As a kid, hunting was one of those rights of passage. We'd trek all over the mountains in search of our quarry. One big elk would fill the freezer and feed our family for a year. One year I got paired off with grandpa.
It was late in the season and we hadn't gotten anything all season long. We were a little desperate. Grandpa rarely got skunked during a season so I was excited I was with him.
We turned up a canyon we had hunted several times "just to check." There was snow and grandpa's truck was chained up. We made our way up the narrow valley floor and I kept my eyes peeled. There were no tracks and no sign anywhere. I was kind of bummed.
Grandpa turned around and we started to come out. We were all relaxed because we hadn't seen anything and we were just backtracking. Just before we came to the main road we turned a corner and grandpa slammed on the brakes. A spike elk stood just off the road staring at us about 40 yards away.
Here's the rub...we were on the side of the main road that was branch-antler only. We were like 200 yards from having it be a legal kill. I looked at grandpa and asked, "should I shoot it?" He paused. He was weighing going home empty handed versus shooting an illegal elk that was 200 yards away from the right side of the road.
"Go ahead and take it, we need to fill the freezer" he muttered.
I slowly rolled down the window and opened the door so I could get a better angle. The elk was so close it filled my scope when I sighted it in. "BOOM!" I took the shot.
Nothing. The elk didn't fall. It didn't jump. It didn't budge.
I thought "how could I miss?" All I saw was fur. Grandpa was sure I missed. "Go again."
"Grandpa, why isn't the elk moving?"
"Get in the truck!" grandpa barked with urgency. I jumped in and he headed to the main road.
As we passed by the elk it stood still as a statue. UH, it was a statue.
I was too young to know what was going on but grandpa knew we were in trouble.
Someone had set out a decoy. That someone was a ranger looking for illegal kills.
As soon as we turned on to the main road the ranger was on us. He had heard the shot and was waiting for his prize. He pulled grandpa over and grilled him. Grandpa calmly said, "I didn't shoot that elk" to every inquiry.
Pretty soon the ranger looked up at me and he realized what was going on. You see, grandpa would have been in REALLY big trouble if he had shot the fake elk. Me, as a minor, would be harder to throw the book at.
The ranger asked me to go get into his truck. I complied. He grilled grandpa for a minute more and then came and got in the truck.
He looked at me and said, "son, I need to know who shot that elk and you're not getting out of the truck until I know. If your grandpa shot it and isn't saying, he's going to get it bad. If you did it I need to know."
It only took a few minutes of that burning stare and I fessed up that I had done it. He wrote me a ticket and let me get out.
I was incredibly embarrased and pretty ticked off.
We got back to the cabin where the other hunters awaited. The laughter went on for hours as I recounted the tale.
Fast forward a month or so as I entered the court house to pay my ticket. My dad had to make a big deal of it so he made sure I got to see the judge. I could hear him snicker as the judge grilled me so I'd never do it again. I paid my $65 and slinked out of the judge's chambers.
Fast forward to the present day hunting season. Grandpa's story has shifted over time and I take the heat every year.
Needless to say, I've never shot an illegal animal since.