Two elk hunters entered a quiet wood, one aged and experienced, the other youthful and energetic.
One pursuing a trophy beyond his previous experiences, the other simply a cow to fill his college freezer for the rest of the year.
The elder was in his late 50s. He had hunted elk beyond our borders, in Wyoming, Montana, and Colorado but loved hunting in the Hills more due to the rarity of the tag.
He pulled a quad loaded with decades of gathered gear.
The trailer also held a wall tent and every conceivable electronic device that might prevent a repeat of that single time he had been temporarily confused as to his location for several days.
His four-wheel drive crew cab was powered by a triton V-8.
The first-time hunter piloted a two-wheeled drive Ford Ranger that was older than its owner and worth less than the tires on the old man’s truck.
He’d brought a hammock, a bag of Twizzlers, half a loaf of week-old Wonder Bread, a jar of chunky peanut butter, and a six-pack of Mountain Dew to help him stay awake for the drive there and back.
The older man had booked out six days for this early hunt and had another week reserved with his guide for the end of the season if needed.
The kid had to get someone to cover for him at the gas station where he worked and skip a day of classes when he drove out from Brookings on a Thursday night after the late shift.
He had to be back by eight on Monday morning.
He couldn’t afford to come back a second time.
Trail cameras set up months in advance had given the elder a hint at the quality of bulls in his unit.
Both hunters chose to target animals closer to the Wyoming border.
The noob had only talked with classmates who had ventured to the Hills before and downloaded an app that showed water holes.
The morning hunt held excitement for both. Senior settled into a likely bedding area as the elk returned from the valley below.
Too much calling tended to scare away the older lead cows, so he only chirped to cover his movements.
Soon, his patients and experience paid off.
A cow and calf pair stepped into view and a growling chuckle from behind informed him that the herd bull wasn’t far way.
He used his laser range finder to exactly distance his shooting lane and confirm that it was within 40 yards.
He held his bow at the ready as numerous elk stepped through his shooting window.
The younger had hung his hammock near a catch basin and awoke to see a cow elk belly-deep in the water.
His nerves wouldn’t allow the shot from his trembling excitement, but to see an animal within moments of opening his eyes gave him a surge of adrenaline.
What seemed to be the last of the cow elk advanced through elder hunter’s window and slowly he began to raise his bow in anticipation as first a spike and then a rag-horn bull stepped into view.
In previous seasons, he had happily harvested bulls such as these, but this year he was holding out.
Younger hunted through the rest of the day.
Near evening, he drove slowly past a group of five elk bedded on a hillside.
He rounded the corner, silently staked back with the wind in his favor, and harvest an animal that left him only 30 yards of dragging once he had backed up his small truck.
Senior finally caught sight of the herd bull, a record-book six-by-six, no monster, from his momentary view, not very wide, but heavy and long of tine.
It would look great to mother back home, and he drew his bow.
He would never know if his movement caused the charge or if the dominant animal was only rushing the younger bulls, but suddenly he had all three racing up the trail straight at him.
Having never been charged at close range by a bull elk before, he was not surprised to discover his arrow lodged firmly in the trunk of a spruce tree 30 feet high.
He realized that only energetic squirrels or perhaps an athletic porcupine were ever going to lay its paws on his projectile.
Junior loaded his prize, checked the teeth at the Butcher Shop, popped the tab on a cold Dew, and made it back to Brookings by 4 a.m.
He had the elk hanging in a tree a block from campus for only a few hours before the processing was complete and still made it to class.
Neither hunter can stop smiling nor believe their luck; one for his success, the other for a memory.
The Speirs family has owned and operated Crow Creek Wildlife Management Service since 1996.
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