Twenty years ago or so, Keith McCafferty wrote a great story for us called “The Quality of Mercy,” in which he described watching a doe that was lying curled up underneath some pines, gently eating snowflakes as they drifted down. His freezer was empty, but he couldn’t bring himself to shoot her.

This past September, I watched a young Utah bull elk come down to a pond for his mid-morning drink. He trotted into the water up to his chest, sucked up a couple of gallons and then did something I’ve never seen an animal do before. He splashed his left antler–he was a 5×5–in the water, giving it a good soaking.

Then he pulled up his head and shook it, making the water fly. When his antler was dry, he admired it for a few seconds, and then did the same thing with his right one. Apparently satisfied that he was now the best-groomed 5-point in that section, he trotted back into the black timber to wait out the day’s heat.

Since he was only a youngster I didn’t shoot, but if he had been a 7×7 that would go in the top five in Boone and Crockett I don’t think I would have shot, either. Sometimes, you simply don’t pull the trigger.