Not many things get me excited to wake up at 4:00 am, but something about bow hunting for elk makes me feel alive. That very first morning when the alarm went off, a nervous excitement rushed through my body. All my hunting clothes and gear were set out from the night before, ready to go. The drive from our camp to our hunting spot was only a few miles, but it felt like forever on the bumpy road. When we stepped out of the car, the air felt cold and crisp, and only a few stars shone through the patches of clouds.
We started walking, the frosty ground crunched below our feet, our warm breath hung in the cold air. Then something stopped me in my tracks: the most amazing, prehistoric, bone-resonating sound I have ever heard. It was the first time I had ever heard an elk bugle. The sound permeated the air. A bugle would come from one direction, and another would echo back from a different corner. Their screams intensified as we hiked. As daylight slowly crept across the sky, our eyes began to adjust, and the dark shapes transformed into the most magnificent animals.
We found immediate cover when we spotted an elk. My husband would bugle back at the elk, and make cow elk calls, attempting to get one of the bull elk curious enough to come closer. The elks’ sense of smell was extraordinary. There was very little wind, but as soon as the breeze shifted to our backs, the elk were gone. They would just vanish. We would scramble up the cliffs and spot another group. We would make a plan, figure out the best route to approach them, and then the wind would change, and they would vanish again.
Then we got lucky, really lucky. We found the perfect amount of cover in a cutout bank. A bull elk in the distance called back to the sound of our bugle. He called back again and again. Then he came towards us, slowly at first, and then he started running. He kept coming, bugling and snorting the whole way. He didn’t smell us. The wind was gone. His horns came dancing toward us in the riverbed, getting closer to us with each shallow breath I took. Everything slowed. I put an arrow in my bow. I had practiced this at least a thousand times over the past summer, in preparation for this moment. I guessed distances in yards from one point to another at least 5 times daily, so I would be able to accurately judge distances in the field. I knew I was deadly at 30 yards. The elk stopped. He was standing broadside. It was the perfect angle to take a shot. I drew back my bow, knowing exactly where I wanted my shot to land. Somehow my hands were steady. My breath evened out. I figured out exactly how far the elk was from me. He was 35 yards away. I told myself I wouldn’t take a shot over 30 yards. The last thing I wanted to do was injure an animal, and as an ethical hunter, I knew I shouldn’t take this shot. The elk startled, and ran away. I lowered my bow.
I played the scene over and over in my head. Each time, I came to the same conclusion. I knew I had done the right thing by not taking the shot. But next year, I will be deadly at 40 yards.