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August 22, 2008

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The Mysterious Case of the Shrinking Elk Head

A couple of days ago, I visited an old friend in Vermont. In 1973, I had given him the mounted head of an elk I had killed the year before in Montana. It was a 6x6, and I think I was prouder of that animal than anything else I had ever taken. I lost 30 pounds in order to be able to climb the mountain where he lived and I shot him on a day when the snow was up over your knees and it was 15 below that morning.

But I had not been to visit my friend in something like 25 years, and my memory of the elk head was not accurate. I recalled it as being a massive beast with a humongous spread of antlers. It is not; it is indeed a 6x6, but it’s a small bull. If you saw him in a herd you wouldn’t look twice at him. But he was the first elk I ever took, and to me he was the greatest wapiti ever collected.

Your memories—particularly the fond ones—rarely match up with reality. If you have a choice, stick with memories.


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Dr. Ralph

Kinda like your first girlfriend who was the most beautiful creature ever, and then you go to your 30th High School re-union and ewwwww... my advice is stay home. Everyone there is fat and bald and old. By the way what in the world are you doing giving away your very first elk? Must be a really close friend.


I think rifle scopes also have a way of altering reality. I was looking through my 3X9 at a nice 8 point with a huge spread and heavy main beams. After I shot him and walked up to him it turned into a 8 point with a above average spread and above average heft. When it came back from the taxidermist it turned out to have average spread and rather spindly main beams. What happened to the monster that I saw through my Tasco?


Must agree with you, DP. Time has a tendency to shrink the size and grandeur. It seems when I was younger the world was like a Sergio Leone western set…….huge and volume-ish. Now in my age when I physically return to the places or look as photos, things have indeed shrunk.

It’s why I look upon “hanger talk” and “war stories” with a little doubt. In some talking memories distances expand; the animals become bigger, weather fiercer, etc.

Think it’s why I relate my memories with caution. I may not have it right in my age.


Like many folks I'm sure, my first buck was huge. So huge I had it mounted and still today it hangs proudly in my foyer with my other mounts. It's actually tiny by any standard. I am a bit embarrassed when friends come over but then I remind them, and me, that it earned its spot by being my first.

There's got to be a term for this like "ground shrinkage". Maybe "memory shrinkage"?

Clay Cooper

Dave, I bet you sounded like a 10x10 Bull Elk in heat when you realized you dropped that 6x6!

As for that 6x6, that is defiantly one of your best of memories. The preparation for, the hard work before and after the shot is the part that makes your moment in time so special. If it was a canned hunt, you would have viewed it as another outing! But you did it and that what makes it so special!!!

It’s too bad Sportsmen don’t realize the grand of things until they are in the autumn of their life.

One thing I’ve learned about Elk and Moose hunting. The real work starts when you pull the trigger!

Chad Love

I had no such illusions about my first buck. He had one spike that protruded exactly three inches above his skull. The other one never grew in.
I've seen keychains with bigger attachments than that little bit of antler, but it occupies a prominent spot on one of my bookcase shelves. I wouldn't trade it for anything. It's a totem, a reminder of just how new and exciting everything once was for me.
Memory's a helluva thing, isn't it? It constantly forces you to square who you thought you'd be then with who you really are now.
My wife often accuses me of having a fundamentally melancholy disposition.
I can't disagree, but I find it's a useful state of mind for dealing with the sometimes jarring realities of modern life, sort of a shock absorber for the soul...

Geez, Dave. Now I'm all wistful, depressed and pining for a second chance at a youth squandered.

Thanks a lot...

Mike Diehl

It's the experience that matters to me not the trophy. My favorite deer (so far) was a doe. It was my first deer, one that I shot in the company of my father, while I was carrying my father's favorite rifle, one that he inherited from HIS father, whose favorite rifle it was.

Tom Sorenson

Memories are what we hunt for anyhow.

Chad Love

Well said, Tom.

Clay Cooper

Age 12 when I got by first deer somewhere in the neighborhood close to Paradise AZ. Dad and I walked all over the backside of a ridge that morning and as we approached 100 yards from Dads International Scout, a Buck jumped up running at 30 yards and I dropped him with my 03-A3 with Hornady 130’s. Yep, that was a hard job to get it out. Backed the Scout up and loaded it!

But that evening came the worse hunt I’ve ever been on.

One of Dads friends’ brothers was packing a Ruger 22 magnum. When he jumped down into a gully, the butt of the rifle hit the hammer and the round went thru the top of his foot shattering all the bones. It was a long way out that night.


