Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching.C.S. Lewis
Novelist and poet C.S. Lewis hit the nail right on the head. And so did bowhunting buddies Jeff McConnell and Brant Hoover, both in their mid-20s from Boise. Their true tale is a shining example of their upbringing, integrity and ethical behavior.
First, let’s lay a little groundwork. Jeff, age 25 and son of a Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation member, and Brant, age 24, both hunted with their fathers as long as they could remember. In fact, they’d never hunted with partners other than their dads. That changed when Jeff’s father recently had knee surgery, leaving the son to fend on his own, that is, until he ran into Brant in an archery shop three months before the 2013 bow season. Instantly, they hit it off, shared their elk hunting obsessions, stayed in touch and planned to hook up in the fall.
When the temperatures started to drop and the bowhunt season arrived, McConnell and Hoover met in the backcountry of west-central Idaho near McCall. Conditions were ideal. It looked like rain yet the skies remained dry despite their gray, overcast appearance. The two hunters passed through meadow after high country meadow, scouting mud holes and scanning the horizon. At the sixth meadow, they jumped a bull and a few cows that quickly headed for safety into the forest, yet for some reason one cow remained.
“What we didn’t notice was a calf in the wallow,” Jeff said. “It was wallowing around and we could hear it like it was using the wallow, but after a while we heard a cow mewing in the woods. It was like a lost cow mew as if she was searching for her baby or something so we stood up and saw this calf was stuck.”
Sure enough, a mucky sludge-like wallow, always a magnet of sorts for a bull in the rut, claimed a much smaller victim. The young calf remained stranded as the cow looked on from a short distance away continuing to mew.
“We approached the calf slowly. I had never heard that shrill screaming sound it was making and she was scaring us as much as we were scaring her. The closer we got, the louder it got,” said McConnell. “When we got really close, the mom came charging into the meadow and was barking at us from 45 to 50 yards away. We both ran away from the calf because we were like ‘Oh crap something may happen here!’ because they can be mean when you’re close to their babies.”
Brant and Jeff took off in separate directions before slowly and cautiously returning to the wallow. They took a step in the muck toward the calf and instantly sunk in almost to their waists quickly realizing they were jeopardizing their own safety.
“We thought we may get ourselves in trouble,” Jeff said.
They formulated and acted on a plan to gather sticks and branches that would supply more stable footing. Jeff recorded video (see below) on his phone as Brant grabbed the calf’s hind legs and started to pull. After a while it became obvious this would be a two person job so McConnell put down his phone to help out.
“We both grabbed a hind leg,” Jeff said. “I started to pet her and she calmed down as we pulled her out as far as we could. We just got on the other side of the mud hole and tripped and she kicked the crap out of us. From there, she had the option to go between us to her mother or jump back in the mud and she jumped back in the mud. We were disappointed. It started to rain and we needed to get out of the woods. The mud stunk and we were covered in it. It was sticky and nasty.”
During the struggle, Jeff took a swift kick to the chest but the calf instead connected with a couple of elk calls hanging around his neck. His chest was sore but not bruised. With the calf now further back in the wallow, the young hunters devised a new plan. This time they gathered a couple of big logs, dropping them where they could get better access to the calf and avoid sinking in the mud. Each of them again grabbed the calf by a hind leg and pulled her out a good 10 feet beyond the mud hole, dropped her and then ran back to guard the wallow to block any return.
It was pretty cool. We couldn’t sleep. We talked about it all night.Jeff McConnell“She stood up kind of slow. You could tell she was tired. She walked a little bit, looked back at us, and kind of trotted away. Then we both looked at each other like ‘That was the coolest thing that will probably ever happen to us in the middle of the woods!’ We both said we wouldn’t leave until we got her out of there. Hiking out of the woods, we couldn’t stop talking about it. It felt pretty good to know we did the right thing by rescuing that animal. It was pretty cool. We couldn’t sleep. We talked about it all night,” Jeff added.
The evening could’ve ended much, much differently with two “thwacks” from two bows. The hunters could’ve rather easily, and legally, filled their tags—one on a distressed calf stuck in a wallow and the other on a lingering mother cow. Instead, that would not and did not happen.
“Both of us were raised by our dads, raised in the wild and are hunters educated by our fathers who came from a time when there was more respect for animals back then,” Jeff said. “Nowadays so much stuff gets put on Facebook that it gets blown up by social media. It’s definitely something that needs to be illustrated that the younger generation, at least some of us, were raised with the dignity and integrity of the older generation of hunters.”
McConnell called the experience “a pretty big life-changing moment.” Consider the weight of that statement especially when you take into account it came from a young man of integrity nearing yet another life-changing moment—his marriage, that took place a mere three weeks later.
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