Squeeze Mom, don’t JERK!
by Cynthia Summer
It took me five years to draw out my black powder buck tag for the rugged mountains of west central Colorado. In 2009 I was excited to hit the trail and see what I could find. I also held a bull elk tag for same season. My son and husband decided they wanted to hunt archery elk that year. I decided I could do some scouting for my buck while I was with them. But three days before archery season my husband Greg was diagnosed with a blood clot in his leg. He didn’t get out and hunt for the first few weeks. Finally my black powder season was here. Opening morning we found ourselves in the saddle several hours before daylight. We wanted to be to a particular place by the time the sun kissed the mountain peaks. We had located elk the evening before and knew where they should be the next morning. The frost was heavy on the mountain grass when I climbed out of the saddle, I grabbed the binoculars and started scanning the mountain sides and basins to find the elk. They had moved out of the area. We were trying to plan the day’s strategy when I noticed a dark grey shadow moving across the mountain just under the peak. It was a good mile away and couldn’t place antlers on it but I knew it was a buck. We set up the spotting scope and it was definitely a nice buck.
Now I have never been a trophy hunter, I hunt to put meat in the freezer and on the table. I get just as excited when I harvest a cow elk or doe as I do a bull or buck! But I had seen some nice bucks in this area over the years and decided it would be nice to have a chance at something a little bigger than I had harvested in the past. Which wouldn’t have taken much?
Since my husband was still on blood thinners my son volunteered to make the hike with me. Greg stayed at the horses and watched the buck. We started hiking at 10,500 ft. I had hiked part of this mountain a few times before and I knew it wasn’t going to be a piece of cake. The first half of the hike was hot and humid with a storm looming on the horizon and the sun beating down on our backs. Two hours later and halfway up that mountain it started raining and snowing off and on. I had a nice 4×4 buck cross my path and I would have pulled the trigger on him but my son talked me out of it. I think my son was looking forward to the hike ahead and knew it was going to be torture on me! I enjoyed the cooler weather, but can’t say it made the hike any easier as the hardest part of the climb was the upper half. It got so steep I was grabbing roots, bushes, and rocks to keep from loosing any progress I had made. The muscles in my legs ached and burned, my lungs screamed for more air. I would stop and catch my breath and think to myself only crazy people do this! Yes I am crazy! But I love it. Finally after 4 hours of climbing we had made it to the small patch of alpine brush and knew we had to move to the ridge separating us from the buck. By this time the wind was blowing hard and whistling across the mountain peaks. It was still trying to snow. We crawled over to the ridge to look off in the basin where we had watched the buck bed down 4 hours earlier. We scooted on our stomachs the last few feet not knowing for sure where this buck might be. Then we could see him through the alpine bushes less than 50 yards in front of us. We froze as didn’t want to give him any idea we were there. I waited for him to move away from us so I could draw up my rifle. He grazed off into a ravine where we couldn’t see him. I sat up and anchored my 54 caliber on my knees and waited. I got so tickled with my son. He sat behind me and I don’t know how many times he whispered “squuueeeeeze mom, don’t jerk”. I will never forget those 20 minutes he sat there behind me as my mentor and guide. To hear him say those words that he had heard from his father and I for so many years before that.
I didn’t know for sure where that buck would come out of that ravine I just prayed he would come out where I could make a good shot. I shoot with open sights, and I have my faithful 54 sighted in dead on at 150 yards and know I can take a 200 yard shot if need to.
We had everything in our favor. The buck never saw us. The wind was gusting fiercely up the mountain keeping our scent from him, wind was so noisy whistling along those basins and peaks you couldn’t hardly hear a thing. But these big bucks don’t get big by being dumb. I truly believe they don’t have to see, smell, or hear you to know you are there. That buck came blowing out of that ravine on opposite side like something had bit him. I was ready and had the bead of my sight moving with him, I was just getting ready to squeeze trigger when he stopped broadside and looked right at me. I didn’t hesitate and the smoke from that 54 filled the air. I took a 102 yard shot and double lunged him, he dropped in his tracks and he rolled into the ravine. I think my son was more excited than I was! Like a kid at Christmas. He said, “Mom did you see how big he is!” I laughed and said, “ I didn’t even notice how big, knew he had horns and I wasn’t going off this mountain without a buck in the bag!”
Greg and the horses made it up to where Nate and I were. The way he brought them up was much easier than where I had hiked up. We took several pictures in a hurry as the storm was getting worse and I didn’t like the idea of being stuck on that mountain above timberline at 12,500 ft with lightening in the distance. But no sooner said lightening started bouncing off the rocks less than 500 yards above us. The hair on my arms felt strange standing straight up, like when you have a lot of static electricity. And the smell of sulfur filled our noses. The horses didn’t like it either. I think that’s one of the fastest dressing jobs and packing we have ever done. It started hailing and the hail stones stung the backs of my hands and my ears but I wasn’t going to stop walking that horse down the mountain till we got into the dark timber 500 yards below us. We tied the horses in the dark timber and we went and sat under a heavy pine tree while we waited out the storm.
This is probably my buck of a lifetime. It had taken me 32 years for a buck like this to grace my sights. He grossed just short of 200 at 196 3/8.
But this is not the end!
Three days later we located the elk. I sat up near a good elk trail that exited a patch of dark timber. We had watched the elk mingle off the mountain and into this timber to bed down for the afternoon. About an hour after I got set up in a small patch of stunted pine I heard something coming through the timber, I thought it was sure noisy. Wondered if I had several elk coming at me or a big bear. But after a few minutes one lone bull came walking out of the timber on this trail. I had a clear 50 yard shot but I didn’t want to shoot him until he had crossed this deep ravine between us. I figured if he decided to go off the trail I would take my shot, but as long as he was following the trail I would wait. He came across ravine and stopped just other side of trees from me, he was only 8 feet from me! Then he continued on down the trail and when he stepped into view 15 feet from me I let the 54 smoke. I couldn’t believe of all the times I have been archery hunting and never have gotten an elk with a bow, I had an archery shot and I sat there with my 54! What an adrenaline rush!!