A hard hunt, a ne'er do well & a missed bull
Last updated 10/29/2019 at 4:51pm
"Blessed is the man who expects nothing,
for he shall never be disappointed"
- Alexander Pope.
It was during the mid 1960's. I was 17 or 18, and Dan, my hunting partner, was a couple years younger.
There weren't many elk in those days. I had killed one or two, but Dan had never gotten lucky. He was getting desperate.
The way we hunted when elk were scarce was to pick up a fresh track in the snow, then follow it out until we caught up with the elk. Sometimes we killed the elk, but most of the time it was a futile effort.
That particular day we had an inch or so of fresh snow, which made tracking ideal. Dan and I cut a fresh trail in some thick timber about noon. We knew it was a bull by the size of the track and the fact that it was alone.
The wind was right and it wasn't long before we jumped the bull out of his bed. We didn't see him but heard him crashing through the timber.
Dan and I were in good shape, so we decided to see if we could walk him down. Still trying to be quiet, we hurried along the track, sometimes getting close enough to smell the bull, but the timber was too thick to see him.
The bull must have gotten rattled by our tenacity, because he eventually broke out into a long, open slope. He didn't go back into the timber.
Dan and I were hard behind him and a few times his tracks showed where he had skidded to a stop, possibly in the hope of catching our scent or even seeing us. This went on for hours, and both Dan and I were certain the we were going to eventually catch him, and at least get an honest shot.
We chuffed up to a small point where we could see for a distance. We stood to rest for a minute, and then we heard a voice just out of our sight. We walked over and saw one of the town's ne'er do wells in a borrowed vehicle waving to us.
We walked down to him and he asked, "Can you guys give me a hand? I can't do much with this wrist." The fellow was on some type of disability for a wrist he claimed kept him from honest work.
We looked down the road fifty yards and saw our bull, dead. The fellow had been out with a borrowed vehicle, a .223 caliber rifle, better suited for antelope and other small game. No one hunted elk with a .223. He had borrowed that also, plus he had a couple six packs of beer I knew he had purchased on the tab.
We were both disappointed, and Dan sat on the dead creature with his head in his hands for some time.
The fellow had hit the big bull in the eye with a lucky shot when it was stopped and looking back for us. It had been a four-hour chase, at least.
So we gutted the elk while the shooter sat in the vehicle and drank beer. I don't know how we did it, but we managed to stuff the huge beast into the back of a tiny International Scout that still had the back seats in it. It was the biggest elk I had ever seen.
Finally we got everything but the head into the Scout. The horns were too large to fit into the vehicle. The bull was immense, both in horns and body.
We got the tailgate forced shut and stepped back. Then, to add stupidity to bad luck, I asked, "Do you want me to get the teeth for you?"
The fool replied, "Teeth? What teeth?" So I cut the teeth out of the jaw, and they were beautiful – dark and moccasin shaped - the sign of an old bull.
I knew I was a fool to have mentioned the teeth, but it was that type of day.
Without even offering us a can of warm beer or a cursory thank you, the fellow headed for town, leaving Dan and I to walk four or five miles back to the Jeep. Except for an occasional curse, it was a quiet walk.
The fellow who shot the elk let it lie in the Scout for a couple days, then took it over to our ranch where we had a setup for hanging beef as well as elk or deer during hunting season. The elk hung with the hide on until it spoiled. Dan and I were disappointed, and resentful, although hunting is hunting, and things like that happen. But fifty years later I still curse myself for giving the teeth away.