Marksman humbled

Its been a while since I have written anything on TAG. Mostly this hiatus has been forced by being busy. Life intervenes sometimes, and as much as that doesn’t get blog posts written, it does get other things done. So this is my newest hunting story.

My wife is awesome. I have to begin this story by saying that. It is objectively true, and central to this story. I booked a few extra days off work so that I could get some time for hunting, and this year we were going to do the thing we had talked about for years. My wife and I were actually going hunting together! This may not sound like much to you, but we have 5 children under the age of 8, and finding a babysitter is no small feat. Seven years ago we went for a hunt and had not done so together since.

We set out for our hunting spot in the afternoon, having dropped off the four older children with Grandma. (Thanks, Grandma!) Our plan was to scout Friday evening, spend the evening with friends and then hunt Saturday.

Hunting with your lover is high romance, let me tell you. Nothing says “I love you” like an elk call and the smell of gunpowder. I highly recommend hunting with your wife.

The happy hunting couple

And there we be. The white bump in front of my wife is the canvas cover on the ergo, which is a baby carrying device. In which sat our youngest son, Walter. As it turns out, he is the loudest baby in the forest.


If a baby cries in the forest, and no elk is there to hear it…

What a cute boy we have. Gush. His squeals even sound like an elk. To return to our tale, we drove out to a field we know elk inhabit, and walked off the field down an adjacent pipeline. Elk routinely cross this pipeline to get to the field. We stood in the hollow of an overturned tree trunk, called elk and waited. Nothing came. Walter called for elk too. And then for bed…

Between the noise he made, and the oncoming end of legal shooting light we decided to pack it in and try again the next day.  We strolled hand in hand back to our truck. It was fantastic and sweet. The sun set to the east, the wind gently swayed the bare, brown trees. Mud squished underfoot, the dead grass crunched.

We got to the truck and unlimbered our kit. I put my backpack and rifle in the truck. My wife handed me the boy and went to find some, er, cover. Nature calls. It is a well known trope in hunting lore that nature shows up when nature calls. I held my son. I looked up the field. The entire herd of Elk I had been looking for thundered over the top, running! They were moving from the top of the hill towards the back corner of the field, 800 yards from where I stood.

I had no option. Looking at my son I said “If you fall off the seat, your Mother will kill me!” Throwing him on the seat I grabbed my rifle and ran towards where the herd was beginning to disappear into the bush. Seeing all this, my wife finished her business post haste, scrambled to the truck while hitching up her britches, and caught Walter before he fell off the seat… whew. Just as she managed this athletic 30 yard scramble, our friend who owns the field in question, drove up.

While this transpired behind me I moved to what I estimated as 550 yards. Most of the herd had disappeared by this point. I saw a big bull, as big or bigger than the one I shot last year, leading the charge. There were a couple spike bulls as well. We were after a cow, and so I focused on one fat lady who stopped to graze at the edge of the field. She stood broadside to me.

My heart was pounding from the running. Shaking hands make for a curious oscillation in the scope reticle. I steadied myself on a hay bale, focused on calming my breathing, established my sight picture and held. When I thought myself to be steady enough, I held over for the distance and wind. The wind was very gentle, less than 5 mph. Then I pulled the trigger.

Nothing. The cow stood there, looked around and began to move. She was sort of startled, but not injured, panicked or in any sense ready to jump into my freezer.

I hate missing. So I worked the bolt on my rifle to reload. The gun jammed. Weirdly enough I had a double-feed. This is not a common issue in a bolt gun, but it happened. I knelt to clear the jam, reloaded my rifle and resumed my shooting position. The cow was gone. Missing is a soul-crushing, ego-smashing experience. I happen to be a rather humble fellow on account of how often it happens…

An ethical hunter always follows his shot and so I went looking for the blood trail, but there was none. There was no injured elk lying in the bush either. As I walked back to my truck my friend drove out to meet me. A grin spread across his face.

“What range did you think that cow was?” he asked.

“550 yards, give or take.” was my dejected reply.

The grin got measurably bigger.

“The distance from that hay bale to that cow was at least 650 yards, man.”

“No way..”

He confirmed this range with his laser range-finder. I badly underestimated how far I was shooting. The bullet plowed dirt and my cow sauntered away.

Better luck next time, bud.

Looking good, shooting somewhat worse…