Four cow elk answered the call. On cue, the elk emerged from the aspens and began to mill about along the edge of the small creek that meandered through the wide-open drainage.

Nothing but tall, sweet grass between us and the elk.

V. Paul Reynolds, Outdoors Columnist

But it was a long shot. Wife, in a prone shooting position beneath an overhanging lodgepole pine, snapped off the safety on her scope-mounted 7 mm-.08. She took a deep breath.

“Don’t shoot. Don’t shoot,” whispered the guide kneeling beside her.

The lead cow turned and presented a broadside shot. “Shoot! Shoot!” urged the guide. She did not shoot. She glanced at the guide, not pleased at all.

The elk turned looking head on. “Wait, wait, don’t shoot,” he counseled.

If looks could kill, the guide would be headed for the game pole instead of the elk. Wife, no longer composed, eventually took the 120-yard shot. The elk were ready to bolt. It was a rushed shot. Insofar as we could tell she never hit her elk. As the guide and I searched in vain for telltale hair or blood, out of earshot from Wife, he said, “Man, she is a strong-willed woman!” He intimated that if she had taken the shot as directed, she would have punched her tag.

Perhaps. We’ll never know for sure.

The guide has become a close friend over the years, but Wife — though she has long forgiven our guide friend — had reason to dislike the confusing shoot-don’t-shoot commands. A guide can be your expert in the pursuit and find the animal for you, but at the critical moment of decision, the coach needs to zip it up. For better or worse, let the shooter call the shot, so to speak, without additional pressure.

A few years later, I called a Maine cow moose into a logging yard for Wife — her first moose encounter. Looking over her shoulder from a crouched position, I watched the cow stop broadside at a little over 100 yards. Taking deep breaths after cocking the hammer on her .35 Remington, it seemed to me like she was taking her merry old time with the shot. “Shoot, dammit. Shoot!” I said impatiently only to myself, oh so softly.

Finally, WHAM! This time it was a kill, a well-placed lung shot that put the big animal down after a 50-yard gallop.

Although I am not sure what the shoot-command protocol is for seasoned big game guides, I would suggest that any adults mentoring young hunters school your youth hunter thoroughly in advance, but at the moment of reckoning, when the pressure is on, let him or her decide all by themselves when or when not to squeeze that trigger.

What do you think?

V. Paul Reynolds is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal, a Maine guide and host of a weekly radio program, “Maine Outdoors,” heard at 7 p.m. Sundays on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network. He has authored three books; online purchase information is available at

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