It must have been the fall of ’98 when we made the 1000 mile trip to northern Colorado to hunt elk. I still had a ton of miles in my account so I flew Stoehner down from Alaska to California where I was living at the time and we drove out together.

Mike Edison, an Intel work colleague had somehow managed to convince me that previous summer that joining him and two of his buddies for their annual elk hunt was something that I definitely needed to experience.

I had hunted white-tail deer in both Michigan and Texas so the proposition didn’t seem entirely out of the question. Stoehner, who I had meet at university in Texas, was a big time hunter and fisherman. He had me up to Alaska three times for fishing trips so I thought it was only fitting that I invite him along for my first elk hunt.

So the big question that summer of ’98 was what kind of firepower did I need to bring down big-game shot probably at a considerable distance? I got advice from practically everybody ranging from a 7 mm mag all the way up to a 50 cal. As much as I liked the idea of a 50 caliber, which shoots pretty much accurately out to a mile, they were a bit too pricey, costing then several thousand dollars. There is that little boy in all of us who wants to own the baddest gun on the block but most of us at some point manage to get a grip on ourselves before we actually buy something so stupid.

I was not inexperienced when it came to weaponry. As a kid I hunted with everything from slingshots and BB guns to .22s and .410s. I grew up in a small farming community in northern Michigan where fist fights and killing stuff was just another day in the life for a little boy. I am rather ashamed to admit it but from the ages of six to eleven I was Attila the Hun to the entirety of the Animal Kingdom.

We even fought amongst ourselves using such things as handmade spears, BB guns and rocks. I once knocked an older boy flat on his ass with a rock I threw from 20 yards. It hit him right between the eyes.

We were all terrible little savages. I went on my first 3 day camping expedition with my two best friends, Jim Wilson and Jerry Cook, when we were just eight years old. We spent 3 glorious unsupervised days and nights camped on 5 Mile Creek near Harbor Springs; right on Lake Michigan. We had our BB guns, sheath knives, and enough matches to have burned down everything between us and the Mackinaw Bridge. But when we broke camp the trees were still standing and not one of us had managed to lose as much as an eye.

I ended up buying a Browning 300 Winchester Mag in stainless steel with a composite stock. Sighting it in that summer I discovered that it positively hurt to shoot that thing. The only other rifle that caused me pain was shooting Jeff Albrecht’s Marlin 44 Mag. He was a big guy and he laughed when I handed the rifle back to him and refused to shoot it anymore.

The debate then became at what range could I take down an 800 pound elk with that cartridge? Another Intel colleague collected Sako’s; an expensive brand of Finnish rifles. He participated in a couple of message boards to which he posted my question. The answers that came back were mostly sissified. Not more than 200 yards was the typical answer. Anything further risked wounding a magnificent creature.

As a little kid I had once shot a crow out of the top of a tree at a hundred yards with an open sight twenty-two. That was the same summer that I went through a case of .22 long rifles in a month; those thousand rounds were supposed to have lasted all summer. My grandfather was not pleased. So anyway, I reckoned if the 300 Winchester Mag shot flat to 200 yards then with the proper scope I felt that 400 – 500 yards was doable.

We spent the night somewhere in Utah and got up early the next morning to make the final 500 miles into northern Colorado. When we got there I was rather unhappy to find out that we’d be renting horses. If there was anything that I liked less than a horse, it was a rented horse. We were going to be hunting between eight and nine thousand feet so that high up, Ed explained, we were going to need horses. That was really something I would have liked to have known before I left California. Riding a rented horse is one thing but being responsible for it was an entirely different matter. Getting out of a warm sleeping bag at dark-thirty to feed and water a horse every morning for 5 days was personally a painful proposition. Then to saddle and bridle the beast and mount it in the freezing cold with a heavy rifle strapped across my back made each successive morning a less than look forwarded to event.

We’d ride every day in different directions for a couple of hours scouting and looking for good places to hunt. One afternoon coming back my horse stumbled crossing a creek and went to its knees. I thought, ‘This is just great. I am going to end up upside down under this clumsy horse with a broken back because I got this damn rifle strapped across me’.

The hunt ended safely and successfully. I neither shot an elk nor even saw one. I had one of those existential moments miles from camp where I envisioned having killed one of the beasts only to confront the specter of having to then deal with 800 pounds of inert steaming meat. Sometimes success turns out to be the exact opposite of what you initially reckoned it to be.

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