The reverberation from the shot of my .270 had faded and the cow’s head had begun to sink towards the ground as I looked 20 yards downhill to my husband, Bryan, and whispered to him “holy shit, I just killed an elk!!” I was prone among the ponderosa’s in the Valles Caldera and I had just harvested my first animal.

The day had begun at dawn; we left our campground eating a breakfast of pop tarts and coffee. Bryan parked the truck on the side of the road and we began to hike. After about an hour Bryan hissed from behind me motioning me to freeze. Appearing below us, over our left shoulders was a line of giant bull elk crashing through the trees, each a trophy in his own right. They were on the move as if running from someone or something. Carrying a cow tag, I relaxed and enjoyed the manly show pass by. I was ready to move on when Bryan whispered “a cow, there’s a cow!” Instinct took over and I dropped, clicking off the safety. Everything was silent but my pounding heart and unsteady breathing. The lone cow appeared below me moving from my left to right 50-75 yards away. As she moved in front of my position, Bryan whistled. She paused at the sound giving me enough time to pull the trigger, a perfect heart shot. She was an old gal, we estimated about 10 years old, clearly having lived a full life on a spectacular landscape.

Six hours later we were back at the truck with the last hindquarter. The sun was setting over the Caldera; the beer was cold, and I was thankful for the life-changing day we had on that beautiful piece of public land.