One Hundred Young Americans: Ben

Ben, 18, South Dakota

Ben just shot the wrong elk, and he's not happy about it.

We're at a 20-acre private hunting reserve in North Dakota. Ben can't hunt elk on public land anywhere in the state because he doesn't have an "elk tag" - a state-issued license to kill a single elk.

Here on the reserve, you don't need a tag, and you're guaranteed to leave with an animal. This takes away some of the thrill of the hunt, Ben says, but it's still fun.

It's 90 degrees and we're wearing long-sleeve thermal camouflage shirt so the animals won't see us. We just spent six hours on our stomachs, hiding in bushes and crawling through elk shit. Occasionally Ben would whisper, "They're coming," and cock his compound bow (like a crossbow but it shoots farther). Then they'd run off and we'd sink back into the bushes.

Suddenly Ben sees his animal and takes aim. He waited for her to get to the perfect spot, and he launched the bow. In the instant he shot, a much bigger elk ran between Ben and his target animal.

The bow plunged into the left hind quarter of a 750-pound male elk, far from any vital organ. Ben was paralyzed. For minutes, he couldn't speak. He sat and stared at the ground, and his prey ran off.

The problem is that you pick out your animal in advance, and they're all different prices. We'd selected a female elk for $1,000. When we arrived, the owner had pointed out his one prize specimen, a giant male elk worth $250,000. When Ben shot the wrong animal, he thought it might have been the quarter-million-dollar elk.

I persuade Ben to go talk to the owner of the reserve about what happened. The guy comes out with a pair of binoculars. He says it's not the prize elk. And it's still not down, so Ben needs to put another arrow in to end its suffering. The money will get worked out later.

It takes us another hour to get an arrow in the elk's lung. And two grueling hours watching it expire. The owner reassures us, "It don't feel nothin'."

"Generally you want the animal to lie down and expire. You want it to die peacefully."

Ben remembers the first time he killed an animal, when he was 7. He was running around the yard with a BB gun, shooting at blackbirds. After firing at a hundred of them, he got one right in the head, and it fell to the ground. Ben took it and ran back to his dad, who was proud and excited.

"It was a big step," Ben says.

The story above is from Michael Franzini's One Hundred Young Americans, reprinted on Neatorama with permission.

Check out our review of the One Hundred Young Americans book and website - or get your copy here.

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