“Miss Wheelchair USA Ashlee Lundvall is the most Inspirational Soul I have ever been blessed to know.” “Ashlee called our adventure “Extreme Wheelchair Hunting”, I called it the most inspirational mechanism we have been blessed to be a part of in a long time”…
Rolling On Faith – by Latt Durrance; courtesty of Horns & Hooks Magazine
Ashlee Lundvall, age 30, out of Cody Wyoming along with her husband Russ Lundvall have experience shooting at targets beyond 1000 yards. They use our Huskemaw shooting system often and consistently make great shots.
With shooting ability out of the equation, how we were going to get our crew of five on a big bull elk was the real question as the warm glow of sunrise began to let objects take form outside of our box blind, with the logistical details running through my mind.
It was still too dark inside our little wooden fortress to make out anyone’s faces but I knew we were all excited. Our guide Terry Jeffers expressed to us that three different game trails converged only 20 yards in front of our position. He stressed how we needed to remain completely silent because he had witnessed bulls 2 days before merely a few feet out of the blinds window.
No one dared move or speak for the next hour, then Terry stood up and with hand signals communicated for us to stay here, he was going to look behind us. He returned 20 minutes later and with a soft voice said. “The elk are not in this drainage this morning but I know where they are.” Next he looked directly at Ashlee and said “how rough can I get with you, can we take you up on the mountain?” Ashlee’s response was confident and quick “Yes, whatever we need to do!” Her boldness made me smile.
After Ashlee pulled herself up in the truck, we made our way back to the lodge where a wonderful meal was waiting on us. Terry dropped us off and said he would return in a few hours after he finished moving some cows on the ranch. Seated at the table enjoying our food, we spotted 30 elk some 800 yards away to the south. After finishing our late breakfast Russ and I set up a spotting scope on the deck to get a better look at these elk.
Before even getting zoomed in on the first bunch, we spotted several more herds spread out over the vast rolling sage brush flats about 3-5 miles away. Well over 200 elk could be realized in the field of view from the spotting scope. Concentrating on the closest herd reveled a big mature herd bull with his harem of cows. We both called to Ashlee saying “you are going to want to see this.” She came out to the deck to have a look. We all took turns with the spotting scope and the new Huskemaw Binoculars glassing the bull.
Over the next hour and a half we were afforded every possible angle to measure the size, length and width of the herd bulls antlers. After careful calculations and spirited debate we all agreed he would gross score between 365 and 375 inches. He had incredible tine length as well as total main beam length with his only short comings being that of lacking exceptional width.
We counted no less than 14 other bulls out of the 200+ elk we could glass just from the lodge deck. I call this” Good Conversation” when one can discuss multiple trophies and the qualities of each from a single vantage point. You know you are in a good hunting area when you can plan which bull you want to try and hunt. Russ and I had even come up with what we thought was the perfect approach to get Ashlee a good shot. We even had multiple back up plans depending on which direction the herd moved in. Our anticipation of course grew as we were awaiting the return of our guide. This all proved to be nothing more than good conversation because when Terry retuned he thought very little of these elk we had been watching. He had seen them many times and explained that the owner of the ranch did not allow any hunting within two miles of the lodge. Besides he already had a plan and had told us that morning “I know where the elk are”.
Forty five minutes and a rough truck ride later Terry was tying a nylon pull/snatch strap into a knot so he could wrap it around his waist and pull the front of the titanium wheel chair as Russ pushed from the rear. Ashlee was about to go on a 3 mile mountain hike as I was bringing up the rear packing our shooting equipment on my back. We worked our way through the terrain made up of mostly Cedar trees and broken rock. Being careful to remain quiet and stealthy. After an hour of hiking we began to hear distant bugles, we all began to grin, feeling good about the direction Terry was taking us.
We moved slow keeping the wind in our face, moving closer to the mountain music that was now coming from more than one direction. As we worked our way up hill , the ground was becoming increasingly jagged with more rocks and cactus. We all had to work together to negotiate the terrain. We had not been on a trail in over an hour and now the wheels were no longer going to make it over the rough topography. Eyeballing a big rock butte, with the bugles coming from the other side I asked Ashlee “what do we do?” She bravely replied “Just do it”. Russ and I picked her up and carried Ashlee up and over to the perfect pinnacle placement for an exquisite view of one of Mother Nature’s rare shows…
The huge pipes of the massive bull were screaming, we were mesmerized by his defiant attitude and magnificence. Worried that he could disappear at any moment, we hurried to get set up but the Wapiti never thought about escaping. He was coming closer and letting us know that he was the KING of this mountain.
