Waiting. Listening. Trying to control the shivering. Two days of near-relentless rain had given way to snow and wind, and moisture seemed to have permeated everything. Dense clouds had us socked in high on the mountainside, rendering binoculars and rangefinders useless. Unable to glass any of the open parks or timberlines that surrounded me, I simply sat, tucked back into a stand of cedars a short way below the ridge, and waited for the elk to meander out of their bedding grounds and announce their presence.
There was the aggressively-bugling Club Bull, a 6x1 with his lone tine forming a club of bone that dropped down below his face, traveling with a dozen or so cows, and Hi-Lo, with his distinctive bugle that started extremely high-pitched, and finished with a guttural growl. Both bulls had crested the ridge just before dark the two prior evenings. It was my hope that I was near enough to the top to make a move on them before the light faded away when, and if, they came across as noisily as they had the previous nights.
The light was fading rapidly, and the campfire, a cup of coffee, and a freeze-dried lasagna meal were trying their best to tempt me off the mountainside. As I was convincing myself to sit for just one more minute or so, Hi-Lo broke up my internal conversation, ripping a bugle that cut through the snow and wind like a knife.
Instantly, all thoughts of the weather and of hunger vanished, and the rush of adrenaline either warmed, or made me forget, my numb fingers. Using the cover of clouds, I began moving up the vein of timber above me, towards Hi-Lo’s first bugle, knowing that there would only be a matter of minutes to make something happen. I soon realized, however, with his next bugle, that it was a futile effort that night.
Once again, they had stayed holed up in bed for too long, had crossed the ridge too far away, and I was out of light. As I retreated off the mountainside, Hi-Lo was soon joined by what I guessed was the Club Bull, and another satellite bull, leaving me lamenting the weather and their late arrival, but at the same time, feeling like a kid on Christmas Eve knowing that I would have an opportunity to pursue them again in a few short hours.
The storm wore on, and the next morning would not go on to produce the close encounter that I so badly wanted, nor would most of the other days on this trip into the backcountry. The three of us, all experienced hunters, seemed to continually be recounting, replaying, and second-guessing each move we made.
One constant seemed to emerge throughout these conversations, and that is the theme of one more. One more day and the storm will break… If there were just one more half-hour of light... Crest one more ridge… Wishing for one more bite of Mountain House… One more press of the snooze button before I get out of my down sleeping bag… If the cow had taken just one more step, and, in the case of one bull for my hunting partner, If he’d have stood still for one more beat, the 30-yard pin would have settled perfectly.
Though I wouldn’t harvest any animal (aside from a very satisfying mountain grouse) on this trip, my friend did fill his cow tag, and the neighborhood grizzlies didn’t manage to find its hanging spot, so we wouldn’t emerge empty-handed. In the days that followed, I found myself reflecting on yet another unsuccessful outing, and just what it is about bow hunting that keeps us so eager for the next opportunity.
Few endeavors can keep someone so invested, whether financially, or in time through training, preparation, scouting, and actually hunting, without consistently paying dividends. For me, I realized, it’s the power of the unknown and the idea that anything can happen at any moment, the simplicity and simultaneous complexity of shooting an animal with an arrow, and the endless opportunities for just one more.
- Eric Jacobs
ERIC JACOBS has lived in Bozeman, Montana for nearly all his life, where he learned his love of the outdoors. When he’s not teaching 2nd graders the finer points of the English language and the mysteries of the base-ten number system, he spends as much time as he can manage hunting, snowboarding, or on the river.