Figured I’d “give back” just a very small portion of what I’ve received here and recap our elk hunt.
Last year I drew an elk tag and planned an archery hunt - my son and I planned to take 2 weeks and spend it in the mountains hunting - anticipation was high as we e-scouted and practiced with our bows. Two weeks before our departure my dad had some life changing, major health issues and my son and I made the decision to forgo our hunt and stay home. Disappointed, but awaiting 2022 when we would draw bull tags. 2022 rolls around and we do indeed draw bull tags - and we are planning another archery hunt for 2 weeks in mid Sept. We have archery hunted OTC in a couple states and every year we get closer to connecting, but just haven’t successfully killed an elk with our bows. Been oh so close, but never able to seal the deal.
This year a fellow bowsiter is going to hook up with us. Levi and I are stoked to say the least, we are going to go bowhunt elk with Cheesehead Mike. Mike would head West a couple weeks before us and be there for the month of Sept (the benefits of being retired….). Levi and I would join him in mid Sept.
Summer flew by and before we knew it, Sept was upon us. Mike was out there on opening day and had been sending inreach messages back and forth with me - he was camped 10 miles or so away from where we would hunt and it was hot and dry with minimal elk activity but he had already had a couple call ins.
We departed Missouri early Saturday morning and it was short sleeve weather. Half way thru Kansas and it was blowing rain and mid 40’s. Quite the weather change. We spent the night in Colorado, I preached for a friend of mine in Eastern Colorado Sunday morning and then we continued west that Sunday afternoon.
Sunday night we make it to a little mountain town and get checked in to the local motel. Would be the last night sleeping with the creature comforts for the next 11 days.
Monday morning we wake up to picture perfect September elk weather. We cannot wait to get to camp.
Summer had been insanely busy - pastoring, working a job and helping with my parents, among many other things I won’t bore you with. We hadn’t archery elk hunted the past 2 years and I hadn’t practiced calling since then either - honestly no excuse for that, I just didn’t make it happen, I thought I’ll get to it later. I had thoughts of doing some practicing in the hotel parking lot that morning, but decided to just head to camp.
We hit the local gas station and I grab a cup of coffee for me and my son gets a box of donuts and some chocolate milk and we hit the road. It’s less than 30 miles to camp, how long can that take, right…
Scenery is beautiful as we leave town
(Pro tip, put your gas cans in contractor bags to prevent this type of incident).
Mike had moved his camp Sunday night and we are about there - we see a herd of antelope as we are getting close to camp. Life is good.
I inreach Mike and he drives his ATV over to our camp. Levi and I begin unpacking the trailer and setting up camp - taking time to soak it all in. We are in elk country in mid Sept and it’s picture perfect weather. Man this is good. Side note - Levi’s clothing totes smells a bit like gasoline. The first 2-3 pants and shirts he pulls out all reek of gas - this is not good but could make for an exciting time around the fire.
He finally finds a shirt and backup pair of pants to wear on the evening hunt.
We take a few minutes to shoot our bows and we are ready to hunt.
We walk to the area we want to hunt that evening and there is a side by side parked there - well, there goes that plan, time for plan B - adapt and overcome, it’s the name of the game. We move maybe 1/2 mile away and step into the trees and Mike let’s out a bugle, Levi looks over at me with big eyes and says “he’s good”. I tell him - well, yeah he’s good, he’s an elk killing machine.
We covered a couple miles that night hunting and saw some beautiful scenery but didn’t see any elk - just heard a big herd of sheep bleating for the last hour of daylight. No elk seen or heard but a great place to be in mid Sept - hunting elk with a bow with your son. Doesn’t get much better than that. Time to walk back to camp and get ready for the morning. Expectations are sky high. Mike had an encounter with a great bull real close to camp Monday morning before we arrived so our plan is to go back to that area and see what happens. We are fully expecting a bugle fest tomorrow morning - not sure what is better, the anticipation and expectation or when it happens.
Weather is supposed to move in Wed morning - rain. We’ve got a dry day tomorrow though so we are looking forward to that. Got to take advantage of the good days.
Mike is at camp well before light Tue AM and we get moving toward where we will start our hunt - it’s going to be about a 3 mile loop. We make our way into some broken timber with medium sized meadows in them - it’s just breaking light and he lets out a bugle - and man, it sounds just like a mature bull. His call goes silent and we wait - no response. Oh well, let’s get moving. We continue through these broken meadows - I mean it looks like they should be full of elk. He bugles every so often and we are getting no response. Odd… this is not how this is supposed to work. We sit down and eat some breakfast. Eating breakfast while sitting on a hillside watching nature wake up - sorry, I didn’t get a picture, but you guys can use your imagination. Peaceful and in awe - makes you feel pretty small in the grand scheme of things.
Mike says - let’s move towards a couple bigger meadows back through the timber, so we head in that direction. We get there and can hear the crows/magpies going crazy about 100 yards back in the timber. Levi and I both have handguns with underwood hard cast ammo - bear stoppers. Mike says “you might want to have your guns ready, they are probably on a carcass and there might be a bear there as well”. We circle around upwind and approach the birds.
Made our way through the woods and found an old tree stand at the edge of a clearing - I always wonder if those tree stands could talk - the stories they could tell. Who knows how long it had been there and if the owner still hunted elk or had passed on.
Mike said that’s a big mistake - some of his best hunts were evening hunts. For me this hunt was about getting Levi an elk, but it was also about learning how to hunt from someone who has had repeated success so that in future years I could be successful on my own - I learn best by 1st hand experience - seeing it in action. Even though the first 2 hunts had been unproductive, we were still learning. And just being out there - never want to take that for granted. What a blessing to be able to be in the mountains with an elk tag in September.
So we plan to sit in the meadow for an hour or so and then Mike plans to do some calling. The meadow slopes downward at probably 10 degrees and also slopes off each side - starting mild like but then runs into timber and gets pretty steep down to a creek - the distance from where the edge of the meadow goes down to a creek is about 50 yards.
Levi goes and sits down by a clump of big sage and Mike and I are talking quietly about 10 yards away. Levi starts pointing down below us and there are 3 nice mulies just standing there looking at us. They hop away and ease into the timber. Here’s scenery up there.
Happy for you and Levi,
Mike gets up and let’s loose with a bugle - nothing answers. He waits a little bit and bugles again - and boom, off to our right a bull screams back. Levi and I have our backcountry convenience store spread out around us - quest bars, snickers, payday, granola bars, Gatorade - Mike says “it’s go time, let’s go”. We are kind of lolly gagging around getting snacks put back into our packs, putting rain gear into our packs - you get the idea… We get up and start moving toward the edge of the timber - we were about 150 or so yards out in the meadow. We get over to Mike and start heading towards the timber. Mike says - when it’s go time, you guys need to bust it - get moving, no messing around, it can happen real quick - you guys took way too much time to get ready, if that bull commits he can be on top of you in no time. Point taken. I was thinking - he’s 300-400 yards away, we’ve got time. Mike says - it’s hard to say how far he is away - too many variables. Mike bugles again and the bull immediately responds - he’s about 200 yards away and closing, we need to get setup now. This is incredible and we can’t believe it’s about to happen.
3 hunts in and we’ve finally heard our first bugle. Mike hangs back in the meadow about 30 yards and gets Levi setup directly in front of him in the timber. The bull is bugling down in the bottom (the hill is so steep that the bull won’t be able to see up into the meadow where Mike is calling from). Adrenaline is running high - is this bull going to play or did he just respond twice and that will be it? I setup about 60 yards to the left of Levi slightly downslope of him. Directly in front of us the slope is probably 50 degrees and goes down to a creek - the timber is fairly thick and dark between us and the creek and it’s about 50 yards down to the creek.
We are setup and Mike lets loose with a classic bugle and the bull answers immediately and he is definitely closer. The hunt is definitely on at this point. Mike and the bull exchange multiple bugles and next thing you know branches are snapping and busting below us - he is coming in.
