Anyway, I made it to the meadow, and was telling myself how good it looked when I looked 200 yards down to the other end and saw brown! I knew this spot looked good. I dropped down and hit the cow call and pretty soon the brown spot turned into 6 elk. They came in on a string and a good 5 point made his way to 14 yards. I get excited for elk season right around September 25th, when elk season ends. To say that my excitement for the coming season had hit a high was an understatement. I put up my camera at the edge of the meadow by a bunch of elk beds. I replayed it in my head over and over as I bailed off the edge of the mountain back to the truck.
Like every other year, it seems like hunting season is so far away, and before I know it, I’m packing the truck. With a plan in place, 3 of us headed out Friday afternoon and arrived at our camp. There was no reason to get there early since no fires were permitted. We pulled into the same spot as last year, put the seats down in the back of the SUV’s and went to sleep. Sleep was difficult and I am pretty sure I fell asleep for the first time as my alarm went off. No matter, I was up and ready! We made the 4 mile hike under what was the brightest moon I think I’ve ever seen and just as the black of darkness turned into gray of morning I let out the first bugle of the season. The new phelps AMP gray sounded amazing echoing off the aspens. I waited for the bugle that I knew was going to come, but of course never did. With the thermals in our face we started to climb and glass. ELK!
Looking forward to the story sir! Thanks!
We hunkered down in the 3 feet tall grass and watched a young cow feed our way. She was safe from our arrows, but a random 1.5 year old cow couldn’t be far from the herd. She fed within 70 yards and disappeared into the timber. We continued on our way and ran smack into a little bog filled with elk sign. Backing up the story slightly…my buddy whiffed last year due to a 3” wide sapling that got the business end of his arrow. His freezer was empty and it was our mission to get him an elk early! Back to the story…He set up in front and I went to town with some little bull squeals and some cow calls. Felicia (my heads up decoy) was attached to a willow branch and before long we heard elk. 30 minutes into the season and it might happen! Looking back, it was a donkey setup and I knew better. Pretty soon elk sounds turned into elk barks as a bull dropped down the ridge below us and worked his way down wind. The bark behind us was answered by a bark above us. The worst part of a barking elk is that you just know that every elk in ear shot is now on high alert. I barked back out of frustration. We barked back and forth for a while before they shut up and we moved up the hill. Another 100 yards up the hill we found a meadow with 15-20 elk beds with steaming piles of elk crap. That was close! Looking back, I should have found a better setup where we could have cut them off if they tried to move down wind. All the fresh elk sign and 10 months of dreaming about bugles got me excited and I didn’t think through the plan!
It was a hot, dry, windy day and by 9am we were about done. We worked our way along a steep hillside, bugling as we went. I hadn’t received an answer all day, but I kept trying. My last bugle of the morning finally got a response. It sounded like something was bugling back, but the start of the bugle ended with yip of a coyote! Figures… A couple squeals on my part brought in a young coyote, full of piss and vinegar. He was an ornery little bastard and I had a plan for him. I ranged him at 40 yards and dialed in my single slider. The hill side was steep and he looked close to 80 yards away. I let one fly and it skimmed his back. I’m not sure if the hill was too steep for my range finder to calculate the angle correctly, or if I just missed, but the walk of shame to get my arrow was worse than usual as I had to climb my way back up the steep ass hill.
Looking back up the hill, we saw more elk feeding on an open hillside. We sat for an hour without finding a bull before we broke out the headlamps and headed for the truck.
That night the conversation revolved around whether to give Sunday a try, or wait for “the rut to start”, “the weather to change”, and “the bulls to start bugling”. We finally decided we’d give it a shot and the next morning we were up and at it again, albeit a little slower and much less enthusiastic.
Once again we hiked up the few miles to where we wanted to start and proceeded to move and bugle, move and bugle. There’s not a person out there that would consider me an eternal optimist but every time I bugled, I was sure something would bugle back. 20,30,50 times, it didn’t matter, the next bugle would be answered. They weren’t and I finally called it. My buddy wanted to go sit on a log and watch the hillside that the cows were feeding on the night before and I begrudgingly agreed. He led the way and finally I gave up, sat on a log and pulled out my lunch, showing him I had given up. He joined me for a PBJ sandwich and we watched nothingness.
