As I approached the pinch point of the meadow the green rays from my headlamp bobbed up and down while I did my best to quietly negotiate the blowdowns. Up, down, over, around, and across; with each step I would systematically pick my way through the maze of strewn timber. I am intent on the best, easiest route possible, but I seem to always pick the worst. As I poorly balanced myself while walking the length of a stove pipe sized log, I hear a bugle ring out. I was heading toward an hourglass shaped meadow littered with fresh elk sign lying only 100 yards away. This meadow was too large to shoot across in most areas, but it necked down to about 30 yards wide at its most narrow point. Being a whitetail hunter and trying to take advantage of the skills I know best; I had spent the previous evening in my climber overlooking a well-worn trail traversing through the bottleneck of this prime piece of elk habitat. As I descended the tree in the dark after an evening hunt, a bull bugled numerous times in the dark timber northeast of the meadow.The willingness of this bull to announce himself the previous evening is what lead me back to the meadow on this cold September morning. My planned track for the morning was to head northeast of the meadow in the direction of the bugling bull. I never made it that far as this bull was bugling much closer. His location appeared to be less than 200 yards away and near the southernmost portion of the meadow. I thought back to my previous unsuccessful elk hunts and all the work I had put into this one. Finally, this hunt was happening! Yet, it was supposed to be “happening” during the previous fall of 2019. Due to an unexpected and abrupt life changing event, not only was my 2019 bowhunting season in doubt, going forward my life was in doubt.
After the surgery to install the titanium plate in my chest things started looking up and on November 6, 2019 my cardiac surgeon released me to draw my bow again. I had already let everyone know at work that if I get released, I am bowhunting. It is the whitetail rut and I should not be anywhere but in the woods. I immediately left the doctor and went straight home and grabbed my bow.I no longer shoot heavy poundage and the 60lbs I now shoot could always be drawn effortlessly in the past. Considering I had done nothing with my arms in nearly 6 months I was not really surprised at the struggle that ensued when drawing for the first time. It was difficult but not ridiculous and after a handful of shots I was quickly confident that I could effectively kill deer if I limited my effective range. Just 2 days later I was able to arrow an 8 point buck in KY. I have killed much larger bucks, but I had not killed one that was more meaningful.
This form has a few more pages to it, but you get the idea as to what it looks like and what the requirement is should you need to ever go this route.
Keep it coming,
I wanted to post pics to Bowsite but everything is being oriented incorrectly. So I embedded them. I know it screws up the formatting for some of the mobile users but it's the best I can do. OK....let's get going again.
I started falling into a pretty good routine. I was hitting the gym 5 days a week and continued to increase the intensity and duration of my workouts. By early spring I added in a weekly weighted pack hike. One thing good about where I live is that we have plenty of hills to hike. I can’t mimic the elevation of the west, but I can mimic the climbing, With time, I was able to do the things physically that I was doing prior to surgery. By early summer I was confident that my heart was not going to be holding me back. The only thing that could possibly hold me back physically was a lack of effort from me and that was not going to happen. Fitness was far from my only focus for preparation. There were continued hours of meticulous tuning, testing equipment, and long range bow shooting sessions. While bowhunting in my mind is an up close and personal sport, practicing at distances way farther than your effective range proves to be a beneficial training tool. At least it works very well for me. I also poured myself into an elk education. The daily Bowsite education, the hours upon hours of podcasts, YouTube videos, calling practice, networking with consistent elk killers and scouring over maps on Google Earth and GAIA GPS in my mind were all ingredients important to success.
My hikes started at 3 miles with 25 lbs. I have a handful of trails I hike where I can get 3-4.5 miles. Through July and August I moved up to 50lbs in the pack. Good cardio workouts from an eliptical or bike are great, but nothing prepares me for hiking better than hiking.
Thankfully...I have a gym at work that I was able to use when Covid had everything shut down.
