Thursday, June 11, 2009

Excuse Me, May I Shoot That Bull Elk?

The whole crew and all the hunters left camp that morning. We tied the horses at the forks of Headquarters Creek and the North Fork of the Sun River. Art Stevens, the outfitter, and two guides took three or four hunters up the North Fork. I took two hunters and my two brothers up Headquarters Creek. For the uninitiated, the North Fork is the boundary of the Sun River Game Preserve. The west side hasn’t been hunted since 1913. We were making a drive through the pie-slice between the North Fork and Headquarters. Art set the hunters on trails the elk normally followed when returning to the Preserve, and I took the most agile hunters and my two brothers, Brian and Mike, to hunt the slice.

Fog and light snow shrouded things beyond a hundred yards, but the four inches of white stuff quieted our boots on the frozen horse trail. Before I had dropped anyone off to hunt, we bumped into a few cows that had climbed the embankment from the creek. We were sort of clustered. Some of us kneeling, some standing; all of us looking through binoculars and scopes.

I spotted a spike and asked if anyone wanted him—there were no mature bulls in view. Nobody said anything. I wanted to stay put and let the elk drift into the pie-slice; there was no telling how many elk had passed before the ones we saw, or were climbing the bank further upstream.

While we sat there looking at the spike through the glasses, I asked again if anyone wanted the spike, but before I finished my question a .300 Weatherby Magnum went off behind some of us and alongside the rest of us. The bullet struck Mr. Spike high in the neck. Wonderful, another poor neck shooter.

Everyone was silent. (We were not only shocked, but deafened as well.) There had been no rush to shoot. The elk were slowly grazing along. Mr. Hunter couldn’t help it and shot without giving any warning, or notice. Mr. Hunter’s second shot blew the left-hind leg off just above the hock. Third shot entered the left shoulder and exited the right rib cage—the bull went down.

Etiquette On A Guided Hunt

There is no real etiquette for hunting.

If you hunt with family and friends, you have probably already worked out who shoots what, when, where, how, or even why. Maybe you haven’t, like Brian and Matt in this story.

Guided hunts are a bit more complicated. Outfitters and guides guide the best they can, usually, but camp may have people from several different parties. Some may be bull hunters, others cow hunters, some may be there just to take a walk through the wilderness and enjoy camp fellowship. Others are there only to see their sons, daughters, or in-laws get an elk.

Horses add complications to hunting etiquette in the wilderness. Hunters are not safe when riding a horse and spotting the big bull. The word, “clusterflop” was coined while watching people dismount horses, grab guns and blast away at elk.

When a guide first takes a hunter out, he will normally ask what the hunter’s choice is. After that, the guide can instruct and hunt accordingly. That isn’t always the case. As a hunt goes on, the hunter may reduce or increase his expectations. Countless hunters see 400 elk on the first day of a hunt and decide not to shoot a five or six-point bull elk, and never see another elk on the trip. I’ve never asked a hunter’s thought process, but I believe people see all those elk and decide that if they don’t see a larger bull, they’ll pick one from that herd on the last day. I recommend elk hunters, especially a guided elk hunter who is only hunting for 5 to 10 days, shoot the first elk they are happy with.

The opposite can happen. As in the story that began this post, a hunter may have visions of a huge trophy, but “one in the hand” beats those hundreds in the bush.

Regardless of the situation, before you see an elk, or while watching elk--communicate. Mr. Hunter above should have uttered the words, “I want him,” or “I’m going to shoot.” (For more about communication with your outfitter and guide, go here or here.

The minimum etiquette level for Elk Hunting is safety.

Use safe gun handling and common sense. Keep you and your partners SAFE.

Guns and bad etiquette go together like guns and booze.


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Deer Passion said...

I've spent most of my deer hunting seasons in Kansas, hunting by myself. Several years ago I took a younger cousin out after her father broke his knee. I was extremely disappointed at her lack of safety (with the gun) and her lack of communication (she just started shooting at the first buck we saw). Etiquette is far more important than most people realize, especially when hunting in a group situation.

carroll4212 said...

Luckily no one stood up in front of Mr. Hunter.