I could have very easily ended the story with my last post, but I would be leaving out a large reality of archery hunting.
…I find the shoulder and ease my top pin behind it as he turns broadside walking into my shooting lane. I release my arrow as the bull is mid-stride….whack! As the bull whirls I catch a glimpse of the reality of my shot… Doubt immediately fills my mind. Grant is instantly at my side reassuring me I got him. However, I can’t let myself get excited. Grant says he saw everything and is positive it’s a lethal hit. I’m not so sure. How could I mess that up at 15 freaking yards?! Why didn’t I stop him? Why did I shoot when he was still walking? Grant yanks me out of my downward spiral of self-doubt. He reassures me it’s not as far off as I think. The bull will die. We just have to give him time.
Moments later I sneak to where shot him and look up the mountainside to see my bull standing at 60 yards through the thick timber. I already have an arrow knocked ready to make a follow up shot. However, it’s not possible. The tree limbs are too thick. I watch him anxiously as he sways side to side looking over his shoulder my direction. We make eye contact and I know this isn’t the last time I will see my bull.
We wait until noon before heading back into the dark timber to hopefully recover my bull. Grant, my brother and myself start scouring the mountainside. We mark first blood and I walk to where I last saw him. I begin to follow the beat down trail only finding little drops of blood. The blood stops and we follow the natural contour of the land taking the path of least resistance down a drain toward the bottom of the valley. Suddenly Grant hears an elk bark and crash through the deadfall… our worst nightmare happens, we bumped him.
We continue to search the land tirelessly for the rest of the day, hiking miles upon miles through deadfall. My mind continues to replay the shot over and over again. I can’t eat and I definitely can’t sleep. I will stop at nothing until I find my bull.
The next morning, we begin our search again starting at the top of Hidden Valley. We look for birds circling as we walk above tree line across the mountainside. We drop down into the heart of the valley and find a beautiful oasis at the bottom. There is a ton of elk sign, but no trace of my bull. With a heavy heart we begin the walk out of the valley keeping our heads on a swivel. I begin to lose hope we will ever find him. Grant continues to reassure me It was a lethal shot and to not lose faith.
Friday evening we decide to move camp down the mountain to a lower elevation since a storm is coming. After another sleepless night, we wake to a bull bugling up toward Hidden Valley. We decide to make a play hoping to get my brother an opportunity before we have to pack out camp that afternoon. There is no doubt this bull is hot, but he has cows and doesn’t cooperate.
After hunting all morning we find ourselves standing in a saddle between Hidden Valley and lower camp. I look across the valley and say goodbye to the hopes of finding my bull. Deflated, but appreciative of the opportunity we had, we turn to descend toward camp. I am replaying the shot in my mind as I hear my brother exclaim, “Hey Cara, look at that!” I step around a large cedar tree and there lies my bull…
I immediately fall to my knees and tears start flowing uncontrollably. So many emotions hit me like a brick wall. I can’t believe what is laying in front of me. I feel as if my heart has been ripped out, but at the same time, I finally have the closure I need. I can’t believe my eyes as I reach out to grip his antlers. The magnitude of the size of my bull hits me and I begin to lose it. I am absolutely sobbing. As I look over his body my heart breaks again because the predators have already found him. It is 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 is a true testament to his will to survive. We bow our heads, as we have numerous other times this trip, and thank 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.