I started going over my gear list, packing and repacking. Making sure everything is in place and nothing was overlooked. Before you know it, I was playing a realistic game of Tetris loading my truck as I worked to situate every piece of gear required for my 2020 elk hunt. I pointed the truck west driving toward my destination. I soon fell into the similar task oriented nearly thoughtless mode of a rutting whitetail buck zombie trolling through the woods in hope of an estrus doe only my prize at this point was arriving at my destination that was at least 1,500 miles away. As surreal as it seems, the drive went quick and soon I am settling in to camp and ready for an evening hunt.
I'm definitely in Wyoming now.
This will be home for a few nights....or will it?
I killed a little time in camp waiting for a friend, Troy, who lives in the general area. He was going to hunt with me this evening and then I would be on my own for a few days and then we planned to hook up again for more hunting. I planned to head to civilization in a few days to fill out the forms for the resident guide license. If I don't kill an elk in the areas I can legally hunt as a non-resident, we will pack in to the wilderness. I also have another friend who has a tag valid for this area. He and I plan to pack into a different area of this unit the following week. I have plenty of time to hunt and it is my hope that with all of the options I have, I'll make it happen.
Once Troy arrived we loaded our packs and headed to a predetermined location. Our plan was to hang around the meadow mentioned in the first post. We had quite a few bulls on camera and ANY of them would work for me. We made our way to the location. It wasn't a long hike, maybe 35 minutes and as we were approaching the meadow a bull gave a half hearted bugle. He was close. Like 100 yards close. He heard us walking and I assume he is thinking we are elk. I needed to move forward to set up and my friend was going to drift back to call. As soon as we split up, I look up and here is a nice 6 point bull staring at me. He was about 60 yards away standing in the meadow. He didn't really spook, just eased off. We had lots of elk in the area and when the directional winds started playing havoc late that evening, we backed out. I had a lot of time and there was no reason to spook elk out of the country only hours into my hunt.
Here are a few other pics from my cameras. I had mailed these cameras to Troy. He actually passed them off to another friend who I would be hunting with later in the week. He is the one who set them for me.
There were a couple of other bulls hitting this little wallow in the meadow. A guy I would love to get a crack at and another bull that I get better acquainted with soon. I called him Fuzzy.
Here is a picture of Fuzzy
This guy really has my attention
On to the next hunt. It was Labor Day and I planned to hunt in the same general area as I did the evening before. A nasty storm was blowing in, but it was still a pretty nice morning. I hiked to the same general area and then set up and called just shy of the meadow. I mostly cow called and did some raking. I called for about 20-25 minutes to no avail.
I decided to head toward the meadow. I quietly moved to get a visual on the meadow. I don't see anything right away but after a few minutes I caught movement across the meadow. I now can see the legs of an elk. Almost as quickly as it appeared it was gone. I tip toed around for a better vantage but don't see anything. I wait about 5 minutes and then decide to cow call. Within a few minutes I see Fuzzy walking out to my direction. He was interested, but not super interested. He was definitely more interested in the grass that was growing in this meadow. At one time I had him at 72 yards broadside. That was just too far so I passed. However, if Fuzzy would have been a little closer, he would have got a ride back to KY with me.
I finished the morning with a few other calling sequences and then headed to download my pictures from my trail cams. I was treading lightly in this area as I knew that there were plenty of elk here and I didn't want them to split because of me tromping around all over creation.
I got back to camp around 12 and had lunch.
Great story so far....thanks for your effort.
Luckily I ran into a local with a chainsaw. He and I and 4 other guys started cutting our way out. Within a few hours we heard a chainsaw on the other side. We met the forest service cutting their way in. Between both of us we had cut and dragged 30-40 trees out of the road.
I finally made it to town and we ate lunch and took care of the resident guide license/permit. I was hoping that I was going to make it back to camp for the evening hunt. The plan was to go back to my treestand and try to catch an elk walking by my stand. Soon I am climbing the tree. It is cold and windy. I am hoping I can stick this out as I've rarely been this cold hunting whitetails in the winter. I do happen to stick it out until dark. I started to the process of packing everything up and readying my stand to descend the tree. As I start climbing down the tree a bull begins to bugle to NE of my location.
