As I write this story, it’s September 14, the day of my 10-year wedding anniversary to Laurie. Why would an elk hunter get married in mid-September?

Well, 10 years ago I didn’t even own a bow, let alone hunt elk in September. Although a lifelong rifle hunter, I’ve been bowhunting elk for just 4 years in my home state of Montana. A couple of months prior, I asked my wife what she wanted for our 10-year anniversary.

I was expecting some bankaccount-draining, elk-hunt-ruining adventure. Much to my surprise she just wanted to tag along on an elk hunt. Wow, was I happy! I’m going to get out of this anniversary cheap! So I thought. We planned the trip for Sept. 12-14, 2012, and Laurie approached me with a list of supplies a month prior to the trip. It was then I realized this wasn’t going to be cheap.

The morning of departure finally came. I threw my gear in the truck and then began loading Laurie’s stuff. I grimaced at the sight of the strawberry flavored Chapstick she considered an essential part of her pack. Elk can smell a bird fart in a wind storm, let alone strawberry-flavored Chapstick. I snuck a bottle of perfume out of her pack and then threw it in the truck.

We ended up at the trailhead about 3 hours later than I hoped, but we unloaded and headed for camp. A quarter-mile from camp sat what makes the Honeyhole special. It was a big wallow, located in a saddle, and it was the only water on the mountain. We walked about 100 yards from the wallow and I decided to cow call in the midday heat. We instantly heard a bugle! We waited a few minutes and then I called again. The bull bugled. We waited a few more minutes. Silence. After waiting a while, I decided to bugle. The bull answered just 200 yards away. We waited. The bull finally bugled again, but from the same spot.

The wind was in our favor, so Laurie and I ran directly toward the sound of the last bugle. We crested a small ridge and found what seemed like a good spot to sit down in front of some pines. She suddenly said, “There’s a bull,” in a strawberry-scented whisper. I shifted my weight and accidentally snapped a twig under my butt. The bull heard this and came running toward us with an angry bugle, stopping at 30 yards. A tree was in front of the bull, but I could see his rack on each side of the tree. Laurie was in full view.

The bull stared, flaring his nostrils at the scent of strawberries. I slowly started inching down the hill. I was somehow able to keep the tree between the bull’s eyes and me. I slowly stood. Still out of view, I pulled back an arrow and took two short steps to my right, putting myself in full view of the bull. I aimed and let the broadhead fly. I looked down at Laurie as she finally started breathing again. She was pale except for her strawberry lips. After waiting an hour, followed by a short tracking job, we found the bull 200 yards from where he was shot. At age 34 I finally got my elk!

So there rested the beast; my wife and I stood over him with the truck 3 miles away. I put on some strawberry Chapstick and we began butchering. We finally made it to the truck and loaded everything up. We then drove quickly to the nearest restaurant that served greasy food and beer. So here I sit, 2 days later, sore as hell—but the worst is over. I wouldn’t trade this hunt for anything. We earned that bull during a general archery season on public land with an over-the-counter tag.

Being there with my wife of 10 years made it even better. Laurie had a great time and is very proud of her accomplishments. She’s now hooked and has been shopping for a bow of her own. I hope that a bow and a stick of scent free Chapstick are the only things on the shopping list for next year.

Although behind the camera for this photo, the author’s wife, Laurie— and her strawberry-flavored Chapstick—was with the author through each step of his first successful elk hunt, from packing gear in to packing the elk out.

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