By Marv Smith
I have hunted for sixty years and have seen many changes over the years. In bygone days, most people hunted to put food on the table for their families. If someone shot a big buck or bull, it was coincidental to getting meat for the family. Guns were also very different. I shot my first deer with a Marlin 30-30 with open sights. Most hunters did not have guns with scopes because they were either unavailable or too expensive. The hunters I knew had limited funds, so in order to be able to hunt, they had to budget all year for hunting season. Most hunters camped out where they hunted and, if fortunate, had an army surplus tent to sleep in. They brought their own food and a box of shells. Actual hunting meant walking until you found game and then stalking close enough for a sure shot. Two things you did not want to do were waste meat with a poorly placed shot or lose a wounded animal because of bad shooting.
Today most hunters are more affluent. Everybody has a 4-wheel drive pickup and a gun, usually a magnum, with a scope that may cost as much as the gun. Most hunters today are more interested in the size of horns than the excellent tablefare elk provide. In their quest for trophy animals, many hunters hire guides, outfitters, and pay to hunt private ranches to increase their odds of getting a big elk. Their guide spots the elk for them and then gets them in a position for a shot using shooting sticks. Unfortunately, the trend seems to be anything from 500 to a 1,000 yards is fair game. Shooting an animal at 1,000 yards is possible, but is that hunting? Matching wits with your quarry and stalking close to them seems to be a lost skill-set with many guides and their clients.
My son, Preston, and I think the hardest part of hunting is drawing a tag for the area we want to hunt. This year we were fortunate to draw the area we wanted on public land. The first day of our hunt we did a lot of walking, getting away from roads and quad trails. By doing so, we were seeing elk all day in small groups of cows but no bulls. On day two, we saw a nice 6x6 bull but because of the wind could not get any closer than 700 yards, so we both passed on him. We didn’t want to take a chance at wounding or losing him. On day three, with the wind in our favor and the sun behind us, we decided to hunt down into a canyon that had plenty of juniper for cover and some open areas. We split up and moved slowly and quietly down into the canyon. After two hours I heard Preston shoot and knew he had an elk down. I eased down and over to see Preston with a 5x4 bull. He said he spotted three bulls an hour into the hunt and then took another hour to stalk within seventy-five yards. He had a clear shot of the 5x4 bull and decided to take him. Preston stated the other bulls, one being a 6x6, did not spook and continued to feed ahead of him.
After congratulations and pictures, I helped Preston get his bull ready to pack out. As we were taking our first load out of the canyon, I spotted the 6x6 bull through the trees. Dropping my pack, I was able to stalk within forty yards and with one broadside shot, my hunt was over. We were both ecstatic that we were able to get our our elk within hours of each other. We had both met the challenge of stalking close enough to know exactly what you had in front of you and then making an easy sure shot. It’s hard work to get close to a bull elk and even harder work to bone and pack out an elk on your back, but that’s hunting elk the hard way! At age seventy-five, I’m happy that I’m still up to the challenge.