over to myself, Don't shoot a cow, make sure it has horns, Don't shoot a cow, make sure it has horns.
Within a few seconds after he fired the second time, he started hollering at me. DAD, DAD COME HELP ME! With in a matter of a few seconds I was standing where the elk had run from. My son was pacing back & forth . He would go about 10 yards & then turn around & come back. In less than a minute he had made three or four trips. He was also talking about a mile a minute. He was saying, "It's bleeding dad, its' bleeding. Can you track it?" Of course me being the great white hunter that I am, my main concern was to calm him down a little & to try & sort things out a little. "Yes" I told him. "Just calm down a little, we don't want to rush things. He probably won't go to very far." I had already seen the blood & wasn't to very confident of anything. It was the dark red blood of maybe the liver, or worse yet, maybe of a gut shot. To my surprise he said, "Well I have to put my boots on anyway". "Put your boots on", I repeated. "What in the world for"? "They were making too much noise, so I had to take them off ," he said. I told him to go ahead & put them on, & asked him to tell me what & how everything had happened. I then noticed that he wasn't wearing his day pack. I asked him where it was. "It's uh, it's uh, it's uh", he said while quickly turning his head back & forth repeatedly. "It's right here some where". Any to make the story short, we were within 100 yards of where he had taken it off, but it took us a little more than an hour to find it. By now he had filled me in on how everything had happened.
As we were still hunting along he had seen this spike feeding in the trees ahead. After making sure that it was indeed a bull (spike), he had taken the classic broad side shot. At the report, the spike had run about 60 yards & lain down. His first shot had been about 40 yards. He didn't have a clear shot after the spike lay down, so he had snuck up for a better, closer shot. That was why he had taken his boots off. After his second shot, he jumped up to claim his elk. When he jumped up, so did his spike. Also, the other two, unseen, elk ran off with his spike. His spike straight ahead, & the other two up the hill.
By now, it had been at least an hour & a half since he had fired his second shot. It was time to follow the blood trail. It was just as I feared. The blood trail ran out within a 100 yards. However the soil showed tracks easily. Unfortunately, there tracks everywhere. I picked the set that looked the freshest, & we began to follow them around the mountain.
After covering over a mile, my son & I were afraid that the worst had happened. He had wounded & lost an elk. By now were walking single file on a game trail following what I thought was his elk. Suddenly my son whispered, "There's a elk". In my search to see this elk, I made a complete turn. Being right handed, I automatically turned to my left. However the elk was in a small clearing to my right, but was behind my position. As I was getting in position I herd my son say "that looks like the elk I shot." I was thinking to myself, yea, all spikes look alike. When I finally saw the elk, I quickly made two large steps ahead to the roots of a blown down tree for a rest for my rifle. "Can you shoot", I asked? When he said no, I fired. The elk simply turned slightly, quartering away. "Can you shoot", I asked? When he said no, I fired again. When I overcame the recoil, the elk had simply vanished. Afraid of losing another elk, I ran forward several yards, so I could see past the line of trees in the small clearing where the elk was at, but no elk was visible. My son had simply ran straight up the hill, so he was several yards ahead of me in the clearing. Remembering the elk from earlier that I morning I grabbed my cow call & started blowing it. That was when I gave my son his second laugh of the day. What he could already see was the elk laying dead at his feet. He thought it was funny that I was trying to call a dead elk.
Even though this was just a spike it was still an elk, so I was happy to have connected once again. After giving the elk a quick glance, I could see that it was indeed the elk my son had wounded. There were more wounds than what I could account for personally. My final shot was not in doubt. It had entered on the third rib from the back & had exited the off side shoulder. It had also been shot through the liver, & there was a bullet crease on the bottom of his chest. I began teasing my son, that he had almost missed on his shot. Because my first shot had to be through the liver.
I began dressing out the elk, & my son was watching & helping when he could. He was also looking around a bit. That was when he discovered blood in the elk's tracks even before I had shot. Taking a break, I also looked at the sign. There was indeed blood in the tracks. What was more important to me was there was much to much blood to have come from my sons shot. So I backed tracked the elk maybe 100 yards & found where he had been bedded down. There was a lot of sigh there as well. This didn't make any sense to me. How could a flesh wound bleed this much? I also went over what my son had told me of how the elk had acted after his first shot. How that it had ran about 60 yards & lay back down. I knew that with a simple flesh wound that would not have happened. So I had to reconsider my own shot placement. The flesh wound on the bottom of the chest cavity had to be my first shot & the liver shot had to be my sons first shot. I still knew that my second shot was not in question, but what about my sons second shot. When the spike had fallen, on of his antlers had broken about 1 inch above the skull. The other one had a bloody spot where the velvet had been torn loose. (Even though this was Oct. Some of the spikes still had velvet.) That was when I got even with my son for laughing at me earlier. The bloody spot on the unbroken antler was in a direct line with the break in the other antler. My conclusion was that when my son had looked at the spike in his scope before his second shot, to make sure he was shooting at the same animal again, he forgot to readjust his aim. Either that or in his excitement, he pulled his shot off. Anyway I got to kid him about shooting at the horns.
Anyway, over the years there have been other hunts, & other elk, but none of them can compare with the excitement, of this hunt. My sons first elk! At thirteen years of age, my son had taken his first elk. If you ever get the chance, take your kid/kids hunting. You will never regret it!