This is it! It is really happening. There is a bull bugling and I’m getting ready to make a play. It is time to reel in my wandering mind by pinpointing the location of the vocal bull. I am quite adept at this practice with turkeys when they gobble but this Kentucky boy is a little out of his element in the vast landscapes of the west. So, the unfamiliar country and inexperience with elk made me a little unsure as to where the bull was located. I stopped to let out a few soft elk calls. My lips felt numb and my throat was dry. I almost had “call panic” in that I was afraid the notes I would soon produce would not sound like an elk. I excitedly let out 2 soft cow calls and my initial fears were quickly put to rest when the bull nearly covered my calls with a full bugle. I made a quick move 25 yards in his direction as to situate myself so that there was a thick section of pines in between the bull and me.
It was my hope that the bull would go around the thick pines to look for me since the pines were choked with blowdowns and the route around them was the easier path. If the bull followed the theoretical script, I would hopefully be able to catch glimpses of his approach and use the cover of the tangled mess to my advantage for obscuring the drawing of my bow. Settling in for my calling sequence, I started scanning with my rangefinder taking yardage readings from different landmarks. I was waiting for the bull to bugle again. It was my hope to bugle over top of him when he sounded off. He gave me the opportunity I was looking for when he let out a 3 note bugle followed by a series of chuckles. I was ready and as he started chuckling, I offered up a bugle. Not too aggressive but in my opinion, it was perceived as a less than polite response. Over the next 10-15 minutes I continued to escalate the action and vocally poke my finger into his chest. It was obvious that playing this game was working as now when the bull called, he was screaming with loud aggressive bugles.
This is what the area looked like where I stopped to call
I would bugle and then set my tube here while I worked this bull
I continued cutting him off with my own bugles and turning up the heat on him. I catch a bit of movement and hear him breaking some branches about 80 yards away though the thick pines. I was ready with my bow in position to draw but from time to time I would leave my handheld release dangling on the loop as I busied myself ranging trees and testing the wind with my indicator. It became obvious that this bull was irate when he let out a nasty bugle, lip bawling and followed with a series of excited chuckles. He was intolerant to this intruding bull’s presence. I had always heard bowhunters talk about how loud a bull can bugle and it was at this point when I finally understood what they were talking about. I honestly think that I could feel the force of his bugle hit my face and I do not think that humans can’t even produce enough air to call that loud. It was at this point when I slowly shifted my bugle tube to point behind me and mustered up the most aggressive and disrespectful bugle I could possibly make.
What happened next would have been obvious to more experienced elk hunters, but to me it did not register as to what was going on. For the first time since I started interacting with this bull there was silence. I did not know what to think. Maybe the thermal and directional crosswind see saw match had given me away or possibly he saw me or maybe….My thought process was abruptly stopped by the hulking presence of a mature bull that had stopped broadside in front of me. His head and antlers were plainly visible but only a small portion of his body was visible as the rest was covered by 2 trees. I slowly moved for my range finder. I was able to get a reading on his body that was covered or bracketed by two trees. “48.5 yards,” I said to myself.
I started lowering the rangefinder and dialing my sight to 50 yards while the bull simultaneously started chuckling. His flank was moving up and down in an exaggerated fashion and I could see his breath rising from his mouth in choppy bursts as he chuckled. As he finished his chuckle he started to move into the open. After only 2 steps I was able to freeze him with a cow call. By this point I was at full draw focusing on a spot tight to his front shoulder and centered up and down. The top pin of my double pin scope was calmly (shockingly it was) hovering tightly around this spot as I started my shot process. The shot broke as cleanly as possible and hearing the audible thud as my arrow impacted his body only supported the fact that I felt I had just made a perfect shot. The bull went crashing to the east heading straight toward the meadow. In just a few seconds there was a loud crash followed by silence. I stood in the same position for what had to be at least 2 minutes. I did not cheer, smile, shake my fist or do anything celebratory. I literally stood there in disbelief. I was stunned that this just happened!
This was about 25 minutes after the shot. I have no idea why I snapped this selfie, but this was about the time when my mind started really racing and I started to shiver from the cold and the adrenaline dump
The bull was standing facing left. His body was bracketed by the 2 gray trees toward the back of the photo and slightly right of center. He moved left into the opening and I stopped him right between the 2 gray trees and the tree just to the left of center and forward in the picture.
