I had missed twice with my muzzleloader. We had experienced rain, sleet, and unbearable heat. The crafty wapiti, the Shawnee Indian term, was playing us for fools. Rick Webb, my experienced guide, and one of the best elk callers in the country, had been unable to muster a response from the size bull elk we were seeking. I had waited eighteen years for this hunt into one of the most coveted regions of Colorado. It was the final day and we were exhausted.
The day before, I emailed my prayer warriors, men and women committed to prayer for me, and asked them to pray that God would grant me the bull elk of my dreams. I was almost embarrassed to write the email. It didn’t seem spiritual enough, kingdom enough, worthy enough for prayer. But I knew from experience that prayer is about asking and receiving; prayer is about breakthrough. Prayer is about desire. It was Jesus who said,
Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? (Matthew 7:7-9)
That final morning as we once again entered the deep and hauntingly beautiful aspen forest, we heard piercing bugles. We traversed our way to the highest bluff and glassed (a hunting term for using binoculars) a valley below. Suddenly came the bellow of a huge bull elk just below us.
Rick and I switch-backed our way down the steep precipice through a tangle of sage brush and scrub oak. Again, we heard the bellow of the elk below. Rick bugled back, mimicking the bull. We moved closer, taking note of shifts in the wind.
As we stealthily creeped through the majestic aspen we saw him. He was colossal. It was the largest bull I had ever seen. As I set up my muzzleloader, adrenaline racked my arms and legs with nervous twitches. I pulled the trigger and instead of the roar and black powder cloud of a shot, I only heard a click.
I had not set the hammer back enough on the black powder rifle, the gun didn’t fire; the elk had disappeared.
We quietly waited and just as suddenly as he had disappeared we saw him again. He had moved further down the hill but was still unaware of our presence. I set up again. This time a cow elk came running through the forest headed straight for us. We froze. If she were to notice Rick and me, we were busted.
The cow never noticed our presence and the bull continued to rake a nearby aspen with his massive antlers. Rick bugled once more and he turned. One more opportunity.
I rechecked my hammer, looked over my firing cap, switched off my safety, and settled my breathing. The thundering roar of my rifle pierced the forest. The wapiti dropped.
As I stared at the elegant creature and contemplated what had just happened, I was filled with a mixture of gratitude and sadness. I wept.
Even as I write this, I’m filled with emotion. As an avid outdoorsman and hunter, this is the pinnacle. To hunt is to experience it all—the beauty, the adventure, and the bittersweet feeling of the quest and its consummation. In days gone by, I will remember the aspen forest, the mixture of elation and sorrow, and a bull elk whom God used to teach me about prayer and desire.