It Almost Didn't Happen
By Brad Shurtliff, Hunters: Bryler and Easton Shurtliff
ID, Elk, Black Bear
As draw results began to post early in the year, I quickly realized that 2018 could prove to be quite the year for our two boys, Easton and Bryler. In our home state of Idaho, our boys, ages 13 and 14, had managed to each draw spring bear, early elk, and late deer tags. While the boys celebrated their coveted tags, dad was wondering how he was going to pull this one off.
Their spring bear hunt on the west side of the state gave us some great family experiences. We enjoyed some absolutely beautiful country and great times with family and friends. We chased bears for a total of six days with both boys filling their tags. With the bear hunt behind us, we quickly transitioned to scouting mode. We knew their deer area pretty well, so we decided to focus our efforts on elk.
As the summer played out, our trail cameras, early morning hikes, and all-day horse rides had produced little to get us excited about. Late in July on a camera that had been placed in a rather odd location, we caught a bull that got our attention. We knew he was something special simply because of his character. He was an 8x8 that appeared to be very heavy. We knew this bull would be good, but we weren’t quite sure if he was the great bull we were after. He was rather camera shy as we had a hard time locating him as we neared the season. We had not been able to see this bull in real life, but his pictures were certainly impressive.
As opening day arrived, we found ourselves in an area close to where we had found the 8x8. We knew that this area was good, but we had not found the 8x8 or anything else that got us too excited. We hunted hard every day that week with little to show for it. As we neared the weekend, we had found a good 6x6 bull that took us into a different area. We were really close to sealing the deal on this bull on Friday when we got caught in a storm that took our visibility and our chance at him away from us. As the day progressed, the storm moved out and we were able to get back into the area that we thought this bull called home.
Around two hours before dark, a friend called to tell us he had found quite a few cows at the top of the canyon. As we snuck within range of the herd, they began to mill around. Finally, the bull showed himself, and to our surprise, it was a mature 5x5. We had not seen this bull before. As nice as he was, he just wasn’t what we were after at that point. With the 6x6 presumably close by, we decided to back out and not disrupt the herd and the canyon.
Fast forward to Wednesday morning. The boys had the day off of school as it was the general deer hunt opener. We had hunted nearly every day of the season to this point, and with rain that had moved in the night before, it was hard to get the boys motivated to get out of bed at 4:00 that morning. With a quick weather check, I could see that the storm was likely to move out, but when I went to check on the boys, they had gone back to sleep! I dragged them out of bed and discussed the scenario with them. To my surprise, they wanted to go back to bed. This was out of character for them, so I was surprised. With 10 exhausting days under our belts, I actually couldn’t blame them for feeling that way. I explained to them that days like this were considered prime time. With fresh rain and snow overnight, it had been my experience that of all days, we needed to be on the mountain today. However, with all of my encouragement, they still wanted to scratch the morning hunt. After a few minutes of grumbling and fussing, I just couldn’t take it anymore. I flipped on their lights and informed them that their options today consisted of what hunting clothes they wanted to wear but going back to bed wasn’t on the menu. After my impromptu motivational speech, we were headed out the door.
We found eight inches of new snow on top of the mountain that morning. Our plan was to head into the area that the large 5x5 and 6x6 were living in. As we made our way around the head of several canyons, we heard a faint bugle towards the bottom. We quickly headed off the hill, hopeful that we would find the big 6x6 or even the 5x5. The boys had been disappointed that we had passed on the 5x5 because we hadn’t turned up anything comparable since that last Friday. As we closed in on the area where we thought we had heard the bugle, we found several cows and a few satellite bulls that had been with the big 6x6 a few days earlier. As we watched them at 400 yards, hopeful for the big bull to walk out, Easton announced that he had found a moose. With the herd feeding in front of us, I pulled out my spotting scope to see Easton’s bull moose. When I got the scope located on the bull, I saw that it wasn’t a bull moose, it was the 8x8! He was 1,200 yards below us and across the canyon. We watched him for a few minutes, and elk started to funnel over the hill from behind him. As we watched the large herd come over the hill, we could see another mature bull bringing up the rear. It was the 5x5. I couldn’t believe that we had these two bulls on the same hillside. With two tags in our pockets and two anxious boys, the hunt was on.
With the newly fallen snow, we quietly made our way down the mountain towards the herd. As we got within range and the boys got set up to shoot, the fog rolled in and completely took the elk from our view. We anxiously waited for about 30 minutes when the fog finally lifted and we found the bulls that we were after. We only had one gun with us that day because of the slick conditions, so it was going to make for an interesting show once the first shot rang out. It had been decided that Easton would get first shot on elk, so as the shot presented itself, he claimed the 8x8. Immediately, Bryler jumped behind the gun and waited patiently as the 5x5 began to circle cows up to move them off. It wasn’t long before he presented a shot and Bryler dropped him in his tracks. It was hard to comprehend, but the boys had just killed two great bulls within a few yards of each other.
We made our way over to the bulls and stood over them. We were stunned. The 5x5 turned out to be a little better than we had originally thought, and the 8x8 was breathtaking. The trail camera pictures had not done him justice. When we were actually able to put our hands on him, we realized just how big he was. Knowing how special this was, the boys and I worked for quite a while to get the two bulls lying next to each other. It made for some once-in-a-lifetime pictures.
We have been truly blessed to be able to pursue these and other great animals. It is always so humbling to see something come together with no real explanation. The three of us hunted hard for these great trophies, and they will grace our walls to remind us of the hunt and the stories. More important than that are the lifelong memories that a dad got to make with his boys as we enjoyed some of God’s most amazing creations together.
Easton was able to seal the deal on a nice buck a few weeks later. Unfortunately, through a few crazy chains of events, Bryler wasn’t able to connect on a nice 4x4 that we had watched and waited on for nearly three hours. It must not have been meant to be. Regardless, it was pretty hard to get the smiles off our faces. It had been a great year.