Field and Stream

An Improbable Elk


THREE HUNDRED YARDS away, visible through the trees, stood the bull we had been looking for. As he ripped up mouthfuls of sawgrass, everything seemed to move in slow motion. My guide Levi spoke in a raspy whisper: “This is it. Wait until he moves out of the trees and then take him.”

It was a clean shot, and just within range. The bull came out of the trees and posed in perfect mug-shot profile. I steadied the rifle, and for once my hands were not shaking.

I put my eye to the scope and inhaled. I clicked the safety off. It would take only an instant to squeeze the trigger. Then: a violent explosion, and we would assess the shot. The bull would be down or he would be running; the bullet would have done its mortal damage or it would have wounded him, and the tracking would begin. I would have set the process of killing in motion, and then I would have to finish it off. This is what I came here to do.

The bull raised his head and looked around. I imagined the impact of the bullet: the animal’s body crumpling. Next to me, Levi tensed.

Another breath, another exhalation. Another adjustment to the scope magnificat­ion. The shot was there. But something wasn’t right. Somewhere between my head, my heart, and my trigger finger, there was a blockage. I lowered the gun.

Levi looked confused. “He’s going to move farther out of the trees,” he whispered. “He’s moving.”

Above us the sky was a seamless expanse of blue. For a week I had been searching and hoping for this shot, this animal, this moment. For months I had practiced so when it arrived, I wouldn’t blow it. For years I had wondered what it would feel like to hunt. And here at the edge of the experience, I had lost my nerve.

I turned to Levi, and now I was shaking. “It’s over.”

“You’re going to get a better shot,” he said.

“No, I’m done.”

December 2006–January 2007

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