He was still climbing toward me when he began to explain: "Ten minutes after I entered the gulley, I saw a cow watching me. A second later a spike bull stepped out from behind a tree." Richard stopped 20 feet away and looked at his boots. "I shot him behind the left shoulder, staggered him, and then dropped him with a neck shot. If the four-point hadn't stood up...."
I wouldn't allow myself to make sense out of what he was telling me. I refused to acknowledge that what I feared was true.
"Even if the four-point had stood up first and the spike second...." He stopped talking and watched Jack make his way toward us.
"What happened?" I demanded.
"I saw a cow and then a spike bull...."
"You shot two elk?" As I said it, I wanted him to deny it. He could have missed with two of those four shots, could have hit the animal in a bad place and finished it poorly. But he didn't say a word. He just kept watching Jack walk. I knew it was true.
"Jesus, Richard, what were you thinking when you pulled the trigger?"
"I guess I wasn't thinking," he said sadly, shaking his head without looking at me. "For two weeks all I wanted was a rifle, and look what happens when I finally get my hands on one."
"Sounds like the season's over," Jack said as he crossed the last rise to us. We walked over to the dead elk.
They were lying within 30 feet of each other in the gulley where they'd bedded down the night before. It was full of signs—wallows and rubs, fresh droppings and deep trails. Two weeks was long enough to discover where they bedded. Richard had known they would be there, but how could he have shot them? After 14 days of solitary, unproductive hunts had he felt a subconscious need to even the score? And when he had the elk where he wanted them, had he suffered a breakdown? Could he be innocent by reason of temporary insanity?