By Steve Tracy, Buena Vista, Tenn.
“You’re going to be retired two years from October, right?” I replied, “Yes, why?” “We’re going on a guided elk hunt in Utah together.” It was an adventure my best friend from high school, Karl, had been wanting to do for years. I knew immediately I would use my vintage Interarms Mark X rifle in .30-06 with its butter-knife bolt handle, double set triggers and Mannlicher-style, full-length stock that reached all the way out to its muzzle. It was topped with a matching vintage Weaver Marksman 3-9x28mm blued-steel scope I had bought on eBay for $99. It was going to be an old-school style hunt for me. Karl bought a new Browning bolt gun in 6.5 Creedmoor and topped it with a laser-rangefinder-equipped high-powered scope.
We prepared for our hunt by taking a long-range shooting class together four months before we left that included realistic mountain hunting scenarios.
The adrenaline started to flow the moment we started meeting fellow hunters after arriving at the lodge before our first dinner. It was a diverse group of eight, including a father who was fulfilling a hunt he was supposed to share with his son who had lost his life in a car crash. A mother was there to hunt as well, with a rifle that had belonged to her daughter who passed away from cancer. Another man was an emergency room doctor who saved a man’s life years before, and that survivor became a close friend who was taking the doctor on this hunt. Their stories bonded us all.
On the first day, our guide drove us an hour up into the mountains in a side-by-side vehicle. Returning to the lodge at the end of the day, none of the eight hunters had seen an elk, let alone taken a shot at one. On day two, we stalked a herd of elk and Karl even lined up a shot. But an unexpected utility worker’s pickup truck scared them off. I told Karl that I would only shoot after he took his elk, since he was treating me to this hunt of a lifetime. That night at the lodge we learned that two hunters had punched their tags. They toasted their success from the refrigerator in the dining room that stored celebratory drinks purchased at a local liquor store before arrival the first day.
On day three, our guide brought us to an open field. Just after dawn, a bull elk ran from the woods out into the open. Karl brought his rifle up and when the elk stopped running at 244 yards, Karl fired. The elk went down, but then got back up. Karl fired again, and the elk went down again. Two more shots kept it down after the guide’s insistence. Suddenly I saw another bull elk come out from the same spot, and I hastened Karl to let me move into position. I had previously told our guide that if he heard a click, my gun was not empty, I was just setting the trigger. Click. Bang. My bull went down at 183 yards and stayed down.
Our guide was elated that our elk were taken less than a minute apart and on easily accessible, level ground. Karl’s grouping placed all four shots within 4 inches right where they were supposed to hit. Our guide suggested that my bull elk was chasing Karl’s, and an adrenaline dump was perhaps the reason Karl’s didn’t stay down.
My elk’s left antler was busted and had grown into a single spear. The scars on his face and his torn left ear suggested he was a dominant bull that fought often. The antler on his right side was massive and impressive, and I knew he would be a spectacular and unusual mount to memorialize our adventure. We toasted our combination of luck and skill along with two more successful hunters that evening, our happy faces lit by the flames of an outdoor firepit. We were able to visit the magnificent Browning Firearms Museum in Ogden on day four due to our new free time. We relaxed at the lodge during day five and cheered the other hunters to celebrate their achievements. But that last day ended with two hunters still not taking an elk. I found their tales interestingly sad, and that made Karl and I appreciate our success even more. Considerable time and money was spent by these unsuccessful hunters with no guarantee. The lodge refrigerator’s unopened bottles remained a testament to the initial hope and excitement that ended for some with dejection and sadness. I toast my bull elk mount on my wall today not only for my success but for others’ lack of fulfillment.
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