Two minutes later he tells me he heard something and points over yander, to which I replied that I saw some cattle there on the way back. “No, it was an elk” he tells me, as I think to myself that he’s full of you know what. I look over in the direction he “heard something” to see a bull wander out of the willows. WELL $HIT! The bull is 150 yards and heading our direction, but it looks like he’ll cross up the hill about 100 yards. As we sit there excitedly talking about our move, another bull comes out. Followed by #3, #4, and #5. There was 1 little 4 point, 2 smaller 5 points, a decent 5 point, and a nice 5x6 with a nontypical point on top. They were all young bulls, but they would definitely work! We crouched below the log and waited for them to cross the 200 yard wide hillside and enter the aspens. Once they entered the aspens we would be blocked from their view and if we hustled we could run 100 yards out ahead of them and then move up another 50 yards and possibly intercept them. The first bull was about 125 yards across the meadow, with each bull about 10 yards behind, when #6 walked out. #6 had a body 2 times as big as the other 5. He was the big boy in the group for sure! He lagged behind, taking his time. When the other 5 were in the trees we crouched low and moved out. We did the squat shuffle through the trees until we hit the next open hillside and then started creeping up hill.
The arrow went off as I finished my sentence and I heard it hit elk. WOOHOO, opening weekend! I stood up as the bull tore down the hill…an arrow sticking equally out both sides of his back straps, directly up from the back of the front leg. The other bulls looked at us confused and trotted off. Long story short, we never found a drop of blood and lost his tracks quickly. We grid searched hoping to find the arrow, but didn’t have any luck. We checked for birds the following weekend, but we never found any indication that he died.
My disappointment was dwarfed by his frustration. I’ve been there and nothing but time will make it better. We walked back to the truck in silence. Minus me telling him how close it was to the trail and what an easy pack out it would have been. Haha
We headed home, me full of excitement and optimism, him full of frustration and disappointment. I only had 4 more days until I was heading back again, while he had to skip the long weekend and wait for the following weekend to get another chance.
Unfortunately, he spotted me first and a standoff ensued. He didn’t know what I was, but couldn’t figure out why elk noises were coming from this “thing” that was surely not an elk! I could tell it was a bull, but in the 5 feet tall aspens, I couldn’t make out much more. He moved off and I gave him a parting bugle.
That bugle received an answer from farther up the ridge. It sounded like it was coming from a big meadow that I knew held elk, but mostly at night. The bull continued to bugle at me as I snuck toward him trying to convince myself that the untrusty wind wouldn’t screw things up for me. When I cow called, he bugled. When I bugled, he bugled. When I didn’t call back to his bugle, he bugled. After the 20th bugle I stopped counting.
Three times, I decided the wind had finally stabilized, but every time I would start toward him the gust would hit the back of my neck and I’d sit back down. After an hour, the sun dropped behind the mountain and it was go time. I was a 16 year old boy a prom...I was ready!!!! I moved in to the edge of the meadow and saw him, still screaming at nobody in particular, as 5 cows laid there. To the left a couple of spikes stood at the edge of the herd, and a BIG 5x6 stood off to the side. The 6x6 was definitely the boss, but the 5x6 looked bigger. I wasn’t sure if the 6x6 had run him off or if he just didn’t care about the cows yet since it was still early. Either way, he was big and in a killable spot. I threw out a couple bugles, but the 6x6 wasn’t leaving the cows. He was a good 200 yards from the nearest cover, so I shifted my focus to the 5x6 on the edge of the timber.
I dropped down below the ridge and snuck toward the 5x6. I got to what seemed like 75 yards and snuck up to the edge of the ridge, but he wasn’t there. Ole 6x6 was though, bugling away, letting everyone in the country know he was king kong. I decided to get aggressive again and started cutting him off. He was 150 yards away at this point and his temper was rising. Four bugles back and forth and he headed over to a small aspen and proceeded to take his pent-up aggression out on this poor tree. When he’d stop raking he’d let out the gnarliest bugle I’ve heard in the elk woods, full of lip bawls and grunts. I’d cut him off with my own version of a lip bawl and he’d go back to the poor tree. Finally he’d had enough as I bugled over him again and he started my way. It was on!!!!!
