The Ultimate Dream
They say a daughter will never outgrow her father’s heart. After the experience I had with my dad at Winterhawk Outfitters, I know it won’t happen anytime soon.
It all started when I was a little girl and my oldest brother, Duane started deer hunting. He and Dad headed out to the woods every chance they got. I became a bit jealous about the time they were able to spend together. So about a year later, I decided to take my hunters safety course.
I started hunting that very season and shot my first deer, a beautiful eight-point buck. Dad was with me through the whole experience. The buck was a little over a hundred yards away and Dad told me not to shoot if I didn’t feel comfortable with the shot. Well, not shooting it was the last thing on my mind because I wanted to show everyone that I could shoot a deer and make my brothers jealous.
I took the shot and dropped him. The feeling was indescribable. I had not only killed a deer on my first hunt, but it was a great buck. I felt like the luckiest girl alive.
Dad has known Larry and Laura Amos for about ten years now and has been hunting at Winterhawk for the past six years. Every time he left for Colorado, I was just as anxious as he was. I wanted to head out there with him. He told me that when I graduated from high school, he would take me for my graduation present.
Well, I thought that day would never get here but it finally arrived. I couldn’t believe the time was finally here. Heading out west to elk hunt in the rut with our bows; just dad and me.
We finally ended up at Winterhawk and I couldn’t wait to pack up the belongings on the mules and horses and ride through the mountains to get a big one! It was about a two-hour horseback ride to our backcountry camp. We arrived at the Keener Lakes camp about mid afternoon, unpacked our belongings and got settled in.
We decided to head out for the remainder of the evening and see what would happen. We hiked up the hill towards Keener Lake and sat and watched the meadow out in front of us until dark. We didn’t hear or see anything except a couple of mule deer.
We walked back down to camp and got a good night’s rest so that we could start fresh at daylight. The next morning came pretty fast and we decided to climb in a different direction that day towards Derby Mountain.
We hiked and climbed the mountains for almost three hours and finally came to a nice point on top of a saddle that looked like a hotspot. We decided to stop there for a snack. Not even 15 minutes had passed as we were sitting there on a log when we heard a bugle far off in the distance. We both looked at each other and thought, “You’ve got to be kidding.”
Dad started playing with the cow calls and the bugle to see if the bull would respond. It just so happened that this bull was “hot” and was responding to all of Dads calls.
About a half hour passed by and he kept coming in closer and closer. Then, we didn’t hear anything for about ten minutes and I thought to myself, “Oh great, it’s over. All that excitement for nothing.”
But, about 60 yards down the hill he bugled again. My heart started racing again. Dad got behind me and said, “He’s coming, he’s coming!” I was getting ready and was in all sorts of excitement. I didn’t know what to think.
Another ten minutes passed by and didn’t hear anything again. Dad blew one more bugle and the bull responded immediately. The elk was now making his way up the hill and into my sight. I could see his antlers through the trees but not his body. As soon as I saw his antlers appear, I came to full draw.
I was drawn for about a minute and a half. Dad was behind me and whispered, “If you can’t hold it, let it go.” But I knew that if I let down, I wouldn’t have the strength to pull back again in time.
Meanwhile, the bull was heading up the hill, still very interested in Dads cow calls. At 26 yards, he stepped into an opening, lifted his head and bugled. I released!!!
I couldn’t believe he stopped and bugled right in front of me. It was over. I looked back at dad and started losing it. I had no idea what to do and all my emotions were coming out. It was a feeling I’ve never had before. I think I was holding the emotions in when the elk was heading up the hill, because I was surprisingly calm until after I shot.
I didn’t feel very confident about my shot so we let him go and decided to go look for him in the morning. The next morning arrived before we knew it. We climbed back up the hill from camp to begin our search.
We followed the tracks and the blood for a ways and then lost track of it. Dad and I split up with about 20 yards between us and started scoping out the area that he could have ended up in. We had only been looking for 15 minutes when I saw a brown spot in front of a large tree. Then I saw his antlers sticking up and yelled over at dad, “I see him, he’s laying right here!!!!!”
I was so relieved that we had found him. The elk barely went 90 yards from where I shot. I was jumping and dancing all over the place. I couldn’t thank Dad enough for calling this elk in and giving me the chance to go out there and have an opportunity to shoot an elk like this.
It was by far the best graduation present I could ever have asked for. We climbed back to the top of the hill where I shot it and radioed in to Winterhawk’s base camp. We told Larry and Laura the big news. They were just as excited as we were.
When the packers finally got up to the mountain and found us, we had story time. We told them all about the experience and how the shot happened. We took lots and lots of pictures with the elk and me and dad together.
I thought dad was going to cry because this had always been a dream of his, to go out west and have one of his kids shoot a big game animal like this. We were both so speechless and had no idea what to say or think. It couldn’t have been any better.
To top everything off, I shot my first bull elk on the first real day of hunting (September 11, 2011) and it just so happened to be my first bow kill ever! I got my Mathews Passion last fall and haven’t killed a deer back at home with it yet. I think it’s the coolest thing ever to say that my first compound bow kill was an elk!
I would go out to Winterhawk again in a heartbeat! It was the trip of a lifetime and a chance to spend some quality time with my dad. I would like to give a big thank you to my dad, Nelson Stutzman, and Larry and Laura Amos for giving me the opportunity to come out in the Flat Tops Wilderness to bow hunt elk in the true wild.