By Kevin Tate/Outdoors Writer
One flashlight beam swept the path ahead and the ground glittered like crystal, still and silent. No wind moved and hidden sticks cracked underfoot with reports like rifle shots, insulated overall legs rustling one past the other and back, swish swish, swish swish. I climbed the ladder in the dark, brushing frost from each handhold, sitting finally, quiet, letting the woods settle as the eastern sky grew pink, then orange, then white.
In the dark half-hour before shooting light, I listened to ducks whistling past unseen in the night sky, flying fast, always in a hurry, calling to one another in the black. Perched in a deer stand, hoping to see something exciting but depending on nothing more than a few hours’ peace, my mind carried me back to hunts past. This morning, I thought of an elk hunt’s end that came more than two years ago.
We’d spent a week chasing through the steep angles of northwestern Colorado, an experienced guide, a seasoned video field producer and I. We had finally come within a calmly fired round of connecting the night before but altitude, fatigue and sheer, unbridled adrenaline cooked up a buck fever soup the likes of which I’d never imagined and I completely blew a makeable shot. I don’t mean I missed, there’s nothing extraordinary about me doing that, I mean I had an out-of-body experience and sent one downrange that wasn’t anywhere close. It was so far off the elk might not have known whether I was shooting at him, but he didn’t stick around for a clarification and we slunk back downhill in the growing dark, defeated.
Twenty-four hours later, in the last half-hour of the last opportunity of the trip, we sat with our backs to a ridgeline overlooking a well-used wallow and water hole. The wind swirled and the mountain was quiet, the only bugles drifting down from spots far too high to reach in the moments of light that remained. Then, silent as a ghost, a bull appeared in the wallow.
Black with mud and crowned with antlers that, to me, looked like a rocking chair from the front porches of home, he then made his way through the aspen along the facing ridge, stopping twice behind trees to search for the challenging bugles we sent his way, finally filling an opening in the last gap we’d have before he’d be out of sight.
“Do you have him there?” the guide asked.
“Yes.” “Hit him.”
And I did.
Robert Ruark’s original Old Man said of hunting stories, “everybody should be allowed to brag some what he did good that day, and to cover up shameless on what he did wrong.”
When you’re doing it for TV, at least the way we make it, there’s no covering up on the wrong, mainly since all the folks who really matter, your teammates, are going to know about it anyway. That’s why, beyond the grand scope of the hunt itself, it feels really good when you do it right.
Kevin Tate is V.P. of Media Productions for Mossy Oak in West Point.