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Elk – 4, Butler – 0 … Or Is It

By Karen Butler

Last year, I went on my 4th elk hunt.  I was hopeful this would be the year that I filled my freezer with tasty elk meat, provided by my hard work and experience of a lifetime … however, once again, it didn’t work out as planned. I came home without any elk meat.  So, my score so far: Elk – 4, Butler – 0.

Or, is it?
I am a big proponent of the experience of the hunt, but this year before I departed I was more concerned with the outcome. Success, this hunt, would be an elk, and the experience would only be “worth it” if I achieved that goal.  This feeling I had as I prepared and began my hunt was contrary to everything that I talk to people, particularly women, about.  I will tell ladies that although cliché, the experience of hunting is cathartic, and the peace and strength you find in yourself while hunting is as rewarding as the harvest.  I know, my newly found attitude this year was quite hypocritical, but in being honest, it is exactly how I felt going into day one of the hunt. 

On day 1 of a 5-day hunt, after climbing to nearly 7,000 feet on extremely steep grade, seeing deer and elk without them seeing me, it occurred to me, I wanted an elk, but the experience was pretty awesome. I struggled in an internal battle with myself to stay focused on the outcome, while my definition of success was being tested.  Webster’s defines success as the “correct or desired result of an attempt.”  However, what exactly was I attempting?  “To get an elk with my bow, yes, that is what success was,” is what I kept telling myself.  However, the more accomplished I felt, the more I started thinking about the … well, you know … “experience”. 
The experience won, and although I still wanted an elk, it was not my definition of success.  Success would be measured in the experience of the attempt.  I learned this trip, hunting is the attempt, and success for me was measured in seeing animals, and they not see us; in climbing and hiking to breath taking views; in the experience of opportunity; in the quiet time for self-reflection; in friendships; and in the ability to give Glory to God for all that He provides.  
My “Super Guide,” Miranda Browne, from Upper Canyon Outfitter’s, will tell you, “To get an elk, you have to go where they are.”  In Montana, in the Ruby Valley, that means you are hiking – up steep, rugged and rocky terrain high into the mountains.  Day 1 out of the gate, I did that.  As a result of my hard work, every day I was treated to views!  I took video and pictures of the scenery, each day we climbed a bit higher, and a bit farther.  Totaling the entire week’s hikes, we hiked about 8,000 feet (1,500 to 2,000 feet a day), and hiked a total of about 45 miles on a maximum grade of 37 degrees (according to my range finder). 
This hunt had one of those amazing days of opportunity, a day you read about in magazines, a day that creates that addiction to continue to hunt, no matter how extreme the conditions and regardless of a harvest.  Miranda and I set out on an easy hike, as we were walking in, we smelled it, “Elk!”  She gave me the motion, and we quickly set up.  Now this was only a ½ hour into our day, she cow called and the bull started bugling.  I quickly nocked an arrow, and was ready.  We saw the bull moving around, but he didn’t look like a shooter.  We waited for a while, and then continued our hike.  Not more than another hour into our hike, we saw three cow elk, moving through the woods.  We froze, and they didn’t see us.  As we moved on, Miranda gave a bugle, and you guessed it, a bull bugled back.  We could not believe our luck, and we hiked to the top of the hill, and found a place to set up.   We had two bulls calling from different directions.  The excitement was intense.  We set up for a while, no luck.  As a side bar, during this day, while crawling under a fence…I learned that even if your phone is on silent, Siri still talks…and she suddenly said, “I’m sorry I can’t help you with that, let me connect you to the internet,”  “Yikes!  Shut up Siri”, of course “Super Guide” was just taking notes for things clients do…  I digress, back to the hunt!  We met up with my good friend Donna McDonald after lunch.  Donna owns Upper Canyon Outfitters, and she is a story all her own given her accomplishments.  We started walking through the mountains, and guess what…Cows!  Have you ever had some one yell at you in a complete whisper…I have, and it was the loudest most intense yell (without sound) I have ever heard, “Nock an Arrow, NOCK an arrow, NOCK AN ARROW!” Donna whisper-yelled at me, from the trail in front of me where she had dropped to the ground.  There was one cow, and she was about 60 yards from me.  Too far for my comfort of a hunting shot with my bow, so Miranda and Donna were calling her in. …then guess what, a bull bugled from the opposite direction.  “Oh Yeah” I thought.  The bull came charging up the ridge, and stopped in his tracks.  He sniffed a bit, and then turned on a dime, and left.  I still had chance at the cow, who was now on alert.  We were quiet, but she busted us (too) and left.  We move on.  No kidding, we heard another bull bugle.  So if you’re counting, that is 5 bulls heard, 2 seen (so far), and 4 cows seen in one day.  The day however was not over and we would see one more bull up close.  We kept moving towards the bull that was bugling.  Donna and Miranda decided that he was not going to leave his cows, so we moved to him.  When we got to him, we set up.  This set up was perfect, except we thought he would come from below to the left, and instead he came up and over the ridge directly in front of me.  I stood in complete motionless panic, as the bull walked directly towards me.  I had no idea what to do in this situation….”move”, no he would see me, “draw my bow”, no he would see me, “I know, I’ll suck my stomach in”, and that is exactly what I did, I got as close as I could to the tree I was standing by, and tipped my hat down, ever so slightly, so he would not see my eyes, and prayed that I would not get gored by this bull!  He came within 5 feet of me before he turned around, ran a bit, and stopped.  Here is where I really wanted to scream, he stopped, and there was a tree directly in front of half of his kill zone.  When he turned around, I was able to get to full draw, but only after stepping away from the tree, moving around a bit, and then settling into my shot.  So, I thought to myself, BRASS (Breath, Relax, Aim, Stop, Squeeze), as I settled into that shot, I had him at 35 yards, with half of his kill zone showing, I thought, “I can make this shot, I can make this shot”….then I thought, you can make that shot in perfect conditions of practice, you have adjusted your anchor several times, and the elk is behind a tree…I let down, so sad that I did not have what I considered an ethical shot, but excited that I just had an elk come 5 feet from me!  Seriously, 5 feet!  There is a video at
Don’t get me wrong, I felt disappointed that a clear and ethical shot eluded me this trip, but if I could repeat the entire experience, even knowing the outcome, I would. Next time, though, I plan to return to Montana and get an elk!
Karen Butler is the President of SLG2, Inc, DBA:  Shoot Like a Girl, a company dedicated to growing the number of women who confidently participate in shooting sports.  For more information about Karen, visit
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