Suddenly the bull below Levi barks - what in the world? No way he caught scent, did he see some movement or what? Mike barks back at him - they go back and forth in a barking match for probably 5-10 minutes. The bull that was coming in directly in front of me has now hung up at about 200 yards. I obviously can’t see him but can tell he’s not moving. He’s still bugling every 30 seconds or so but he is no longer coming in. The bull to my left continues his slow progress our way and is bugling probably every minute. Let me just say, this was totally awesome. I felt like I was in a Will Primos video.
I was thinking - the bull in front of Levi isn’t coming in, but he’s not leaving either. I ought to take off and go shoot that bull that is 200 yards in front of me. I could simply sneak in on him and arrow him while he bugles back and forth with Mike and the barking bull. I hadn’t hunted with Mike before and didn’t quite know his style so I didn’t want to screw something up so I just stayed put.
Big McDaddy to my left continues to bugle and get closer but no way is he making it before dark. Mike gives a few cow chirps and it’s time for Levi and I to regather with Mike. We get up to Mike and Levi has eyes the size of saucers - “that was absolutely incredible” he says. He said the bull was right in front of him 40 yards but he never showed himself. I told Mike of my thoughts that I had about sneaking in on the other bull. Mike says, you should’ve popped back up in the meadow and given me a hand signal and took after him, that would’ve been a great plan. Stink! I should’ve just went with what I knew I should do, and I honestly believe that I would’ve killed that bull that night. You know what they say about hindsight…
The walk back to the Sequoia was great - we were coming back here in the morning for sure. I mean if it was this good tonight (best elk encounter I’d ever experienced for sure) how incredible would it be in the morning when they really talk and we won’t run out of shooting light.
To say expectations were through the roof would be a vast understatement. I was fully expecting to have at least one dead elk tomorrow morning. We drive back to camp, cook up some supper and crash for a short night of rest. The stars were incredible outside our tent - it was like you could reach out to the little and Big Dipper they were right there - and my pictures of it are worse than terrible.
What an incredible blessing and opportunity, sit right outside your tent and look out to that!
We get to our designated pull off spot, and park the Sequoia - packs on, bows in hand and we are off. We haven’t walked more than 2-300 yards and an elk runs across the path. Man this is good. It wasn’t spooked, didn’t smell us, it’s just moving.
We get to the meadow and it is just getting light. Mike cranks out a signature bugle and we are expecting the mountains around us to light up with responses - and nothing…. Well that was surprising. He bugles again - and nothing. Throw in a few cow calls - nothing. Wait a few minutes and try again - nothing. I’m in total disbelief. This meadow/ draw was on fire last night with 3 screaming bulls and now nothing?????
We drop down where I was standing the previous night and make our way across the creek and head up to where the bull was directly in front of me - now I see the terrain over there and I’m really kicking myself for not executing that plan last night and sneaking in on that bull. It’s a hillside with a decent meadow that has small trees scattered throughout it - like perfect spot and stalk topography. We peel off and head down to the left where McDaddy was bugling - deer and elk trails abound. We start gaining elevation - side note, spring and summer workouts are paying off. Every hunt I have knee issues - I start out with McDavid neoprene knee sleeves and wear them every day, but my knees still bother me. But not this time. Leg, and core strength have really helped my knee issue and my knees aren’t barking at me. I’m liking this - my lungs on the other hand are screaming at me.
We get about 2/3 of the way up the slope and Mike says let’s sit down here - looks like a good spot to eat some breakfast. Light rain on and off, but man, this is the good life. There’s no dry place to sit down, but oh well, we are in the mountains in Sept chasing elk - smile and enjoy breakfast.
Lowa Caminos were great as usual - wet boots but dry feet thanks to them and my gaitors.
Time to get back to camp. We get in the Sequoia and start down the mountain heading for camp. I’m still in 2WD but the BFG KO2’s give plenty of traction - at least initially. We branch off on a different spur road and check out some close by country. I find a spot to pull off and get us turned back around to the road. We make our way back but start slipping in the grease and I get us stopped and into 4WD. Well, we are still slipping towards the edge of the road and the drop won’t be enough to kill us, but if we go off the edge, it’s going to hurt - it’s a ways to the bottom. Not a white knuckle moment but definitely not comfortable either when you’re slipping in the grease heading towards the lowest point which is off the edge.
I get us stopped again and Mike asks if we are in 4W low - I put it in low and we crawl the rest of the way back to camp under 10mph. No big deal - it is a steady rain and we listen to stories from the past about Mike’s elk hunts. This trip is everything and more than I thought it would be. We get back to camp - Mike rides his ATV back to his camp and Levi and I cook up some lunch. Mike says if the rain continues we won’t be hunting in it - it’s a steady cold rain. Dampens the spirit some, but there’s always something to be thankful for. We’ve got a tent with a wood stove. We’ve had it much worse. 4 years prior we were hunting with a Kodiak Canvas - great tent but no stove Jack. It rained/sleeted/snowed off and on for about 3 days and we had no wood stove, only a buddy heater. Instead of being cold and wet we were semi-warm and wet. Yuck. This time, we had a tent with a stove Jack and had a Colorado Cylinder Stove. It may be miserable outside but it was toasty warm inside. Time for a long afternoon nap. We went to sleep listening to the steady rain hitting the rain fly over the tent. Man life is so good. I’ve got my senses to feel the warm dry heat, ears to hear the rain and eyes to see it all - a blessed man for sure.
Didn’t think spikes are legal in CO??
We go to sleep with the steady pitter patter of rain hitting the rain fly. Wood stove is cranking and we have the windows slightly open for some airflow and temp regulation. Hoping that we will awaken to silence. Throughout the night I awake and it’s still raining. Alarm goes off and it’s still raining. Big fat bummer!!!! You only have so many days to hunt and now this will be the 2nd consecutive hunt that the rain has cancelled. Oh well, don’t fret about what you can’t control. Shut the alarm off and tell Levi - no hunt this morning, sleep in.
We’ve got the stove down to a science - you know, the correct amount and type of wood with the damper set at the right position where it doesn’t roast you initially only to burn out before morning. We awaken to a warm tent and the stove is full of red embers.
I have a mountain house breakfast skillet for breakfast and I think “this is way better than what I had last night.” We had packed the mountain house meals just in case we did some spike camping - but it didn’t look like we would be doing that, so we’re eating some mountain house.
Finish up breakfast and it’s still steady raining. Sit on my cot and spend some time reading my Bible. I’m telling you - this is the good life. It may be raining outside, but I’m still living in America, on an elk hunt in Sept with my son. God is good and I’m a content man. This will all work out.
The rain begins to letup just after lunch and Levi says let’s go try to catch some trout after lunch. We eat some lunch and Levi shoots his bow 20,30 or 500 times - he’s obsessed with being able to make the shot when the time comes. Levi only had 1 pair of boots and they were damp - even hanging them in the tent every night. Mike said he had a pair of Crispi’s in Levi’s size and they didn’t really fit him too well - they were basically brand new, and he said if we wanted them he would make us a deal. Levi put them on to try them out down at the mountain lake.
We are getting out and about outside camp and we hear an ATV coming. It’s Mike and he’s got his fly rod and gear. We tell him we were just getting ready to do the same thing - great minds think alike.
Levi has the Crispis on that he is basically taking for a “trial run” to see how they feel. I’ve got on my green rubber LaCrosse boots - the three of us start walking toward the lake.
We get down there and the couple of streams that feed it are pretty shallow and there’s a spot to cross but it involves jumping across and landing on a small somewhat muddy spot that’s in about 3-4” of water. Levi doesn’t want to do that just in case the boots don’t work out, kind of rude to hand back a pair of wet and muddy boots and say “they didn’t feel too good”. So he and Mike walk down where it’s dry and they can just walk around. I’m thinking “I’ve got on rubber boots that are like 16” tall, I’ve got this… Matter of fact I jump and in mid air I say to them “I’ll be fine as long as this isn’t a silty bottom”. About that time my left foot contacts the “mud” in 3” of water and I quickly realize this was a bad idea. In a fraction of a nano-second I feel the mud/water going past my calf, over my knee, mid thigh -oh yeah. I quickly propel myself and my momentum to literally fall/belly flop onto the land so that makes my leg pull out. All this in one graceful motion. If you can’t laugh at yourself, you need to get out more.
