Mark grew up, with Beau, hunting in Minnesota - close shots, thick woods. When we left camp, I failed to inspect Mark's clothing situation. 45 minutes later and into a steep climb, I became aware that not only was he too hot, but his pants were "swooshing" like starched corduroys. I think Beau noticed at about the same time because he ditched me and his little brother to take another route. I cherish these moments of the hunt: predawn, anticipation - kicking ass up the hill while the out-of-staters struggle for breath.
We had a fortunate wind - blowing hard, loud and straight from the West - the direction we were approaching. When we crested the saddle, I spotted elk right away - in the open and feeding where they always seem to be. Mark couldn't spot them. For what felt like many minutes, I tried to get him to see the elk - 325 yards off. It wasn't helped by me constantly spotting more elk and one of them a huge bull. When it was all said and done there were 7 elk - all bulls, strung out across 100 yards of hillside, feeding unaware. We got to 250 yards and I asked Mark if he wanted to take a shot, fearing wind, Beau, other hunters would spook the herd.
He declined, asking to get a little closer. We had a good approach so I said sure, but be ready to shoot. We advanced to 200 yards and I asked again, then we heard Beau shoot. Now was the time. The huge bull ran then paused - Mark shot and missed. I told Mark to get to the edge of the cliff we were approaching to intercept other elk coming up the draw. Two bulls, both legal, hung up at 75 yards from the cliff edge. Mark got into position. I'll spare the details. Beau had shot a very nice 5x5 bull, not 20 yards from where he and I both got our bulls the year before. Mark didn't get an elk.
The three of us made "big into little" over the next couple of hours and hiked the first load of meat out of the wilds and back to camp - a grueling endeavor - making me happy for the missed shots of Mark. Though I wouldn't let him off easy. Many jokes were made at his expense.
Over the next few days they hunted and saw two more herds of elk - all cows. Mark relaxed and began the forgiveness process that is always hardest with ourselves. The hunt made me think of all the things that there are to learn when it comes to hunting - creating a search pattern (what do elk look like in low light at 300 yards) what to wear (layers of soft, noiseless, de-scented clothing) how to cut up the elk and respect the life that joins ours, what to bring and not bring in your day pack. Details - best learned while trying and failing.
It's all a part of first seasons. Learning, again and again, how to do what we've done many times before or never in our life. Writer Rick Bass poses that hunting make us a more creative and imaginative animal. We're forced to think of another being in a way we rarely think about ourselves - where are they, what are they doing, how to do I find them and so much more. I engage in all sorts of outdoor and wildlife related pursuits - but none grounds me stronger, roots me deeper than hunting. In sharing so many firsts this past Fall, I am overcome with how much I have learned. In the end, my greatest harvest of the year is the beginner's mind. I look forward to next seasons and putting that mind to work.