Every year I wait in desperation for California big game results in late June. My wife, three children and I all put in for deer, antelope and elk. Fifteen chances we were bound to get something! My dad called me with results available, when I happened to be out of town with my other two hunting partners; one at a time my dad read the three of us our unsuccessful drawing results. Crushed again, with my family left to be read, I still have twelve more chances! Once again unsuccessful results were read, until he read the last draw. My fifteen year old daughter, Kendyl, had drawn successful on elk. When I was sure my dad wasn't just fooling around, reality set in. With only two apprentice tags for this area it was a jackpot. Telling results to my kids was as intense as telling me and my friends. With two of them crushed and one doing cartwheels, it was on.
This was the one tag I wanted most. It takes place in the same chunk of real estate I started my family in over seventeen years ago. California has three species of Elk, this is the only zone you can chase Rocky Mountain Elk and it opens September 15th, the peak of the rut. I now live over five hours away, but plan to do as much scouting as possible. Phone calls were made, maps were purchased, gathering as much information as possible. Local biologist and elk program coordinator; Richard Shinn Jr. lined us out with some areas where hunters had been successful in the past and other areas known to hold elk. Several scouting trips and over 600 miles of back country, with minimal sign, this was no canned hunt. In the end we decided to start in an " unknown " area that we known well from chasing mulies in years past. It's one week before season and my dad can't make the trip, my partner Matt can't make it until a few days into the season and my other partner Tony went head on with a big pine tree in his new Toyota. Thank God he lived but it looked like Kendyl and I were on our own.
After our last trip to the shooting range I was confident if I find her an elk she could do the job. Two days before the season my partner Tony who was bruised and battered from head to toe , claimed he would have to be dead not to go. So there it was me, a girl and a gimp set out on a twelve day hunt after bugling wapiti. The day before the hunt turned up no vocals, a few old tracks and a sage colored timber rattler that without some newly found reflex's would have ate my lunch. Nightfall came, Kendyl is in her tent sleeping and Tony and I are up looking over maps by headlamps. Several hours and 100 scenarios later Tony said, "Why don't we just start from the top and work our way down." A plan was made. I didn't sleep at all that night imagining of what tomorrow might bring. At Three O'clock opening morning I heated up water for coffee and some instant oatmeal, woke Tony and Kendyl and we were off. Twenty miles of back roads to the base of the highest peak we were to climb, we pulled the truck over every couple of miles to bugle hoping to locate a bull; the only response that came was from a pack of coyotes.
This is an either sex hunt, our goal was a six point or better for the first six days. After that we would talk about it. We reached our mountain later than expected, first light had just begun. Change of plans, we'll glass the upper clear cuts, check the wind and then head in. While straining our eyes uphill in the faint light I decided to check a meadow below us in hopes of catching a glimpse of any game to keep the hunt fun for Kendyl. Walking through my field of view like a Sasquatch, a brown and tan hide with alot of bone quickly vanished into the timber. The wind was right and we hurried into position for a one chance shot.
The bull would have to stay on course through the pines and stop in a twenty yard clearing. We caught sight of the bull actually on line. Minutes passed that seemed like an eternity and the anticipation built. The moment the bulls' horns appeared in the clearing Tony let out a single cow call. The bull stopped broadside. My heart beating out of my chest I coached Kendyl to shoot. With no blinking or flinching she squeezed the trigger like a seasoned pro. The shot rang out in the frosted morning air, while the bull stood motionless only looking over his shoulder at a five point rag horn as if to ask him, "What happened?" "Jack another one in!" I told her, "Jack another one in!"
I looked back up and the bull was gone, a clean miss? I stared at Tony in disbelief while he looked back at me with another expression. "He just fell over!" Tony claimed. "You're lying"' I said, while racing uphill confirming thru my binoculars there was a large branched antler sticking up off the ground. We hugged, high fived, and shed a tear.
Even though the bull expired immediately we gave him some time. Walking up on the bull with my friend and my daughter we were overcome with emotion. He was a beautiful six point with twelve inch bases and fourths that went to the moon. Kendyl had made a 250 yard center punch heart shot. The old guy never knew what hit him. Reflecting on the hunt it's amazing to think of the events that put us in the right place at the right time. You can go twelve days and never see an elk or put down a trophy thirty minutes into opening day. I can't wait until next June.