Archery season was over and now it was time to focus on rifle season back in our normal stomping grounds; although it was hard to not think about the giant deer that had gotten away earlier that August. There was a lot of pressure to put some animals on the ground since our group had gotten skunked the year prior due to a massive blizzard. Our area delivered once again and our faith in the unit was renewed. One very special thing about that year was that it was my best friend Justin’s first year hunting and we would yet again get to baptize another person into the hunting family.
Opening morning found Justin, my dad, brother and I hunting the area we call Hell Hole; where I had taken my non-typical bull a couple years prior. My dad was sitting on the lookout where my brother shot his first doe from, Justin and my brother hunted together in a spot that one of my high school teachers had told me about and I was in my usual spot. My brother and Justin didn’t see anything all morning so they decided to make a push down towards me. Of course after only a few minutes of pushing, Justin was lost. My brother was in a big meadow with a beaver pond that had a bald eagle circling above it. He took out his radio and told Justin to hike towards the eagle. My brother sat down and started to look around the large meadow for signs of game. He kept hearing a cracking sound and couldn’t figure out what it was. He then saw a family group of beavers surrounding the pond, gnawing on branches to help fortify their dam that was getting ravaged by the ice. He walked closer to the pond to observe the action. The pond was mostly frozen over except for a couple breathing holes here and there. He sat down on a log next to one of the breathing holes and continued to wait for Justin. He counted as many as eight beavers at one time in and around the pond. Then Justin showed up and one of the big rodents popped up in the breathing hole five feet from my brother. It sounds like a pretty strange encounter to hear him tell the tale. The beaver had no fear of him and the rest came over and joined in on his congregation. For the rest of the season me and Justin referred to my brother as "Beaver God." No one from our group pulled anything out of Hell Hole that morning but my cousin had gotten his redemption bull in a different part of the unit.
My cousin, Dan, and brother-in-law, Brian, sat on some ponds that have produced bulls in the past. After the first couple hours after sun-up they headed south-east to see if they could run into anything. Dan had just crested one of the many benches in the area and immediately saw a 6x6 bull bedded down in the quakies beneath him. Dan dropped to a knee, rested my Grandpa’s old rifle on his monopod and sent a bullet from the trusty 30-06 toward the animal. The bull jumped up and took off with an obviously injured gait. Dan’s second shot anchored the bull for good. Brian was nearby to watch the whole thing and help Dan gut his first animal. As usual, the whole camp showed up to help and we had the big bull quartered up and carried out in no time. Interestingly enough, the bull had a badly injured leg (prior to Dan’s shots) which added a degree of irony and symbolism to Dan’s redemption bull. The antlers from that bull are fairly unique as well, with the tops almost resembling the "crowns" of a red stag.
That evening we celebrated Dan’s bull and plotted out our plans for the next day. The next day my dad and brother were going to hunt an area where my dad saw two bulls the day before, Dan was going to hunt with Justin on the ridge and I would once again head down to Hell Hole. Dad and my brother sat on top of a ridge with several openings within rifle range. Neither of them saw anything so they discussed a new strategy. They decided that after a little bit of food and a nap that they would go back and work across the face of the mountain slowly and try to run into some elk. My dad was supposed to wait for my brother to get a hundred yards down the ridge so that they could walk across the face parallel to one another. My dad didn’t wait, and as soon as my bro got out of sight, he marched in. Sure enough not 20 minutes into their still-hunt, they ran into elk. There was a whole herd filtering through the pines in front of them. My brother was raising his scope and just as he settled his crosshairs behind one of the raghorns shoulders...BANG!! But not from his gun! My dad had shot the bull my bro had in the scope. Dad heard the elk moving through the trees and had made his way down towards where my brother was. After the shot, my brother ran out into an opening to see my dad 50 yards up the hill, doing the Tiger Woods fist pump. My brother was pretty mad at my dad for shooting the bull that he was about to take. To this day, he still won’t give it up. It turned out being a long and arduous pack out. At one point Dan and I were carrying 3/4 of the elk meat because the other guys were carrying all the packs and rifles. We were determined to make it a one trip pack out.
The season ended without any other game making it to the meat pole but two bulls was more than most of the camps in the area could claim. It was a great year of firsts and redemption for Dan as well as our camp as a whole.