My last blog described an elk hunt with General Chuck Yeager where he gave me his rifle. In order to keep the blog from becoming too lengthy, I omitted a profound incident that deserves to be told.
In the blog, I indicated that it took three shots to down a bull elk, but I didn't elaborate on what happened between that last shot and actually locating the expired animal. To me, it was eerie and bizarre, and I'll never fully understand it. I saw the bull lurch slightly at the shot. I never heard the bullet hit, as is often the case, perhaps because he was a long way away. But I thought I heard a crashing sound in the brush after he ran out of sight. When my guide, Karl, and I went to the spot where the bull was standing when I fired the last shot, we found no trace of a hit. For an hour we literally crawled around, and never saw a drop of blood or hair. For another hour we walked around, searching the area in grid-like fashion. Then we extended the search area for several hundred yards out, looking in every possible place for the downed bull. Then back to where the elk originally stood, and then more searching. Nothing. Karl was standing in the timber a couple yards above me when I fired and didn't see the bull. He was convinced I'd missed. I couldn't explain the lurch, and talked myself into believing that the bullet hit just under him and he reacted by jumping slightly, or the bullet hit just over him and his reaction was to duck. Or, more believably, I grazed him. I was satisfied with the search. We left no stone unturned, so to speak. We'd done everything humanly possible to locate the animal. Frustrated and disappointed, we decided to give it up. Nothing more could be done.
Karl hiked up the timbered slope and I followed. We'd climbed a quarter mile when suddenly I had a powerful sense of urgency to go back and look again. An invisible force struck me and beckoned me to try one more time. I don't know if it was a sixth sense of extrasensory perception, or what. But it was there. It could not be denied or refused. Suddenly I knew. There was no doubt. The bull was dead. My brain recalled the shot. I saw the bull react, I heard him crash to the ground. He was there, waiting for me.
I shouted to Karl and told him I was going back, that the bull was dead. He must have thought I'd gone mad. I didn't wait to see if he'd follow, but ran blindly down the mountain. I reached the spot where the bull was standing. I was covered with goose bumps. A bizarre force was guiding me onward. I ran directly to the dead bull, lying dead 80 yards from where he stood when I fired. He had collapsed in a small batch of spruces in a deep hole. He was lying on his belly, and the boughs had swung back over him. He was hidden from view, with just a couple tips of his antlers lying above the brush. I was astonished, overwhelmed, emotional. We had walked past that bull a dozen times. I couldn't figure out why we didn't smell him, not from decay after death but because a rutting bull has a natural odor that's usually easily discernible.
I was speechless from what had just happened. There was no explanation for the force that pulled me like a magnet to the bull. Had that force not occurred, the bull would have gone undiscovered, and I would rethink that scenario a million times later on, wondering if I really hit that elk or not.
Soon afterward, Chuck Yeager returned with me and my guide to help pack out the bull. That night, as I indicated in my last blog, he gave me his Weatherby rifle around the campfire. A couple months later, I took the Weatherby on a mule deer hunt in west Texas with my good friend, Murry Burnham. Murry was one of my mentors who taught me much about predator calling, turkey hunting, and rattling for whitetails. I looked up to him with reverence. The man was one of my heroes. Murry had invited actor Rick Schroder on the hunt. Rick had just finished filming Lonesome Dove on a nearby ranch just prior to our hunt. At the time, Rick, known as Ricky when he appeared in early shows, was in his early 20s.
We split up. and I worked my way along a ridge. Suddenly I heard a clatter in the rocks in the draw below me, and I saw a nice muley buck running up the other side. He stopped once, offering a shot at 150 yards. There was a big cactus bush between me and the deer and I had to hold the rifle at a severe angle to make the shot. I'll never forget what happened when I squeezed the trigger. The magnum roared, and I instantly felt severe pain. I was scope bit! Bad. The scope on the Weatherby knocked me silly, and gouged a hole atop my nose. I was wearing contacts at the time, and the recoil blew the contact out of my right eye where it landed on my eyelid. Blood streamed down my face. So there I was, bleeding like a stuck pig and half blind, feeling stupid. But I still had the matter of looking for the buck. Because of the explosion in my face, I never saw a reaction to the bullet. For all I knew, he dropped like a rock at the shot. Or I could have missed. I managed to get the contact back in my eye, and stumbled across the draw. There lay my buck. It was a good news, bad news scenario. Good news that I got the buck, bad news that I had to go back to the hunting cabin with a bloody face and the embarrassment that went along with that dumb move on my part. With any luck, Murry and Rick wouldn't be there, and I'd be able to wash my face. But it didn't happen. They stared at me in horror as I opened the door. When they realized I wasn't hurt badly, and suffered a bite from my scope, we all had a good laugh. Of course, I blamed it on the rifle. Of course. It was the first time I'd ever been scope bit, and I figured eventually it would happen.
That evening, we went coyote hunting. Murry drove a vehicle while Rick and I stood in the truck bed. It was dark, and an unseen wire that was stretched across the gate caught Rick over the eye. He wasn't hurt much, but needed a bandage to cover the cut. As it turned out, we both wore bandages over our right eyes.
Some months later, I chatted with Chuck Yeager's son, Don, about the Weatherby that his dad had given me. Don laughed and recounted a story about Chuck taking a shot with that rifle at a black bear. It was a long shot, Chuck had a rest on a rock, and he was so relaxed that when he squeezed the trigger, the scope nailed him soundly. A scope-bit Chuck Yeager! Don said that Chuck wasn't very happy. He'd done enough bleeding in enough wars in enough plane crashes. I couldn't help but smile when Don told me that news. I guess that being scope bit by Chuck's rifle that also whacked him makes for an even better memory.
And, by the way, most of my life I'd heard about a Weatherby scar. The term implied the usual half-moon scar administered by the scope atop a Weatherby. I was now living proof that the term was not coined in vain.
And, I'm also living proof that you can't look hard enough for an animal you shot at. If you don't find it, keep on looking. And then keep on looking some more.