Forced to Change up the Hunt

Barry and I could not believe it, we had just went to purchase our archery elk tags in the unit we routinely hunt and had just been told that they were all sold out. What? That canít be, my brother and I always go hunting there! We know that area and are comfortable hunting it. Plus, we know all the little ins and outs of it. But now, we are having to choose to do something different. Well, it was either change up our hunting plans or not go archery hunting at all and missing out on elk hunting was definitely not going to happen. We have done some deer hunting in some other areas so we picked one closer to home and purchased the tags. It looked that this year we would be forced to do things a little different.

The tag we picked up allowed for us to shoot either a cow or a bull elk. Both my brother Barry and I were really hoping to be able to shoot a bull though. As we talked about what we wanted to do we both decided that as long as there was a good chance we could get a shot at a bull then we would pass on the cows. We knew very little about this area but felt like it would be a fun hunt with an opportunity to learn more about the area. We just needed to get out and do some scouting and find where the elk are and hopefully lay eyes on some nice trophy bulls.

††††††††††††††† We tried to get out scouting a few times before the season started but the time flew by and the opening day of the season was quickly upon us. Early opening morning we drove out to an area we wanted to hunt and spent the day walking and glassing a lot with absolutely no luck. The next day we decided to move to a few other spots we thought would be good to hunt and finally that evening we were able to spot some elk. We were not able to get into a position for a shot but at least we there was elk in the area. The third day proved the same as the second as we saw more elk but were not able to get close enough to have an opportunity for a shot. During these first few days the weather was hot and the elk seemed to be found in the dark cool timber and they were not responding to any calls despite our best efforts. As we went back home for the week, we were hoping that some cooler weather would move in and the elk would start to rut and make for better hunting.

††††††††††††††† The following weekend we went out and just like we left off the week before we were able to find some elk but there was still very little rutting activity and we were unable to get into a position where we could get a shot. After another couple fun days of hunting with my brother we once again had to head back home to wait to go back out. We were a little discouraged and we really just wanted to have our usual tags and be hunting our usual area. What we didnít know is that this new forced change was about to make for something special.

Our third trip out the weather was finally starting to cool slightly as it was the later part of the month. As we slept in the camper that night, I remember thinking that although the weather was slightly cooler than the previous trips it still was not as cold as we were hoping for. We got up early the next morning and hunted with absolutely no luck. We did not hear or see a single elk that morning. That evening though we spotted a single spike who had worked his way out of a thick group of trees. He was getting a drink at a spring which was on a mountain side just a few hundred yards down from us. We worked down the mountain and found a small heard of elk in the trees. The trees were so thick we were not able to tell how many elk were there but we knew there was a bull in the heard. We made a plan and slowly started to work in on these elk racing the daylight and hoping that they would be moving out of the trees in our direction. As we got down to the edge of the trees, we could hear a few of the bulls bugling and occasionally we could catch glimpses of the cows as they were being pushed around by the heard bull. As luck would have it they were moving in the opposite direction of us. They were not moving fast but as the daylight was coming to an end and the fact we didnít want to risk pushing them out we stuck behind hoping that we could pull one of the elk back to us. Unfortunately, it didnít work and the night soon came. However, we headed back to the camper with a renewed desire and encouragement that we might still get a chance at harvesting an elk.

††††††††††††††† The next morning we awoke early knowing that we had a long hike into the area where the elk were the night before. We were excited hoping to find the elk just where they were before. The closer we got to the area though the more our enthusiasm dwindled. We were not hearing or seeing any elk. As the morning light started to show we arrived where we thought the elk would be but the elk were plain not there. Where did they go what did we do wrong?

The canyon we were hunting had one side of it pretty open with very few trees. The middle of the draw had a small spring and a few stagnant ponds surrounded by quite a few trees and there were a few draws and hills with some heavy trees. The canyon then opened up at the bottom with some good feeding areas that we later found out to be where the elk liked to feed out into at night. As we hunted that area that morning we found a nice wallow that looked like it had been used regularly by elk. Although I am not one to sit for a long time, I decided I would wait at that wallow as Barry worked down the mountain. I had really come to like hunting over wallows, especially during hot times of the month, and I had convinced myself that an elk would almost have to come and use it that morning. It wasnít long after we split up that I heard the sound I had been waiting to hear all morning! It was the sound of a bugle from a bull elk! However, I was not sure if it was an elk of if it was Barry. I then heard a different bugle and was pretty sure it was a herd of elk and possibly the same ones we saw the night before. I continued to wait at the wallow hoping that they were heading towards me to cool off before bedding down for the day.