I felt certain that my bull was down, but since the morning sun was just now making itself known I had all the time in the world to wait and with the temperature hovering around 20 degrees I decided to give him time. I sat down trying to process my thoughts and immediately fumbled around for my phone. I was able to get a text out to Troy. It was simply, “I shot a bull” with a string of coordinates for my exact location. I knew he could be there in a couple of hours. I was not going to screw this up and if my bull is dead now, he would be dead when help arrived.
It took 3 hours for Troy to make it to me. I did not move in 3 hours. I didn’t even go look for my arrow. I stayed put. After Troy arrived, we walked directly to the spot of the shot and soon I noticed blood sprayed all over the blowdowns only 10 yards away from the point of impact.
This is what I saw 10-15 yards from the location of the shot. This was the first time I had a sigh of relief.
After following a heavy bloodtrail, we were standing over my first bull in a matter of minutes. My arrow had struck him exactly where I was aiming and was responsible for putting the bull down in seconds. It was hard to imagine that after all that I had been through in the last 15 months that I was able to make this dream come true. Not only did I achieve my goal of killing an elk DIY but I killed an elk that was much bigger than I could have possibly imagined. I had almost felt slighted last year at this time when I was at home recovering from surgery dreaming about the mountains, but now I felt like everything happened exactly the way it was supposed to and that due to my struggle to get to this point, success was so much sweeter scars and all.
This was how we found him
If I can ever figure out a way to post them correctly the normal way I will go back and redo all of these. For the life of me, I can't get pictures to post in the proper orientation.
I'll get this finished up today. Here goes.....
I took time to marvel at my bull and then we started snapping hero photos. I did not get carried taking pictures because I was only concerned with having some good pictures. I didn’t need tons of pictures so once I knew we had a handful of what I would consider good pictures, we started the real work of breaking him down. I was absolutely pumped to have access to all this awesome meat. Even with such a great rack, I am still foaming at the mouth over all the excellent table fare before me.
My equipment performed flawlessly. I made a decision that is possibly as taboo as marrying your sister in that I used a mechanical broadhead. I used a Rage Trypan on this bull and at 50 yards I had complete penetration. My arrow was hung up in the bull for a second (he sheared it off while running and both portions of the arrow were laying 20 yards from where I shot him) but I had a full sized entrance and exit hole. I do have a 30.5” draw but at 60 lbs I was still extremely impressed with the performance.
After a few hours we were loading our packs with the first load of meat. I only took out a front as I had a ton of crap in my pack already. Like stupid flatlander meets boy scout meets doomsday prepper ton of crap. Troy took out a hind and the straps. We hauled him out in 3 loads each with my heavy load being the last. I had planned to do a Euro, but this bull was much larger than I ever imagined I would kill. I do not think that I will ever kill one larger, so I felt compelled to haul out the head, cape, and antlers for a shoulder mount. We weighed my pack on a bow scale and it was 92 lbs. I know many of you have hauled out and will continue to haul out much heavier weight than that, but this is all I wanted.
Thanks for following along.
As for the photo orientation, when I take photos with my iPhone even though they are oriented properly when I open them on my computer screen, I have to rotate them 4x so they end right back where you started and then save them again. Not sure why but it works for me.
My best, Paul
We all appreciate your sharing your journey here on Bowsite !
Better yet, the hunt itself was as good as it gets it sounds like. What a great accomplishment.
Having that tag in my pocket was like agreeing to a marathon with a buddy knowing that you won't let your buddy down. I didn't know if I would kill a bull, but I was determined to be back in the mountains chasing them. Just being able to hike with no chest pain or any other symptom felt better than I can even explain.
I have learned since I started elk hunting that I need a goal and nothing gives you a more plain crystal clear goal than holding a tag. The trick for me is to how to keep it up when you don't have a tag.
I have that problem and I don't have any of the issues you have had.
For those that don't know Mark personally, he is a man of strong Christian faith and strong family values. Not the kind that waves it in your face but lives by example. That's why I'm so happy to see his success after all the struggles he's been through the last couple years. Proud of you, Mark!
Great bull and story !!!