Day three came faster than any other day, and I was extremely excited because Donna was going out with Rocko and myself. I was excited to sit on the side of a mountain and catch up. We started out the day hunting the same range as the morning before. Once again, no elk nearby, but Rocko spotted them in the exact spot they were the previous day. We made a plan and started our hike. Straight up the mountainside we went. I felt great, though tired, my body and my mind had acquiesced to the reality that we were doing this. Donna had a hurt knee, and she still out hiked me. We hiked all the way to the top of the mountain we had seen the elk on the day before. I had the biggest sense of accomplishment to reach a spot where honestly not 24 hours earlier, I thought I physically and mentally could not get to. Victory was mine, but there were still no elk. They were gone. So, we hiked back down. We arrived to the side by side to head back to the ranch. There were mule deer everywhere. Of course, I had a big game combo, but we were in an area that needed a draw tag I didn’t have. Rocko stopped the Polaris and glassed the top of the mountain. He said, “Donna, look at the size of that one.” Before I could even get my binoculars up to my eyes, Donna yelled, “That’s a bull elk, get out, Get Out, GET OUT!”. 

I jumped out of the Polaris, ran to take a shot and chambered a round. The elk didn’t cooperate, he ducked down the other side of the mountain. Donna and Rocko yelled at me to run. I remember running, concentrating on keeping my gun pointed in a safe direction, and saying, “Gun is on safe!” The elk suddenly popped back to our side of the mountain, Rocko said, “Shoot him.” I knelt down, used my knee for support, went to squeeze the trigger, the gun was on safe. I took the gun off safe, guessed my yardage at 200 yards, and pulled the trigger. I didn’t hear it, but Rocko did and he told me, “Good hit.” The elk dropped on the backside of the mountain again, and we ran toward it. Once again, he reappeared, and I took another shot. I hit him in the leg with the second shot, and totally missed on the third shot. I had guessed he was now 400 yards away; in fact, he was 120 yards away; so, I shot over the top of him. We started sprinting up the mountain. My body and my mind were not thinking in terms of “I can’t”, but instead I was like a five-year-old whose Grandma gave him too much candy. We scaled to nearly the middle of the mountain before we heard Donna saying, “come on”. Having spent her life on these mountains, Donna wanted to get around the mountain for a better vantage point to see where the bull went. The leg shot actually helped identify him, because he was limping, and the elk was seen going onto private property. He was headed towards a herd of elk, but suddenly he broke away from them, and was staggering back and forth in the middle of a field. We had two factors to consider that night, we had to request permission to go on the property, and the private land had hunters on it, who might see and shoot my elk. At first, I thought “well that stinks”, but a friend explained it to me. He asked, “Karen, if you were hunting and saw a wounded animal, would you let it suffer or would you take it?” Well, every hunter I know would do the right thing and take it. The other thing that had completely escaped me, as I was hoping to get on the private land, was that it had turned to night. Even if we got on the land, if I needed to take a shot, it was well past shooting light. Jake called and got us permission to go in the next day, but not until after 10:00 a.m. in the morning, because they had hunters hunting there.

Back at Upper Canyon, I was exhausted. I felt a sickness in the pit of my stomach, repeating the days adventure and hoping the animal would be there in the morning and not be suffering. I ate a good dinner and fell asleep pretty quickly. Sleep didn’t last long, at 12:30 a.m., I woke up, worried to death about the outcome of this hunt. I did not want my hunting to be over, and I certainly didn’t want to lose an animal I had shot. I struggled to get my mind in the middle, and then an overwhelming urge came over me to pray. I pulled up my phone and read bible verses on worry and faith. I prayed that God would not let the animal suffer, that we would find him, and that no matter what the outcome, I would be thankful. Then I started wondering, what do elk do when they are shot. I started reading articles published by Outdoor Life and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation on elk hunting. I found one written by my friend, Dr. Wayne VanZwoll. He wrote that elk were some of the toughest creatures. He stated when shot, elk will flinch (Rocko had told me the elk did that), even with a good shot, elk might circle back and look at you, wondering what just happened (this elk did that too), and he pointed out that an elk about to expire will separate themselves from the herd (this elk did that too). I felt confident that we would find the bull the next morning. I still didn’t sleep much that night.

The next morning, Rocko and I were out at sunrise, glassing the field on private land. I felt like it was my duty to keep looking the only way we could at the time. When 10:00 a.m. finally came, we entered the private property. We walked a long way down a fence line looking for any sign of the elk. We found nothing. I walked off to the other side of the fence. I was getting discouraged, but the bible readings came back to me. I prayed to God again, and I promised I would be thankful no matter what the outcome. I think that is the hardest thing to do, is to praise God when times are tough, but that is the true definition of faith. In all honesty, keeping things in perspective, this hunt is really not tough at all. I felt truly thankful. I walked back to Rocko. Jake and Donna had come to help look. Rocko told me to get in the side by side with Jake and go to the opposite fence line and look for sign. We started off, and not 20 feet in, I shouted, “stop, stop, blood, blood, blood!” We found the blood trail. Rocko, Donna and I started following it. It wound around, jumped a fence, and stopped at a river. Rocko stayed on the bank, as Donna and I went to the other side of the river, so we could see where the trail last was. As we worked our way around, Rocko said he thought the elk was just ahead of us. Donna and I worked our way to the river. I wish I had a picture of this, because the elk was standing in the middle of the river, so magnificent, the fall leaves on the trees behind him, and the clear water around him. Donna told me to shoot him, and I did.

After hunting elk for five previous years, my immediate thoughts were not of joy. An appreciation and sadness for the animal swept over me, and I thanked the elk and God for the experience, for letting me share it with Donna and for the harvest. Finally, I have provided elk meat for my family.


Karen Butler is the President of Shoot Like a Girl, a company dedicated to growing the number of women who participate in shooting sports by empowering them with confidence.