No, it was more distinct much like an athlete that was trying to be careful and not aggravate an old wound, pacing himself to make it to the end of the game. I had seen this before on a hunt for trophy caribou in the Taylor Mountains in Alaska. Years have gone by since those fateful, frightful days of long ago but the pain and agony of those times have carved deep furrows in his heart and countenance. They were dark times in his life, when he knew he had to go on for himself, his family and his country.
He is a hunter. He has harvested bucks equal to the number of years he has walked this earth-94 to be exact. His long distance shooting ability is only eclipsed by his ability to hit a moving target, even at this time in his life. A gun is nothing more than an extension of him. I have seen him shoot and never once could I come close to matching. One day while I saw six roosters rise going their own way, five shots from a Remington pup came out in staccato fashion, five roosters hit the ground, almost in unison. I asked him how he became such a good marksman, he replied “Just lucky I guess”. Some men are naturals he was one of them.
Through the trees the massive bull looked like a freight train. In the distance, another bull, the one that had pushed him out just four days ago still showed signs of the fight. A long red wound just under his left front leg was a constant reminder of the battle. The old bull paced back and forth as he waited for his moment to recapture his rightful place as the herd bull. This young upstart came from another herd and was full of fight. Blindsiding the patriarch in what we would call a cheap shot, put the old bull down, but not out. The younger bull was larger in size but lacked the experience to hold this position of honor.
As he studied the bull, I watched him. This was not the first time I had seen him size up a hunting situation. Once, when we were hunting on Ray Millers Ranch north of Gillette, Wyoming for trophy mule deer, the bigger bucks were hiding in the coulees, and he knew it. After surveying the terrain, checking with wind and available sign, he put together a hunt that would yield two big bucks, his with over a 36-inch spread with lots of mass. I saw him do the same on a hunt in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. He took a mossy horned buck that scored over 160 B&C. He knows hunting and shooting. If there was a person you would want on your side in a firefight or a hunting trip, it would be him. His shots are like his moves, very deliberate, no wasted time or energy.
The old bull was now a mere 122 yards from our position. Not only did we get that close without being detected, but also we did it without being noticed by the other bull and his harem. Stealth, moving like a ghost, is what he taught me. He always told me, “anyone can take a long shot, but it takes a hunter to get close enough to smell the grass on their breath”. The old bull was still pacing trying to get into position to make his comeback. He was the George Foreman of this herd on the plains of eastern Colorado. His eyes were focused. Little did he know just steps away was his real problem. Often, at least in my life, I have focused on what I thought was the problem when in reality it was only a symptom. This was true of the Champion of the Plains. Left alone he could have survived this embarrassment, but pride wouldn’t let him. How true it is for all of us.
It has been 16 years since he has harvested an animal. The last was a trophy 5 x5 bull elk on my ranch in southwest Colorado. Even though time has taken away the catlike moves he had as a younger man, today his steps are more deliberate, each move calculated, rehearsed and executed in his mind before he moves a muscle as he inches toward his goal, a mature buffalo bull. He turned to me and said “that old boy is 2000 pounds and counting, he should be good eating. I asked “How does he look as a trophy?”. He just shrugged. To him, success was measured in edible meat in the larder not by some head hanging on the wall. His favorite quote was “you don’t eat the horns”.
The old bull made a false charge. The younger bull grunted and began to paw the ground. As the old bull returned to the edge of the clearing, he spun and made another false charge in a taunting gesture. Dust was flying everywhere now as these two monsters again sized each other up. Side-stepping during the charge, the old bull hooked the younger tearing a gash that bled profusely. The younger acted dazed by this calculated, albeit effective move. Years of defending his herd and honor had taught the elder some tricks that could only have been learned by experience. Smelling fresh blood, the elder realized he would have to make his move now before the younger could recover. Turning on all fours, he charged hooking him in the hock flipping the now stunned bull on the ground.
Ol Blue Eyes now made his move. Cutting the distance to less than half during this ruckus, he was now in position to take the shot he know would be swift and clean. The Cabela’s Pedersoli 1974 Sharps chambered in a .45/70 barked hitting the old bull just eight inches behind his left front leg and twelve inches up from the bottom of his massive chest. The 420 grain Garrett Cartridge exploded in the engorged heart. Placement and penetration could not have been better. He was a real troply. He had 14 ½ inch bases and the horns curved back measured 17 3/8 inches in length.
Now, back on his feet and unaware of the shot, the younger hooked the downed elder in defiance, standing over, challenging him as though he had beaten his grizzled defeated foe. Pawing the ground, he filled the air with fresh dirt, much like a wide receiver after scoring the winning touchdown. Finally, he bent down, sniffed his opponent, snorted in disgust and headed back toward his waiting harem. He bellowed loudly an arrogant message that was full of false pride. Only Ol’ Blue Eyes knew that there was only one winner here today, one loser and one dead. Another day will come when the younger will be challenged for his position as herd bull. Would he remain the leader? At this point no one knows. Several trials came for Ol Blue Eyes since that day on the plains of Colorado. Two hip replacements, one thumb reconstruction and the removal of two cataracts challenged him, but he overcame. For Ol Blue Eyes is a hunter, a shooter, an outdoorsman and a cut above. By the way, he’s also my father.