For as long as I’ve been a hunter, I’ve dreamed of the day I would notch my elk tag. As the years passed, I’d found success in just about every animal I’d truly pursued, except elk. I spent hundreds of hours studying elk hunting tactics, learning about elk behavior and where to find them, not to mention learning calls in the hopes that one day I’d shoot a branch bull. I got close, dozens of times with my bow, but just couldn’t make it happen. It was heartbreaking to say the least. At some point the disappointment subsided and I began to lose hope.
In 2019, after five seasons of elk hunting with my bow, I decided to try my hand at a rifle hunt. I was so excited to be sharing this experience with our good friends Tim and April. I knew it wasn’t going to be a walk in the park. The terrain was steep and getting a bull down in some of the canyons could mean two to three days to pack out; with horses. I mentally prepared myself for the worst, praying for the best.
We had a day and a half to scout before the season opened. We spotted several groups of bulls. Of course, the big bulls were in BIG canyons. They were also in areas easy to scout from the roads, so we figured the pressure to get out there in the morning would be intense. We decided to increase our odds by taking off after the group that was less likely to have been seen.
Opening morning we headed out at 3 a.m. It was an over 4 mile walk in before the hunt began. It was chilly, but not unbearable. We hustled through the dark, stopping periodically. As we walked through the dark it was almost as though time was standing still. It’s incredibly surreal. Then, just as the sun peeked over the hillside, we began our trek into elk country. I hadn’t allowed myself any expectations. My only goal was to enjoy time with my friends and husband in the beautiful Oregon mountains.
We traversed the hillside and headed for the top to look into a draw where we had spotted two dozen elk the night before. Tim told us to be ready because sometimes he’s caught elk on the hillside just ahead. We came around the last corner before the climb when we saw a dozen elk standing on the face of the hill. I dropped to one knee, took off my scope cover and loaded one in the chamber. April and Tim were in the lead, so I waited to see what they were doing. “There’s a bull!” April motioned for me to move up and shoot it. I stood up and took a few steps to get into position. “Third from the top,” Tim said. I pulled up and spotted the elk. In true bull fashion he had arranged himself perfectly amongst the cows. I didn’t have a shot. I was struggling to control my breathing after the climb and I didn’t have a rest so I waited patiently, hoping the cows would clear and I could take a shot. The bull took a few steps up the hill when Tim let out a few cow calls. He stopped broadside and looked back at us. “There’s your shot,” Tim said. I steadied my breathing and put the crosshairs of my 6.5 Creedmoor behind his front shoulder and pulled the trigger. The bull hunched up, took about ten steps, turned sideways, and just as I was about to put another round in him, he fell over. What had felt like a unicorn hunt, had finally come to an end.
Emotions of every caliber erupted from within. The herd split and ran in two different directions. Tim and April ran over for high fives then took off up the mountain. She still had a tag to fill.
There’s something truly beautiful about a journey that begins small. I have an enormous appreciation for this harvest because it’s not just about the miles I put into it this year, but the blood, sweat and tears I’ve put into it in the last five years. The beauty of life is in its progression. If you start out big, you have nowhere to go. Few things in life have physically or mentally challenged me like elk hunting has. It’s taught me that I can do hard things because elk hunting is hard. Period. The hard is what makes it amazing. When you notch your tag, you’ve earned it. I had a ring made out of its ivory that I wear every day to remind myself that no matter how hard life seems in this moment, with persistence and patience I can do anything.
April filled her tag about two hours after I did on a beautiful six point. She made an amazing 750-yard shot with her 300 Win Mag. The terrain was so steep it took us three days to get her bull back to camp.
I always thought that when I finally harvested a bull the feeling of accomplishment would be immeasurable, and it was pretty amazing, but what was more incredible was the moments leading up to it. The time spent amongst the trees with some of my favorite people, laughing around the campfire, sharing meals in the cook tent and enjoying all that nature has to offer. That is truly the greatest blessing that came from this incredible journey.