We all get a good laugh and I’m scraping mud off my pants and out of my boots. Well now that we got that out of the way, let’s catch some trout.
I’d have to beg to differ with you, at least on the first part! Excellent write up so far, old school! Looking forward to the rest.
It's one thing to hunt thru a rain shower, but it's another thing to hunt when it's been raining all night and forecast to rain all day. I choose not to hunt in those conditions but just to clarify, I don't think I said "we're not hunting". I believe I said "I'm not hunting". Mitch and Levi were free to hunt on their own if they chose to. However, at that point the roads were so greasy and treacherous that I don't think Mitch wanted to drive anywhere. I don't think I could have moved my camper if I wanted to. There was huntable ground within walking distance of camp and Mitch and Levi certainly had the option of hunting in the rain. I chose not to. I had my ATV to get around on the bad roads but we couldn't all ride on it.
Mountain House breakfast skillet again for breakfast - not quite as good as I remembered from yesterday, but it’s ok. Levi warms up some water and eats about 4 packs of oatmeal, a couple cup of applesauce and who knows what else - he’s a human garbage disposal. Weren’t we all at 19.
This just feels like this is an all day rain - it’s completely grey outside and it’s alternating between steady rain and hard rain - the kind where you don’t leave the tent. We throw some more wood in the stove, read our Bibles, look over on x maps and inreach message with Mike - today looks to be a complete wash. Sitting in a tent all day will test your sanity - at least it does mine. We eat lunch and then nap - wake up and it’s still raining hard. At this point we know tomorrow we aren’t going to make it to our “spot” - roads will be a disaster. We will be relegated to hunting from camp by foot. Oh well, roll with the punches. It rains all afternoon and evening. We load up the wood stove and hit the sack fully prepared for another day in the tent - the weather forecast has a 50% chance of rain Saturday and so far it really didn’t matter what the % chance was - if there was any chance, it rained.
Great story Mitch ;)
Anyway - back to Saturday morning. We get to our spot - it’s a steep north facing heavily wooded slope that goes down to a creek. We drop down about 1/2 way and hit a game trail that we follow for a ways. We stop and I let loose with my first bugle. No words needed to be said - Levi’s expression said it all - you sure don’t sound like Mike. Our eyes met and I said “well if that doesn’t make you miss Mike, nothing will.” I mean it was terrible - a bull wouldn’t bugle back at that but we may hear him chuckling - sorry, just couldn’t resist that one.
I think even Doug Flutie would’ve been looking at me sideways after that bugle attempt. We travel down the game trail and it’s really starting to disappear. Wet branches slapping on you - we are now both pretty wet, but who really cares, we’ve got bows in hand and we are out of the tent.
I stop and bugle again - much improved from the first attempt. We walk some more and are dropping in elevation down towards the creek - I let loose with a bugle and it actually sounds good - like a decent satellite bugle. I get an immediate response back behind us - where we just came from, but probably 200’ lower in elevation. The thermals are sucking down, so we quickly drop elevation and bugle again - he responds. This is unreal, we’ve got an elk within 200 yards and we are on the same elevation. Levi sets up in front of me and I cut loose with an even better sounding bugle. The bull responds but he is about 100’ feet above us. He bugles again - further up the mountain. We aren’t going to chase him. We drop down towards the creek and find tons of fresh sign. Like a large herd had hung out here for a couple days - but they aren’t here now.
We cross the creek and head up the opposite slope - it’s big and it’s steep. I want to scale it and cover some ground up top and head further to a huge northern facing slope - that slope is a little over 3 miles from camp. What a beautiful walk. Broken meadows, scattered aspens, big boulder strewn meadows. We walked through one that looked exactly like a spot BRO and Cory J hunted in one of their videos from 3-4 years ago. Who knows, maybe it was the spot. Doesn’t really matter, but man it looked elky. Mule Deer sign every where and we saw a few does, but no bulls would respond to my calling. I started second guessing taking this trek - maybe we should have trailed that bugling bull uphill first thing and tried to get him once he bedded. No use second guessing, we made a decision and needed to just roll with it.
Mike had got on his ATV and he was back over near our spot from Tue night. He had got on a herd that had the big bull in it and he followed them to bedding ground and was just going to hang out on the mountain with them till they got up for the evening. Levi and I were confident Mike would kill that herd bull and we would be packing meat that night
Back to our hunt. We finally make it to the big north facing slope - it’s huge and there’s probably 600’ of elevation down to the bottom of it. Heavily wooded and somewhat steep. I figure we will get a response here and it will be game on.
We drop down a little ways and start side hilling while occasionally stopping to bugle. I’m completely surprised that we get no responses. Total silence.
We start the huge loop back towards camp. Who knows, we could run into elk anywhere here - elk are where you find them and sometimes you find them in the strangest of places. Our spirits are a little low, but it’s ok.
We walk back to camp and then eat lunch. I take a nap and Levi shoots his bow.
Saturday evening it’s spitting rain, but we are going to hunt. It’s not steady rain, just off and on drizzle. We walk down around the area that we hunted the first evening but drop off the other side and put together a make shift ground blind - there’s a meadow with a wallow in the middle of it and quite a bit of elk sign in the timber surrounding the meadow. My expectations aren’t super high, but we are in the woods and who knows when an elk will show up. I’m honestly just soaking up every moment spent out there with Levi - I’m a blessed man, elk or no elk. But I’m really wanting Levi to get an elk.
We get back to camp, and it’s starting to lightly rain again. We get some more wood under the rain fly in the small entry way, fire up the jetboil and cook some dinner. Go thru the routine, stoke the stove and hit the sack.
It absolutely pours rain the entire night - like thunderstorm pours. It’s raining to beat the band out there all night long. We sleep in and wake up to bluebird skies. The rain has passed thru and it’s absolutely beautiful out.
I eat another mountain house breakfast skillet. My opinion has gone from “this is really good” to “this isn’t quite as good as yesterday” to “ I can’t believe people actually eat this stuff”. Levi eats his normal 3 packs of oatmeal along with a couple cups of applesauce and some cups of peanut butter. We finish up breakfast and head to the Sequoia for our mountain view church service.
Listen to 3 messages capped off by Paris Reidhead “10 shekels and a shirt”. Was a good morning spiritually being challenged by the preaching of God’s Word.
I cook up some lunch and get ready to take a nap. Levi grabs his bow and goes outside. I fall asleep to the sounds of a bow going off and an arrow thumping into a target.
I wake up and he is still shooting his bow. I go outside and ask him what he’s doing and he says I’m good at all my marked yardages but now I’m just walking around and shooting at random distances from different angles and from standing, sitting, quick release, holding for a minute or more - any combination of what you could ever imagine happening on an elk hunt. He is over prepared (if there can be such a thing).
I go back in the tent and start looking over on x. I’m tired of hunting around camp - lots of elk sign from before that spike was shot, but I think that guy pressured them a little too much and they’ve temporarily moved out.
I’m using previous years experience and also pointers that Mike has given as far as how he identifies elky spots. Mike has a gift - talent that he has honed that involves being able to look at a map and find where elk will be.
I study the map for a couple of hours and think I’ve identified a really good spot. Mike hasn’t said anything about it and we haven’t hunted around it either. We will just be “going in blind”.
Levi says “ok, are we hunting this evening”. I say “no we aren’t hunting” just going to see what this area looks like from the ground. We will drive this mountain road and see how it looks and if anything is talking before dark.
Levi says “should I throw my bow in the Sequoia”. I say “absolutely!!!! If we run into a bull with a death wish, I don’t want to disappoint him.” We load up and off we go. The road is a little greasy, but a full day of wind and bright sun has taken most of the grease off it.
We think it came from down hill so we go back to the Sequoia and backup a ways and get out and bugle again - nothing. So we drive further up the mountain and get out and bugle - bam! The bull answers and he’s right below us like 500-600 yards but man is it a steep drop. Levi looks at me and I say “grab your bow, we are dropping in”. We scramble down the hill about 300 yards and I let out a bugle - the bull is on his feet but he’s heading downhill - there’s a big meadow at the base of the sidehill and it runs for about a mile heading downhill kind of following the road. We scramble back up the hill and man it is way steeper going up than it was going down. I stop a couple times and think I’m going to pass out, my heart is pounding. We get back to the Sequoia, throw his bow in the back and race down the hill probably 1/4 mile. Jump out, run down into the timber and bugle and he screams back at us, but he’s already past our location again - another sprint back up to the Sequoia. My 52 year old heart can’t take much more of this - I’m not used to sprinting up hill at high elevation. And the slope is probably 50 degrees or so. Super steep for me to be sprinting.
