I N C R E D I B U L L
By Kyle Barnett
Hunting is a part of being human. Our ancestors cultivated those skills to survive and ultimately build everything we know today. I’m humbled when I think of the difficulties they endured to simply supply meat for their families and communities. That has always been my aspiration—a full freezer. As the oft quoted Native American adage goes, “If you chase two rabbits, you will lose them both.” And on Halloween morning, my aspiration was crystal clear. Yet, as I reflect upon the incredible events that unfolded, I cannot help but feel as if I am the luckiest hunter on earth; I caught both rabbits, despite only hunting one.
The itinerary of my Halloween day was surely not average. First order of business, an ambitious morning hunt with tempered expectations. Secondly, trick-or-treating the streets of Condon, Oregon with a band of young pirates, a cop, and superheroes. My excitement to be a part of my nieces’ and nephews’ sugar filled fervor as Captain Black Beard was at peak level. Alas, that never happened. Yet, as a consolation prize, I found myself surrounded by family and friends from morning to evening, beginning with the hunt.
That morning was typical in many ways. An abundance of coffee to cure the yawns. Binoculars pressed against tired eyes. And Mt. Kilimanjaro levels of prodding family jokes and jests. It was already a great morning; then the joviality was interrupted by a sudden sense of urgency. My Uncle Bill and Cousin Tony had spotted what they described as a “monster” bull. Huddling together, we hashed out a plan. Where the elk would end up, we could not know for certain. Though, with Bill and Tony’s intimate familiarity of the canyon network, we dialed our focus to a couple draws. Gen. George S. Patton once said, “A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week.” We had to act now.
Tony suggested a hunt that would require two or three ambitious hikers who wanted a chance at the trophy bull. Having already filled their tags during archery season, Bill and Tony were disqualified by default, but more than happy to disseminate their knowledge. Excited, I happily volunteered. Also volunteering was Jake Cooper, my employer, friend, and husband to my cousin Maggie. As described by Tony, the draw funneled to a juncture that split off to the left and right. Before we began our hard trek, it dawned on me there would be an impasse—to go left or right, that was the question. Turning to Jake and noting our conundrum, I challenged him to one game of rock-paper-scissors, winner goes left. Brilliantly, Jake outsmarted my efforts with scissors cutting my paper. Laughing and not fully understanding our fateful fortunes, we set up the draw.
The hike was hard and the hill steep. Stopping numerous times to catch our breath and scan our surroundings, signs of elk were nowhere to be found. At every bend and turn we hoped to see even just a track. As we trekked onward, in the distance our anxiety heightened when we peered upon the fork that would force one left and one right. So, again, with soft steps and groaning lungs, we moved forward.
When we reached the juncture, our impasse previously decided, Jake and I revisited our agreement. The right draw looked pristine and ideal, with trace amounts of water and grass for cover. The left, a narrow rocky draw. Discussing, Jake and I decided to void the rock-paper-scissor agreement, as I’m always up for difficult terrain and challenging hikes. With a sigh of relief and, as I found later, an optimistic view of his draw, Jake believed he had a good chance to find elk, if they indeed happened into the area. I, on the other hand, had fleeting optimism, as the hike was very difficult and the terrain less than ideal; my internal pessimism overtly dominating my thoughts. Yet again, Jake and I challenged fate.
Nervous and alone, I carefully maneuvered up the left draw. Exploring for each silent step, my optimism was waning. Figuring my luck had run dry, I increased my speed and began my final ascent. With the hike feeling more like it was just for exercise, the steep horizon suddenly presented a massive set of antlers.
Bill and Tony were wrong: “monster” was an understatement. Quickly, I dropped to my knee and surveyed my surroundings. Bedded and facing up the draw, he lie unaware of my presence. Scanning for better position, my eye caught movement at the bottom of the draw. Oddly enough it was several deer standing at attention staring right at me. My hand had been forced and decisive improvisation was my only call.
What felt like minutes must have only been seconds. His antlers were a ladder to the sky and even more impressive when he slowly turned to look at the deer. Anxious and observant, the standoff ended with the deer bolting up the draw. I didn’t have time for next week’s perfect plan. When he rose, it startled me even more. It seemed he grew every time he moved. Uncontrollable shaking, as odd as this will sound, I initially had trouble finding the gigantic bull in my scope. I will never profess to be an expert hunter. Adequate will suffice. However, I made one good decision. I lowered my gun, took a deep breath, returned my scope to peer across the hill, and exhaled pulling the trigger. To my surprise, he turned. He was wounded and took a hard left, finding the bottom of the draw and heading down. Quickly lowering to a seated position, I waited for him to run below me. Somehow more calmed, I returned my gun to my shoulder and pulled the trigger for the kill.
Sitting on the hill staring down at him, the moment was surreal and one I will cherish forever. With the hard work ahead now looming, I climbed out of the draw looking for help. Fittingly enough, Jake arrived first, hollering with excitement and cheers. We made the climb together hoping for luck. That day, I won the elk lottery. Still, more importantly, I’ll have a full freezer. And even more important than that, I’ll have a memory unlike any other, surrounded by family and friends. I can’t thank them enough, but doubt they will listen when I volunteer to hike in years to come. I owe a special thanks to Jake and Tony, both of whom endeavored relentlessly for many hours helping process the bull. And again, I’m thankful for Bill and Tony’s guidance through the brutal process of quartering and caping, during which Tony never left my side. With a gross green score of 438 6/8, this is a Gilliam County bull. And died a Barnett bull. But I see him as my community, friends, and family’s bull. I’d be remiss to claim I was the deserving hunter. I am not. I do know, I am very lucky. If there is a moral to the story, when you find yourself at a fork in the road, go left.
Editor’s Note: The Times-Journal would like to thank Kyle Barnett and the Barnett family for sharing this exclusive first-hand account with their local newspaper. A record-breaking bull elk draws attention from far and wide. Kyle could have easily gone to a nationally syndicated magazine, but he was insistent that the news of this incredible story be given to The Times-Journal. For that, we are sincerely grateful.