Man, what a season. I hurt everywhere as I sit before my computer typing this today,....and that's with the benefit of a day's rest already. Then again, I'm 47 years old and about 50 pounds past my fighting weight. Even a brisk lawn-mowing can have me reaching for the Advil these days. I digress however. These are good aches and pains. My pain is the residue of hard work, success, and memories I'll cherish when I can no longer do these things. I'll take these hunts in chronological order.Tim's Bull
I picked up Tim (TDN here on the Campfire) from the Airport on a Sunday, with the opener to follow the very next day. The drive is beautiful imho, and I was pleased that Tim seemed equally smitten with our wonderful state. The open spaces, clean roads, and pleasant folks living in the small towns along the way are simply the best this country has to offer,...as far as I'm concerned anyway. We rolled into camp just as the sun was setting, some five and a half hours after we left town. When we arrived, my primary hunting partner (Matt) already had a fire going in the wall-tent, but informed us he had to run back to Boise to help his son with a VERY nice baseball scholarship offer/discussion that had suddenly come their way. I hated to see Matt go, but was very excited for him knowing how hard his boy had worked to be in that position, and how important it was for Matt to be there to guide him through the process. As such, it would be just Tim and I the first few days.
On an intellectual level I realize 5 am comes at the same time every day. The warm cocoon of my thick sleeping bag made it seem preposterously early the morning of the opener though. Apparently Tim suffered no such malady, as I could hear him rustling about before I could get my hand on the snooze button. I jumped out of the bag and into my hunting clothes as quickly as possible, aided in a way that only cold temperatures can motivate a man. We wolfed down some oatmeal and banana bread my wife had sent along, and grabbed a cup of coffee for the short drive to the nearby ridge we'd be hiking out.
We were about 30 minutes into our hike when we "bumped" something in the dark below us. We grinned at each other like escaped mental-patients in the glow of our headlamps as we listened to whatever it was crash off with heavy hooves down the hill below us. Anticipation hastened our step as we still had two hours left to get to the spot I wanted to be when shooting light greeted us. Roughly 4 miles later we were still a half-mile from my favorite glassing spot when the first vestiges of light start revealing distant shapes and slopes in the glass. I immediately spotted a couple of bulls with two miles and roughly 7,000' of vertical landscape between us. They would be safe from any harm from us that morning for sure. Still though, it was exciting to lay eyes on bulls so quickly, and be able to point them out to Tim. I figured if we struck out on this trip, I'd at least be able to say we SAW some elk. I've had hunts that didn't happen, so I take nothing for granted.
Just as we rounded the last corner before the rockpile I like to sit and glass from, I thought I heard the unmistakable sound a whistling bull somewhere on the hill above us. I am getting older and deafer by the day, so I turned around to see if Tim's younger ears had heard anything. He was locked up like a German Shorthair on point with his hand cupped to his ear by way of an answer. I waved him to me to discuss this turn of events, just as a second bugle followed. The wind was howling away from us, so I knew it couldn't be too far,...and my pulse began to race accordingly. Even though it was still relatively dark, we were standing in a pretty exposed spot and I felt mildly frantic we were going to get busted. I starting scanning the hillside above us and almost immediately spotted a cow come out of a little fold in the land at what I estimate to be 400 yards or so. I grabbed Tim and pulled him down to the ground with me so we weren't skylined, and pointed up the hill at what I was seeing. We crab-walked forward a couple more yards to a relatively flat spot, and threw the pack down to get Tim into shooting position. It didn't take but just a second to realize I had spotted the lead cow, and more elk were following her around the hill. I took a reading on the rangefinder, and told Tim to dial to 450. Tim whispered that he was "on them", as we waited what seemed like an eternity (couple of minutes total) watching them feed out of the little fold of land one cow/calf at a time.
I've seen Tim shoot. I personally confirmed zero on his rifle and scope-dope out to 600 yards prior to his arrival. I knew how this was about to play out, and I honestly started feeling a bit giddy at all of it. I couldn't help myself, as I leaned down and whispered, "Don't freak out, but you're about to kill an Idaho bull buddy
". He turned and looked at me like I had just called his mama a troglodyte...which truly made me want to lough out loud. He later told me, "All I could think about was how excited I was, followed by how badly you WERE in fact freaking me out by talking about it while I waited for a shot
Here is a picture of Tim moments before the shot...
