By Vickie L. Gardner

The morning came too soon, but it was with anticipation and excitement, mixed with the trepidation of facing the last day of his eligible hunt for the year and potentially another disappointing day in the field, that he rolled out of bed and stepped into his camo coverings. Stern-faced and determined he put on his hat, kissed his wife and son good-bye in the darkness of the house, then slung his pack over his shoulder and grabbed his bow.

The drive to the desired hunting spot was close, but seemed so far away. As he worked through his plan, his emotions ebbed and flowed as he anticipated how he would execute his plan. He scowled at the thought of meeting the end of the day with only his bow in hand.

The forest was quiet. The secrets it held were waiting to be discovered. Though the sun had not yet peeked over the horizon, Chris new exactly the path to take as he had ventured out on this mountain many times before.

His bow in hand, his arrows tucked neatly in his quiver, he embarked on his journey. With minimal light from the moon, he made his way down and around the curves, until he came to the point of departure from the road into the forest. He stepped quietly through the scrub oak and the fallen trees, carefully placing his feet to avoid rodent holes and the crunch of leaves walking directly where he knew the elk would be waiting.

About twenty minutes before the rise of the sun, a bull elk let out a mighty bugle. The game was afoot. Chris quietly moved around, attempting to get into position before the sun rose, but before he could do so, the elk had moved on.

He started his stalk again, but stopped midway up the mountain and thought, it’s time to raise the stakes. He reached into his pack and pulled out his elk calls. He steadied his body and blew the call, beckoning the king of the hill to come his way. Listening intently between bugles, no response was heard. Again Chris bugled in hopes that his persistence would bring him success. He called to the big elk for just shy of half an hour, but as he heard them move further away, Chris chose to go to the top of the mountain, hoping to intercept them before they crossed over the ridge.

As Chris crested the ridge of the mountain, the bugling ceased. He stopped and hid in a patch of pine trees and at last, a beautiful five-point bull wandered out from the gamble sage. Chris’ breathing quickened as he slowly pulled an arrow from its bed and carefully nocked it. As he drew back on his bow, he took a long, deep breath. The bull stood only forty yards away; an easy target for an experienced hunter. Perfect, he thought.

He let loose his arrow. To Chris’ surprise, the arrow sailed right over the back of the bull. He had incorrectly measured the distance to the bull!

After feeling mentally defeated from his error, Chris chose to take the long way back to his truck. He decided he would circle back down the draw where the first bull had been bugling all morning.

Upon cresting over the ridge and starting down the draw, there stood the bull. He was huge! Chris once again felt frustration as he measured the elk at 164 yards away. He would never get close enough to make a shot.

One thing Chris does not do well at in hunting is waiting. He chose, however, to sit and wait for as long as it took for the bull to come closer to where he sat. After forty-five long, agonizing minutes of waiting, Chris poked his head up out of the brush – the bull was gone. Chris stood up and saw that the entire herd was gone.

Hoping that they were just out of sight, Chris slipped off his boots to lessen the noise of his walking and inched closer to a nearby rock outcropping. There he saw a cow elk shaking her floppy ears. If she was there, so was the bull.

Sure enough, there he was. Standing just behind her, Chris caught a glimpse of his massive, white tipped antlers. The bull was following his herd of cows through an opening in the scrub oak. There before him, was the chance Chris had been waiting for the entire archery season, for his entire life as a hunter.

A lifetime of planning and hunting, dreaming for such a trophy elk, was within his reach. Chris calculated the distance to the target. His trepidation heightened as he determined the measured seventy-one yards to the elk was just out of range. Chris would not risk moving closer. He would take the shot from where he stood.

Again, Chris pulled an arrow from his quiver, slowly nocking it on the string. He took a brief moment to focus, then drew back his bow. Chris aimed at the opening where he hoped the bull would choose to walk. He now hoped his next steps would bring elation of a successful kill.

The bull elk didn’t wait long to walk into the opening. Chris let loose his arrow. It sailed through the air, never wavering nor deviating from its appointed target. The elk bolted from its stance. Chris solidly hit his target! The elk did not go far, but did his best to escape the fate that lay before him.

The exhilaration that flowed through Chris’ veins at that moment could not be contained. He leaped into the air and let out a holler that could be heard through the entirety of the forest. His hands shook as he reached up to wipe his brow. His heart pounded fiercely in his chest. He fought hard to catch his breath as he started up the hill to the spot where the elk once stood, then followed the tell-tale signs that would lead him to his prize.

C. Gardner Elk 102714-2The elk lay still amongst the oaks next to a fallen log just fifteen yards from where Chris had shot him. The sight was overwhelming. The massive antlers stood as tall as Chris himself and were donned with six elegant white tips. A slight, raised point near the end of each antler, enhanced Chris’ excitement in hopes he might stake claim to a seven point trophy. The elk’s body was massive and strong, matching the beauty of his crown. Indeed, this was an elk of prominence and grand stature.

The elk once stood as the proud leader of a great herd in this forest, but now it was Chris’ turn to stand proud as a hunter of good practice and strong ethics that had brought him to this juncture in his life.

As Chris prepared the elk for the journey home, the adrenal rush remained strong. His hopes of joining the Pope and Young Club spurred him on as he carried the massive king and his crown down the mountain.

Chris takes pride in his skills and carries respect for those creatures of the forest, grateful for their existence and the beauty they give to this earth. A hunter’s dreams had come true. He had shot a trophy elk and he had earned a spot in the Pope and Young Trophy book. Measuring 336 inches, Chris’ elk is truly a winner. A once in a lifetime opportunity given to this hunter will never be forgotten nor taken for granted. This well-earned victory has found a place in Chris’ heart and in his home.