I knew the hit was high as I watched the spike bull vanish before my eyes at 21 yards into the springhead. As I moved forward to see over the knob, I was knocking the finish-off arrow that would surely be needed on a spinal-shot animal. The second shot flew true and it was all over in a matter of seconds. It was 8:05 p.m. on September 11 in the high country of Idaho, and my hunting season had just come to a close. I felt a lot of happiness and sadness at the same time. I was sad that my hunting season had just ended and I knew a chance at a big bull bruiser would not happen this year. On the flip side of the emotional coin, I had a great year. A nice black bear that may go book, an antelope buck, a mule deer buck, and a bull elk. Just Mr. Tom Turkey was missing from my personal clean sweep. Close but still so far.
If you are wondering where the title fits in, I am getting there.
I once had a military instructor who said he would "start here but end up over there" during his lectures. So his students would just have to hold on for the roller coaster ride. Apparently my writing style took note of his classes.
Upon arrival back home I kissed my lovely wife hello and hugged and squeezed my two beautiful little girls as we all do upon a safe return from hunting trips weekend to weekend during the season. The next few days were spent talking to hunting buddies and seeing how things were going for everyone on their outings. The one person I wanted to speak to most was my stepfather, Richard Hansen, to see if he had any luck.
During the off season we made a small $5 wager on the biggest bull. Richard was sure this was going to be his year on elk. He purchased a new bow from a friend of mine, decided to give carbon arrows a try, and promised himself he would practice religiously with elk calls.
After finally getting in touch with Richard and telling him about my lucky success on a spike bull, he told me about his time afield and how things were going. The place he chose to hunt he had never hunted before this season. This area was his son, Doug's, and had special meaning to him this year. Just the year before the two basins were loaded with elk and two bulls that would score around 350 PY, in addition to several raghorns.
This year alone scouting trips proved to Richard and his father the elk were still there including one of the big bulls. During these trips they saw plenty of elk and several big, beautiful, velvet headgear running around. There were also plenty of mature bucks and one huge mountain lion spotted in the road. After speaking to Richard on the phone, I found out things were not going so well. During nine days of hunting the entire waterhole area, Richard had seen one elk.
Richard and I tried to make a game plan for the rest of the season as the rut was surely on its way. After discussing things on the phone, Richard and I decided we would attempt to tag team a bull like we did the year before, but the $5 wager would not be in affect.
The following weekend found my wife and me headed to rendezvous with Richard at the old corrals. It was pleasant to have my wife accompany me on our outing. I think it was just as pleasant for my wife to get away for a weekend from the kids. After two days of hunting the only things produced were a nice time together in the high country and a cooler full of grouse that fell to the shotgun.
The following weekend I headed back to help Richard. After arriving at Richard's camp late Friday night, he informed me he had located 22 head of elk with three six-point bulls, which were all bugling. Richard and I discussed late into the evening that tomorrow would be the day. Apparently as bowhunting goes the sure thing was nothing. The next two days resulted in the same manner.
I had to return to work Monday afternoon leaving Richard to finish out the season alone. On the drive home I felt a little down that we could not complete our goal. Tuesday evening there was a phone call with Richard on the other end informing me that he had called in and shot one of the six-point bulls. Richard's arrow had pierced the heart at forty yards. Later that day, Richard's father, with tears in his eyes, had labeled that arrow the "phantom arrow". Richard went on to tell me what had taken place and how everything happened. After the shot he laid down his bow and began to cry. This bull was not meant for Richard but for his deceased son Doug Hansen. Doug passed away on the 4th of July 1998, a year and a half ago. Following is an account of Richard's hunting experience:
"As I walked into the area of my hunt, the cool air hitting my face, this was my son's hunting area, an area I had scouted but never hunted before this year. I heard a bull bugle and a few cows talking so I set up in the tall grass behind a tree. Then I placed a cow caller to the roof of my mouth and gave a call. As I knocked an arrow in my bow and placed it down in the grass, I saw a small bull in front of me about 400 yards away. I cow called at him--he bugled back. Suddenly to my left the herd bull answered back with a bugle. Then something happened, things became quiet and I could not see an elk anywhere. The last bugle was to my left. So, looking in that direction, seeing and hearing nothing, I remained on my knees. I glanced back in front of me where the smaller bull had been. There standing broadside at 40 yards was the herd bull looking in my direction. I crouched lower picking up my bow setting my sight to 40 yards. As I drew my bow with my release, I gave a final cow talk. Raising up on my knees over the tall grass with my sight on his chest, I released the shot. I could not see the flight of my arrow but I knew it hit the spot as he hurled to run away. I put my bow down, sat back on my heels, and began to cry. I looked up at the bright blue sky and said "Doug, I got him." Looking back in the direction the bull and run, I saw him crumble to the ground. At that point the woods seemed to come back alive, the birds began singing, and the wind began blowing through the trees.
The arrow indeed hit the spot as he was hit through the heart.
I wanted to share this hunt with others because my son was truly with me in spirit as was God. It all has to do with the love of a father and son and God himself I have harvested many elk in my life but nothing compared to this hunt. This 6x6 may make Pope and Young book in my son's name.
In closing out my story I would like to say to those who have lost someone close, stay strong, have faith, love, and know this-they are with you always as I have found in this hunt."
Richard made it very clear to family and friends that he was going to dedicate this elk season to his son and that Doug would be accompanying him, like he did for many years, only this time in spirit. The focus of this article is not about harvesting animals, but the love a father and son share. Only we bowhunters and parents know how much the outdoors is part of our heart and soul. The time we spend, the things we see, the high we receive from being in God's own backyard, are things we all love to experience.
The six-point bull that fell by Richard's arrow was shot in memory and spirit of Doug. Doug was an avid bowhunter and sportsman like his father, Richard. As we all know, the emotions and love we have for this sport and the emotions and love we have for our family are part of our being. The days we dream we are afield, when we are not, we long for the times we can return with bow in hand and with family and friends to our hunting grounds. We all have a deep love for the places and the animals we pursue. When Richard dedicated this season to his lost son Doug, it was for all the times spent together in the place they loved and cherished the most while playing amongst nature's friends. As surely fall leaves change and fall from the trees in autumn, so does the circle of life for us continue to change.
So the next time you return to the field, take to mind and heart the people you love and how they are like the green leaves you see in the trees pointing to heaven above and will surely change and may fall. Take the time to absorb it all and give thanks to the Lord above.