He headed right for me, head low and swaying back and forth. He was posturing, trying to show me he was bigger and meaner and I was about to receive the same fate as the aspen tree that was now leafless. He was 80 yards and closing. My single pin slider was set at 30 yards, which allowed me to shoot from 0 to 35 without any holdover and easily to 40 without having to fiddle with it. My handheld, thumb release was on the d-loop and the tension in my body and on the string was building. I was laser focused as he hit 60 yards and tunnel vision had set in when a thunder of hooves scared the crap out of me.
Coming from the small band of cows who were intently watching the “show”, a spike had decided to go say hello to the new comers. This wasn’t good. I looked back at the bull and he was no stopped, head high, watching this ugly little bastard walk by me at 10 yards. The spike was too dumb to realize the scent of a human, but instinct told him something wasn’t right. He stood looking through me for a few seconds and head held high, he trotted back to the herd. Of course, the bull was now on high alert. He turned and headed for his cows, looking back only once as I threw out my last challenge, but for the first time in 2 hours, it fell on deaf ears. I’d been spiked…
I know this ridge like the back of my hand as I’ve taken bulls within 300 yards of where I was standing the last 2 years. The ridge drops down about 100 feet and then flattens out on a big bench that runs parallel to the ridge. I was on the bench and working my way to get in front of them, moving quickly, but keeping an eye out for more elk. 100 yards, 200 yards, 400 yards, BUSTED! I froze and waited for an eruption of hooves as an elk stood there staring at me through the trees. Then a gnarly bugle rings out. It was the 6x6 standing on the edge of the ridge, looking down onto the bench I was standing on. He hadn’t seen me through the thick fir tree. I stood motionless for what seemed like forever when he finally turned. I took the opportunity to kneel on both knees and wait for him to make a move.
I was at the edge of the fir tree line and in front of me was a small meadow about 80 yards wide. It was a ¾ circle with the right side being the ridge and the left side being a huge open hillside. The meadow was a small hill with a snag in the middle. I ranged the snag at 55 yards. Coming down from the steep ridge was a very well used elk trail and I could hear an elk at the bottom of the trail, only about 15 yards from me walking and feeding.
The bull was working his way down the steep grade and I could still here the other elk, I was positive it was a cow, feeding closer. My single pin slider was still set at 30, an arrow nocked and my thumb release locked on my D-loop…I was ready!
Great story telling man! Keep it coming!
My cow call was more of a timid mouse squeak as the moment was getting to me. 100s of cow calls and this was by far the most pathetic noise I’d made. His head rocketed around and locked onto me, now on full alert. Mission not accomplished...
It was way too much to think about and I pulled the trigger with my thumb. It was still executed very well, especially based on the circumstances and I watch the arrow 125 grain German Kinetic XL fly in a perfect arch toward its target. ¾ of the way there the bull went to turn and leave, but he was too slow. As he took his step it put the point of impact, that was going to be a 12 ringer, back mid body. My heart sank as the 550 grain arrow, travelling 275 fps disappeared into the bull. What happened next was unreal. He tore out of there on a dead sprint, faster and harder than I’ve ever seen an animal run. He apparently wasn’t paying attention to his direction of travel because 50 yards into his sprint he T-boned the cow that he’d been following. I could hear the thud as he plowed into her, then it was hooves and hide as they rolled down the hill together. I hoped he broke his neck as his antlers went into the soft dirt and he flipped over onto his back, but no such luck.
He was up and sprinting down the hill for the aspens. The cow got up and stared at him as he sprinted away, no doubt wonder WTF just happened?!?! The spikes and 5x6 stared in amazement as he thundered away.
He entered the aspens like a locomotive as he crashed through everything in his path. It sounded like he ran over a tree, then a second of silence, another crash and more silence. I heard a grunt/snort noise then more silence. The elk standing on the hillside stared down there for a little longer and then wandered off. It was now getting dark and I pulled out the headlamp and went to the spot he was standing. The german kinetic did it’s job and there was blood at the spot of impact. It was fairly easy to follow. There wasn’t a giant spray, but there were constant blood drips.
