I have been a sport shooter, firearms instructor and president of an 800-member gun club in Colorado and none of my experience prepared me for my first elk hunt. Other than the fact that I can safely handle a firearm, I was not properly prepared and it was entirely my fault.
Russ Lambert of Colorado Outfitters was my guide for my first successful hunt and subsequent hunts. Luckily on my first hunt Russ had posted me up and I had all the time in the world to get my buck in my sights and wait for the perfect broadside shot. I kept him in my scope and tracked each step he took all the while trying to gather my wits and stop my hands from shaking. I had those first-hunt adrenaline shakes and couldn’t steady my rifle but eventually I reminded myself to breathe and as soon as he was broadside, I squeezed the trigger and got a perfect 120-yard shot through the lungs. I was spoiled. People hunt for years and never understand what feels like a lifetime to track their target in their scope. I did and completely took it for granted.
The following year Russ took me for my first elk hunt and instructed me to not only prepare physically, but prepare mentally. He repeatedly instructed me to, “get into your scope, get into your scope.” He explained that I should have my rifle next to me when I’m home and randomly pick it up and get into my scope. Obviously I was to remove the bolt to maintain safety but the drill was to get into the habit of picking up my rifle and getting into the scope.
I knew the Rocky Mountains, the rugged terrain and what 10,000 feet of altitude can do to my body. I had exercised, built some strength, and was ready for the demands of high country hiking. I knew my rifle was dead set at 100 yards and how to adjust for distance, drop and conditions. But, I had only gotten into my scope a couple times. I thought my elk hunt would be like my buck hunt and I figured I’d have all the time in the world.
Three bulls appeared and Russ whispered, “They’re all legal, take your shot.” I fumbled to get into my scope and the instructor and responsible hunter in me said not to shoot because I couldn’t quite center my sights for the perfect shot and in what felt like the longest slow motion play, all three bulls sauntered down the hillside and disappeared.
I would have been prepared for the shot had I gotten off the bench and practiced shooting from different positions as Russ had advised. Instead I returned home to a crying five-year old who asked how we were going to survive without food. I explained mom would get an antelope and I promised I would provide for my children and vowed to never again ignore my guide’s advice.
By Lydia Lerma
Special to the
NWCO Hunting Guide
Photo of Lydia Lerma
courtesy of Colorado Outfitters.