A few seconds later, I saw the unmistakable sway of antler tips emerging from the same fold of land the cows had recently emerged from. I leaned in and whispered, tell me when you want me to stop him for the shot. Seconds later Tim whispered "Now" and I gave the most mournful cow-call I could muster. He stopped in his tracks and looked down our way like he was reading from the same script we were. A second later Tim's rifle barked. Then again, and again. The bull was a tough old codger, and wore each shot like a champ. Finally, the inevitable came and he stumbled to his last. Just like that, it was over.
We jumped up and hugged like little girls on the first day of school. I think Tim said, "I can't believe that just happened
" about 10 times in a row, like a poorly programmed robot trying to reboot itself. Frankly, I couldn't believe it has just happened either. We'd taken a dandy bull in an OTC unit that averages 12% success rates...15 minutes into opening day and on public land. I felt equal parts happy and relieved if I'm being totally honest. I was happy it had worked out almost EXACTLY how I had mentally scripted it in the days and weeks leading up to that moment. I was relieved the friend I had invited to travel across the country (and incur the costs associate with that) would be going home as one of the few successful hunters that would frequent our little part of the world in pursuit of bulls. I knew that no matter what happened the rest of the season, it would be a "success" for this hunt alone.
Here is Tim a few minutes later taking in the fruits of his labor in a candid photo that I really love for some reason....
Here is the "trophy shot" several of you have already seen of course, so my apologies to those of you that fall into that category...
We replayed the scene over and over while quartering and skinning the bull, which made the task go by quickly. Much to the delight of both of us, we were able to find two of the 143 ELD-X bullets laying against the off-side hide. I thought they performed and looked pretty great for what that's worth. I grabbed them for a quick photo as these are the types of details I always love seeing in other people's hunts...
Soon we were laboring under the heavy load of the packs as we began the 4.5 mile trek back to the pickup. I won't say it was easy, because it wasn't. I will say it was made easier by the companionship and general joy Tim was so obviously carrying back with us. I've been lucky enough to kill a few bulls over the years, but always seem to enjoy the success of others even more...especially when THEY enjoy it. This hunt was no exception as Tim seemed fully grasp the enormity of the moment and how fortunate we had been. Several hours later we made it back to camp for one of the best meals I have ever had. We stuffed ourselves like fat little piggies on Carne Asada and just a smidge of Pendleton whiskey. I went to bed that night with a full heart and an even fuller belly.
We awoke the next day and began the trek back in for the hind quarters and rack. Unburdened by any expectations or pressure to succeed, the miles passed quickly and in no time we were loaded up and headed back to the truck once again. Among my many ailments, my right ankle has been broken many, many times and the associated scar tissue swells and looks a bit unsightly when traveling long distances under load. This little sucker hurts, and Tim stared in obvious horror at the mangled appendage as I removed my boot and sock for a quick peek
It wasn't pretty, but it still gets me to where I need to find elk so I'm going to leave it alone until I can avoid surgery no longer. I show this unsightly thing not for sympathy, but rather as a reminder that regular success on bulls in Idaho usually comes at a price. Then again If it were easy, everyone would be doing it I suppose. As the successful hunter, Tim received the additional burden of the rack on the return trip. He didn't seem to mind at all. If anything, he looked even fresher carrying out that last load. Oh to be young and successful again.
Tim had two days left to hunt and a deer tag left to fill, but the unexpected logistics behind the success of his hunt dictated we head back to Boise to get him a vehicle rented and on the road as soon as possible. We would return to Boise, arriving late in the evening. Matt's excitement to hear the story led him to meet us at my house, and we re-told the story to he and my wife upon our arrival before finally shuffling off to bed. We got up early for breakfast, and Tim was able to spend a little time with the kids and wife before they headed off to school and work. It was a great morning and I thoroughly enjoyed showing off my family to him. My boy (Rowdy) was especially eager to hear all the details, so one more time we gave a rundown of the events while everyone filled up on eggs and toast. I hope he enjoyed their company half as much as they did his at the breakfast table.
A couple of hours later Tim was on the road and I was headed to the grocery store for a re-supply.To be continued...…..