Big Game Hunting
I'm new here and want to share my hunt last fall. It's a little long and I'm sorry for that.
Let me know what you think!!!
A September to remember
So I’ll start at the beginning, 2nd year archery hunting for Elk. In 3 years hunting elk I still have not got one, not even with a rifle. I decided to focus solely on Archery this year so I bought an over the counter either sex tag that is good for a cow or legal bull (4 points on one side or more). In the weeks leading up to the season opener I spent some time scouting with a friend here in town. We saw a few bulls and a lot of cows. Even saw a few nice bears.
After narrowing down where we wanted to be on opening weekend we set up camp the Thursday before so we could spend Friday locating the perfect spot to sit at in the morning. About 2:00 in the afternoon we came into so much elk sign we where we wanted to sit in the morning. We were up at 3:30 AM (didn’t sleep anyway) and on the trail at 4:00. It took us just under 2 hours to get 2 miles and 1,000 feet up in elevation with out sweating. We were about a ¼ mile from where we wanted to be so we stopped and sprayed down again with scent eliminator (Dead down wind).
We split up and I went off to the valley that we scoped out the day before. It was just getting light enough to see and about 150 yards down I spotted some tan fur, thinking it’s a deer. Then it moved and all I could think is that deer looks like a cat, that deer moves like a cat, has a tail like a cat!!! Oh that’s a mountain lion!!! What a blessing to see that. Then about 15 minutes later I got to watch a small black bear wander thru the meadow below. So I’m hunting Elk and all I’m seeing are predators and now I’m thinking that I’m in the wrong spot.
At about 7:30 a big bodied mule deer is eating in my direction and comes to about 20 yards away, down wind. I even check the wind and it is blowing right at him. So all the care we have taken for our clothes and scent is working. I don’t have a deer tag in my pocket, but I do decide it’s a good time to practice drawing my bow on a live animal. So two times I’m able to draw and release my bow just being patient as to when to draw, I’m thinking that this will help my confidence for when I see any Elk.
Another hour goes by and I start hearing some sounds from the timber about 100 yards above me. I stay put; thinking that whatever it is (Hopefully elk) is going to come right by my stand. After what feels like forever, (5 minutes) I can’t take it anymore because the sound is not getting closer so I start to move up. I’m not excited about getting in the open to close the distance but I do it anyway. I make it to the edge of the timber and it sounds like its 40, 50 yards away max. So I wait and still it’s not coming closer. Sounds like a bull walking around and his antlers are hitting branches. So I keep sneaking in and get right on top of the sound before I realize that it’s a squirrel pushing pine cones off of a tall ponderosa and the acorns are hitting branches on the way down. Well, I can sneak up on squirrels.
Since I’m in the timber I decide to go over and check if I can see my hunting buddies. I ease along the timber in the shade and as I get close to where I can see the ridge that they should be on I catch the movement of 2 nice mule deer with large racks. One of my friends has a deer tag and the bucks are headed that way. So I stay put and watch for the action to go down. The deer just stroll down the ridge and into the lower aspens. Weird, for sure they were in range of Trever. I left my pack at the 1st spot I was on so I go back to get it and head back over to look for Trever and see what happened.
“Did you see those two huge muleys?” “No we were stalking in the woods after what we thought was a big bull, turned out to be a squirrel.” Great, we are the best squirrel hunters on the mountain. They did however see about 40 elk at 1st light, they crossed just below them and went into the timber. We go down and have a look at the sign and eat the burritos we brought for breakfast. We try to take a nap but a ant craws into Trevor’s ear and after laughing at him trying not to freak out R.J. gets a stick in his ear and the ant bites it and comes out. No use in sleeping now.
We start to follow a slight ridge and stalk along looking for any movement. We regroup and decide to head back in another arc towards the meadow. As we go along I get too far off to the side and end up at the meadow first. No sign of my partners and so I cow call and it doesn’t produce any result. So I head back into the timber and come to another nice little pocket meadow and wait. Still nothing, I head across the meadow and cow call again and Trever replies, then he calls like a sick cow/small bull combo and I hear crashing thru the timber, I run to a break in the trees and as I draw my bow I see a cow coming fast for the open meadow. I hold and wait for her to clear the trees and at the last second she turns away from me one step from having my broad head in her lungs. She didn’t see or smell me so I go after her and follow her all the way to the other meadow without catching sight of her again.
As I make the trip back with lots of thoughts going on in my head I see Trever and R.J. and they think I must have been run over and should be holding a bloody arrow. I tell them what happened and they said NOT the cow, some bulls were behind her and came right thru the meadow. I just got some Elk education with more to come.