I wanted to find that arrow to see if there was guts on it, but after 45 minutes I gave up. It was decision time. I followed the blood trail to the spot where he ran over the cow and there was a large blood smear where he rolled down the hill. The week before I read jordanathome story about bumping a bull and then finding him dead 2 days later. I was PRETTY sure he was dead where I heard the crash, but if he wasn’t and he got up and ran off to never be seen again, I would be kicking myself for years. I pondered my decision for a good hour and decided it was dark and cool and the best bet was to head for camp. I made it the 2 miles back to camp, packed up in the dark, and hiked 3 more miles to the truck in absolute record time. By midnight I was trying to fall asleep in the back of my SUV at a different trail. I thought falling asleep the night before the opener was hard…this was borderline impossible.
At 4am I was up and heading for a GPS mark in the dark. I hunt for meat, and I with temperatures hitting the mid 70’s I wanted to find the bull early and get him broken down. At first light I finally entered the big aspen patch where he disappeared the night before. I was going to cut through where I thought I heard him fall and then work my way to the blood smear from the night before and then track it to the elk…I hoped.
I spent the next 3 hours trying to break him down. He fell right on his stomach with his legs pushed out in all 4 directions which made it almost impossible to turn over. That, coupled with deadfall and a hillside, AND a rock hard elk, made for a miserable gutless method. The arrow cut the second to last rib, went through the cavity and broke the front side shoulder, before poking through the other side. I ended up finding the broadhead with 3” of broken shaft in the opposite side shoulder. It had penetrated through the hide, but somehow stayed inside the elk. I ended up losing a little meat to bone spoil on the side he was laying. When I dropped off the bull, I opened up the SUV and the butcher asked “when do you kill it” followed by “when did you find it”. He obviously could smell the meat souring. Luckily, it was only in 1 hind quarter and it was only right along the bone. He cut it out on the table and gave it the sniff test. The sniff test consisted of him putting his nose 1” from the meat and smelling all over. Very scientific! He made a note on the paperwork to keep an eye for more spoilage, but that ended up being all of it.
I’ve eaten some steaks and burgers and the meat turned out FANTASTIC! He hung at 280 with quarters, straps, loins and trim, which was 100 pounds more than the bull I brought the year before.
I forgot to mention he snapped off his 3rd on the left side, not sure if it happened when he hit the cow or crashed into the trees. I couldn’t find the missing antler but I’m not worried about it either way.
I know about work and the Bowsite. When it started to interfere I did the smart thing and quit work...
I’ll throw this out there, but I’m pretty sure it’s unnecessary. The rest of this story is a combination muzzle loader and bow story, but I promise there will be no long range muzzle loader shots here! So if you’re a scrooge then stop reading and go yell at Bowriter.
My dad was able to draw a muzzleloader tag for the same unit and his summer consisted of buying crap he “needed” (sounds familiar!) and talking to me constantly about the upcoming trip. I get bored on the drive home and he receives a call almost daily. Being an old fart (he’s on bowsite), he decided he needed to bring his horse, which left me to ponder the question “where’s my horse?!?!” My horse consisted of 2 feet and my horse shoes were Solomon 4D’s.
I wasn’t sure how many days I’d be able to chase that horse around the mountains, but I was confident it would be enough. 30 years ago my dad was hauling my butt around the mountains chasing high desert mule deer in California and I was damn sure going to return the favor with a hell of an elk tag that he drew!!!! You’re never too old to kill your first elk!
PS - that looks kinda like some of my modern model bows;-)
Absolutely NOTHING! I was amazed how far the smell of dead elk carried though, as I could smell my 6 day old elk a half mile away as the thermals blew down the hill. We made a huge loop that day, covering miles to see one cow. Well that was unexpected!!!
I was beginning to get a little frustrated, not that we had gone a day and an hour without seeing or hearing a bull, but that I wasn’t getting my dad into anything, in a spot that I’ve stacked the bulls the last few years and told him all about how many elk we were going to get into!!! We continued into the meadow and found a very nice wallow that had been used, but not recently. We worked through the meadow and climbed up the ridge.