Ashlee was in the text book shooting situation, prone and slightly above. Only 515 yards away with perfect target acquisition. She had her Huskemaw RFBC turret dialed to 1 click past 500 yards and began dry firing on the Big Bull. With no wind, she simply held dead on and squeezed the trigger until the firing pin dropped to the crisp “snap” sound of good steel on the empty chamber. Ashlee did this more times than I can remember. Ashlee had him. She made the shot and “counted cue” for over 15 minutes.
It was as good of a fortuitous break in life as one can hope for. Time stood still until she finally said “he is missing some of his tines, it would drive me crazy looking at him on my wall.” She was right, the bull had his 2nd and 3rd tines on one side broken off. Probably from fighting with many of the other bulls in this excellent hunting area. Only after Ashlee had approved his relief, did the herd bull gently meander off, up and over the hill out of sight. We all looked at each other knowing that what we had just witnessed was Special.
I could not help but brood over the fact that we might not ever get that opportunity again but who am I to place my intentions ahead of the group. As we were packing up all of our superb gear, the camera was pushed into my face. They asked me “what do you think?” My response was as always candid and heartfelt. I alleged “I think we are walking on faith that was a really good first bull for anyone.”
Working our way back to the truck sensibly, we could hear numerous bulls in what seemed like almost all directions. Terry wisely kept us downwind and as far away from the herds as possible. It was too dark to shoot and no one wanted to risk spooking these elk. With all the bulls we could hear around us we all sought to return here tomorrow and continue the hunt.
As we arrived back at the truck Ashlee’s spirits were high. Here smile was infectious as she said “I feel like we have just been on a real mountain hunt.” I told her she had just done exactly that and that we had hunted with plenty of men who wouldn’t have hiked as far as she did.
That was the moment it dawned on me, she had never experienced a rut crazed bull elk screaming at anything that dared come close to his harem of cows.
She had just soaked it all in and enjoyed the moment. I began to feel guilty that I had not done the same and a little embarrassed that I had felt like she might have lost her chance to take a bull. That is the hunter in me, I want anyone that I help guide to be successful. Too many times we judge that success by the filling of a tag and the amount of inches of antlers to be scored. She had already won and everything else was just a bonus. By the time we arrived back at the lodge all of the other hunters were done with dinner but they all had stayed awake to hear the report of Ashlee’s hunt. It was late now and we needed to be up and ready to go again in just over four hours. I was more than ready for bed but Russ and Ashlee still had much work to do. Ashlee’s lack of feeling in her legs meant that they needed to be sure she didn’t have any of the dozens of cactus quills she had been crawling around in causing bleeding. She is on medication that inhibits blood clotting and this can be quite dangerous if left untreated.
Five hours and four big cups of coffee later I was bundled up to keep warm in the truck bed as we made our way up the mountain towards the last place we had listened to all those bulls bugle. Terry parked the truck as close as he dared without being detected. Terry had us working into the wind toward the last known location of the herd. Almost in perfect sync with the coming morning light we began to hear the bulls announce their presence. Everyone’s spirits picked up now and we had a direction to work towards. Russ looked at me and said “let’s go get him.” We moved our caravan up to the highest point around, set up, and waited on the sunlight to display the herd. We could see over 100 dark bodies of elk feeding up on a butte some 700 yards away. As the sunlight increased, the herd worked its way lower and lower toward a canyon.
Now, with enough light to see antlers, we identified several bulls in the herd that Ashlee liked but they were moving in a single file line. The brighter the light became the faster they seemed to move. Ashlee was set up with a good range and wind call but not once would the big herd bull stop to afford her a good shot. Not wanting to make a bad shot or wound she let them move down the canyon and out of sight.