The next Friday I take my little camper up to a new spot about 5-6 miles north of last weekend and spend the afternoon hanging in the shade of some scrub oak. I should have brought a book. I get to camp early and go to bed wondering where I should hunt tomorrow. At 5:00 AM Trever is at the camper with news that his brother got word on a few bulls about 10 miles away so we change gears and head down to meet Tory. Just as we are about to get out of the truck I realize that I forgot to put on my hunting boot. Just have on some slip on merrells. Well they will have to work. We start hiking up thru some scrub oak and don’t see any elk sign. I’m thinking this is going to be a waste of time but keep it to myself.
It’s getting light and we are headed up to a shelf we could see from below. When we get their Tory is getting out his bugle and getting ready and Trever spots some elk right where we just came from, less than 200 yards away. 4 Bulls 2 5X5’s and 2 6X6’s and the last one is a tank!!! Tory hits the bugle and the last one screams back at us. “Let’s get set up” bugles again and the last one starts our way. We wait and call but nothing. I wonder if the brush was too thick. We spend 2 hours trying to get close but they have our number. We do get very close to 4 satellite bulls right near the truck, I mean right next to the truck. One was legal and just out of range. So back to camp we go.
I decide it looks like nap time and grab a book and sit under a tree for some shade. Trever decides the he is going to take my 4 wheeler and go check on a pond for bears. I didn’t even get to sleep and he is back. “I have good news and bad news”. “We are not going to hunt tonight, I got a bear!” He was walking up to the pond to have a look and saw a wake in the water, thought it was a duck and then the bear came out about 10 feet away. He ran off about 80 yards and stopped. That’s all it took. We spent the rest of the afternoon getting him out.
I went home that night and left the camper in the woods. After church on Sunday I went back out to where we saw the bulls and found the one water hole in the area to sit at. I stayed until dark and nothing came to water. So I was back at the same hole at 5:00 AM Monday morning. Great setup about 20 yards from the water and the wind is right. I don’t know how it happened but I blew it.
At about 6:00 AM I heard what I thought was a wild dog barking at me. It’s funny now but my brain was playing tricks on me in the dark. I grew up back east and we have wild dogs that are pretty viscous and I just couldn’t get it in my head that it was a Bull Elk. It was close, about 30 yards and I couldn’t see it from my blind. He kept barking at me so I have to peak out for a look, still not shooting light but light enough to see. So when I peaked around the cedar tree and saw the bull I had mixed emotions. Relief that I was not going to be attacked by a rabid dog but the bull saw me too. He took a few steps into cover but stayed and kept barking for about a ½ hour. I couldn’t get a shot so that was my morning.
Friday afternoon I find myself heading a little further north with another friend that can go with me in the afternoon. Unhook the camper and we are up looking at new ground. Looks like elk country. Lots of aspens, game trails, some dark timber but we don’t see any recent elk sign. Nothing all afternoon so we stop on a ridge to have a snack and glass. It looks like we are not far from a lake so we decide to head that way and have a look. We are getting close to a pretty big clearing when we start to hear something on the edge of it. I move in closer for a look and see a big black bear about 150 yards off. I signal to Jason to come have a look. He gets next to me and then another big cinnamon bear appears about 40 yards away. Wish I had a bear tag, I will next year. They hang out for a little then wander off.
We head thru the clearing and to a little creek from the lake. Decide to cut up a game trail and find another nice meadow to sit at till dark. We see some deer but no elk. Some other hunters have camped at the lake and are hunting bear so we let them know what we saw.
5:00 AM, Trever and company are at the camp and ready to hunt. He has a buddy with a bear tag so 3 of us decide to head up to the same spot as yesterday and see if we can find them. No luck, we heard some bugling but can’t be 100% sure that it wasn’t another hunter. As we are heading down thru the upper meadow we sat at the day before I decide we should cut thru the game trail I found. We are heading northwest and just got into the trees when I hear a stick pop off to my right. A quick glance and all I see are antler tips. It’s surreal; he is in the light and looking at me from 12 yards. I don’t remember getting my arrow off the quiver and on it’s rest but that’s where it is. I am crouched down and he is looking right at me. I have a face mask and sunglasses on.
This lasts for 30-45 seconds then he turns and starts downhill, he then takes a 90 degree turn that it going to take him right into the opening. As I was standing up I drew my bow and the arrow fell off of the rest. I have gloves on so I use my index finger to fix the arrow at full draw. Tory makes a yip!! and the bull stops perfect. It was like shooting a shot gun. No thought until the arrow is in the air. Looks like a good hit, A little high and a little back. I guessed 30 yards and its 32.
