As the eve of Utah’s elk hunt approaches, I sit and ponder what makes a successful hunt. Sure, it would be a thrill to find the bull of a lifetime, a real wall-hanger, and bring it down with one well-placed shot. It would be wonderful to fill the freezer with tasty elk steaks and roasts. The thing is, a successful hunt doesn’t begin and end by killing an animal. Many a successful hunt happens in which not a single shot is fired, except with a nice camera. I remember the day I had the only cow tag in our group. We were hunting near Ferrin Reservoir that week and the quakies, still with lingering leaves, were golden, though some burned with orange the color of fire.
The night before had been clear and the stars had dazzled the sky with their brilliance. I had set out my 35mm camera on a tripod pointed at the sparkling sky to capture star tracks overnight. Then, excited to wake up the next day to begin our hunt, we went to bed. The next morning, after a quick breakfast, I found myself alone in a stand of trees overlooking a clearing. I had only been there a short time when I heard brush cracking, the burst of branches as they shattered when six or seven large elk ran through them. They broke into the clearing and I raised my 30.30, set the sights on a huge cow and squeezed the trigger. Click. I had forgotten to lever a shell into the chamber. I had hoped that the elk hadn’t noticed the sound. They did. Off like horses they sprinted in the opposite direction. I got a shell in the chamber finally and had to take a wild shot that missed cleanly. They vanished as quickly as they’d come.
There would be no meat that year to fill the freezer. My mistake had for all intents and purposes, ended my one chance that year. Later on that day, my truck broke down, and the rest of our group spent valuable hunting time helping me get it going again. So much for their hunt as well.
The thing is, getting one isn’t all the hunt is about. It’s about friendship and camaraderie. It’s about being out there in the wilds, absorbing the sights, the sounds, the smells. It’s about sitting around the fire, swapping stories and jokes, and eating great cooking from the self-appointed camp “chef”. It’s about taking the time to watch an eagle soar, high above the nearby cliffs. It’s about a laid-back way of life that still lingers, though a few short miles away, the rat race goes on. It’s about escaping that rat race for a short time and enjoying the company of like minded souls, and the peace of mountain surroundings.
That’s why you can’t measure a successful hunt by what you kill. You measure it, by how it makes you feel.