The rest of the morning was quiet, minus seeing a bull across the ridge heading out. At least there was still 1 branch antlered bull on the mountain!
****side note...I have some very detailed sheep herder aspen tree art that I would share, but I’m not sure if Pat would appreciate the pictures that very lonely sheep herders carve in aspen trees....
Even though the elk weren’t cooperating, every second is worth the price of admission!
Looks like you got a pretty good “kid” there Bowsiteguy!
Even if he can’t find you an elk:-)
I moved to the edge of the hill and saw a tan rump wandering away so we pushed ahead and set up. Nothingness… The evening ended uneventfully and we made the 3 mile trek back to camp.
We decided the “new spot” was worth another go having seeing some cows, spikes, and the long bull the day before. Once again, getting in there with the wind was tricky because the thermals would blow up hill (good thing) until the evening, but then dump down hill right into the canyon/basin and from us to the elk (very bad thing). We left camp early and made the hike up to the cow trail.
We cow called as we moved toward the spot, but nothing responded. When we got close, we sat and waited for the sun to drop and thermals to change direction. Once the thermals started heading down hill we’d have to drop down lower and hope our scent pushed past the elk. It was our only chance!
With the sun dropping and 40 minutes of shoot time left we tied the horse and made our way toward the meadow. I wanted to drop lower and lower, giving us more area out in front that would be free of our scent, but knowing the lower I dropped, the more my dad was going to have to climb on the way out! We got to the wallow we had found the day before, having bugled every 100 yards or so without a response. The meadow was to our right, slightly up hill and the wind was blowing at our backs and slightly to our left. Our only play was to hike to the edge of the meadow and call until dark. I took 2 steps and there was an eruption of elk. SON OF A ! The wind was good so it obviously heard or saw us. I got on the bugle immediately and threw out some elk sounds. I walked back to my dad and started to tell him that this was a bunch of Bull Sh*t and these elk were A-holes when I heard a noise.
Then I heard it again. It sounded like an elk rubbing a tree. Then I confirmed it, there was a bull raking a tree exactly where that elk ran. I told my dad, “let’s go!” and we headed for him, staying below him.
Here’s the rest!
I found a semi dry wallow and broke a couple branches on a downed tree. Then I started my own elk party. I stomped, I cracked branches, I raked a tree, I cow called and answered myself with a little squealy bugle. I thought I sounded fantastic! Unfortunately, nobody was answering and the realization of the hunt coming to an end crept into my mind. Was it successful? Hell yes it was. Spending time with my favorite hunting buddy of 30+ years was the ultimate prize. We both know that at 78 years old, riding a horse 10-15 miles a day is a hell of an accomplishment but at some point will be a memory. I’m hoping we’ve got another 10 years of him complaining about his ass being sore from the saddle, but who knows what the future brings. KABOOM!!!!
I about jumped out of my damn shoes. I ran over the hill to see him looking at the muzzle loader, like “WTF do I do now?” I ran up to him and tried to figure out what happened and if he shot an elk and he was trying to figure out how to load the damn muzzle loader!
We got it loaded and I heard enough of the story to know that he knocked down a bull, then it tried to get up and then he decided it was time to load his smoke stick. A thought came to me and I asked him… “how many points did it have?”, hoping he remembered what I told him about 4 on one side. He says “I started counting and when I got to 4 I said ‘eff it’ and pulled the trigger.” We had a good laugh and started the stalk to where he thought he shot him. It ended up being about a little under 30 yard, broad shot and while it was a muzzleloader kill, I think it qualifies for you bowsite boys, up close and personal!
The bull came in completely silent, the only noise he ever made was the raking I heard after we busted him from his bed. My dad was amazed how quiet he was able to come in. He never made a noise and moved so slowly that the tan patch that he’d looked at 3 different times thinking that it looked “off” was an elk standing at 25 yards! He never saw it move in on him even though he was staring in the exact direction the entire time. It always amazes me that a 500 pound animal can move so quietly and stealthily through a noise, dry forest.
Funny side note…I went back to find the horse, but by now it was dark. When you try to find a dark brown horse in the pitch black, be prepared to wander for quite a while. The thought did cross my mind that I might not find the bastard until the next morning, but lucky an eye ball shined off my headlamp about 50 yards away!
