Western Hunter Magazine July/August 2019 #70 - Page 24

I didn’t have to worry. The blood trail – bright pink and frothy – told the story of a bull that wouldn’t go far. I followed it to the edge of a big opening where, at the far end, a small, strange- looking tree glinted in a way unlike any of the others. It had to be antler, but something about it didn’t look quite right. As I made my way closer, I sud- denly knew why. Sprawled before me was a bull of jaw-dropping proportions. His body was massive and his thick frame of antlers stretched impossibly wide. On his right beam, that part that hadn’t looked quite right had a stumpy nub – all that was left of his broken third point. When I loosed my arrow, I knew it was a good bull, but I hadn’t known he was the bull. I ran my fingers through his mane and looked over his hulking, scarred-up body. I examined his blocky head, his torn and mangled ears, extremely worn teeth and hooves, and his clublike antlers that were long in front and regressed on the chipped and broken tops. He had all the traits and mark- ings of an ancient, old, battle-worn bull. He’d likely run these mountains as many years as I’d hunted them, maybe more. I sat for a long while, just trying to process the weight of the moment. This was the kind of bull I’d searched for every year since the beginning; the kind Doc and I had talked and dreamed about while sitting around campfires late into the night. To realize this dream at the end of a long, tough hunt and in the closing days of my last trip with my old friend made for a truly unbelievable ending. Simultaneously, it was deeply saddening to know that the journey was over. 24 WESTERN HUNTER A New Beginning As I got to work breaking down the bull, a cold wind started to blow. Temperatures would remain cool into the next few days, providing perfect con- ditions and plenty of time to pack everything out. Doc would meet me at the trailhead with a big smile and coolers full of ice. He’d admire the ant- lers, give me a hearty clap on the back and a firm handshake. Later, over a fresh tenderloin dinner, we’d toast the hunt, the bull, the beautiful country, and our years of friendship. Before that, though, I’d pack the first load up and over the mountain. The sun would be setting in the west and a pale blue, full moon would be climbing over the ridge of the eastern horizon. While grunting my way upslope, a question – one that had nagged at me for the course of the hunt – would resurface: Can I continue to make this hunt after Doc is gone? As I pondered that question, I’d come to a big grassy clearing and see a regal bull out in the open, tending a dozen cows. He’d turn my way and I’d be stunned by how familiar he looked: big, heavy body, and a thick frame of antlers that stretched impossibly wide (though only five points to a side, in- stead of six). We’d hold each other’s gaze with nothing but the cool wind passing between us. Then the bull would turn, round up his new harem, and melt into the trees. In that moment, I’d know my an- swer: The mountain will continue to stand; the elk will continue to move throughout it; the wind will continue to blow. At the end of every journey is a new beginning. David’s Critical Gear: Bow: Elite Energy 35 Broadheads: Slick Trick Arrows: Victory VAP Pack: Mystery Ranch Binoculars: Nikon Spotting Scope: Brunton Boots: Lowa Tibet Clothing: Kuiu Tent: Big Agnes Sleeping Bag: Kelty A perfect ending and tribute to a final hunt with Doc. www.westernhunter.net