By Bill Hays
This is a story about my youngest daughter, Heather, who has been the luckiest person I know regarding special hunt draws in California. When she was old enough to have her name placed into the California lottery, she was drawn for a northern California special junior hunt. She took a 22-inch 3 by 3 mule deer on her very first hunt.
Then, the next year, both my daughters and I put in for the same area for the special hunt, and were drawn again. Heather was the only one to take a deer, a 4 by stub mule deer. We believe that the other side must have been injured while the buck was in velvet. Both hunts were on public land in northern California.
Then, nothing for a couple of years, until the 2007 draw results came along, and, you guessed it, Heather was the only one in the family to be drawn. And this time, it was not a buck tag, but an elk tag for the fifth-period Owens Valley cow elk hunt. I couldn’t believe it. I’ve been putting in for elk tags for as long as I can remember, and have never even come close to being drawn.
The next task was to find a place for her to hunt. I used to hunt near Bishop with my mom and dad years ago, but that was for mule deer. The first person I called was my hunting partner, Chris, to tell him the good news. He had some good news for Heather and me. He knew someone who worked in Bishop who might find a place to hunt.
Chris’ friend, Joe, knew a rancher who agreed to set us up for the elk hunt on his property. Two weeks before the hunt, we agreed to meet each other a couple of hours before sunup on opening morning.
Now we had to get to Bishop, and that was not going to be easy. Heather was the captain of her high school soccer team, and they had a game that ended at 7:30 p.m. the night before the hunt. Following the game, we had to run home so Heather could make sure that her all of her college applications, she sent off the prior night, were confirmed. That was a good call, since one did not make it! After I had the truck packed and she had her application resent, were we off. It was 9 p.m. and we had a nine-hour drive to Bishop and a meeting with Ronnie at 4:30 a.m.
It was a long night. We made it to Bishop at 4:00 a.m., checked into the hotel, set the alarm for 4:30 and had a quick nap. Ronnie gave us a call right on time, and we made plans to meet a couple of miles down the road.
We met Ronnie, Bill (the other lucky tag holder) Westin and Nick. Before we could even introduce ourselves, Ronnie had Heather and Bill get ready to make a stalk on a herd of elk they’d spotted the previous evening.
We followed the hunters into an empty corral and watched them make a stalk down the side of the fence line as the sun started to peek over the mountains. Beyond the hunters were elk in the far pasture. There must have been a hundred head or more.
We waited for about an hour as the bulls and cows fed closer, and then a shot rang out from somewhere nearby. When another shot was fired 30 minutes later, the elk moved out of the pasture and headed to the open valley.
When Heather and Bill finally returned, they said that they did not shoot. Later, we found out that a hunter down the road fired at a cow. The third lucky tag holder out of five was hunting near us. We moved back to the trucks to talk over the plan for the next stalk, while Ronnie went to see if the other shooter needed any help.
Not sure of what to do, we decided to go up and see what was going on with the other hunter. When we arrived, the hunter was looking for his elk with Ronnie, so we started to discuss our new game plan. Just then, we looked up the road to see a small herd of elk crossing. Our third hunter, looking for his elk, must have spooked them.
With elk standing in the road just 200 yards from us, the hunt was on! We all jumped intoNick’s truck to close the distance. It looked like another fruitless stalk when, for some reason, the elk turned and started walking back toward us.
Heather turned to me and asked which one she should take. I told her to pick a medium-sized cow. When the herd was within about 150 yards, Heather made the shot. All we could see was dust flying everywhere. One shot, one elk down for this lucky lady, and it was only opening morning!Bill was also able to take a cow from this group.
Heather and I were prepared to pack out her elk meat piece by piece, but Ronnie offered to take it to the ranch. With a four-wheeler at hand, we loaded the cows, and off to the ranch we went.
We followed them to the ranch, where we used a backhoe as a winch, and, before we knew it, the elk were cleaned, quartered and bagged. Ronnie even invited us to join him for a fresh lamb dinner. What a wonderful way to end a great hunt.
As we were working on Heather’s elk, we noticed that it had some very nice ivory teeth. I have taken two elk and still have not been lucky enough to have ivory teeth in either of them. The lucky lady keeps getting luckier.