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It arrived in the mail! For years, I had been waiting for it—a permit to the Cypress Hills elk hunt in Alberta.

The next evening, I banded together my hunting partners to organize everything. First, build a new trailer to carry such a huge beast home should we be successful. Second, obtain the hunt area topographical maps, and third, scout out the hunting area prior to the hunt.

We arrived two days before our turn at the hunt. The scouting weather was warm and sunny. The local farmers and game officers showed us where the elk were feeding, but because the draw hunt had been going on for several days before our turn, the animals now remained in the heavy timber of the park during the day and were unapproachable. They only moved and fed in the dark. However, some of the returning animals were occasionally spotted in the open areas after daybreak, depending on the weather conditions. An early morning stand-hunt appeared to be our only chance.

We decided to position ourselves one-half to one-third of a mile apart in a line extending from the southern border of the park, where the herd was feeding, to the timber of the first major hills to the north. We felt that the hunters closest to the cultivated fields would have the best chance.

We flipped coins to see who would win the best stand location. My position was to be about a mile in from the park border, with two companions south of me and one to my right in the north. We made our stands in the dark, at the edge of the timber overlooking the grassy fields to the south and west. For some reason, I was not comfortable crouched behind a big tree. I felt uneasy and unsure of myself. There wasn’t any adjacent game trail and a fire road was in front of me, although no travel by vehicle was allowed in this area until 10:00 am.

The old buffalo wallow John made his shot from.
I took a chance, left the cover of the timber, and slowly walked into the open. It was going to be risky but I had a hunch I would find an area of concealment. Suddenly, I heard the whistling of a large number of elk ahead of me. Immediately, I dropped on my belly in the short grass and listened. I could hear their hoof beats and whistling calls but I couldn’t tell how far away they were. The commotion seemed to be advancing towards me but suddenly they stopped. I knew they couldn’t see me but my scent may have spooked them. Rolling over on by back and looking in the direction I had come from, I saw the source of concern. A hunter was walking along the edge of the trees on the fire road, with a bright flashlight in his hand, oblivious to what was going on. I remained motionless and waited. After what seemed to be an eternity, but which later turned out to be a blessing, the hunter moved around a bend and his flashlight disappeared. The elk immediately began whistling and moving.

I slowly inched my way on all fours towards the advancing herd. Then I felt a depression. Using my hands like the feelers of an insect, I surmised that I was now in a flat-bottomed crater about one-foot deep, roughly circular, with a diameter of about eight feet. This might give me enough cover for the approaching dawn.

I could hear the elk approaching while the sky slowly turned pink and orange. Feeling apprehensive, I thought the animals would now slip by me in the dark before I had chance for a shot. Then the tips of the high timber were illuminated by the sun. I peeked over the crest of my shallow foxhole. There, in front of me, were the distinct forms of a large herd.

They were still some distance away and I couldn’t differentiate a bull from a cow. Adrenalin surged through my body and my heart responded by pumping hard and loud. Beads of sweat rolled down my forehead. They weren’t going to stay in the open while sunlight was intensifying.

I kept my head down and my body close to the ground. The sound of their hooves and whistles moved from left to right. This meant they were now moving away—I ventured to bring my head up. With the sky now fully illuminated, I gasped when I saw six magnificent bull elk standing one-hundred yards from me. They were looking in the direction where the man with the flashlight had passed into the forest.

I maneuvered my .270 Winchester forward and eased a round into the chamber. Scanning with the scope, in the prone position, I noted that the largest bull, a five-pointer, was in the centre of the group. With the bright morning sun now glaring off my blaze-orange cap and jacket, their heads turned and they looked straight at me. I placed the crosshairs on the base of the neck of the largest bull and squeezed the trigger.

John Bachynski with his Cypress Hills bull elk.
The resounding roar of the rifle in the still-morning air echoed off the distant trees. The bull dropped! I got to my knees while the remaining bulls ran off at high speed. Behind them, a large herd of cows charged toward the nearest timber.

Walking up to the downed bull, I could not believe my good luck. The hunter who had passed behind me with the flashlight apparently had held the herd back from the direction they wanted to go. This delay allowed sufficient time for the sun to rise and permit me a shot.

Later, when I looked down into what I called my “foxhole”, I recognized it to be an old buffalo wallow, a depression created by the buffalo as they dusted themselves. This one was probably over 150 years old. Scouting the area previously for two days, I had never noticed this minute change in the topography.

Now, I do believe what many experienced hunters have said, “Being prepared gives you an edge, but luck is always the determining factor in a successful hunt. The right place at the right time.” In this instance, the external force of a guiding light was probably the difference.

These forces are, for me, what makes hunting appealing, interesting, and very addicting. ■

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