If what we experienced for the next hour and a half of our hunt was shown to me on a hunting video, I would assume that it had been spliced together from several sessions. Gary would call and the elk would respond with grunts and complex bugles. We would move slowly and carefully along the ridge. Gary would call again, and after a brief pause, the elk would answer. Unfortunately, from the sound of the bugles, we were not closing in on the bull. Gary had to decide whether to go after the bull, or try to set up and entice him to us. I know I was of absolutely no help, but we had a short discussion before electing to set up just below the ridgeline.
Gary indicated the tree he wanted me to sit beneath and then headed uphill, and to the right, of my ‘stand’. If the bull came into his call, he wanted him focusing on the caller, not the guy with the rifle. After only 15 minutes of answering back-and-forth with the bull, Gary joined me. It was apparent by the steadily lessening volume of the bull’s grunts that he was leaving the area, and it looked like we were going to need to go after him. To locate the general direction of the departing bull, Gary gave another blast from his camouflaged tube. I almost needed a fresh set of underwear when the bull’s challenge came from a short distance away. Gary changed to the cat-like mews of a cow elk, followed immediately by another bugle from his tube. As the bull once again let loose with his vocalization, Gary whispered, “There’s your bull, he’s a six-point!” With urgency in his whisper, he asked “Can you see him?!” I answered with a rising panic, “No!!” Just then my attention was grabbed by a golden flash in the valley bottom.
The bull stretched out his neck from behind a fire-killed pine and let out a mosaic of sounds. A series of cow vocalizations from Gary caused the bull to turn toward our position. As he turned, he began a series of frustration/question barks causing his ribcage to jerk due to the violent expulsion of air. Gary answered with a long and loud bugle that transitioned into more cow mews.
To this day, I am convinced that it was an eternity before I watched the bull slowly swivel to his left! First, his nose, then his eye and then the base of his antlers appeared. Ever-so-slowly his impossibly thick neck, followed by his massive shoulder, slid into view. The trigger crept and the recoil from the Whelan rocked me back a fraction of a second after the crosshairs rested behind his shoulder. As I worked the bolt of my rifle, the elk froze and then turned slowly to trot into the stand of dead pines that occupied the valley floor. I worked the bolt of my rifle twice more as I followed the elk’s path with insurance shots. Gary threw his arm around my shoulders and exclaimed “Now, was THAT worth the price of admission?!” I could only come up with, “Unbelievable, absolutely unbelievable”.
Both of us felt the shot was good because the bull had frozen, rather than bolting immediately. Gary also thought he had seen the flash of antlers as if the bull had gone down a short distance into the timbers. We waited 10 minutes or so for the elk to expire and then made our way down the slope. As we reached the valley floor, we spotted the bull lying on the other side of a downed tree.
I ran my hands over the long, pitch-stained antlers and savored the sweet-musky aroma. My brother would go on to harvest an even larger bull on this hunt. It did not matter. I had been brought to the Salmon River, this pine forest, to my trophy elk, because of my Dad’s dream.