I think we've all had those days when we wake up and think today something special is going to happen. Well let me tell you sometimes special is a little more than we bargain for. Another couple hours with my face pressed into my pillow in the bunk house would have done a lot more for my longevity than what this day had in store for me.
"Good luck, get a big one" Billy said as we parted ways. I gave him a big fist in the air like a fighter who had just beaten his opponent. As I made my way up the hill I paused to take in a few deep breaths of the clean air I wait for each year. It's funny the things one looks forward to the older we get. I can honestly say that I have days at work in southern California where the only thing that keeps me from losing my sanity is the thought of taking a deep breath in Colorado, Oregon or wherever I find myself chasing elk in the fall. The breath I had just taken was one I had been waiting to take for nearly a year.
I had been hunting some new ground the last couple of days so I was still getting comfortable with my surroundings. As with most things in life it takes a little while to get your bearings when put into an unfamiliar area. I decided to head east of Billy to put a little distance between us so we could both cover some ground and do a little recon.
Ten minutes hadn't past when I found a good place to set up and hit the cow call a couple times. Wouldn't you know it, right where Billy would normally be sitting two bulls came in like they were late to a party. At about forty yards they hung up in some thick aspens, not to thick, just thick enough to keep me from putting an arrow in the air. Eventually they had enough and went up the mountain, leaving me a bit disappointed but more thankful to have seen them than anything.
Most people who don't hunt, think us hunters are a bunch of blood thirsty animals who do what we do just to kill things. Now let me say that for myself and the hunters I know and respect, killing a bull or buck is a bonus. I personally chased bull elk around with my bow for many seasons before I was fortunate enough to take one home with
me. Still every year about two days after the season closed I would be having withdrawals, thinking, planning, and waiting for next year. Waiting for that first breath of mountain air I talked about earlier.
Deciding to follow the bulls up the mountain; follow not chase, there is a difference,I put my gear together and slowly made my way up the hill. Evidently they were on to me because the were nowhere to be found, so I continued on my way up just to see what was there. After a couple of hours of searching I thought I would head back down and look for Billy. Hopefully he had been lucky enough to see at least what I had.
On my way back down the mountain I caught a glimpse of movement through the timber and spotted a very respectable six point bull making his way through. He wasn't spooked, but seemed to have something on his mind so I went to where I had last seen him and blew my cow call a couple of times. After a minute or two I saw something to my right, the opposite way the bull had gone. Ooh ooh I thought. Another one must have spooked him off and is coming to see what new girls are in his neighborhood. I wish I were right.
The bull I was hoping for turned into a cinnamon phased black bear. I thought this would be a great opportunity for some photos so I quietly took my camera from my belt and looked up. Where did he go I thought to myself. Looking around a large fir tree I realized where he went. He had changed course and was heading right towards me.
At about ten yards I thought to myself "Now this could be serious!" I snapped a picture, threw my camera on the ground and told Mr. Bear to get the heck out of there. Now you might think an average bear would comply and head for a less crowded hillside. I was hoping for the same. I wasn't so fortunate. He looked right at me and kept coming. Quickly I looked around to see what was handy. At my feet I was surprised, happily surprised to see a stick about three feet long and two inches in diameter. At twenty feet or so I threw the stick with all my might and made a direct hit into his ribs. Again, one might think a bear would head for more friendly country. No, no, no not this bear. He kept coming and I started going. Not turning my back, just backing up so I could keep my eyes on him. For anyone who hasn't been eye to eye with a predator in the wild it is a hard thing to explain. Usually when you make eye contact with something you can get a sense of what it is thinking. With this animal, I was looking it right in the face and it felt like it was looking through me or maybe even into me. Needless to say very creepy and a bit unnerving. At this point the only thing I could think to do besides shooting him was hurl obscenities at him. Again I was disappointed at the outcome.
So many things were going through my mind. What is really on this bear's mind? At what point do I make the decision to do what needs to be done? Watching him move, the way his hide shifted over his body and how his fur stood up on end. Once I even though t"This guy looks like an oversized pissed off porcupine."
"Pull your head out of your butt you idiot!! This is serious and you better protect yourself ." Where did that come from? Right then something inside me changed and I went from wondering what the outcome was going to be to knowing that IT WASN'T UP TO HIM WHETHER I LIVED OR DIED, IT WAS UP TO ME. At the next sign of aggression I was going to use the only option he was giving me. He circled around me, got downwind and I knew I had to. "I'm gonna kill ya, I'm gonna kill ya, I'm gonna kill ya!" I tried to make him listen. I did, I tried. He was so close, if I waited for him to come it would be over for me. I drew my bow and said it again"I'm gonna kill ya!"
As my arrow went through him and he ran away I exhaled. The next breath was so sweet, so very sweet. One that I had taken back, taken back from that damn bear who wanted to take it from me.
