Worth The Wait
By Brandi Butler
I was sitting on top of a hill with my .300 steadily resting on my bipod as I tried to calm my breathing. My husband was next to me, and my dad was up the hill behind me. The bull’s blond butt was in my scope, and his head was down as he grazed. The next couple minutes felt longer than the years it took me to get to this moment. Thankfully, I have had hunting to teach me patience repeatedly. It was Mark Twain who said, “All good things arrive unto them that wait -- and don’t die in the meantime.” When you have been hunting elk for 20+ years and you have never harvested a bull, you start to take the second half of the quote more seriously.
When I was younger, deer and antelope hunting was my thing. Although I went elk hunting each year, my memories are centered around worrying my toes would fall off in the Montana winters. My favorite part was my conversations with my dad in the truck while he warmed up my feet and I sipped hot chocolate. As I got older, I enjoyed elk hunting more. Some of my favorite hunts were when my grandpa would come up from Kansas to hunt with us. I will always remember our last hunt together where my grandpa talked about his years as a lineman. My grandpa was there for my first deer when I was 12. Eventually, he became too old to hunt, but I wanted to harvest a bull before he passed. Unfortunately, I didn’t accomplish that goal. He passed away before my daughter, Emmeline, was even one. I had been bound and determined each year since to harvest a bull in his honor.
I’ve been fortunate enough to continue my bull elk journey with my dad. I have since found two more hunting partners – my husband, Ryan Butler, and my father-in-law, Bill Butler. This year, we drew a party tag five hours from home. I knew this was the year I would get a bull elk.
I reluctantly left my daughter with my mom. She tags along for turkey hunting but wasn’t ready for Montana elk hunting terrain or weather. As many hunting moms know, having kids takes away your time in the mountains and it’s easy to end up always putting family first. However, I knew I wanted to set an example for her as a huntress, and with this tag, I was going to make it happen.
Ryan, “the Dads,” and I set up camp before opening day of rifle season. Opening weekend was very disappointing. We hunted several days but ultimately decided we were wasting our time off work until the weather changed. Thankfully, the Dads were both retired and could keep an eye on things until Ryan and I could return.
Ryan and I came back late the next Friday night. My dad, Ryan, and I walked over an hour in the dark the next morning. We were going to where the Dads had seen a herd of bulls the other day. When it was almost shooting time and daybreak began, we walked up the hill we thought they would be over. I thought I smelled elk but no. After some slow stalking and some sidehilling, it only took about 20 minutes for us to find the herd of bulls we were looking for. We dropped to the ground in excitement. The wind was howling and we were too far away to even think about shooting. Ryan hurried to dig out his spotting scope. The three of us agreed that we had found a monster elk.
We had to back up and follow the tree line closer to the elk. We spent the next hour trying to not get caught out in the open. Although we got within 450 yards, we wanted to get closer to ensure we weren’t missing any other monsters as we had two tags to fill. We backed up to follow another tree line that lead right to the herd. When we got closer, they were gone. As we walked the tree line to find them, I had doubts and thought we may have spooked them. Then something in my mind changed. I knew that with the three of us there and with the wind in our favor, this was going to happen. It also occurred to me how badly I wanted this to happen. I knew I would harvest a bull elk, not in honor of my grandpa or to make my dad and husband happy or to set an example for my daughter, but for me. Of course, the other things are perks.
We continued up the tree line. We had to walk through an open, grassy field in the roaring wind, and it led us to a deep gulch. We slowly walked up to see below, and to my surprise, there were elk! I got in position with some cover as two raghorns walked up the opposite side of us. Two more young bulls came out, but we knew there were other bulls in the herd. My dad scooted up the hill to the right to see further down and spotted a couple of mature bulls. He waved us up the hill. My dad had spotted a monster bull. He was making his way down the gulch but went behind some timber and out of sight. Ryan and I snuck over the gulch further to the right knowing full well the younger bulls may catch us.
We crawled across the rocky terrain until we saw the monster bull 170 yards away. I set up my rifle, in awe at how close we were to so many bulls. This is where I found myself sitting on a hill with a giant bull elk in my scope.
The wind cut through my clothes, cooling me off from the sweaty two-hour stalk. I sat with my rifle on its bipod as the grass waved around me. I could smell the elk, the pines, and the fresh air. I took deep breaths and waited patiently for the elk to get in a position for a good shot. Everything around me became silent. In a matter of seconds, I knew he could scare off into the trees to my left or run up the narrow gulch ahead of him and be gone. He finally turned broadside but stepped behind a huge bush. I began to get nervous that I was about to lose him. I could see the top of his back and could tell where his shoulder was behind the bush.
My breathing picked up when my husband said, “You can shoot through that bush if you think you have a good shot.”
I took more deep breaths and realized this bull was mine. I was so prepared for this moment. I breathed in. I couldn’t wait any longer, so I breathed out slightly and squeezed the trigger. I hit him! He ran up the hill and stopped. He was clearly about to fall as his legs were giving out, but I shot again as I was not losing this guy. He then went down. Ryan yelled and threw his arms in the air. My dad was suddenly there, and they were both hooting and hollering. I hugged and thanked them. I walked down the steep, rocky hill to the bull alone. With watery eyes, I said, “Thank you.” In this moment, I was truly grateful not only for the elk, but for the hunt, for family, and for the huntress I am.
My dad, Ryan, and I quartered the elk and packed out what we could for our first two and a half-mile trip out. It was muddy, and we had to stop constantly to scrape off the thick layers of mud and grass stuck to our boots. After crossing the water a couple times, walking way too close to steep embankments that could break a leg, and one last uphill climb, we got a hold of Bill and were thrilled to know he was available to go in with us for the second pack out. With the Dads and Ryan’s help, we were able to finish getting him out just as it was getting dark. I savored those hours with those guys as I know those moments don’t come often. If I’m lucky, I’ll get another one in another 20+ years.