Elk Whine and Coffee

By Justin Kirkpatrick

“Man, I could really go for a cup of coffee,” I whisper to my brother as the apparition of my breath slowly drifts down to our right. It’s early September in Colorado, and it’s cold out. Not so cold that your teeth will chatter, but cold enough that I’ve already given my longtime hunting partner plenty of shit for having to borrow my gloves after misplacing his, leaving me with my back-up merino wool fingerless pair.

“It’s still primetime, let’s wait a little bit longer before we break the coffee out,” my brother lightly replies. His charged muzzleloader lays to his left. We’re situated just under the crest of a gentle sloping ridge covered in deadfall that looks over a meadow draining to the creek in the canyon below. Up and to our left the landscape rolls into a tangle of dark timber, made up of evergreens left unburned by the wildfire that consumed most of this area just a few years prior. The sun has finally broken the horizon behind us chasing the gray morning light away and illuminating our surroundings with flickers of orange.

I put my cow elk call to my lips every few minutes and offer up a couple of whiny mews and cries, hoping that a nearby bull may wander our way with hopes of getting lucky. The bull I killed just a few days earlier had slowly drifted into our location, staying silent save the report of dead limbs colliding with his antlers.

I call sparingly over the next hour as we sit in silence. My ass goes numb against the cold Colorado ground. “I think I’m going to get the coffee going, it’s pretty much a surefire way to bring in a bull if he knows we’ll be distracted,” I quip to my brother’s approval. Fishing the stove out of my pack, I measure the water from my Nalgene, and light the burner. There’s a slight pause from when I turn on the gas to the time I get my lighter to spark, causing the buildup of isobutane to touch off and flash in the form of an orange cloud above the stove.

The whoosh of the flame’s ignition seems loud, but it will be lost amongst the early morning sounds of the woods coming to life. I continue to whine on the cow call, praying that any nearby elk aren’t as critical of my calling as I am. Killing the stove when the water begins to boil, I carefully pour the hot water into our enamel mugs, floating the miniature bags of coffee to the top as the water darkens. “Just watch,” I say, “in just a few minutes we’ll have a bull come down from that timber and you’ll have to put that coffee down to shoot him. Then we’ll finish our coffee and the rest is gravy.”

We take comfort in our hot drinks while I continue to chirp on my call. Crack… Crack… Crack… The sound of breaking limbs penetrates the cold and quiet morning air, coming steadily down from the dark timber above us.

I begin to offer up a consistent calling sequence, letting out casual mews but trying not to sound too desperate. The snapping of limbs continues; something is headed towards us.

“Don’t move,” my brother warns, “there’s a bull to our left, down in the meadow.” I raise my binoculars slowly. He’s less than a hundred yards away and he’s picking his way effortlessly through the tangled mass of standing and fallen burnt trees on our hillside. His big brown eyes search the slope for the beautiful cow I’m conjuring with my calling. I can see four distinct points on his right side, and his eye guards are well over the legal minimum.

I continue to call as this ghost of the mountain searches his way towards us. He’s under forty yards away, and headed straight for us. My brother finds a window to slowly raise his rifle as the bull’s eyes are shielded by standing trees. The bull continues to step towards us, finally stopping somewhere between thirty and forty yards.

I hear the light click of the hammer being locked into place. The bull is quartering towards us, he’s stopped in his tracks as he knows that something is amiss. “I’m not sure he’s going to give you a broadside shot, take him if you’re comfortable,” I say in the softest audible voice I can muster.

BANG! The white smoke bellows from the rifle, but not enough to obscure my view of the bull. I see the dimple of a bullet indentation in his brisket, perfectly placed between the inside of his lead leg and the center of his chest. The bull wheels around and trots away with a casual demeanor that wouldn’t suggest his heart was just eviscerated by a three-hundred grain chunk of copper. Within ten yards, he crashes to the ground amongst the deadfall. Lifting my binoculars, I watch his side rise and fall with his final breaths.

I give my brother several hearty slaps to his right shoulder as he turns to me and smiles. My brother carefully places the muzzleloader down. He picks up his half-finished coffee, lukewarm from the morning chill. “Well,” he says with a wry smile, “I suppose I’ll finish my coffee now.”

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