Icy cold wind ripped down the ridge line as the truck bounced along. Though it was a clear, sunny day, the wind and temperature was enough to chill to the bone. Luckily, the men in the truck were protected from the elements. They were busy telling hunting stories and enjoying the view of the northwest Colorado landscape with the windows up and the heater on. To make things even better, one of the men had just taken his first Elk which was now safely secured in the bed. Everyone was enjoying themselves on this cold November morning.
Well…Everyone but the two of us forced to ride in the bed of the truck.
“J..J…Jesus it’s cold”, I muttered through clattering teeth. With a full cab of hunters, the other guide and myself had no choice but to ride in the back. So we bounced along, all the while trying to curl ourselves up into the tightest balls possible to conserve warmth, and take in the beauty of the surrounding. Soon we bounced past an open meadow lined with a rocky cliff facing on one side. It was the same meadow that I’d been in weeks before, with one of the biggest bucks I’ve ever seen in my crosshairs. Looking down into the field, I chuckled to myself as I remembered that day, and pulled the hood on my jacket just a little tighter around my head as another icy gust of wind hit me.
“That’s a big ass deer”, I told the other passengers of the truck as I brought the binoculars away from my eyes. Everyone looked in the direction I was facing and after a brief description of actually where I was looking at (a task much harder than it sounds), everyone had seen the deer. Approximately 1000 yards away, all the way on the far side of a meadow were a group of deer. Several does and one big, BIG, bodied deer fed alongside a rocky cliff facing. The big bodied deer absolutely dwarfed the others around it. It was obviously a buck, but at that distance, there was no way to tell just how big his antlers were. We needed to get closer, and we did just that. We drove the truck around to the back side of a ridge line where we could hide it, and then make a hike up to the top of the hill to get a better look and maybe even a shot at the deer.
When the two hunters and my boss stepped out of the truck to make a stalk on the deer, I hung back quite a bit. In fact, I almost didn’t even go along with them. But seeing as how I was still pretty new to the whole “guiding” thing, I decided to tag along. Who knew? Maybe all the elk in Colorado would step out. So I threw my rifle over my shoulder and hung back about 30 yards as the trio walked ahead of me and sneaked up to the top of the hill. Once there, my boss scanned down the opposite hill side (which I couldn’t see), and I saw him turn to the closest hunter to him. I couldn’t hear what he was saying, but I clearly read his lips as he mouthed “He’s a shooter”
Almost immediately it seemed as though the hunter got visibly nervous. A little more tense, if you will. I could see them both looking down the other side of the hill and discussing something. With a few more words whispered between the my boss and the closest hunter, the hunter shouldered his rifle, took aim offhand, and fired.
Even before the sound of the gun shot had stopped echoing through the meadow, I heard my boss say, outloud, “Shoot. Again”
Again the hunter took aim and fire.
And again, and again, and again.
Now I looked over at the second hunter to see that he too had chambered his rifle and was joining his friend at shooting down the hill. Shot, after shot, after shot.
ALL THE ELK IN COLORADO STEPPED OUT!! I thought to myself as I raced up the hill to see what the hunters were shooting at. I chambered my rifle, stepped up next to them, and looked down the hill…
At one deer. Just one buck stood there, and he was looking the opposite direction from where all the shooting was coming from. Shots zipped down the hill striking nearby boulders and shaving juniper branches from their trees. But nothing touched the deer. He was just standing there.
Unsure as to whether or not someone had actually hit this deer yet, I decided to take aim. Almost immediately the buck turned, ran to his right, and stuck his head into the bushy branches of a juniper tree. In his mind, he was now hidden, though his entire butt was sticking out. Seeing such a strange behavior, I figured he may have been hit, so I took aim at the only shot I had on his right ham and squeezed the trigger. I watched as a boulder exploded three inches high over his back. I’d forgotten about shooting uphill and downhill.
I’m from Florida. Flat, flat Florida. So prior to going to Colorado, I’d never shot at any sort of angle to speak of. To shoot downhill, you need to aim low. Uphill, aim high.
So I chambered another round and took aim again. This time, however, the buck had moved and the only shot I now had were on vitals, but through thick sage brush. I pulled the trigger and…nothing. I chambered another round and fired again. Still…nothing. The buck then turned and ran back down the hill directly toward us. My boss was quick to say “No one shoot…let him get closer”. And closer the buck came before finally stopping and giving us only one shot: Right between the eyes.
Well I wasn’t about to try and dome shot this trophy, so I waited.
Suddenly I heard the hunter to my left say “I’m out of ammo”. And to my horror, I heard the other one speak up as well. “Me too”
I should note that at this point, my boss (who didn’t have a rifle) was about to lose his mind. Very calmly, but with every emphasis to suggest he was about to start foaming at the mouth, my boss said, “Somebody…has…to shoot this deer. Please…Someone shoot this deer”.
I looked down at my rifle to see that in its stock sleeve, I had one round left. One single 30-06 round. So I chambered it, walked down the hill some to get a better angle, and took a seat to rest my rifle on my knee. Almost immediately the buck turned, jogged right out into the middle of the meadow, and stopped broadside at 120 yards. I put the crosshairs low on his vitals, said one of those silent-pleading-instant prayers, and pulled the trigger.
A satisfying THUMP echoed back up the hill toward us, and the buck finally dropped.
A massive wave of relief instantly swept over me. My last round, last few moments of the last day of deer season, and I miraculously came through. I’ve never been one to make the game winning catch, or really pull through during clutch moments. So damn it felt good.
The deer was, of course, not really mine. It was the hunters’ deer and I proceeded to walk down to the buck to take their hero pictures. In total, we found out later that 16 rounds were shot before the buck every got hit. And at one point, one of the hunters had gotten so flustered from missing that he reached into his pocket to load more ammo and accidentally tried to chamber his chapstick.
I didn’t manage to get any shots of me with the deer in the field, but later that night I went down to the skinning shed and took a couple of the monster. Estimated at about 320lbs, the Mule deer absolutely dwarfed any whitetail I’d ever seen, much less gotten to shoot at. It was a buck of a lifetime, and with it came a story I’ll never forget.
The truck hit a big hole just as we passed that meadow and I banged my back into the side of the bed. Rather than continue to get banged around, I needed to reposition, but the massive body of a bull elk laid smack dab in the middle of the bed. With a shrug I knelt down and took a seat on his shoulder. Not only was it softer and infinitely more comfortable than the side of the truck, but it was warm. VERY warm.
“Dude…you have to take a seat on this Elk”, I told the other guide next to me. He sat down on the Elk’s thigh and immediately responded, “It’s warm”
Even though the thing smelled horrible, it was, in fact, quite warm. So much so that we soon found ourselves resting more and more of our body onto the Elk. First just sitting, then leaning, then practically laying on him. It was probably the closest I’ll ever come to a Luke/Tauntaun moment in my life.
Eventually I ended up just spooning with the elk for warmth. It was one of those weird nature experiences that you hope to never have again. But I was grateful for the dead elk at that moment in time. After all, it isn’t every day you can get to say you were big spoon to an Elk.
What? Of course I was big spoon. Little spoon would’ve just made it weird.