We jump in the Sequoia and this time we go about 1/2 mile downhill before we stop. There’s an old logging road that angles down into the timber and I tell Levi “ grab your bow, we are doing this one last time”. We do a fast walk down into the timber probably 300 yards or so on the old logging road and I cut loose with a bugle - no response. Oh well, at least we know where we are going tomorrow morning.
I say let’s drop down a little further and bugle one more time. We do that and boom he fires off a massive scream and oh yeah, we have dropped down far enough and he hasn’t got to us yet. I bugle and he screams again. He isn’t in the timber though - he’s another 300 yards down and he’s in the meadow walking down the drainage. No way we can drop down and intercept him - he’s moving way too fast but man is he fired up. He’s a mature bull and screaming every time I bugle.
All of a sudden another bull is bugling with him. We can tell that they are down in the meadow moving quickly but they continue to bugle at me. We’ve got 15 minutes of light left and suddenly another bull lights up big time - and he’s not in the meadow, he’s in the timber on our side and we are inbetween him and where he wants to go.
I bugle and he screams back - he’s well under 200 yards. I tell Levi “this dude is coming in, this is a fat boy heading to the evening buffet and he thinks we are taking the last seat.” We drop a little elevation and I bugle and he screams back - he’s under 100 yards and closing fast. We haven’t seen him but can tell there’s no doubt he is committed and coming in. The other 2-3 bulls down in the meadow are screaming their heads off - it’s like Tuesday night only on steroids.
After he screams from under 100 yards I tell Levi we need to run forward, drop some elevation and find a shooting lane and we’ve got 10 seconds to do it. I jump in front of him and say “follow me”. We sprint maybe20 yards to a fallen log with a root ball at the end of it. There’s a small clearing running down towards the meadow (its about 10 yards across). Will be an absolute perfect setup. He will hit that opening before can catch our thermals.
I’m not calling again - don’t want to give away our final position/setup. I don’t think we are there even 10 seconds and we hear major branches breaking like a bulldozer is running through a lumber yard. Sounds like 2x4’s are snapping like tooth picks. I’m actually starting to shake and I’m the caller, don’t even have my bow. All of a sudden I see legs coming thru the timber. He’s down below us and on a steady fast walk. I look over at Levi and he’s down on his knees and coming to full draw - this is the first time we’ve ever been drawn back on a bull. His eyes are huge - he says “dad, he’s coming in, he’s right there”. I tell him take a deep breath and get your head in the game. Get your face into that string, find him in your peep an execute your shot.
The bull comes to a stop about 5 yards from the clearing - he is 18 yards below us and quartering very hard to us. A frontal will be way risky, he’s not turned quite enough. I look down and Levi is absolutely locked in. I look back at the bull. He has absolutely no idea that we are there and the thermals are blowing a good 20 yards out in front of the bull. Unless the breeze switches or the bull gets nervous, this just might happen.
He stands for what seems to be an absolute eternity. I know it was well over a minute. I’m afraid to move and have him catch my movement so I’m not even turning my head an inch.
All of a sudden Levi’s bow goes off and the bull whirls and goes crashing back the direction from which he came.
I’m incomplete unbelief. I look down to ask him what happened. How come you waited over a minute and nothing changed about the bulls angle or body position. I was afraid he had got bull fever and just took a shot.
I look down and he has moved about 3’ - I’m thinking “what in the world”. I say what’s up. He says - I was at full draw and didn’t have a shot but I saw an opening to shoot through so I slowly slid on my knees (while at full draw) until I got there and then I made the shot. He says, I wasn’t shaking and was dead on. I shot him for just under 20 yards.
I walk down to where the bull was standing and Levi ranges me - 18 yards. There was no time for that before the shot. It happened way too fast.
I felt a little better but still wondered about the shot - man, it would’ve had to have been a perfect shot under less than ideal circumstances. Extended holding at full draw, on your knees, changed position and leaning forward and turned slightly to the left to put the shot through the only hole that was there. From where I was standing there was no clear shot at all.
We got about 40 yards and Levi finds the front of the arrow - but the back 4” is missing basically snapped off right at the fletching - so we are missing 4” of arrow from the knock end. I’m a little puzzled by this.
We go about 2 more steps and both our headlamps start flashing and going into super dim battery save mode. Unbelievable!! Of course we have spare batteries in our packs back at camp. I say “maybe this is the Lord stopping us from going any further, I don’t know, but we’d be fools to press on right now.” Levi agrees and we silently back out. We hadn’t so much as snapped a twig and the pine duff and soft earth allowed you to track like an Indian.
I send Mike a quick inreach message saying Levi shot a bull. We then start driving back to camp. We hit our turnoff and I notice ATV lights coming from the opposite direction. We pull in and wait and sure enough Mike pulls up beside us. He hadn’t got the inreach message yet, so we tell him Levi shot a bull - show him pics of the arrow and he asks all the pertinent questions that a seasoned archer would ask. I ask Mike - should we wait till morning or go back now. Mike says “I think you’ve got a dead bull from everything you say and from the picture, let’s just wait till morning, it’s supposed to be plenty cold tonight.”
We both drive back to our camps and Mike says I’ll be over about 30 minutes before sunrise. You drive and I’ll follow you on my ATV.
We eat some supper and Levi is going through the whole scenario over and over - you know, just like you’d do if you were in his shoes. One thing he’s not budged on is this - “I know I made a good shot, I was rock solid and I know where I was aiming was the right spot”. Only thing bothered me was that he didn’t see the arrow impact - I was a little worried about a possible deflection. He was shooting thru a hole that was like 2’x2’.
We ate supper, loaded the stove and hit the sack. We laid there talking till after midnight - neither of us could sleep. It was like 2 kids on Christmas Eve. I’m telling you this, it doesn’t get much better than that.
Levi finally falls asleep sometime after 1:00. Last time I checked my phone it was around 3:30 and I was still wide awake. Couldn’t wait till morning.
Mike arrives on his ATV and I show him where we were hunting - he laughs and shows me his phone, he’s got that spot marked as a place that we will “get to”. Man I feel good, I found a spot on my own and Mike had independently marked the same spot - he had taught well and I’d caught what he taught.
He says let’s go.
Levi and I get in the Sequoia and pray and ask God for wisdom in tracking and finding this bull. We pull out and head for the spot.
30 minutes later we pull in and all 3 of us have packs on and bows in hand and we are silently retracing our steps last night - starting right at the road. I don’t know the exact distance but it’s around 600 yards and we are to the spot. It’s breaking light and the 3 bulls from the night before are bugling like crazy. Heading back up the meadow - sounds like they will pass within 200 yards of us.
We get on the trail but then loose blood within 20-30 yards. It’s a horribly sickening feeling. You guys know, been there, done that, you feel like it’s a coin flip probability whether or not you find him - time for the dreaded grid search. Well, not quite yet.
Mike peels off left in case the bull has made a turn back towards where we shot him. Levi peels off right in case he stayed in the heavy timber heading back the direction he came from. I stay straight ahead and start dropping down into a much steeper area that goes down into the meadow.
I haven’t gone 20 yards, I’m faceful into some type of cedar like tree, I’m looking through it and see something very out of place something huge and tan shoved up into a tree. I can’t hardly focus on it, it’s like less than 10 yards ahead of me. I back out and go around the tree and am greeted by the most beautiful sight an elk hunter can see - a dead bull elk. This is unreal.
It’s a beautiful clear bluebird sky, the other 3 bulls are screaming like crazy and I’m standing over my sons bull. I start whistling trying not to spook the other bulls but still get Levi’s and Mike’s attention. They both come over and we start quietly celebrating. I tell Mike - go kill one of those bulls, Levi and I can take care of this.