Some of you might be saying to yourselves " Was that poor bear really going to eat you?" I guess we'll never know what his intentions were, but at least I am here to tell the story. After getting myself out of the situation I stopped to gather my emotions. I don't know if it was relief or knowing that I could have very well ended up as bear poo on the forest floor, but tears and snot and a shaking I have never felt came over me. I'm not ashamed to say it " I cried like a little girl on the side of that mountain."
By now it had been several hours since I had seen anyone and at this point a friendly face would be a very welcome sight. So I started back down the mountain hoping I would run into the Billy sooner rather than later. I was walking along trying to get him on the radio without any luck, just to hear a voice and share what had happened. Let me tell you it is quite a stretch for me to repeatedly try to reach someone on the radio. Usually I hear "Why the heck don't you ever turn your radio on?" when I get back to camp or the truck. On this day I really needed a voice. It's a funny thing being relatively close to someone but feeling like you are on the moon.
Finally I found Billy. After telling him about my ordeal I took a well deserved nap and waited for late afternoon to resume my search for a bull. Again I hadn't been on the hunt for very long when I caught some movement. Ahead of me at about sixty yards there were two more bulls. Just spikes and not legal, but still very cool to see. They got a little nervous and trotted off into the timber. Knowing they hadn't seen me and I had the wind in my favor I went to see if maybe they weren't alone. As I walked along something popped out on the same trail I was on. Instantly I knew it wasn't good. A mountain lion was walking right at me oblivious that I was even there. No big deal, right? Wrong!! Two seconds after she jumped out two cubs followed. They were probably fifty yards away and coming quick. Knowing that I was in a bit of a predicament ,I didn't want to seem threatening, but I wanted to let her know I was there so I put my hands in the air and calmly said" Psst". At that sound she stopped in her tracks, put her belly to the ground, started twitching her tail and like a cat after a mouse here she came and again there I went. "YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME!!" I really do love being a part of nature, but this is a little much don't you think. Not turning my back just backing up I eyed a stump on the side of the trail and told myself "If she gets to that stump you have to defend yourself." To my complete surprise and relief , right before the stump she turned into the woods and took her babies with her.
Thanking the lord for my good fortune I thought I should go to the other side of the hill where I had seen the two bulls in the morning. The thought of running into her again wasn't too appealing and besides that I had found what had spooked the two spikes and was sure any other elk within sniffing distance had cleared out. So off I went, chasing what daylight was left as much as any elk that might cooperate. Coming to the area I had been in the morning, sure enough I spotted an elk feeding in the aspens. It's head was behind some brush and it didn't look much like a bulls body, but after hunting for eight days and experiencing what I had on this day a freezer full of tender cow meat sounded pretty good so I went into stealth mode. At about fifty yards a misstep snapped a twig and the cow raised her head and right then and there that cow I was hunting turned into a dandy five point bull. I drew my bow picked a spot and touched my release. The bull whirled and disappeared. I heard the arrow hit him and he hadn't moved until after that so I knew I had hit him where I wanted.
Making my way to where he was I still had that little bit of doubt that comes when you don't see the animal fall. When I got there my worry turned to confidence when I saw what looked like someone had taken a hudson sprayer to the side of the hill. A nice bright red with bubbles that went on and on. The tell tale sign of a good lung hit and an elk that would surely be expired within a hundred yards or so.
I always give any animal I have shot a good half hour to go do it's thing and this time wasn't any different. Using my binoculars to scan the timber I could feel the corners of my mouth start to tighten as a smile grew across my face. There he was piled up between two trees. He had gone about eighty yards and expired quickly and quietly, just how it should be.
As I started working, nature started raining, not a hard rain just enough to get everything good and wet. Looking back on it I can almost see the Man upstairs looking down and thinking, "What else can I throw at this young man today? I know, I know! How about a nice pack of coyotes, and we'll put them just out of sight. Close enough to hear them going nuts but just behind the bushes so he can't see what they're up to." Pure comedy I'm sure.
So here I am steam coming off my back, elbow deep in an elk, nerves on high alert. I mean really, a bear, a mountain lion, who knows how many coyotes and SNAP. Yes I said SNAAP!!!, right behind me. Remember when you were a kid and thought if I just pull the covers over my head that scary monster wont be there. Well let me tell you I wished I had a nice fuzzy, warm blanket, but I wasn't a kid, I wasn't in bed and that SNAP was most definitely right behind me. I slowly turned my head and wouldn't you know it twenty yards away stood a 6x6 bull, the kind that any elk hunter would be happy to have an encounter with, looking at me like, well like he had something to ask me. So I politely asked him" Now what do you want?" I can honestly say after the events of that day it wouldn't have surprised me if he would have answered me, heck I was almost expecting an answer. He just stood there watching me then without even saying "Goodbye" he just turned and walked away.