Terry said “I know where they are going we can catch them if we hurry.” We began to pack up all of our gear and just as I was placing the rifle back in the scabbard a bull screamed at us from 350 yards directly on our left flank. Standing in the open was a 6 point satellite bull who was following up the herd. Quickly I set the rifle back up and Ashlee got in position for a shot. The bull curiously walked closer and closer finally standing broadside at a mere 230 yards. Ashlee had already turned down a larger bull and in my mind I didn’t really think she would take this shot no matter how perfect the set up was. She confirmed our thoughts and said “can we get on the herd bull?” Terry said if we hurry. We were all in now for sure.
We backed out of this high point shooting position, made our way down through the rocks and cedars trees. ¾ quarters of a mile later Terry and Russ worked their way up to see if they could get a spot on the herd as Ashlee and I waited. Whispering to me Ashlee said “that was so cool, that bull was coming right to us!” Her smile was so contagious, I didn’t know what was going to happen next but I had no doubt that it would be good.
Terry and Russ came back with good news, The herd was in the next canyon, still moving with about half of them past us and the remainder still coming. We would have to be very careful to avoid detection with all the eyes of the elk spread out over several hundred yards. Terry wanted us to move up toward the end of the ridge we were now on and try to set up for a shot. Russ put Ashlee on his back piggyback style, except all Ashlee had to hold on with were her arms around his neck. Terry and I worked our way ahead.
We spotted two bulls sparring down in the canyon only 225 yards below us, with another 50 or so elk across the canyon some 600 yards away. Russ and Ashlee were making their way to us slowly in the rough terrain. When they arrived to our position Ashlee had to crawl the last 25 yards to remain hidden. By the time she was set up the bulls below us were out of view behind a large rock cropping.
I told her about the bulls below us and all the other elk across the canyon. Since we couldn’t see the ones closest to us she and I began to crawl out to the point where we could get a clear view of the elk across the canyon. She and I crawled over 40 yards to a point where we had a good view of the now more than seventy head of elk in the herd across from us. By now most where bedded down but the bulls where still up trotting back and forth fighting, raking trees and just putting on a show.
At this point in the hunt it was just Ashlee and I, the others were too far behind us for communication. I asked her how she was doing. She was still smiling but the extreme hiking had begun to take its toll. She said,” I might have one more of these hikes in me, I think I separated something in my shoulder and my arms are getting tired.” Time to make this happen.
Using the Huskemaw prone tripod to build a front rest and the back pack for the rear, we set up for a shot. She got on the rifle and began target acquisition as I helped with adjustment. She said she felt good but there was sagebrush in the way for a clean shot. With the bolt open for safety, I crawled ahead and began to clear her a clean line of sight to the target. She nodded her head all good and I crawled back to assist with the shot. Range 545 yards, she dialed the turret to 550 yards. Next I checked the wind, left to right 10 MPH the RFBC turret read 2 MOA so I asked her to hold 2 Huskemaw hash marks into the wind.
She dry fired several times on the biggest bull now running off all of the lesser satellite bulls around him. Ashlee is a great shot and runs the rifle very well but is limited in her left to right movement so we needed the bull to stop for a shot in about a fifty yard window for a good shot.
She said she felt good and I said put one in, she worked the bolt and we were ready to go “Hot”. The bull began raking a tree and tossing limbs in the air, finally he stepped out broadside. I asked her if she was ready and before I could finish my sentence BOOM!
I watched the bull tumble down 30 feet into a cedar tree with his legs now facing upwards. I told her “great shot you dropped him.” Russ and Terry had witnessed the same thing and they were coming up to congratulate her. As we all hugged Ashlee all she said was “is he down for good, I don’t want to wound him.” We showed her the bull’s legs sticking up in the air and reassured her she made a great shot.
Russ and I made our way over to the bull to check out her well-earned trophy and we were to report back to Ashlee because the terrain was too rough for her to make it or so we thought. Forty-five minutes later Russ and I were starting to field dress the bull when low and behold we hear Terry whistling above us on the sky line. He said he was going to bring Ashlee down to us. He worked his way down into the canyon with his truck. We set Ashlee up with her Bull and took pictures of the biggest smile I have ever seen. Extreme wheel chair hunting and then some. Some days are brighter than others, let us always be thankful.
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