Mike said “if they get close I might, but, no, I’m staying here. We’ve got an elk to butcher and pack out.”
This is a great thread.
I wish I would have been there when Levi killed his bull but I also think that Mitch and Levi getting it done on their own was a great confidence builder for them moving forward. And what a great bonding experience for father and son!
Mitch and I connected via Bowsite and have been exchanging messages for a few years. It worked out this year that we were able to connect on this hunt. They shared their points with me and I provided input on a hunting area and shared some mentoring. I don't have all the answers but hopefully what I shared helped them on this hunt and will continue to help them on future elk hunts.
We tag his bull and start evaluating how are we going to process this dude. I’ve never done the gutless method with hoofs up - going to have to skin from the belly to the back.
We start skinning and do the front shoulder first - let me just say this, when you’ve got 3 guys that know what they are doing processing an elk, it cuts the time dramatically. It’s sure handy to have 3 guys breaking down a bull.
We skin up to the front shoulder (entrance wound) and as I cut - there is the back 4” of arrow, completely under the hide and about half way into the shoulder. I pull/ cut the shoulder off the carcass and hand it to Mike. He’s got a big piece of plastic laid out on the only semi flat spot where he can do the deboning. We are both curious to see how close the entrance is to the big shoulder bone.
Mike cuts away while Levi and I continue skinning and Mike says - here it is, your shot entered 1” behind that big bone. That’s as close as you can get.
The other 3 bulls serenade us till well after 8:00. It was an incredible scene. Bluebird sky, processing an elk while bulls are screaming out in the meadow heading up to their bedding area.
Lots of big flys but zero yellowjackets - how nice is that!
We get it broke down and deboned and Mike goes and hops on the ATV to go back and get his game cart. Levi and I finish up and get the meat up to a somewhat flat spot where Mike will meet us.
We get it all loaded on the cart and up to the Sequoia we go. Being out of breath huffing and puffing up a mountain never felt so good.
1. We took what we had learned the hard way on our first 4 elk hunts and combined that with what Mike taught us (both aspects were necessary).
2. Be decisive when you need to - Mikes kind, but serious comments on Tue night stuck with me - when you’ve got a bull coming in, there’s no time to mess around. We would’ve messed that bull up Sun night were it not for Mikes talk on Tue night.
3. Levi practiced till he literally shot out our target. I think he could’ve shot that bull while he was laying on the ground. You cannot be too prepared because you have no idea the only shot you may be presented with for your entire trip. You may get 1 chance and that’s it.
4. Turkey hunting and elk hunting are VERY different but share some similarities. If you get in between where a Turkey roosts and where he wants to go when he flies down - you don’t have to be an expert caller. Matter of fact you don’t even have to be average. We knew where the bulls were and where they were heading and made haste to get inbetween them. I don’t even know if I’m an average caller but when you are able to get between the elk and where they are heading, some timely calls work wonders. Almost makes you feel like an expert - lol. That bull came in on a string. It’s a lot easier that way than trying to call him away from where he is really wanting to go.
5. Mike is all that and then some. Some guys are indeed experts but their arrogance and demeanor is a complete turn off. Mike is an expert but has the character to also be humble and a good teacher. If you ask, he will tell you what he knows - and that’s invaluable.
Tomorrow I will start recapping the last couple days - there’s still more Chasing Bugles With Cheesehead.
Good night all - and thank you for your kind words.
Now bring on the rest of the story and LOTS more pics, please?
I was smiling reading the story just like I was there.
Thanks for sharing.
Hunting Incan be a great thing that can bring strangers together, really cool to read about some folks of bowsite nesting up and having success.
Congrats across the board,
It’s about 4:00 by now and Levi asks if Mike and I want to hunt tonight. Mike says he isn’t hunting and quite honestly I’m pretty whipped but man the weather is absolutely perfect. I make the decision to stay at camp, just can’t bring myself to pick up the bow and start an evening hunt. I decide to wash out a couple shirts in the creek out in front of camp. I’m at the creek washing shirts and look up to see Bullwinkle at 75 yards and closing - he is coming to my washing spot. I think “this is not good” and stand up. He now sees me and kind of cocks his head - I have no idea what he is thinking, but I’m thinking, there’s no tree within 150 yards of me - if this dude wants me, I’m toast.
Thoughts start flashing through my mind - what is it you’re supposed to do when you are surprised by a moose? It’s different depending on the species - bear, mt lion, griz. What about a moose - do you slowly back away from a moose or is it make yourself look big? Do I fall into the fetal position and cry for momma - is it red touching yellow will kill a fellow or is it yellow touching black step back. Forget all the rhymes and reasons, I’m trusting my gut instinct and my gut is saying - get out of this spot now.
I grab my shirts and start backing away - towards camp. I get about 20 yards and he starts walking toward me, so I pick up the pace a little. Before you know it, I feel like there is now an adequate distance between us where I’m not near as nervous.
Maybe I’m chicken little and maybe it’s a nervousness that wasn’t warranted - but who cares, either way, I was nervous.
I holler towards camp for Levi to step out of the tent and see a moose. He’s shocked that this moose is just standing there staring at us with not a concern in the world that we are people.
Man is this awesome. I’m a blessed man. First we see antelope, then mule deer, then black bear, then elk and now a moose. All we are missing is a wolf and a griz - I’m hoping we don’t see a griz and Levi is hoping we see a wolf as he has his .300 prc and is lethal with that thing out past 1,000 yards.
Bulls were in the area Sunday night and Monday morning. No reason they shouldn’t be there Tuesday morning, right…
I’m thinking there’s a real good chance we are packing meat again tomorrow.
Levi and I have some “cleanup” to do on the euro skull. I gouge out the eye balls and then get some water from the jacket on the wood stove, take the tent stake Mike gave us and start scrambling brains and pulling them out - due to CWD or something else, you’re supposed to have all that “cleaned” up before you transport it home. Amazing how many brains are in a elks head. Scramble with the tent stake, pour in super hot water, somewhat seal the hole, shake it up and pour it out - repeat as many times as necessary. We’ve finally got the skull pretty clean.
Don’t even remotely remember what we ate for supper that night - maybe thats when we ate some chicken fajita roll ups. Stoke the fire, count our blessings, rehash the day and God’s absolute goodness to us - it honestly seems surreal that we have killed an elk, processed it, packed it off the mountain and have it in a freezer. We shut off the propane lantern and go to bed - eager for what just may lie in store tomorrow.
Alarm goes off and we are up and attem. Tired from the days work before but amazingly not really too sore.
Mike has said be prepared to stay out on the mountain all day - if we can get in with the elk early we may just stay with them all day. Beats the walk in and walk out - twice.
We pull in and it’s still 10-15 minutes before legal shooting light. We slowly work our way down the logging road and then peel off downhill into the timber. We are probably within 50-100 yards of where Levi shot his bull. Mike sounds off with a signature bugle - I mean it’s perfect. And guess what…
Surprise, surprise, surprise. A bull down in the meadow screams back at us. It’s still a little too dark to shoot back in the timber so we just slowly work down the steep edge towards the meadow.
We get within 50 or so yards of the meadow and Mike bugles again and bam - big bull answers back. This is honestly what I expected this entire hunt to be like, but due to whatever reason initially and then the rainy weather, it just hadn’t happened with the exception being Tuesday night and Sunday night. Although Monday while we were processing would have been a super day to be hunting them as they were bugling like crazy all on their own.
Anyway, where were we before I digressed and chased that rabbit. Oh yeah - we’ve got a herd bull screaming back at Mikes calls, how could I forget.
We drop down the steep slope and hit the meadows edge. I was fully expecting at least 1 if not 2 elk to be in sight somewhere. Nope - nothing. I’m thinking “where are they, they sounded like they were right there and they should be working their way back up the way they came down Sunday night.”
This also isn’t one smooth meadow that runs downhill - as you look across it slopes down from the right to the left. But as you look across it there is a decent hill/mountain on the other side and there’s a big “spine” you’ve got to go up and over to get there - the bulls were obviously up on that spine and dropped off the other side instead of dropping into our side. Oh well, just means we are going to be chasing them rather than being inbetween them and where they want to go. Our chances have just gone down some, but man, the bull is still screaming.
