by Brent Martell
Success is sweet and failure is bitter. One thing most sportsmen know is the bitter-sweet taste of an outdoor adventure.
Many moons ago I was invited to archery elk hunt with a guy in his secret area. I think our connection was in the fact that I had the same morals regarding the preservation of a secret spot. He was and is a die hard outdoorsman and I can’t help but admire him.
I had decided to only take a branch antlered bull so right off I put the odds against me. We hunted hard for 10 days and I really can’t remember how many elk I encountered and the number of times I screwed up. I was able to get close enough twice to reach out and touch an elk, I witnessed an epic battle between two of the largest bulls I have ever seen while a satellite bull snuck up behind me at 5 feet. I heard more cow and calf elk talk than I could ever imagine, and I missed the largest bull I had ever had a chance to shoot at.
As instantly as my celebration came so did the heart wrenching agony of failure.
It was one of those cold, foggy, alpine mornings that make’ you feel lucky to be alive and chasing elk. We had spotted a herd of elk the night before on a small plateau at 9000′ and left them alone in hopes of finding them in the same spot the next morning. The elk read the play book and were in the same area and luck brought fog in to cover up our movements. I wandered around in the fog until I dropped in below the herd which was now incredibly vocal. My brother and friend were above them. The herd bull’s bugle sliced through the dense fog in such a way I could feel the power. My heart was racing and I could barely breathe. At this point the fog limited vision to 40 yards and my range finder was useless. Out of the fog a cow materialized and at 5 yards she turned and headed down a trail in the draw. Hmmm, I’ll bet the herd comes this way?! As I headed down the same trail to look for an ambush point I heard thunder and that thunder was growing louder by the second. I froze and watched 30 animals crashing through the fog on a collision course. I tucked in behind a 6 inch lodge pole and literally closed my eyes and held my breath. Within a few seconds I was able focus on the outer edge of the fogs density and see a massive 360 class bull. I drew and shot 40 yards! The arrow was on a perfect path and I was already telling the tale to my friends as we packed out that herd bull. As instantly as my celebration came so did the heart wrenching agony of failure. My arrow on a perfect flight path struck a log at heart height. The bull being at 50 yards simply charged off after his harem. In the excitement I had not noticed the fog burning off and thinning out. I was now able to see 60 yards although in the fog it was more difficult than I had thought to tell distance. I choked back the emotions and swallowed my pride. This is the first time I have written about the hunt.
It was going to be a tough experience in many ways, our friendship did not strengthen, my brother and I fought with each other, and I discovered a few more things about myself I didn’t want to know. Failure is tough. However, this experience changed my elk hunting methods and gave me the tools to be more successful and in some ways a better person. I was or did really taste the bitter-sweetness. I have reflected back on the hunt and the experience many times and even though I still feel disappointment from certain aspects I also feel success from the things I had learned and continue to learn.