Whiting column: Good decision-making begins with good parenting
Something didn’t look right. The gut opening had been downhill; now the antlers were. Maybe I was remembering incorrectly. It had been dark last night when I navigated my way out of the forest via flashlight. Maybe the view cresting the hill 50 yards away was just a different view. No, something was amiss.
The day before, I first heard the elk as the sun approached the western horizon. The abrasive cow in heat was the first sound. Closing the distance, the plaintive calves could be heard. A raspy, bull-in-rut bugle added to the symphony. Still invisible in the trees, they couldn’t have been 200 yards away.
Another 50 yards and thick lodgepole regrowth from a fire still hid my quarry. Pausing, the sound of hooves in the rocks below the hidden cliff to my left caught me by surprise. Then silence; maybe rocks submitting to gravity. My attention went back to elk talk. Intently trying to spot movement, I was unprepared when a satellite bull burst from the eight-foot pines to my left. At full trot and oblivious to my existence, he was gone before I could get an arrow out of my quiver, let alone shoot.
Straight ahead, the suspected herd bull let loose and was immediately answered by a younger bull to my right — probably the one from 30 seconds before. Another bugle from uphill to the north added to my imagery of what was occurring. Hands and knees were the mode of transportation for the next 50 yards. Sliding into position next to the last tree on the edge of the grass plateau, I saw the entire picture come into view.
The herd was milling about casually snatching bits of grass. A couple of calves were lying down. Four or five wandering cows were being corralled by the herd bull 75 yards away. Each time one of the hidden bulls bugled, he immediately responded and scraped the ground with his hooves.
There wasn’t any way to get closer, but the wind was right. Figuring something would eventually wander my way, an arrow was in position waiting for opportunity. Bull, cow — it didn’t’ matter. My primary concern was meat, but a bull can be hard to resist.
Five minutes later, a small 5×5 emerged uphill and joined the action. The herd bull immediately bugled and took three determined steps in the challenger’s direction. The newcomer decided prudent action dictated circling as opposed to a direct confrontation. To my benefit, he walked around the herd and stopped 20 yards in front of me. With his attention on the herd, plenty of time was available to draw, aim and release. When the arrow disappeared, success was just a matter of time.
The bull jumped a couple of steps, but didn’t run. The bugle of the herd bull seemed to occupy my bull, now visibly bleeding. Cows continued to graze; the original satellite bull emerged from the right eliciting another bugle from the herd bull. My bull even attempted a response, which sounded more like a gurgle. He walked to the middle of the meadow and collapsed. Only then did the cows move quickly toward the trees as the herd bull tried to keep them together. No movement for 15 minutes confirmed my bull was dead.
The entire scenario took more than an hour. Consequently, the sun had disappeared by the time the butchering began. Typically, one quarter would occupy my backpack as I headed back to my vehicle, but it would be an hour of steep downhill through rocks and fallen timber. I decided to prop open the rib cage with a stick and come back tomorrow. At dawn, I could get it quartered, hung up in the coolness of the shade and ferry each quarter down the mountain.
But now something didn’t look right. The carcass had moved. My first thought was coyotes, but it would be tough for coyotes to rotate the carcass. Most of the exposed hind quarter was eaten. A closer look in dirt by the head provided the answer: bear tracks. Right then I heard a loud “woof” from the trees. 35 yards uphill, a large black bear was standing, noting my attention to his food.
Because I had a deer tag, my bow accompanied me this morning, but I wasn’t confident of stopping a charging bear with a broadhead. Prudence being the operative word, I walked up to the edge of the trees 90 degrees from the bear and sat down. Ten minutes later, the bear walked down for breakfast. After he returned to his tree position, I thought salvaging the hindquarter hidden underneath was a possibility. My return prompted the bear to rise from his bed. Head shakes and woof commands resulted in my second retreat.
As if to reassert his position, the bear came down for a mid-morning snack. Upon his return to shade, I still held hope he might “share” and allow me the lower hind quarter. No chance. My reemergence immediately resulted in his rising. A woof and two steps in my direction added emphasis. At that point, I conceded, wished the bear a good winter and headed back downhill in defeat.
Temptation among the herd
Rain accompanied my retreat down the mountain. A mile later, I wasn’t even paying attention, let alone trying to be quiet. A bugle jolted me back to reality. Dropping behind a scrub oak, it was a few seconds before cows starting coming around the corner. In the stillness of the rain, there were soon cows surrounding me, unaware of my presence. The bull followed, prodding the last two cows with his antlers.
It was a unique situation; I was in the middle of a herd, all within bow range. Cows wandered around. The bull thrashed a tree 20 yards from my position, unaware of my existence. It was enthralling. The rain was camouflaging both my smell and my beating heart. Then, a bad thought entered my mind. I had an elk tag attached to an antler 30 minutes up the mountain.
My fingers slipped an arrow into my Whisker Biscuit, but debate was already raging in my mind. A choice of cows and 6×6 bull were at my disposal, but my license was used. Easily retrievable, my tag could go on this elk. No one would know. The meat of a cow would be a welcome addition to our winter fare. And one doesn’t get many chances at a herd bull. …
A father’s lesson
As often occurs when you’ve been the subject of good parenting, a childhood experience emerged from memory.
We had gone duck hunting. Dad always let me shoot first. So my limit was in my coat, but Dad had one more to take. A flock flew by as we hid at the edge of the river. Dad rose, fired and the lead duck wobbled but didn’t drop. We watched as it flew higher and higher, only to collapse, die and fall into the river 300 yards downstream.
Our dog, King, was with us, but it took at least a minute to get around the corner to where we felt the duck had splashed. It wasn’t visible. We ran further downstream, looked, scanned with our binoculars but couldn’t find any duck for King to retrieve. We were walking back to the truck when another flock headed our direction.
“Dad shoot!” I exclaimed.
“No,” he replied. “I’ve shot my limit.”
Lowering my bow, I watched the herd gradually melt into the trees. As I finished my walk back to the truck, the herd bull’s occasional bugle punctured the silence, as if to remind me of what had occurred. But despite the lack of meat or antlers in my pack, I was smiling. Even though my father had passed several years before, he was still hunting with me.
Bryan Whiting feels most of our issues are best solved by personal responsibility and an understanding of non-partisan economics rather than government intervention. Comments and column suggestions to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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