We cross a creek and go up this little “spine” - (it’s not so little when you’re climbing it.). We stop to catch our breath a couple of times - it’s pretty chilly this morning and the cold air and pine scent are what Elktember is made of.
We traverse down the backside of the spine and now have another creek to cross before we head up the side of the mountain. No real good place to cross but we find the best case and across we go.
We get into the timber and Mike bugles again - the bull is a good 300’ of elevation above us and has started working around the face of the mountain - there’s a little bench up there on the NW side and that’s where he is obviously heading. We are coming up from the south(ish). The bull bugles back at us - he is still super vocal.
We get up to his elevation and it really flattens out (flat is a relative term here). Instead of thick timber, it’s thinned out a little and there’s a bunch of deadfall. Mike says - you want to call for me? I’m thinking - are you nuts? Have you heard me call? So, I tell him, “you really want me to call for you?” Mike says “you were good enough to call in Levi’s bull, you can call.” He hands Levi a hoochie mama push type call (I can see BigDan rolling over in his grave) and says (Levi, use this while your dad is calling). I’m really hoping I can contribute even in a small way to Mike killing this bull. Mike takes off into some real thick pines heading towards the bull.
The bull bugles, Levi cow calls back at him and I give my best “girls, you are staying right here with me bugle.” I continue thrashing trees - I’m a little out of breath doing this whole routine. Actually I’m a lot out of breath to be quite honest. I’m putting everything I’ve got into this calling routine.
Suddenly we hear Mikes bugle join in the party - they’ve moved a little further away, so we pick up and move with them continuing our sequence. The bull is responding to everything and I am 100% expecting Mike is killing this bull. I bugle, the bull bugles and then Mike bugles - over and over and over this routine happens and you can tell from his bugles that Mike is right on top of this bull. We obviously can’t see them but they are only 100ish yards up in front of us.
Levi and I are still moving forward and calling but the bull has suddenly gone silent - I’m thinking, oh yeah, dead bulls don’t bugle. I’m pretty confident we are going to find Mike with an arrow missing from his quiver.
We hear Mike give a turkey yelp - we start making our way through the brush to him.
We finally get up to him and sure enough he was dancing with the herd bull but just couldn’t get a shot off - just too thick and he had cows all around him.
Well that’s elk hunting for you - highs and lows. Tue morning is about past and we don’t have an elk on the ground. We start making our way around this mountain to the north. We go about 300 yards or so and we hit a chute/valley/draw. Whatever you call it from where you’re from.
It’s a lush draw and there are some elk trails in it. We turn and start gaining elevation while working up this draw. We get almost to the head of it and we hit a wallow. Man, this thing has been hammered by elk in the early season, but it doesn’t look like they are using it now. This would be an absolute primo spot early in Sept. Tucked in on the north side of a mountain with thick reprod/regrowth all around it.
We all get in our rain gear and think - we are toughing this thing out. After about 30 minutes Mike asks if we want to ride it out or head back - he said it’s one thing to hang out with the elk rather than walk in and out twice, it’s another thing to just sit out in the rain all day. We decide to start slowly heading for the Sequoia.
We are up above where we had all the action earlier in the morning and we start side hilling towards the south where we can then drop down. It’s so thick and has so much blow down junk it’s going to be a long long process if we continue. And there’s not a lot more fun than going through deadfall/blowdowns when it’s wet and your boots are wet. No thanks. Not real safe either and none of us want to risk injury. Mike charts a new course and we gain elevation to get around the junk. We’ve been going for about a half an hour and the rain stops.
We are now all the way around to the south side - but we’re a little bit higher than where we came up initially and turned NW.
We poke out into another chute/meadow that traverses all the way down to the creek - by the “spine”. Talk about a view…. And there is a monster wallow down there. Mike says “let’s move down on to that knob and sit for the day if you want to”. I’m doing whatever Mike is doing - that’s my position/opinion.
We get comfortable and after a little bit a moose comes out below us and walks up the spine at a 45 degree angle, obviously following a game trail. That moose made it look like Childs play, a walk in the park, a piece of cake - and I needed to stop twice while climbing that spine.
We sit till almost dark and no bugles, no nothing. Maybe they peeled off the north side of the mountain today - who knows, but they didn’t come to the south - at least not while it was light.
We pack up and head down the mountain, cross the creek and take the moose trail up the spine. We get up top and Mike bugles - no responses. We were really thinking something would answer somewhere but nope - silence. He calls a few more times and we get no responses. Dropping off the backside of the spine -facing the timber where Levi shot his bull, is pretty close to straight down. We work our way further west and then bisect the slope on the way down so we don’t trip and roll to the bottom.
We hit the bottom and cross the last creek and make our way to the Treeline where Levi shot his bull. Before we get going Mike bugles and a bull way back where we came from sounds off.
Mike looks on OnX and finds the most terrain friendly spot to climb this mountain up to the logging road. It’s thick, dark and steep - man, this is the epitome of elk hunting. We’ve hunted hard, put some miles on the boots, stayed till past dark and now we navigate some thick, nasty steep stuff in the dark before we get out. Life is good. I stop to peel off my Core4 Element hoody and my longjohns - I’m absolutely roasting. We finally hit the logging road and I strip off the rest of my layers. I’m about to get sick, I’m so hot.
Off to the Sequoia we go and in about 15 minutes on the logging road, we are there.
We’re driving back and Mike asks about splitting up tomorrow to increase our chances of success. If we hunt together, there’s only one shooter. If we go separate we increase our odds - we all agree that we will hunt separate areas tomorrow. Mike is going back to the area we hunted Tue PM and Wed and Levi and I are coming back here.
We get back to camp, cook some late supper, stoke the wood stove and hit the sack. Weather is iffy the next few days so we’ve got to make tomorrow morning count.
Propane lantern is turned out - time to reflect on the blessing of the day. I’m telling you, it doesn’t get much better than this. I’m trying to kill a bull, but honestly, I’ve already checked every box that mattered on this hunt. Whether or not I kill a bull has no impact on how I view this hunt.
A little while later he bugles and it sounds like he has passed us and is back by the pond. This is unreal. This dude has an awesome bugle. Deep and throaty.
This goes on literally all night and Levi sleeps through it all. The alarm goes off and I reset it for 45 minutes later. Levi is perplexed and says “what are you doing, we can’t be late this morning.” I say we aren’t driving to hunt - we are hunting by camp. Levi doesn’t agree with this. He knows what we’ve got over by where he killed his bull.
I tell him about the events of the night and almost right on que the bull sounds off. Levi says “man, he is really close”. Yeah, he’s close, like within 200 yards of camp kind of close.
I say, we aren’t leaving a bugling herd bull right outside our tent to drive 30 minutes with the hope of finding a bugling herd bull. Levi agrees and we lay there for a little while longer. Ok. Time to get up. This bull has bugled and bugled. I later ask Mike if he heard any of it and he says no - he doesn’t hear anything from inside his camper.
We head to where we started this adventure Tue morning. To the same spot Mike took us the 1st morning. This herd bull is screaming in the predawn light and there is just nothing like it. He’s less than 100 yards away, we can’t see him and we’ve still got 10 minutes before we can shoot.
this is beyond good stuff. very happy to see your son get his first bull.
Levi and I start busting it trying to close the distance. We go about 200 yards and I bugle again and he responds and he’s not more than 100 yards away. We start to scramble for a setup spot. We get situated quickly and I bugle - no response. Cow call - no response, but a satellite to the left and a satellite ahead and to the right both bugle. This is absolutely the way a hunt needs to end - in the middle of a bugle fest.
Levi looks at me like “which one are we going after?” About that time I see the satellite off to my right and he’s moving away on the edge of a small rise - he’s in hot pursuit of a cow.
I’m thinking to myself, we’ve already got an elk down - I’m killing that herd bull or will strike out trying. If Levi didn’t already have a bull, we would’ve peeled off and tried to call a satellite.
The herd bull bugles again and he’s 3-400 yards away. This guy is a knucklehead and needs to be shot. You know the routine, Levi and I bust a move and are sucking wind as we try to sprint around him and cut him off.
