OPINION — Jeff Nettleton covered all of the right bases.
You will probably only receive one prairie elk tag in your life.
Thousands apply and only a handful are drawn each year.
In some of the units like mine, there is no public land.
The only way into your unit is through a private landowner, some charge a fee.
During a drought year when the grass and hay haven’t grown and the herd has been whittled down as far as the bank will allow, every dollar is needed to keep the house warm and the lights on.
Jeff called his unit’s conservation officer and asked for advice.
It was explained that it was a meat hunt, that the animals rarely stayed for long after the shooting started and that he should take whatever bull he could find.
He received several names and began to call long before the season started.
My name was on the list, but he had already gotten permission from several surrounding landowners in advance.
It helps to have several options.
Bulls don’t always go down where they are shot.
Jeff asked to come out to introduce himself and get directions.
Where would the elk be at certain times of the day?
Which direction would they head to bed down?
How often did they frequent which fields?
Where were the safest places to shoot and were there any livestock issues or gates that needed to be properly secured.
He asked about driving, which trails were open, and which pastures were closed.
During a drought year that has had so many fires, he wanted to know where it would be safe to park.
Tall grasses can ignite on overheated exhaust systems.
I showed him a few blinds that I had built for my kids.
Nothing fancy, just holes dug in the hillsides with a few logs thrown up to offer concealment and cover from the wind.
They allowed a hunter to shoot down and ensure that no bullets would stray while covering hundreds of yards of meadows that attracted wildlife.
I had been seeing a few dozen elk, one small bull and four spikes .
No mature bulls had been seen prior to the season’s opener.
Jeff came early, parked where I had suggested and was in position long before the sun rose.
None of those animals made an appearance opening morning and he left to check other areas.
That evening he didn’t return. I was pulling a horse trailer up to the house when the herd came charging down into the far valley out of the timber, chased by a new bull I had never seen.
The light was failing, and I had to jog to the house for my binoculars.
By the time I returned, the herd had crossed the valley and were below me.
The new elk was much bigger than the other animals and I could clearly see the young bulls I recognized.
His rack captured the light in strange ways that didn’t seem to make sense at the time.
My phone recorded a text, and I noticed a note from Jeff.
He thought he might hunt a new ranch in the morning, but I texted back that there appeared to be a good bull here now.
That I couldn’t tell much other than it looked like he had a strong top end and that they would probably still be here come morning.
Jeff’s single shot rang out soon after first light.
I slipped on my boots and met him as he came down the ridge.
We stopped at a distance to ensure that his shot had indeed anchored his bull and the antlers climbed far above the grasses from where it had fallen.
After more than 30 years of guiding elk hunters, I should be jaded by their magnificent proportions.
Later at the butchers, they would estimate his live weight at 900 lbs.
His antlers were indeed confusing with large nontypical points coming out from each side of his six-point frame and the ends of his main beams swinging down at the ends.
Jeff was awed and asked if I would join him in a prayer of thanksgiving.
This last act of humble appreciation was exactly what was needed.
Your ranch is your home, to livestock and wildlife, family and friends. We hope when we share, that others can feel as blessed as we do.
Hunting season has just begun, and I’m so glad that this first adventure of the season was shared with a South Dakotan who was raised right.
The Speirs family has owned and operated Crow Creek Wildlife Management Service since 1996.
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