Skyanne won $250 for her entry into the FSPW 2012 High School Essay Competition by telling us about her “Most Memorable Wilderness Experience.” Read her essay in its entirety below.
Bow-hunting Adventures in Montana’s Backcountry
It was four o’clock in the morning when we pulled out of the driveway to begin one of our many bow-hunting trips. On this particular day, we were heading to one of our favorite hunting spots near the Vermillion River, North of Trout Creek. We arrived at the trailhead about an hour before shooting light because my dad says it is best to hike-in in the dark. It’s always an adventure hiking in the dark with the aid of a headlamp trying to avoid tripping over roots and walking into tree branches. Whenever dad has to stop for a “breather” we turn off our lights and listen to the sounds in the forest. Once dad’s gasping is settled down we sometimes hear animals moving through the forest.
On this particular day we did not hear any elk activity on our way to our hunting spot. We reached our hunting spot just as dawn was beginning to break in the valley. We saw fresh elk tracks on some of the trails that come down to the water so we were excited and knew elk were in the area. I had been practicing for weeks with my cow call that dad had bought for me to use this season. I was only ten years old on this particular outing, so I was the designated caller . My dad really enjoyed those years because he was the designated shooter. Once I reached 12 years old and completed bow hunters safety, we flipped a coin to see who was going to call and who was going to shoot.
We set up to call for the elk in an area about 30 yards from the stream which is located in a very narrow valley with steep slopes on each side. I always get shaky and quiver with anticipation when the time to begin calling arrives. Part of you expects to get a response each time you cow call or bugle while the other part of you is not surprised when nothing replies. This day was no exception. I nervously squeezed the bellow on my Hoochie Mama cow call and waited anxiously for a response. It came in the form of approximately four bull elk bugling aggressively around the head of the valley. The elk were bugling over top of each other making it difficult to even tell which way the sound was coming from.
The wind was blowing down the valley so we knew the bulls were upwind of us. I was so excited that my hands were shaking and my heart was racing. For the next 15 to 20 minutes each time I let out a cow call I was answered by a cacophony of bulls bugling. I felt like a conductor conducting a choir . Dad and I were very excited but we couldn’t tell if anything was coming in. About 10 minutes later I observed an interesting expression on my dad’s face. It looked like a combination of. fear and shear excitement.
He told me in a hushed whisper, “Don’t move. He’s right behind you. ” It turned out that a five point bull elk had walked right up behind me to within about 15 yards. It has always amazed me that such a large animal can at times move as silently as a cat through the forest and at other times as loud as a freight train. I absolutely froze as I watched my dad knock his arrow and begin to position himself for a shot. The bull was walking along the hillside approximately 15 yards up from us. He waited until the elk stopped, drew his bow, carefully, shot, and missed. That’s right, missed! As it turned out my dad’s grandfather had told him an old adage, “If you are shooting downhill, aim low; if you are shooting uphill, aim high.” For this reason my dad used his 3 yard pin for a 15 yard shot and shot directly over the elks back . My dad watched in stunned silence as the elk trotted off. We went and found the arrow to be sure that there was no sign of contact with the elk. The arrow was clean. I will always remember this hunting trip with fond memories and I hope that future generations of children will be able to make similar memories with their parents as well.