I believe he is headed for the area where we found the tree stands - it’s thick, and choked with elk sign. No doubt this was their bedding area before the spike killer got in there.
I’m thinking “they left for a week and now they are back”. I really think we’ve got a legit shot at getting in close on this bull - but I’m not calling to him until I think we are right on top of him.
You can see the terrain in the above pic - not huge mountains to climb but still some serious country to cover with elevation gains and losses.
We’ve been in the mountains for 10 days now and we have our mountain legs and lungs - we are absolutely killing it trying to run around them - basically they are taking a big lazy arc to the area and we are cutting the angle and running to the spot to beat them there.
If you’re 19 this isn’t near as big a deal as when you’re 52. I’m sucking the wind off the mountains. I think I was breathing so hard that I was affecting the thermals in the immediate vicinity.
We get into the edge of the timber and I’m doubled over sucking wind and a little light headed. Suddenly he screams and he is right over the cusp of the the hill. He is exactly where we thought they’d be and we are ahead of him. He’s on a slope that actually borders a road and it’s a killer elevation drop to the road and then back up to the other side. On evening Mike, Levi and I saw a cow and calf across there - it may only be 800 yards straight across but wow would it be a trek down and up to get there.
Surely this bull doesn’t have that in mind and he’s just going to mosey into the thick stuff right here 50 yards away from him where we lie in wait.
I’m trying to get my breath so I could remotely pull off a decent shot. He is silent, so I bugle and he sounds off but he’s sounds to be a little bit further than he was before. I cut him off with a challenge bugle hoping he will want to come in and whoop my scrawny little satellite rear end.
He goes silent for about 1 minute. Next time he bugles he is across the road at the same elevation I am. Dirty dog. I absolutely did not see this coming. He is just inside the timber edge with his herd of cows and he is bugling like every 30 seconds at me. I think he wants me to March out into the open side and chase him - just so he can verify that I’m a human. I tell Levi “I’m not giving that bull the satisfaction of seeing us, we need to haul it back to camp, get in the Sequoia and drive over there.” He had bugled probably 20 times from the spot and he wasn’t really moving anymore. It was a somewhat small patch of north facing timber on a little knoll.
Let’s get moving - we look at OnX and start making our way back to camp - alternating between fast walking and walking. Man oh man it was beautiful that morning - sun is out bright and bulls bugling. Don’t know where the little bulls went - never saw or herd them once we started chasing the herd bull. Maybe we would bump into them on the way back thru. Nope, nothing but beautiful scenery on our way back to camp.
We chug down a gatorade, eat a protein bar and hop in the Sequoia. It’s now approaching 11:00.
We circle and approach from the south - we are above them with the wind in our face and the thermals are sucking up - we have everything in our favor. And there is a wide and clear trail all along the top of this edge. This is unbelievable- I mean you couldn’t set this up any better. We’ve come in completely silent, haven’t made a peep. I believe we are pretty close to being right above them - and man is the timber short and thick down in there. Like you can’t see 5 yards thick. Yep - they are in there without a doubt.
Levi and I stop and I hand motion that we are going to pause and then slip down into the timber. No words are said.
We hadn’t been stopped for 30 seconds when the mountain side erupts - branches snapping hoofs smacking stuff - all the stinking cows were beside us like 10 yards away. All of a sudden the bull chuckles. He’s probably 75 yards down in the thick stuff and all he knows is that his cows are running everywhere. I let out a bugle hoping he thinks I’m a satellite coming in to steal cows.
No response. Hindsight is always 20/20 when things don’t go as planned. Looking back I wish I would’ve just charged down into there when the cows were busting. Maybe I could have crashed into him and got a close shot off - probably not though as it was insanely thick.
The herd travels north and about 10 minutes later I bugle and he bugles back at me from 1,000+ yards away on the opposite hillside. He’s still moving away.
Levi and I head back to the Sequoia and to camp. I tell him - this hunt is over, this is how it was supposed to end chasing a herd bull and matching wits with him.
I was a little letdown in that we got outclassed by that herd bull, but they were doing the same to Mike, so I took some comfort in that. If Mike wasn’t having success with the herd bulls, something was going to have to go really right for me to succeed.
We head back to camp and Levi is talking me into hunting tonight. I’m telling him “Levi, we are pulling out in the morning, I don’t want to kill and elk tonight, butcher him in the dark and pack elk meat all night, get back to camp without any sleep, break down camp and start the drive home - there is nothing about that scenario that appeals to me. Levi has his bull and we’ve had the adventure of a lifetime.
I finally persuaded him that I wasn’t going. He was convinced I’d be kicking myself later for not hunting one last time. He had reason for this - all previous elk hunts we bailed a day early because we were just worn down to the nubbs. Then within a week I was kicking myself for not sticking it out 1 more day. Honestly, it still bothers me.
I told him - this is not like that. I’m not quitting a day early because I’m whipped. I’m forgoing the last hunt because we’ve already been wildly successful.
We get a bunch of misc stuff packed up that afternoon - there’s a slight chance of rain that night and a very slight chance for Thursday around noon. The roads are in pretty decent shape so I’m hoping the rain holds off.
Mike comes back from his hunt and he had an opportunity but couldn’t quite close the deal. We get the meat from his freezer, shake hands and say our goodbyes.
Mike was everything I hoped he would be. A real decent human being and an absolute mountain man woodsman. He put up with our deficiencies and didn’t complain, rather he helped. I’d hunt with him again in a heartbeat.
We hunted as much apart as we did together but that was ok. That was part of the plan. Mike would show us to ropes and then we would just take it day by day. The weather just threw a massive monkey wrench into the whole hunt. Felt like it cancelled 40% of our hunts - or forced us to hunt around camp.
While we were packing Levi made the comment that he was glad we didn’t kill a bull on Saturday over 3 miles away from camp - and that it happened where it did. Told him - yep, there’s a reason for everything and how thankful I was that it worked out like it did.
I’ll attach a few more misc pictures. The last will be a diner in Nebraska. I’ve never had a better breakfast - then again maybe it was all the mountain house breakfast skillets that had drastically lowered my standards.
Enjoy every hunt like it’s your last because one day it will be and none of us know when that day will be. My dad had 2 major strokes last year and will in all likelihood never hunt again. He’s the reason I love hunting, he took me when I was a kid and we hunted all our lives together. I’ve killed 2 bulls with a rifle and dad was on both of those hunts - one in the panhandle of Idaho and one in Montana at the southern tip of “The Bob”. Memories burned down deep in my mind.
This hunt I hope I did the same for Levi - burned down deep in his mind - this is what dads and sons do. He’s a great kid and really not a kid anymore. Mike made the statement “how many 19 year olds do you know that have killed a branch antlered bull with a bow - probably not many”
He wants to antelope hunt next year and we’ve got 7 Wyoming points each to burn - archery for a few days and then rifle just to make sure…. We will see, plans may change before then, but I’m up for a change of pace for a year if that’s what he wants.
Fellas - what a life. I’m a saved man, get to pastor great people, living in America with a great family and get to enjoy the great outdoors - What.A.Life.
Till next time - Happy Thanksgiving and thank you for following along - I’ve had a blast reliving the experience.
Big Mike - feel free to chime in and add commentary or pics if you so desire.
Big Congrats to Levi, have a Blessed Thanksgiving!~
Congrats to Mike for his part in this amazing journey! I’ve no doubt your selfless giving will inspire Levi to become the same type of hunter.
And congrats to you Old School, on the journey and adventure. On your thankfulness for the journey and on your desire to share it with us in such a humble and captivating way.
They say there is an exception to every rule, in this case the adage that “A picture is worth a thousand words” has been turned around. You’ve painted such a vivid picture that no picture could do it justice. I’ve had a bit of a rough season, but I’ve just been smiling the whole time since your saga started!!
Just a great, great story!
As for Mike, good on him for mentoring. You honestly couldn't have asked for a more qualified elk killer giving you advice. Well done, all of you. Congrats
Congrats on a great elk hunt!!!!
@ Mike from what I've seen over the years, I wouldn't have expected any less.
