I could have very easily ended the story with my last post, but I would be leaving out a large reality of archery hunting.
…As the bull whirled, I caught a glimpse of the reality of my shot. The arrow looked to have about 20 inches of penetration, but it was further back than I intended. Doubt immediately filled my mind. Grant was instantly at my side, reassuring me I got him. However, in that moment, I couldn’t let myself get excited. Grant had crept 10 yards behind me before I shot, and said he saw everything. He was positive it was a lethal hit, but I was not so sure. In my mind, I kept replaying the moment I released my arrow over and over again.
Minutes later I eased to where shot him and looked up the mountainside to see my bull standing at roughly 60 yards through the thick timber. I already had an arrow knocked ready to make a follow up shot. However, it wasn’t possible. The tree limbs were too thick. I watched him anxiously as he swayed side to side looking over his shoulder my direction. It felt like we made eye contact and I knew in my heart this wasn’t the last time I would see my bull.
We waited until noon before heading back into the dark timber to recover my bull. Grant, Jake and I started scouring the mountainside. We marked first blood and I walked to where I last saw him. I began to follow the beaten-down trail, only finding little drops of blood. The blood stopped and we followed the natural contour of the land, taking the path of least resistance down a drain toward the bottom of the valley. Suddenly, Grant heard an elk bark and crash through the deadfall. Our worst nightmare happened; we bumped him.
We continued to search the land tirelessly for the rest of the day, hiking miles upon miles through deadfall. The shot lingered in my mind, replaying over and over. I couldn’t eat, and I definitely couldn’t sleep, but I was firm in my resolve to stop at nothing until I found my bull.
The next morning, we began our search again, starting at the top of Hidden Valley. We looked for birds circling as we walked above tree line across the mountainside. We eased down toward the bottom of the valley where the surrounding draws converged and found a beautiful oasis. There was a ton of elk sign, but no trace of my bull. With a heavy heart, we began the climb out of the valley, keeping our heads on a swivel. I began to lose hope we would ever find him, but Grant continued to assure me It was a lethal shot and to not lose faith.
Friday evening, we decided to move camp down the mountain to a lower elevation since a storm was closing in. After what felt like another sleepless night, we were woken by a bull bugling up toward Hidden Valley. We decided to make a play, hoping to get my brother an opportunity before we had to pack out camp that afternoon. While hunting we were still scanning the timber and keeping an eye out for my bull. By mid-morning, we found ourselves standing in a saddle between Hidden Valley and lower camp. I looked across the valley and silently said goodbye to the hopes of finding my bull. Deflated, but appreciative of the opportunity we had, we turned to descend toward camp. I was still replaying the shot in my mind as I heard my brother Jake exclaim, “Hey Cara, look at that!” I stepped around a large spruce tree and there laid my bull…
I immediately fell to my knees and tears started flowing uncontrollably. Emotions ranging from gratitude to despair hit me like a ton of bricks. I couldn’t believe what I saw laying in front of me. I felt as if my heart had been ripped out, but at the same time, I finally had the closure I needed. I couldn’t believe my eyes as I reached out to put a hand on his antlers. The magnitude of the size of my bull hit me and I began to lose it. I was absolutely sobbing. As I looked over his body, my heart broke again because the predators found him before we had. It was clear that my shot placement was perfect vertically, just a few inches back. The distance this bull was able to run with this arrow placement was a true testament of his will to survive. We bowed our heads, as we had numerous other times on this trip, and thanked the Grace of God for guiding us to the recovery of my bull.
This is why I struggled to put my story into words. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get emotional while writing this. I think it’s important to be honest about these situations, but we also have to be careful about sharing them. People who don’t hunt can’t understand this the same way a hunter who has gone through a similar situation does. Taking a life is never easy or without consequence. It’s a HUGE responsibility. God made us stewards of the land, which is why we feel the ultimate thrill of the pursuit in hunting, but we also feel the deep anguish when things don’t go precisely as planned.