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78 is Not Too Late

February 2019
Story by B. R. Ross
State: Utah
Species: Elk - Rocky Mtn

My dad has always been passionate about hunting, but this year, he became a grandpa four times over and said he wouldn’t book a hunt. He wanted to take it easy. I decided to put him in for a couple of the best units just to keep him in the game.

A few weeks later, my dad asked me to take a look at an email from Utah that he had received. He said, “What does this mean?” It read, “Utah Early Rifle Bull Elk Tag: Successful.”

My jaw nearly hit the floor, and I said, “Dad, you have just drawn one of the best elk tags in the nation with just two points!” So much for taking it easy.

We set about getting him ready for the hunt. He increased his workout routine at the gym from three to five days a week, and we practiced shooting together weekly at long range. When it came time to choose an outfitter, he turned to Huntin’ Fool for help. Hunt Advisor Garth Jenson listened intently to what he was looking for and gave just one name to help my dad utilize this tag – Jake Bess Hunting. My dad was keen to go with Huntin’ Fool’s recommendation and called Jake to book the hunt.

A few weeks before the hunt, I was disheartened to hear that my dad was considering canceling. Arthritis in his knees had been bothering him, and other health issues were slowing him down. He was worried he wouldn’t be able to keep up in elk country. I shared with him a mantra I had heard in the hunting world about staying mentally tough. I told him, “Don’t allow yourself to be mentally defeated before you are physically defeated. Do what you can with what you have and enjoy the journey.” He called Jake to talk it over. Jake said he would do everything in his power to make it work. Thankfully, my dad was reassured and went ahead with the trip as planned. It was an amazing opportunity; I just hoped that it hadn’t come too late.

When the time came, my dad and my brother, Rich, drove out to Utah together and met up with Jake’s dad, Kim, who would be his guide. Kim is a classic western gentleman, great company, and a pleasure to hunt with. He made an amazing elk bugle and cow call with a homemade apparatus comprised of a vacuum hose, a rubber glove stretched over it, and a rubber band to hold it in place. It sounds funny, but he was a magician with it.

The first morning, Kim took them into some beautiful country and had my dad on a pair of bulls before sunrise. They were the biggest bulls he had seen on a hunt, but Kim assured him that they were little guys for this unit and it would be wise to keep hunting. Days one and two ended without seeing additional elk. The rut was a bit late.

Day three was different. Kim decided to take him to some low country, looking for cows, where it would be easy for my dad to get around. As luck would have it, they found a herd of cows, and with it, eight bulls screaming their hearts out. Finally, he was being treated to the rut hunt he had dreamed of. In the herd was a nice 330" type bull, and they decided to go after it. Some other hunters had got there first, so they worked around them to get to a drainage that Kim thought the elk would use to get to the trees to bed. Kim got Dad in position just in time for some exhilarating opportunities trying to get a shot at the big bull. However, it didn’t quite come together. The rut picked up near dark. There was a beehive of activity going on in the trees, just beyond their sight. It was growing closer by the minute. They held their breath, waiting for the bulls to burst into the open field to Kim’s bugles and challenges, but dark settled in before any elk came into view.

I was able to drive out and join them for the weekend. The next day, Jake’s brother, Jed, joined us too as his hunter had tagged out. We showed him pictures of the bull we were after and were a little shocked when he told us, “That is a nice bull, but I honestly think we can do better.” Jed spotted from a distance as we worked into position for the morning hunt. Word came that Jed had found a bigger bull with a different group of cows. Kim, through either luck or paranormal psychic ability, knew what drainage the elk would use before they did. He got my dad in position to make a shot and started calling. The elk herd warily filed by at 400 yards as Kim called. Dad had to quickly change positions a few times to get the right angle as the herd approached. Once in position, tense seconds passed as we waited to see if the bull would appear. Suddenly, he crested the hill. Kim’s voice got excited as he told my dad, “That is the one!” My dad lined up the shot from a seated position with a tripod for a rest as he had practiced at the range. A shot rang out from his .300 Win Mag, and a loud thump from the 210 grain Berger bullet was audible. The elk was hit hard, but he made it into the trees.

We were all in disbelief. Had my dad just killed a monster? The knot of uncertainty was still present as the hunt wasn’t done yet. We still had to recover the elk. Kim called Jake, who said, “I am on my way, and I will bring help.” From that moment, a military-type recovery operation ensued. We waited impatiently to give the elk time and for reinforcements to arrive. Trucks started to trickle in from all over, and soon there was a caravan of vehicles lined up. A good chunk of the Bess family had turned up to help.

Jake had his uncle and Jed post up on high points surrounding the valley as he went in to track the bull. There was no blood trail to speak of and a lot of thick country for the bull to hide in, so it was no easy task. Soon, we got the word that Jake had found the bull. He had only made it a few hundred yards into the trees. My dad was impressed by the effort and expertise Jake put into assuring that his elk was recovered.

When Dad walked up on the bull, he couldn’t believe his eyes. Here was a giant monarch beyond my dad’s wildest expectations. It was a great moment to take in and just soak up. You may only experience this once in a lifetime, if you are lucky.

After a lot of high fives, handshakes, and pictures, my dad looked at the bull with the quiet consolation of a lifetime achievement. What a blessing after waiting all his life to experience a hunt like this while he was still physically up to the task. As it turned out, 78 was not too late. He had successfully taken his first record book trophy, and what a trophy it was! Jed taped the bull out at 376 2/8". Amazingly, Jake and Kim were able to accomplish this without my dad having to walk more than half a mile at a time over relatively flat ground and showing him a great time along the way.

I’d like to thank Jake, Kim, Jed, and the rest of the Bess family for their great help. I’d also like to thank Huntin’ Fool for helping my dad accomplish his hunting dream and, by extension, helping this grateful son accomplish his!