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JACKSON HOLE — The truck stopped.

The guide pulled out his binoculars and scanned an area to his left.

“It looks like there’s a couple out there,” Scott Covington said.

Covington, an Iraq war veteran, came to Jackson Hole to shoot an elk. But he wouldn’t shoot just any animal — he wanted a big one.

It was a cold morning, only a few degrees above freezing. The sun had barely cleared the hills in the east.

The guide looked to a distant clearing; no doubt there were at least a few bulls in the group. He put his binoculars down. It was time to walk.

n n n

In camp the night before, a shrill call erupted maybe an hour before bedtime and only hundreds of yards to the south. Scott raised his eyebrows.

Let’s go now, he joked.

The bugle was Scott’s first indication that elk indeed inhabited this private ranch he came to hunt. He’d been invited by the Jackson chapter of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and Wyoming Wildlife Federation to participate in the Wounded Veteran Hunt, the third hunter in four years.

The veterans hunt private land where elk are known to pass through. Both of the previous hunters bagged a trophy.

“We have some committee members and membership that did not serve [in the military],” said Steve Kilpatrick, executive director of the Wyoming Wildlife Federation. “This is an opportunity to show our respect and our great appreciation for what they’ve done.”

In camp, Scott and his hosts sat around a fold-up table, joking and comparing stories. They ate elk steaks, beans and potatoes, and drank plenty of Budweiser.

By 9:30 p.m., it was time to rest up for the next day’s hunt. Scott readied his cot, mattress pad and sleeping bag. He put on his balaclava and stalking cap, removed his prosthetic left leg, and lay down to sleep.

n n n

At Green River High School, Scott was a decorated high school runner. He took second in both the 1,600 and 3,200 meter runs at the 2003 state championships. He enlisted in the U.S. Army after graduation that same year.

The Army put his speed to use. Scott spent his first tour in Iraq, from 2004 to 2005, running from gunner to gunner, unpacking ammunition for the 10th Mountain Division. He also manned a Humvee gun.

But he couldn’t outrun the mortars.

In January 2005, Scott took shrapnel in both of his legs in a mortar attack, but was still able to finish his tour. He was promoted to sergeant and returned to Iraq in 2006 as a team leader.

His group was ambushed in 2007. Scott injured his shoulder so badly in the attack that the military sent him to Germany for surgery. Then he went home.

A year later, Scott lost his left leg. A train ran him over while he worked at an industrial plant. Doctors amputated just below the knee.

The accident was a world-changer for Scott, but his attitude stayed positive.

“It’s one of those things that just ... sucked,” he said. “But there’s nothing you can do about it.”

He and his wife, Amy, now live near Fort Bridger. They have two kids, 2-year-old Brake and 10-month-old Clare. The family is working to build a house.

Scott said Amy’s support has helped him, maybe more than anything.

“There’s probably no harder job than being the wife of a combat veteran,” he said. “It takes an amazing lady. And she is one.”

n n n

A green Ford F250 Lariat rolled into camp just before sunset. With only the running lights on, it crept slowly over a gravel road running through the ranch. Number one rule of hunting camp: Don’t spook the elk.

The hunting guide stopped at camp for a cup of coffee and a little conversation. By 7 a.m., Scott was in the truck with him. The hunt was on, just as the sun began to rise.

The truck stopped, the guide sounded his elk bugle but got no response. The truck drove on. They drove through an open gate and into a forest. Scott pointed to elk in the distance. Led by the guide and a black and white mutt of a dog, Scott walked through the woods, toward the opening where he’d seen the elk — at least three, with a couple of young bulls.

No one said a word. Scott stepped carefully, avoiding leaves, branches and anything else that might sound off underfoot. He breathed slowly. The air was crisp, just warmer than freezing.

Scott worked his way toward the herd of elk for about a hundred yards, but then turned away. The elk were on the other side of the property line. He couldn’t shoot them.

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He worked his way around the forest in a loop, over uneven ground, cutting between trees which had only recently shed their leaves, hoping to catch a bull that had strayed from the group.

Shots rang in the distance — duck hunters. Nearby, a bird shrieked.

The temperature that Saturday morning was perfect, but it hadn’t rained in weeks. The lack of moisture made tracking Scott’s future trophy more difficult. He could see tracks, but it was impossible to tell how new they were. The elk could have been here a minute ago, or a month.

By 9:30 a.m., Scott had just one last hope for the morning: a clearing scouted earlier in the day. The perfect place to set up while the guide walked a nearby marsh, scattering a herd known to congregate there.

Scott sat under a tree, gripping his .300 Ultra Magnum Rifle, a gun he had traded his entire gun collection for. The sun still sat low in the sky, but his window of opportunity would soon close. If you don’t see anything in the first couple of hours, the guide had said, you won’t see anything at all.

Scott looked to the south. The clearing lay empty. He returned to camp empty-handed. But his spirits were fine.

“I can’t thank you enough for all you do,” he said to Elk Foundation members, his hosts. “It was just fun getting to see the land.”

n n n

Scott didn’t leave camp without taking a shot.

On the last morning of the hunt, a Monday, he bagged a five-by-five elk.

He spotted the animal in a clearing near the property line marker, less than an hour after leaving camp. Several in the herd had already crossed over the fence, but this one didn’t make it.

Scott didn’t have time to think. He could only see its body between trees, maybe 50 yards away. He wounded it with his first shot and killed it with a second.

He quartered the animal and hauled it back to camp. Jackson Hole Buffalo Meat agreed to process the animal for the Covington family at no cost. They’ll have plenty of breakfast sausage and bratwurst this winter.

Scott was relieved to shoot something. He missed home.

“I was kinda getting homesick,” he said a day after the hunt. “But it was awesome.”

Reach energy reporter Adam Voge at 307-266-0561 or at adam.voge@trib.com. Read his blog at trib.com/news/opinion/blogs/boom.

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