We (me and my 2 sons) hunted Colorado OTC and Idaho for 4 years - DIY archery and we never even drew our bows - we averaged over 60 miles of walking each year on those hunts. The hunts were enjoyable, but frustrating all at the same time.
Hunter pressure, lack of vocal bulls and a tent with no stove can be a real damper on a hunt - but I had a few here on bowsite years ago that gave me this advice - go hunt OTC in Colorado and hunt Idaho so you can learn the ropes while building points - then draw a tag somewhere else and you’ll have gained invaluable experience before you just waste your points learning the “basics” on a hunt that takes years to draw. This was sound advice.
In the 4 years of “no success” we learned a lot first hand - our goal was to kill an elk but it was also to learn more and get better every year and man did it pay off.
Hunt every year you can and build points somewhere for that “special” hunt.
One of the key things the OTC hunts give you (if you’ll let them) is grit - every hunt there are dozens of reasons to get down, discouraged and disappointed and cause you to quit - if you’ll tough through it, it gives you the mental toughness that is necessary to succeed. This hunt epitomized that - the weather was terrible and we had waited 5 years for this hunt. You can whine and gripe and mope or you can be thankful for what you’ve got and push through and take advantage of the opportunity when it comes.
Comparing this hunt to a Colorado OTC hunt is like comparing a watermelon and a kiwi. If you hunted Colorado OTC this year and didn’t have an experience like this - it’s not because you stink and I’m good - it’s because of where we hunted. Take heart, keep at it - learn every year and one day it will all come together.
Take care and Happy Thanksgiving!!!
How did you end up doing after Mitch and Levi left?
I arrived in the general area a couple days before the September 1 opener and got my camp setup. I hunted solo until Mitch and Levi arrived. This was the 3rd time I had hunted this area and had killed 2 good 6x6's in the previous 2 hunts. I was familiar with much of the unit(s) and had a good idea of where to find elk. This hunt had some challenges that made it somewhat different than the previous 2 hunts in the area.
The first week or so of my hunt was unseasonably warm which affected daytime elk movement. Regardless, I was into elk and heard bugles every day but most action was limited to the first couple hours in the morning and the last hour of light in the evening. On the second day I called a 300" 6x6 in to 15 yards. He approached in such a way that I saw the shadow cast by his antlers before I actually saw him. It was very cool. He stopped head on and completely thrashed a tree at 15 yards. I had tension on the string and he just needed to take one step either direction and I would have had a shot. He turned and left with the tree obstructing any shot. I continued to dog him for a while and got close a couple more times but it didn't happen.
A couple days later I called a good 6x6 about 280" in to 30 yards and I thought it was going to happen but he circled and got my wind.
During those first 10 days I had 8 shooter bulls within 40 yards but it just didn't come together. Some of those close calls that didn't pan out were due to the disadvantages of calling and hunting solo. But that's just the way it goes sometimes. I also chose to pass shots on 3 smaller bulls since it was early in the hunt.
I was giving Mitch updates via Inreach and based on the action I was having I was very optimistic for what was to come once the rut cranked up a little more.
My friend Les Welch from Wisconsin and my friends Wyatt and Jake from Texas had also drawn tags and would be arriving around the 10th and would be hunting the drainages in the area around my first week base camp. Based on that fact together with a consideration of Mitch's hunt expectations and the terrain in that area I thought it would be best for Mitch and Levi to hunt a different portion of the unit 5-10 miles away.
Mitch and I had both been doing a lot of E-scouting and had a location picked out where we would meet and set up our base camps. A few days before Mitch and Levi arrived I did some scouting and decided that a different area a few miles from the original chosen location would be better for their hunt. I informed Mitch of the change of plans and sent him map info on the new camp location. I can imagine that this probably caused some anxiety for Mitch. Here he was heading out after considerable planning, driving half way across the country to hunt with a guy he had never met, already having plans to hunt and camp in a specific area and at the last minute I was calling an audible. In hindsight I believe it was the right decision.
I broke camp and moved to the new base camp location a couple days before Mitch and Levi's arrival. The first afternoon there I did a short scouting hunt and didn't get into any elk but I saw a small herd of antelope and a decent muley buck.
The following morning I hunted out from camp in a different direction. As soon as it was light enough to shoot I threw out a bugle and it was answered immediately. I made my way toward the bull through some of the best elk sign I had ever seen in my elk hunting career. I was exchanging bugles with the bull and closing the distance when I came to the edge of a small meadow about 150 yards across. It was quick decision time, I don't like to try and call bulls across an open meadow if I'm close to the opposite edge because they usually hang up on their side because they can see across and see that there are no elk on the other side. If I was going to cross the meadow I had to do it quickly before the bull got to the edge on the other side. There was a large bushy evergreen tree blocking my view of part of the meadow. In hindsight I should have taken a few seconds to slowly step past and peek around the tree but instead with the adrenalin pumping and a sense of urgency to get to the other side, I stepped out and there he was already out in the meadow, a beautiful 330 class 6x6, 100 yards away coming straight at me! Busted! It should have been a done deal, he had totally committed but he was coming a lot faster than I realized.
I continued the morning hunt and chased a couple other bugling bulls and saw a few cows. I've had enough close calls and blown bull encounters in my life that I don't let it ruin my day anymore. It's just part of the deal. The good news is I was into elk, a big bull and great sign within a half mile walk from camp over relatively easy terrain.
I relayed the events of the morning to Mitch and hopefully that helped relieve any anxiety he may have been feeling about the last minute change in location.
Just about the time the full moon was waning and I was expecting daytime elk activity to pick up, the rain moved in. And these weren't your typical afternoon pop-up showers common in the mountains. These were totally socked in all day and all night heavy rain showers intermixed with hail and occasional snow and a fair amount of thunder and lightning.
I was definitely frustrated by the weather and the amount of non hunting time but trying to hunt in those conditions would be miserable at best and actually could be pretty dangerous.
Between the warm weather, full moon, heavy rain and not to mention, substantial hunting pressure; I think the hunt went about as well as could be expected. Although it would have been great if Mitch would have filled his tag too.
After Mitch and Levi pulled out I broke camp and headed back to the area of my original base camp. The roads were still a mess and it was slow going but they had dried out enough that they were not quite as treacherous.
Les had been hunting that area and had killed a bull. My friend Wyatt from Texas had also killed a bull and he and Jake were still at it trying to fill Jake's tag.
I hunted for a couple days and got into bugling bulls each day. One evening I was in a triangle between 3 different bulls all bugling their heads off, I'm sure I heard a couple hundred bugles all within 200 yards. Even though the bulls were extremely vocal it was like I had a force field around me and they just would not break through and come into bow range. It was very exciting but frustrating and exhausting at the same time. In the excitement I let the bulls pull me farther and farther away from my truck. I knew I needed to give up and start heading out but each time I turned to leave one of the bulls would follow me and continue to bugle causing me to turn back and go after him thinking maybe this time he'll commit. Each time he/they would pull me farther around the mountain. I didn't get back to my truck until 11:30 PM, totally exhausted. If I would have had some food and water with me I think I would have just slept up on the mountain.
After Les finished packing his bull out he broke camp and came and joined me and was my caller for a few days. Again we were into bulls every day and some times had multiple bulls bugling from different directions and had to decide which bull to go after. We got very close a couple times but the shot opportunity never happened. The bulls were extremely vocal with hundreds of bugles but they were very reluctant to commit and come into bow range, even with Les doing the calling 100 yards or more behind me.
Wyatt and Jake were also experiencing the same frustrations with extremely vocal bulls but reluctance to commit and were unable to get Jake a bull.
So add reluctant bulls to the list of weather and full moon challenges and it was an odd year.
That being said, between the 6 of us we went 3 for 6 which still isn't bad. I saw numerous bulls, hundreds of elk, heard thousands of bugles, had an arrow nocked at least a dozen times and was at full draw a few times. So even without a shot opportunity or a notched tag, it was a very exciting and rewarding month in the mountains. I had killed 5 good bulls in 4 different states in the previous 5 years so I was probably due for some tag soup and some humble pie :-)
Very gracious of you to help guys out Mike.
Sounds like you did some sacrificing and made a hunt of a lifetime for some others!