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Mamma Hits It Big

Sharleen ThornberryBy Russell Thornberry

-- It was about a year ago when my wife of 39 years asked me a most unusual question: "When am I going to get to shoot something really big?" She caught me off guard. Sharleen is, by her own admission, a fair-weather hunter who enjoys the out of doors as long as she doesn't have to suffer too much. She's taken several whitetails and a pretty darn nice Wyoming antelope, but she, like many wives and mothers, spent a lot of years tending the home fires while I was out hunting. Apparently she was looking for new horizons so I told her I'd take her elk hunting with me in Sept. 07. Within a few days prior to our departure a routine mammogram revealed what turned out to be breast cancer. Wow, what a crushing blow when the "C" word lands at your house. Fortunately it was caught early and her prognosis was good, even though it meant surgery and radiation at the least, and possibly chemo.

We spent a couple of days weak in the knees simply adjusting to our new reality and a surgery date was set for late September. All this happened just before we were scheduled for the elk hunt. Sharleen said, "Let's go for it," and so we did. We were in need of a diversion and what could be better than a trip to western Canada? Sharleen is from Alberta and so the trip was custom made for her.

Two days later we abandoned the sultry steam bath weather of Alabama for the crisp cool air of western Saskatchewan, which was filled with music of bugling bull elk. The aspens and cottonwoods were abandoning their summer green for the fluttering gold of autumn and it was good to be alive.

A day of scouting revealed several bulls emerging into a small grassy meadow in the late afternoon, so I built a ground blind in the edge of the aspens that offered us a favorable wind. I used camouflage netting combined with aspen boughs. The plan was to get in the blind by mid afternoon so Sharleen and I could watch the action and offer her a steady rest if a good bull showed up. It was a good plan except for the fact that there were bulls already in the meadow when we arrived, so we had to wait for them to make a move before we could do anything.

Finally the elk moved back into the timber but we could track their movement by the cacophony of their bugling. With an hour of daylight left, we were straight downwind of the elk with the wind in our faces and the sun at our backs - the perfect invitation for stalking through the aspens.

One cautious step at a time we moved through the timber, picking it apart with binoculars. After 30 minutes we could see another meadow ahead of us a couple hundred yards through the timber and there were elk in it. The plan was to stalk quietly from tree to tree until we could see if there was a good bull present, then try to set up for a shot. The plan was working out well until we arrived at the base of a steep little hill. I decided to do a little recon crawl to the top and peek over into the meadow. Just below the brow of the hill I got a big surprise. There was a bull bedded not even 30 yards ahead of me, but thankfully he had his back to me as he watched over the other elk in the meadow like a sentinel. I could see that he had tall antlers, but with his back directly to me I couldn't tell much about his points. I held my breath as I cautiously backed down the hill to report the news to Sharleen. Light was growing dim and shooting light was fading so we devised plan B, which was to crawl slowly through the draw on the rear right side of the bull in hopes of getting a better angle to view his antlers. No sooner had we begun our sneaky little move than the bull stood up and started thrashing a sapling in front of him. I knew in a heartbeat that he was an incredible bull, but there was too much brush in the way for Sharleen to get a shot.

He began working his way along the edge of the timber, fighting aspens and alders with his antlers. He was moving straight away from us, so each time he committed to thrashing a tree, we edged a step or two closer and the sun settled on the horizon. After 10 more minutes of tiptoeing and sneaking from tree to tree, we were within 50 yards of the bull, but he continued to face straight away from us. I told Sharleen to lean against a tree and steady her rifle. Now the wait was on. As the bull continued to demolish saplings and small trees the air grew thick with anticipation and finally the bull began to turn but there was a single aspen right in front of his ribs. Sharleen stood agonizing still with her rifle trained on the bull and at last he inched forward opening up a clear view of his ribs. I nodded at Sharleen and she fired. The bull faltered and went down, never taking a step.

The moment was jubilant and we each caught a big breath for the first time in a half hour. We were 42 yards from the bull when she shot. As we approached the huge animal Sharleen was astounded at his size, and for good reason. It grossed 390. I could only groan, with delight, of course. 

Since then Sharleen has undergone her surgery and has a clean bill of health and a bull elk to retire on. She is particularly proud of the fact that her elk bettered my best bull by a cool 30 inches!

For additional information about booking elk hunt with Spirit of the North Trophy hunts for elk and whitetails call (334) 409-0574.

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