It’s Paul Whalen. He lives in Iowa and I met him during my recent elk (and mule deer) hunt in the vast, rugged Bob Marshall Wilderness in Montana, which I wrote about for Saturday’s Roanoke Times. (The story, linked above, is live now.)
Paul was one of the six hunters in Mills Wilderness Adventures main camp on the White River. My friend Kraig Cesar, his dad Bob Halverson, and I were in the more distant Cliff Creek camp.
So, why Paul’s hero shot and not mine? Why do you think?
My only hunting hero shot from the week is of me holding the spruce grouse I knocked out of a tree with a rock. Impressive throw (admittedly it took me a few attempts!) but it was no elk. I hope you all understand why I couldn’t completely spill the beans on my skunk before the story published. Not that I don’t think you wouldn’t have read the story anyway (please do!), but you know the deal.
Anyway, it was a lot of time and effort for no elk. But that’s hunting. The success rate for Montana elk hunters is about 20 percent. And most of those hunters are residents who get to spend more than a week chasing those critters. Going after them deep in the Wilderness, even with an outfitter, is hardly a sure thing.
Paul was the only one of nine of us to kill during the week. Three hunters killed during the previous hunt.
Had you asked me the day we all rode in together who would have been prediction if only one of us were to kill, it would have been me. Really.
I knew I was going to put in the effort to find elk, and I knew that if I had one in range I wasn’t going to miss. I put in the effort, the elk just weren’t there for me. But Paul would have been right up there. I could tell he was hardcore. Quiet (he’s a banker), but serious.
The story was he was hunting on his own with no guide when he tracked down a herd. He actually saw the giant herd bull at just 50 yards, but the bull was in thick timber and Paul couldn’t get a shot. He shot this satellite bull at 25 yards.
It’s not a giant, but any bull in the Bob is a hard-earned trophy. If I’d seen this bull, I would have been thrilled. I’m thrilled for Paul.
So, people have been asking me a pretty expected question: “Will you do it again?”
Now that I know that country, I’d love to go back into the Cliff Creek camp and hunt self-guided — but during the first week of the season before they are pressured. But the hunt is expensive and logistically challenging (and there’s really no way to do it without an outfitter; and those guys earn every cent they charge) so I’ll probably end up going a different route, probably a do-it-yourself bowhunt in Colorado or my home state, Oregon.
If hunting elk is a dream of yours, like it has been mine, my advice is this: Go for it. Even if you don’t tag a bull, the hunt will be something you’ll never forget.
I included in the story a short list of Lessons from the West. It just touches the surface. After all, there are books written about this stuff.
But if you have questions about more lessons learned, regrets, etc., fire away. I’m sure when Ralph Barton gets back from his Colorado hunt he’ll have lots to report, and probably a hero shot of himself with an elk, too!