Erika Lincoln had just removed her hunting boots when her husband spotted the bull. She was sitting in the passenger seat of Chris’ truck, having just tugged on her cowboy boots and writing off yet another archery elk season as a bust. It was the last day to archery hunt in Montana and it looked like she would go another year without notching her tag. Erika had been archery hunting for five years and had yet to harvest a single animal.
The pair were driving down a dirt road on Oct. 15, away from their campsite on public land in west-central Montana, when Chris stopped to glass. It was a last-ditch effort after multiple unsuccessful weekends in the same spot, this latest one a four-day trip.
“My husband has the eyes for the critters. He jokingly said ‘Hey, wanna finally shoot a bull?’ And I said ‘Ha ha, very funny,’” Erika tells Outdoor Life. “But he said ‘No seriously, get out of the truck, there’s a bull right there.’ I didn’t even see the head, just the body.”
The bull was a thousand yards away, so Erika and Chris started sneaking in its direction—Erika now in her square-toed cowboy boots. The elk had been bedded in a bowl up a small rise from the road but as the pair moved closer, the bull got up to move out of the sun and bedded in a shaded spot out of Erika’s line of sight. But they kept creeping in and eventually they had eyes on him.
“The bull had started to doze off,” Erika says, laughing. “So he looked very surprised. At 40 yards I drew back, and he looked up like ‘Oh, crap, a human,’ and I drove him with a nice lung shot. He went down pretty quick, he made it maybe 100 yards.”
Erika didn’t actually see the size of the rack—with its 14 points, busted tips, and broken tine—until she came around a corner. That’s when she realized it was a bull she had hunted last year. She had come within 6 yards of the bull but didn’t have a good angle and had to pass on him.
“I popped past the trees and saw that huge head,” she says. “With my heart condition, if I get excited or nervous, I flip into AFIB. So I have to hold my breath for a couple seconds to right my heart rhythm.”
By AFIB, Erika means atrial fibrillation, a type of abnormal heartbeat. For her, the most complicated part of hunting is doing so while battling chronic illness. At 37, she’s dealt with chronic illness for 22 years. She has lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, hypophosphatasia, glaucoma, a rare heart condition, and other roadblocks that complicate her ability to hunt comfortably and safely.
“I can make it 50 to 100 yards before I start to see spots, so I have to stop and catch my breath and let my heart right itself,” she says. “It was dark by the time we processed the elk and put everything in packs to walk out, and the walk out was nothing but tall grass and shrubs. I have glaucoma, so I really can’t see in the dark. So walking out in the dark was super fun, with over 100 pounds on our backs.”
Erika receives chemotherapy drugs to treat her lupus, a side effect of which was Bell’s Palsy, causing half her face to droop. The medication also lowered her immune system, so she ended up with shingles, which also impacted her vision. These complications make already-difficult parts of Western bowhunting—stalking, drawing, aiming steadily, focusing in on a pin, managing adrenaline, and packing a big game animal out—all the harder.
“I have to buy a different type of scope with a firedot, because my eyes can’t focus on the center of the crosshairs anymore,” she explains. “But … I’m a one-and-done kind of person who won’t shoot unless I’m sure. So I’ve had to change some things to accommodate my health.”
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Erika swears she couldn’t have shot, broken down, and packed out such an impressive bull without her husband’s help, so she credits him with most of the work. But she has also put a lot of time and effort into archery hunting, despite the many obstacles that have stood in her way, making this notched tag all the sweeter.
“I used to be able to go miles and miles,” she says. “I looked at my pedometer at the end of the day after we were done packing him out. We had gone eight miles. For me, that’s a lot. But we did it. We made it.”