I think that story is right on par with my experiences. My first buck (actually my first deer) was an 8-point white-tail I took on my parents' place in TN during muzzleloader season. I got some pictures of it that morning and took it to a taxidermist that afternoon. I didn't see it again until a few months later when I went back home to visit, and was surprised at how small it looked. Even the angle of the pictures made it look bigger than in real life. I'm still completely psyched about that deer and wouldn't trade it for anything. But it does provide an interesting story of how the excitement of the moment can influence your perception of things.


My favorite T-shirt has the message: "The older I get, the better I was."

Lone Star 45

Ask Clay about the stuck patch in his 25-06 out on McGregor Range!


Dr. Ralph

My first was a doe that probably weighed under 100#'s on the hoof. The best part is I killed it with a muzzle loader I built from a kit and was using iron sights and patched round balls as the twist was 1 in 66". The fact that my new father-in-law was with me and didn't like me and everyone else there was his friend and thought I was some Yankee SOB that had taken his little girl away helped a lot too. Especially since I was the only one to punch his tag and they all had in-lines with scopes...


Rather like my grandsons' first fish: (a fistful of bluegills off the end of the dock). We hollered and yelped. I grabbed the camera and recorded the grand catch.

I pulled out the photos and as it turns out, their smiles were bigger than the fish - which is how it should be.

But as I recall, my joy was not the fish - my joy was their joy at having done so.

Del in KS

Many times I have suffered from ground shrinkage. One time tho he got bigger as I walked up. To add panic to the mix he jumped up and ran. A quick follow up put him down for good. Seventeen points with 13 inch G-2's. Best buck shot on Ft Leonard Wood in 1989. Still my best buck to date.

Hey guys if any of you are interested in scrimshaw I found a guy down in GA that does beautiful work. He's making me a powder measure out of a warthog tusk and customizing my powderhorn right now. He has a store on EBAY called Captain Robs treasure trove.


Fond memories of "firsts"...
My first gun was cooler than all get out -- and still is if I can get parts for it. .22 Ithica model 49 repeater.

My first girlfriend really was good looking = she's been a model through her 20's, 30's, 40's and she might continue as she moves into her 50's. Of course she may end up just doing Geritol commercials.

My first deer had tiny antlers when I shot him and he still does.

The only fond memory that I have to keep adjusting to reality is the memory of my wife being so beautiful -- she gets more beautiful with the passing of time and the enjoyment of life together!


Hey Dave, why did cavemen produce paintings of trophy animals on walls? Was it for the memory or to prevent Ogg from becoming a legend in his own mind? It works in many ways.

Anyway, sometimes the best part of this blog for me is the memories awakened by the mention of the giants like Ruark and Page. How about using your influence at Field & Stream to get them to reprint some of the writing of those giants? You could call it "Classic Corner". When profits soar from subscription increases, you could afford to take off for Africa again. Feel free to take all of the credit but if you need a gun bearer I could be available.


Everything gets shorter or smaller with age. My memory isn't what it used to be, my height is getting shorter, my endurance for being out in the cold, and my eyes do not see as far as they once used to. With everything getting shorter the only thing that as not gotten smaller is my waist.

Tom the Troll

Chad Love

PBHead, I'm snapping up every old issue of F&S, Sports Afield and Outdoor Life I can find at rummage and garage sales, library book sales, etc.
A lot of those great old writers simply can't be found any more and there doesn't seem to be much interest in anthologizing them.
Everything from the late seventies to mid 80s (my formative years) back I'm grabbing, 'cause when they're gone they're gone.
Same thing with books. A lot of them are out of print and they're not coming back.
Saw on bird hunting board I frequent that a guy found an autographed copy of "Mostly Tailfeathers" sitting on the shelf at his local library.
Now don't get me wrong, I don't advocate library theft, but...


maybe that old elk needs a viagra


Perhaps we need to add viagra
to the water supply at F&S

OrangeNeckInNY (formerly RedneckInNY)

Gosh, I wish I had a mount of the first animal I ever shot. Too bad I blew out the rat's brains with the slingshot LOL!!!

Dave Petzal

To Pb Head: Nothing would please me more than seeing Ruark and Page (and for that matter, half a dozen of the great old-timers) back in F&S, but:

The days when you could run a 3,000-word article are gone, and cutting the old-timers is a crime; it destroys them. Also, the reprint fees for Ruark are about what the Iraq war costs us in a week.

And, lastly, I'm afraid that the number of people who are willing to read 3,000 words would not fill up a decent ground blind.

But thanks for asking.



Dave...I think this is an excellent idea and I second the motion!! If they cant be printed can we find the archives online?

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