The Assistant

In Youth by RMEFLeave a Comment

Last fall, I was particularly excited for hunting season for one reason – archery elk hunting. In the past, my dad had one opportunity to kill an elk. But that was all about to change since he drew a combo tag, which meant he could hunt and harvest an elk and a deer (whitetail or mule). I got to miss a week and a half of school to tag along with him and be a part of it.

We went hunting in Montana where my Uncle Willie lives with my cousins, aunt, and grandma in a small town. My uncle is a “big time” hunter and his home is surrounded by the mountains. It is so beautiful and scenic.

I have gone deer hunting with my dad before, and even had a few tags myself. Though, I have never gone on a big archery hunt like this, when you have to know where to go and when to be there, and hike and climb and crawl. This archery hunt was a very different experience and very special too.

We started hunting at one public spot that we thought would be a good starting spot. We hiked around, sat around, and hiked some more but we never really heard or saw anything. So we moved on to our next spot. My uncle had some friends with land, so we hunted their land for a day or two. Their land was a little different because instead of being very steep and mountainous, the land was more flat with rolling hills. When we saw the elk, we had to stay low and crawl a lot, which was an interesting adventure all its own. I have never had to do something like that before. Also, all three of us are very tall and for others that are tall, you know the struggle trying to crawl. So, crawling was somewhat of an “interesting” experience.

On the last day we hunted that land, we saw a herd of elk early in the morning. We watched and followed them, trying to get closer. We never got close enough to that herd of elk or the satellite bulls near them. As we were starting to make our way back, we spotted two lone bulls on the other side of a plowed field. My dad and I crawled and spread out a little ways. At this point the wind had come up and it was starting to rain.

I went one way with a mesh elk decoy while my dad went the other way with his bow. We never got a chance to shoot, I guess this time, the opportunity just slipped through our fingers. But honestly, holding that decoy on my stomach, in the wind and rain was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. I was in a lot of discomfort the next day because of it.

We decided that the next morning we would go back and hunt the place we hunted the first night. So, in the morning, when we got there, we hiked our way to the top of a peak and sat to rest for a while. The altitude was not that high, but I got some amazing pictures while we were up there.

When we started going down, we went down a different way and we saw a lone bull a long ways away on the other side of a hill. We moved down far enough to set up and call. I almost fell trying to walk down because it was so steep. We stopped for a minute or two to get situated and then we started to call. The elk walked down and came within 40 yards of us. My dad was set up to shoot, but we never got a clear shot. I guess you have to let the elk win every once in a while, right?
In the days to follow, we came back to that spot and hiked around. One morning we saw a herd of elk a long ways away on a different piece of property. We would sometimes just sit down and try to call, but we never really got anything in response.

One of the two weekends in Montana, my cousin, uncle, dad, and I drove about an hour away to a different mountain range to hunt and camp. This spot was so beautiful and colorful with changing colors. There was so much to see – even a few mountain goats. As we drove in, we found a small spot to camp, right by a gentle stream. We ate by the fire the whole weekend; it was so much fun. My uncle and cousin slept in a tent, while, my dad and I slept on top of my uncle’s truck in a roof top tent. It was very relaxing to fall asleep in the pitch black, listening to a stream in the background.

Though camping was fun, we still had no luck with elk. It came down to our last few days in Montana and it wasn’t looking very good. As a last resort, my aunt reached out to a colleague who owned land and she thankfully granted us permission to hunt her land. It was very, very generous of her because her land is in a very good spot to hunt elk.

The next morning we got up bright and early to headed out. We hiked, but didn’t hear much. We saw a herd of elk a long way out, but never had the time to get close. We went back to the house for lunch and then went straight back out to the mountains to make the most of the night. We weren’t expecting much.

We hiked in a ways and stopped for a snack. While stopped, I was lying down and almost had an allergic reaction to a nearby plant. It was really weird because I had no prior allergies to anything. I got over it though, and we kept moving. We aimed for a spot that we wanted to hike to, but as we were going, that spot didn’t seem to get much closer, and time was running out. But we did get there, and I spotted a dark hidden spot where we could all stop, rest, and maybe call an elk in.

As we were sitting there, my uncle turned around and saw a spike elk shed, just lying there in the trees. We all saw this as a sign of good luck. (And it was!) As we were calling we would get a few responses. Call and bugle, repeat. But then I heard it – walking … the crunch of an animal stepping on branches and leaves. I couldn’t see it, but I could hear it. Then we all saw it – a big, but young, bull elk. My dad was so excited, but he stayed calm. I slowly tried to get up right behind him to video it, but I couldn’t quite get a good view.

Then, all of the sudden, I heard it – the zing of an arrow flying from my dad’s bow. My dad shot an elk! I could hardly believe it. He got his second elk! I was over the moon excited. End of story. Not. We stopped and took a breath, as it is almost vital that you should. There was still about 20 to 25 minutes left of legal hunting.

My uncle still hadn’t filled his tag that season. So as we waited we continued to call. Exactly 15 minutes later, I heard it again – walking, crunching. We called another elk in! My uncle got his shot too, and with absolute accuracy. After the impact, we watched it run up a hill and start to roll down after it had expired. It was one of the coolest things I have ever experienced.

At dark, we got up and started to hike. We were going to look for my dad’s elk first, since it ran up the mountain. We followed the blood trail for almost an hour with flashlights and headlamps, but couldn’t find it. My heart sank.

My uncle and dad said we would come and look in the morning, but there were still worries that bears or coyotes would find it first. We retrieved my uncle’s elk that night though, and brought it back to the house. The next morning we went out to look, and we looked and looked and the farther we looked, the worse I felt. But then, my uncle yelled out to us that he had seen it. In that moment all of my worries were gone and I was extremely excited, but relieved at the same time. Everything had turned out just fine.

My dad’s elk had passed in a small stream that was running down the mountain. Then after all the pictures, the fun began. Packing the elk out was a very hefty job and very heavy… for my dad and uncle. I casually walked behind them all the way back to the truck.

The whole week was one big adventure after another. I couldn’t have asked for a better week, hunt, or vacation. The road trip itself was so much fun too, because even though it was a 12 hour drive, I got to spend that time with my dad. Who would have thought that in all this excitement, all these hikes and hunts, we would all come out with two elk?

Considering how excited I was, I can’t even imagine how excited my dad was to get an elk. The feeling that you get when you hunt, shoot, and harvest an animal like this is just tremendous. Even when you are not the one with a tag, being able to watch and assist is still amazing. That is what everyone needs to know that is unhappy with not being able to shoot, or being too young, you never know when a trip like this will come around.

An experience like this is something that cannot be replaced and will last forever. Some may say that an elk hunt like this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but it sure wasn’t for my dad, and I hope it is not for me!

Olivia Hettinger
Age 13
West Fargo, North Dakota
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