September 4th, 2018 is a day with a lot of firsts for me and a day I will never forget. At 8:30 am on September 4th, I shot my first public land elk. First elk, first harvest with a bow, first solo elk hunt, and first bull. I started my journey in hunting about three years ago. A good friend of mine convinced me to get my hunter’s safety and just “try it out.” Since then I’ve chased all types of game in my Colorado and Wyoming back yard. I hunt for the meat, I hunt for the experience, I hunt for the tradition, I hunt for challenge and the highs and lows that come with hunting. I’ve chosen this lifestyle because it’s who I think I’ve always been but never knew.

I woke up early that morning, climbed a ridge and sat. I was solo hunting, my buddy had shot his first elk two nights prior and was taking care of business back down on the front range. It was dark but getting lighter, the air was cool but not cold. I was hunting in a familiar area. I’d grown up camping, hiking, skiing, and fishing in the area where I was now hunting elk. Growing up, I never had the opportunity to hunt, so this was truly a surreal experience. Never in a million years did I think that one day I’d be hunting  elk in the same areas where I grew up playing and recreating.

As first light hit the mountain behind me I heard two faint female elk calls. Without even thinking, I grabbed my bow, jumped up and started hiking in the direction of the cow calls. I played the wind terribly.

Prior to my hunt and the start to archery season I watched an onXmaps eScouting video with Randy Newberg. Part of the video was how to read the wind and understand the morning and evening thermals. Randy even gave a demo of a hunter walking down a ridge in the morning and busting two bulls. Needless to say, I completely forgot about that video and Randy’s wise words of wisdom the second I heard those two cow calls.

As I scrambled through the aspens I heard another cow call and then one lone raspy bull elk bugle. My heart started to beat faster, my eyes and ears started to key in on all the sounds and sights ahead of me. I walked out into a small clearing between aspen groves and got my first glimpse of wapiti. It was a a young male with his back turned to me. I had an either sex tag in a unit with no antler restrictions making it legal for me to hunt this young male.

I stopped and contemplated on how I was going to get closer and make a stalk. I moved in closer and had a shot at 20 yards on the spike. As I drew my bow back and put my twenty pin on his broadside, I  hesitated. He turned, spotted me, and ran. I remember my heartbeat being so loud that I felt like it was the loudest noise in the aspens. I let off on my bow and gave chase to the spike. I never did get a good look at him again. I cow called and bulged once or twice. He couldn’t have cared less, and disappeared into the trees.

Being the brand new hunter that I am, disappointment and miscalculation are feelings, like it or not, that I‘ve come to know intimately. Though to be fair, I have had chances and close encounters with elk in seasons past. It’s the failures in hunting that make you a better hunter, so I’m genuinely grateful for all the mistakes I’ve made in the past.

After all that commotion with the spike, I gave the elk some time and waited until the forest went quiet again. I sat and listened. “Be patient,” I kept telling myself. About an hour or so went by and I got up and decided to walk back the way I came through the aspens. As I rounded an evergreen stand that opened up to a dry wallow, I heard a few twig snaps then a couple of loud thump sounds. I froze, knocked an arrow and was at the ready for whatever was walking in my direction to my immediate right. Then, suddenly, another loud crash to my left, I quickly realized something bigger was walking up an aspen bench lower to my left.  Instinctively, I drew my bow, turned to my left and put my twenty pin in a space about fifteen to twenty yards in front of me and between two aspen trees that were three feet apart. This all probably happened in a matter of seconds but it felt like forever to me. At first, all I saw through my sight was brown, then in my peripheral I saw antlers. Lucky for me I guessed right and had my spot picked out perfectly. The bull walked right in between those two aspens, broadside, vitals pointed right at me and stopped. I paused and confidently squeezed my release and watched the arrow hit him right in the heart and tear through the other side. The bull turned his head looked at me in surprise and ran to his left back down the bench to the cover of the aspens. 

I stood there frozen, frozen in time, in shock and awe of the entire situation. I noted the time, marked my shooting location and walked over to where the bull was just standing. I heard the bull make two guttural grunts and then... silence. It was like the forest knew what had just happened.

The moment that I walked up on the bull was unforgettable. I felt gratitude, sorrow, sadness, joy and elation all wrapped into one emotion. I fell to my knees, tears in my eyes, touched his head and thanked him. I thanked him for the experience, for the hunt, for his life. I was overwhelmed with emotion and I can honestly say that I’ve never experienced anything to that magnitude before in my life.

I’m no writer, and don’t pretend to be. So the best way I can describe the feeling of success in killing my first elk is simply this.

In that moment of silence just after I made the shot when my heartbeat was racing, my eyes hyper-focused and my breathing heavy and fast. All at once, I felt like I had been taught a lesson I’d always known deep down inside of me but never before learned. It was a distant but all-powerful feeling.

-Sam “Bob” Williamson

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