Lorin Paley made the first shot of her hunting career count.
Lorin, a 13-year-old former Jersey girl, dropped the bull elk of a lifetime with a high-powered hunting rifle she borrowed from her coach at the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club.
"I ate elk chili just yesterday," Lorin said with a sly smile.
Lorin competes in Telemark skiing and is coached by Ken Recker at the Winter Sports Club. Growing up in New Jersey, big-game hunting wasn't a part of the culture. But she became a fan of the outdoor adventure books of author Gary Paulson.
"I was going to private school back there, and there's no hunting in Jersey," Lorin said. But I always wanted to hunt, and when I moved here, everybody hunts!"
Lorin's family brought her to Steamboat four years ago for a one-year experiment in competitive skiing, then returned for two more years while dividing school between New Jersey in the first semester and Steamboat in the second semester. This year, the family has made the move to the Yampa Valley, and Lorin is an eighth-grader at Steamboat Springs Middle School. Her skiing career suffered a setback last year when Lorin broke a femur at the start of the season. She shrugs off the injury like a true mountain woman.
"It's not that big a deal," she said. "It wasn't like it was the end of the world."
Recker recognized her spunk and encouraged her to take hunter safety education courses this fall. He hopes hunting becomes a lifelong pastime for his protege.
"I told her, 'What happens if you grow up and marry a goofball like me (who's devoted to hunting) and you can't even go hunting?'" Recker said.
Lorin's father, Bill, is learning to bow hunt, but Recker and Lorin went out for the opening weekend of the second big-game season Oct 22 and 23. The first day was uneventful. But the second day, they were sitting in a bind when two bull elk that had been spooked by other hunters dashed within 20 yards of their position. As it turned out, the elk were too close to get a shot off.
Recker had been carrying his Remington .308 caliber rifle with the intention of passing it to Lorin if elk came within range. Lorin had a pair of "hunting sticks" to brace the heavy rifle on.
"It's a 15-pound, custom-made rifle," Recker said. "It's made for me, it's not a kid gun."
Although the rifle is heavy for a youngster, Recker said, the advantage of its heavy barrel is that it produces less recoil than a lighter gun.
At any rate, the first two bulls galloped by so fast, Lorin never got the rifle to her shoulder before they were out of sight. At least the appearance of the two bulls provided encouragement for Lorin.
"I said, 'Wow, they really are here!'" she recalled.
The next chance to hunt together didn't come until the next Wednesday, when Recker was free to hunt in the morning before showing up at his construction job. They were hunting public land in a location Recker chooses to keep confidential. At the beginning of the hunt, they bumped into two hunters from Illinois whom Recker had helped out two years ago. Together they formed a strategy for the morning hunt.
Several hours later, Lorin and Recker were about to give up when the first three of almost 40 cow elk streamed over a low saddle in a ridgeline and waded into a stand of aspens.
Following along behind the cows came three bulls -- a spike, a five-point and a six-by-six point -- at a range of 150 yards.
"I was trying to get the second bull in my scope when the third (six-pointer) walked right into the scope," Lorin said. "I knew my crosshairs were on him."
"I said, 'Shoot that thing girl!'" Recker said with a laugh.
Her heart pounding, Lorin squeezed off a round and wondered if it had hit its mark.
"I thought I had missed it for a second," she said.
What the first-time hunter did not know was that one of the men from Illinois had also put his sights on the big bull, but was waiting for her to take the first shot. When she hesitated, he almost shot the elk, but Lorin fired first, and the trophy bull was hers.
With the help of the sportsmen from Illinois, the hunting party packed all of the meat from the elk about four miles out of the woods.
As soon as the snow flies, Lorin will be back on her Telemark skis training for competitions in the moguls and the slalom course.