Two hours into her first archery elk hunt, Beckey Dowker was searching for cell service to call her daughters, Paige and Britaney, to let them know she had just killed her first elk with a bow.
I started guiding hunters when I was in about fifth grade and my most memorable hunts have been with first-time hunters. I’ve had them bear hug me, high five me, slap me on the back, squeeze my cheeks, and even shed a tear. I spend a lot of time out in the woods just soul searching and trying to find ways to make myself a better man. Between (former Meeker wrestling) coach Bill Turner and the outdoors, they are the best counselors and therapists for me. Today marks the death of my oldest daughter, Natasha. Her love and passion for the outdoors was much like mine and passed on to me by my dad. I find myself searching for individuals who have the same feelings. Roston Steiner, Dayton Madison, and Abram Balloga, to name a few, have spent countless hours with me hunting and fishing, trying to absorb the lessons in life the outdoors can teach. I hope that someday they too can pass that knowledge on to someone else.
My last hunt with Natasha was a deer hunt in Unit 201. We camped out and had a great time. She shot a large 4×4 buck and when we got to where the deer lay, I don’t know who was happier. We both jumped up and down and hugged each other. I remember her saying, “Dad, my legs won’t stop shaking.” I said, “Baby, when that doesn’t happen you need to quit hunting,” and, yes, I do believe I shed a tear. That same year I killed my largest buck; they are both mounted next to each other in my trophy room. Natasha never killed a bull elk. Our chance for that special hunt never happened.
One afternoon in the middle school parking lot I was talking to some friends about hunting when Beckey Dowker said she had an archery elk tag but had never hunted elk with a bow. She did brag about all the trophies she had won from shooting competitively. I mentioned that I could possibly take her out to shoot a cow; her response was, “I would really like to shoot a bull.”
Over the next several weeks, when I would see Beckey I would pick her brain on why she wanted to hunt so bad. I soon found a young lady who could make me laugh at the silliest things. Her personality, her outlook on life and the love and passion for the outdoors matched that of Natasha.
I made a phone call to Russell Stacy, owner of Strawberry Creek Outfitters, and asked if I could take Beckey hunting. His answer was, “Of course.”
On Thursday, Sept. 17, we headed out to the ranch after work. I tested her skills at judging yardage. She was always right or within two yards. So to the top we went, and in every canyon was the sound of elk bugling. Her eyes gleamed with excitement and I asked her how big a bull she wanted. She said “I’ll be happy just to get a shot.” We walked down a steep canyon to a pond that had elk running all around it. I had her set up and started to call. A 300-plus bull stepped within 40 yards but did not present a shot. I reset Beckey and called a nice 5×5 just 20 yards in front of her. I watched as she drew her bow back and held patiently for the bull to clear some branches, as she released, the arrow found its mark and the bull ran about 50 yards and fell. He threw his head up a few times and died. I said, “Let’s go look at your bull.” She said, “We have to wait.” I assured her the bull was not going anywhere. When we got to the elk I saw that same joy and excitement that I shared with Natasha. I am thankful for the opportunity to share that special moment with Beckey and hope that she understands the impact she has made in my life. As we walked out of that dark canyon that night, I looked up to a clear sky that was filled with stars and said to myself, “Nothing wrong with a little lady luck and some help from above.”
• • • • •
Joe Gutierrez of Meeker is a guide for Strawberry Creek Outfitters.