Memorable first elk hunt
In Colorado we live in an outdoor sportsman’s paradise, where residents and non-residents can fish, hunt, camp and snow sport.
With the opening of the elk and deer season, at dawn Michael Angelo Mazza, a 35-year Grand Junction native, found himself and a group of friends in Escalante Canyon, waiting to capture that first moment when he could boast that he’d harvested his first bull elk.
Michael and the group who were a variety of ages, and seasoned hunters, had been tracking since before sunrise. By the time noon rolled around, everyone decided to call it quits for a while, but Michael decided to continue on. When the road before them divided, some headed west and Michael headed east.
At one o’clock in the afternoon, Michael decided that he too should call it quits, leave the ridge and head into the gully when he came upon fresh droppings and tracks. Michael phoned one of the hunters for his expertise recommendation, and his advice was that he follow the fresh droppings.
In no time at all, Michael had snuck around a bend in the gully and nearly collided into a five-point bull that had decided to take his mid-day siesta.
Michael’s face to face interrupted the bull’s naptime, and Michael later recalled that the clatter of the bull getting into an upright position was something Michael would remember till age 100, if he lived that long.
But this bull was shrewd, and disappeared in the brush but Michael was one step ahead of him, and went higher and back up the side of the gully. Amidst the bushes and trees the search turned into a game of hide-and-seek.
Michael resorted to getting down and crawling on his hands and knees. With binoculars in hand, Michael spotted five ivory tips on each of the bull’s antlers.
The elk stuck between a rock and a hard place, spotted Michael, and was not able to climb back up the steep gully or turn around and go down. The bull was at a point of no return.
There was a frozen instant in time, then Michael, using the same rifle his dad Eugene had used more than 30 years before to shoot his first trophy, carefully lined up the rifle’s iron sights and pulled the trigger.
His dad, Eugene Mazza, wasn’t a hunter; he was and remains a thespian at heart. Now at the age of 67 and still hearty, the retired food chain warehouse-man, is accustomed to hard work and hard times but was always delighted to play a role and many more for an audience at the town’s performing arts theater.
In 1975, when Eugene’s family was young and times were lean, he took up the role of a hunter, in an effort to bring food to the table and the freezer. But Eugene didn’t have a rifle, recalls Helen, his wife.
“We were in no financial condition to go out and buy the latest state of the art hunting rifle; we had mouths to feed, bills to pay, and hopefully whatever may have been leftover to set aside for any unexpected emergency. So I gave up my single happy-go-lucky days German Luger (pistol) in order for us to afford the rifle. Times were rough and the food was needed.”
Eugene was successful that first hunt, and while the many meals were enjoyed from the processed paper-wrapped venison in the freezer, he just didn’t have the heart for it.
It was the first and last hunt. The rifle, a Winchester 30.06 with open iron sights, was put into permanent retirement.
And it sat that way for three decades plus, until Michael Angelo decided to try his hand at stalking the hunted.
The shot that brought down the beast with a piercing through the chest and lungs could still be heard ringing in his ears. Elk are tough. This one even tougher. Its antlers were scraped and broken from fighting, and refusing to give up the fight. Michael following radioed advice from one of the hunters, dealt the bull one final shot, a coup de grace.
The rest of the extended clan, elated with his trophy kill, took the remembrance photos and pitched in to hurry and clean the elk in the warm October afternoon.
A few hours later, four heavy bags, weighted down with a year’s supply of elk meat, were hanging in the shade at camp.
What a hunt. Who knows what another year will bring. Surely there will be memorable stories, but for now, Michael Angelo Mazza already knows that it just doesn’t get any better than this.
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The 2021 National Junior Angus Show will be hosted in Grand Island, Neb.