Packing an elk out on a good mountain horse can spoil a guy REAL quick. Our horse train hit the trail, me in front, the horse behind, and my dad behind the horse making sure the load stayed balanced. We made it back to camp around 2am, exhausted.
The next morning we parted ways, but not before I got him set up with some good podcasts for the long ride home. He put the antlers on top of the camper (the only place they’d fit) and apparently was somewhat of a celebrity on the way west.
Thanks for following along and I’ve got one more chapter. My buddy still has an unpunched tag!!!!!!!
Happy for your dad and you!!
Another tag?!?!? Better start a new thread...
Always better to read a story and not clutter it up with tons of pics.
The hillside was open with large aspens and little no cover. He went about 300 yards and was a good 150 yards from the top when he set up. I threw out a couple cow calls…nothing. I squealed at him…nothing. I ramped it up and he bugled over the top of me. Someone likes it rough!
I charged up the hill cow calling, making as much noise as I could. When I got to my buddy, I bugled the nastiest bugle I could then ran back down the hill cow calling and bugling 100 yards. I was trying to convince him a cow was trying to get to him, but the bull chased her down and ran her back down the hill. He bugled closer to the ridge and I cut him off. As I cut him off, he cut me off! A-hole!!!
I had found a little group of baby aspens to hide in. I was raking a little one and shaking the biggest aspen in the bunch, creating some visual for him. I heard him scream and he sounded on top of me. I came over the top of him again with a frustrated whine that turned into a lip bawl with a chuckle at the end. I don’t even think it was an elk noise, but he screamed over the top of me again. Here we go!!!!
Wow, what an unbelievable view. I raked a tree, and shook the other tree. He screamed at me. I knew it was a matter of seconds before he charged down the hill and if my buddy was lucky he’d get a shot before he was trampled. The bull was at level 10. HE WAS PISSED!! He strutted back and forth on the ridge and I realized we were in trouble.
He wasn’t scared of a fight and he was ready to whip my ass, but he wasn’t coming down the hill. He walked back and disappeared. I ran up the hill to my buddy and told him we had to move. As I looked back the way I came, I realized our problem. He was looking down into a grass park filled with 100 foot tall aspens. He knew he should have been able to see me and when he didn’t see me, he started to get cautious. We charged up the hill and got to the top, he was now further up the ridge but still bugling. We ran at him, screaming as we went, but he was still retreating. If we could get close and keep the pressure on, he might turn and fight. We never caught up to him. From the first bugle to when we gave up was two hours straight of screaming bugles and high hopes. I learned a ton from that bull and hindsight is always 20/20, but we should have NEVER set up 150 yards from the top. We should have gotten within shooting distance to the top of the hill, knowing he’d likely peak over the top at some point to try to get eyes on us. We went down the trail and let out another bugle that was answered immediately. Ok, time to be more aggressive! The bugle sounded 300 yards away so we took off at a fast walk, trying to close 200 yards. We made it 150 yards and I looked to our left to see the bull standing there 30 yards away. DANGIT! We saw eachother at the same time and he turned and trotted off. TOO AGGRESSIVE! That bull would have ended up in our laps if we had waited.
That was the last excitement of the day and of the year. The last trip was another wild success, but left my buddy with an unpunched tag.
The Phelps AMP reeds are awesome. I kept that thing in my mouth all day, every day and blew it non stop. It still sounds like the day I opened the package. Last year I went through 3 reeds because I would blow them out and the latex would start to tear at the corners. I give it 2 thumbs up!!!
Excellent recap and photos. Gets me fired up all over again, can't believe we have to wait 10 more months!
It’s why we keep chasing elk. Thank you for your taking the time to bring the elk hunt to life with your recap!
Can’t wait for next year’s tale, UCS. Not sure how it could get any better than your last season but I believe the best is certainly yet to come!
Well done, sir!
I'm no expert at elk hunting. But I know about calling turkeys. You are very unlikely to call one down hill. Are elk the same way?
But thanks for taking us along!!
Thanks for sharing with us all
Good luck, Robb