"You sound like a human when you walk," he whispered as we hiked away from camp and onto a snow-covered trail in the predawn darkness.
"KA-runch, KA-runch -- no animal sounds like that."
It was the first of countless insights Jim Kujala shared when we started hunting together years ago. The Montana native and Spokane Valley resident has well-honed ways about the woods, including walking with a "clop, clop," like an elk.
Classically clad from head to toe in wool -- pants, hat, gloves and plaid shirt and jacket (no camo) -- he's quiet as a cougar slipping through the undergrowth in the timber. At 6-foot-2, Kujala is lean as a herd bull after a tough winter. He seems to sense, breath and think like an elk.
"A lot of what I know about elk hunting is from fouling up," he said, reflecting on his prowess at a Blue Mountains camp this month.
But lots of success also contributes to his elk hunting IQ.
The sportsman is a master after 65 years of tagging one or more elk a season while hunting in Montana and Washington. Only once in his hunting lifetime has he failed to notch a tag.
"In the '60s I boogered up my knee trying to catch up to a bull," he said. "I couldn't hike for the rest of the season. That was that."
The odds of a hunter getting an elk in a single year are more than 10 to one in Washington and roughly five to one even in Montana. Kujala's consistency speaks of someone with extraordinary skills and passion.
Asked to divulge his ultimate secret for elk hunting success, his answer was quick.