There is just something that attracts me to the sound of an elk bugle and after waiting and listening for what seemed like hours (but was probably really only an hour) I could not take it any longer and decided to try and go after that herd. I was not sure where Barry was but I thought my best chance would be to get to the side of the elk where the wind was in my favor and hope that I can use a cow call to get something in close enough. From the many different bugles, I knew there were some satellite bulls that were pretty excited and I thought my chances of picking one of them off was pretty good. I spent some time working around making sure the wind was just right and kept moving closer and closer to the sounds of the bugles. The way the mountains and thick trees made it so I could not see a single elk even though I had to be within a couple hundred yards based on the sound of the bugles. There was a little tree covered hill that I worked up the side of and slowly moved across the top. On the top of this hill I finally spotted a cow elk about 60 yards away. I sat there and watched and soon another cow appeared and then another, they just kept appearing out of nowhere. It was at that point that I realized I had just worked my way into the middle of this herd of elk. I knew that there were bulls in the group but they must be further back so I just hung tight as the cows slowly moved around on the top of this hill feeding on the grass amongst all the trees and deadfall. I soon caught a glimpse of a small bull just coming through the trees. I had made up my mind and although it was not big I was going to shoot this bull if given a chance. The bull worked into range and now I was just waiting for a shot to present itself when all of the sudden I heard a bugle directly behind me.

The hair on my neck stood up and I slowly turned and saw a huge set of antlers. At that point everything started to go into fast speed as things were unfolding like crazy. I had cows all around me, 1 satellite bull that I could take a shot at, and then now a big herd bull about 50 yards away walking up the exact trail I had walked on. There must have been a cow that walked that same trail recently because his nose was to the ground and he was headed directly towards me. I didnít have time to count points or think about if I was going to shoot this bull or not, instincts just took over for me as my mind knew to try and get a shot at him. I slowly turned around but with the bull facing me I neither had a shot nor could I draw my bow. He kept coming closer and closer, bugling occasionally but still facing directly towards me. My heart was pounding and I did not know what I was going to do until he got about 10 yards from me. He did exactly what I needed him to do; he turned off the trail! This was my chance I thought to myself as he walked right behind a small group of trees. This gave me just long enough to turn again slightly and draw my bow. I pointed my bow right where he was coming to and as soon as his vitals were past those trees I squeezed on my Carter release letting the arrow fly. He was quartering towards me and as soon as I let go the arrow smacked his front shoulder and he spun around and took off. I took a minute, gathered myself, and realized that I had just shot a big heard bull. It all happened so fast that I didnít realize exactly how close he had gotten but once I settled myself down I realized that he was about 4 yards away when I shot. He was quartering towards me so I was not too sure on what kind of damage the arrow did and I knew I just needed to wait and give the bull some time to bleed out.

I got ahold of Barry on the radio and with excitement in my voice I told him I had shot one, approximately where I was at, and that I was going to wait for a while and then see if I could pick up a blood trail. It was still late morning so I knew we had plenty of time and there was no need to push this bull around. After waiting for a while I started to look for some blood and slowly walked down the hill where the bull went. I could not find any blood and I was starting to get a little worried. I walked back to where I had shot him from and then slowly back down to where he had ran looking for blood. Again I saw nothing. I repeated this a few times looking over the area I saw him run through and still nothing. As I continued looking I glanced up ahead and there he was lying amongst some downfall and bushes. I had not seen a drop of blood but was lucky enough that he had not gone far at all. He was laying less than 80 yards from where I had shot him and I had watched him run about 50 yards of it. Just like what repeatedly happened on this whole hunt, my emotions went from the highest high of shooting at the bull to the lowest low when I could not find any blood and then back to floating on air again when I saw that bull! It wasnít long after I found my bull that Barry showed up. I showed him the bull and he gave he a big high five and we celebrated together. We counted the points and commented on the mass that his antlers had while placing our hands around them; 6 points on one side and 7 on the other with some very nice mass on parts of it.

The rest of the afternoon was spent quartering and hanging the elk in a nearby tree and then hiking back out to camp. Once again night came too early and we found ourselves making most of the hike out in the dark but this time we were much happier because of our success that day. That night we drove back to town to get some horses to make packing it out a lot easier. When we got to town, we called our brother in law, Dennis, who was happy for us and said we could come use some of his horses. We got a little sleep, loaded up the horses and picked up our brother Brad to help us pack it out. We spent the day packing out the elk, taking pictures and getting it back to town.

The next year I officially had my trophy scored at 327 typical which was good enough to make the Pope and Young record book. It is a unique rack and although the seventh point does not help the score, I am absolutely happy to have gotten such a nice, unique trophy. I have heard many phrases to the theme of ďhunting is not about what you harvest, but about the time you get to share with family and friendsĒ. As happy as I was to get that nice trophy, it is not the only reason why I go hunting. I go because of the time I get to spend with my family and friends and the good memories made on these hunting trips. The animal I may get to harvest is only second to the time spent with others. My family members have always been my favorite hunting partners and I have fond memories of wonderful times as a kid going hunting with my dad. Then as I got older, going on great hunts with my brothers, sisters, and brother in-laws and now, just recently, the times I have been able to taking my 6 year old daughter Kazia on hunting trips. We have had good times, great memories, and I look forward to more in the future. Now looking back, Barry and I are both glad that we were forced to go somewhere new, learn and see a different area, and get out of our usual hunting routine.