We start the wait, 15 minutes into it we hear another elk crashing thru the woods coming from the same area this one came from. Tory runs up to try for a look. I stay put and call, nothing. I hit that bull at 8:30 so at 9:30 we start off after him. We find the nock side of the arrow right away. So O.K. blood up the 1st hill and them follow him a third of a mile and we loose the blood. Tory has to pick up a friend and heads off the mountain. We go back to where I hit him and start again. This time it’s the same to the dead end. I run down and come back up another way and find an Elk track. I say a little prayer to let me see some blood and look down. Right next to my foot is the other half of my arrow, the broad head still on it. So I back track this until I hit the old trail. That elk did a 180 and headed back. We follow the tracks and a little blood. Trever and his 3 friends show up and we keep tracking him. Absolutely no blood after ½ mile from the hit and the last track at ¾ of a mile from where I hit him. We search till dark and I do the next day, nothing.
That’s a tough way to spend the weekend. Thrill, excitement, joy, compassion, disappointment, anguish, it’s a rollercoaster ride. The guys are great and a few have stories that they share of the one that got away. It takes some of the edge off but doesn’t help the dull feeling in your gut that you made a big mistake. You replay that in your head a thousand times. Correct gear, distance was right, broad side shot, what was the mistake. People tell you this but it’s almost too much to do with your 1st big game animal with a bow. Aim for a small specific spot, not just the vitals. 4 inches further forward and 4 inches lower would have been both lungs, I’m sure of it. I may just still be trying to convince myself but we never got lung blood, never any good blood, got the entire arrow and broad head so I think he is still running around right now.
Thursday finds us heading back home from a trip to Farmington and I get a call from Trever that he has heard a bunch of bulls at a new spot. I tell my wife about it and see if she can take the kids with her Friday AM so I can get up to camp Thursday night. She is great and agrees. I meet Trever and he is jazzed about all the bulls he heard. We set up camp jump in our bags and try to go to fall asleep early.
We are on the trailhead in the dark and as we get around the edge where we can see all the way into the valley floor about 2.5 miles below, Trever bugles. Bulls answer from all over. We can count 4 separate ones for sure. We start down off of the trail and it is steep, no wonder the elk are in here. No one in their right mind would come down here. We had a bull that we chased downhill till about 9:00. Trever spotted some cows very close and I will shoot a cow. I’m a meat hunter first, and horns are secondary. Some miscommunication with poor sign language and I kept going. I had no idea he was looking at them, I thought he just heard them.
So at about 10:00 we stop for a break and some food. We are sitting with our backs to a log and hear a bull bugle and it sounds like he is laying down not 100 yards off so we quickly head off in his direction. Still can’t get them to come to us but we keep pushing and nothing. We are getting very far from the trail and it’s up hill all the way back so we decide we better start heading in that direction. We see 3 cows eating on the next ridge over and notice a saddle on that ridge also so we decide to head that way. It takes us a few hours to reach that saddle and when we reach it we decide it would be a waste not to walk the top to check before heading back.
The smell of Elk hits us hard, they are very close. We bump a cow at 15 paces. She just kind of walks off not really spooked. Trever gets a look at a small satellite bull. So we decide to walk this ridge out. Trever is on the top and I am off the side. I hit the valley floor and ease up a little on the opposite ridge to keep my wind right. We are getting pretty far down so I decide I better call to locate Trever. I cow call and look in the direction I think he is and see an elk bedded down. Wish I had not called, the elk turns to look at me and I can tell it’s a Bull. Trever is close and calls back to me, so the bull turns to look in his direction and I quickly get some trees between us.
It takes me a few minutes to get into range and luckily Trever keeps calling some. He has not seen the bull. I am close enough and ease out to try for a shot and the bull has gotten up. Oh no, I can’t get a shot. I ease back and find a window thru the trees, draw my bow and hope he walks into it. It takes him a bit but he walks right into my shooting lane and pauses. Its 30 yards and this time I am specific about the seam behind his shoulder and I aim a little low. I see the arrow flight and it looks great but at the hit the arrow disappears and I was not ready for that.
I turkey call to let Trever know something is happening. We had not discussed any calling language ahead of time to notify each other. I run down to where I hit him and am looking for something to mark the spot when I hear a sound and I look up and the bull had not gone 30 yards and was looking back at me. He sees me when I see him and walks around the ridge. Trever saw him after my shot and was drawing his bow on him when he sees me running up the side of the ridge. He didn’t know I hit him and can hear him raking some trees. I go to run up the side of the ridge and see my arrow on the ground. I grab it and it has good blood on it, a complete pass thru!!
At the top of the ridge I stop for a breath and catch some movement out of the corner of my eye. It’s my bull and he is down but looking at me again. I shoot him again and he tries to get up so I take the arrow I shot him with 1st and put that one in him too. I have my 1st Elk!!! Trever gets up to me and is laughing because I put so many arrows in him. I didn’t want a repeat of last Saturday.
When we get down to him we notice that he has another arrow in him. Things come full circle for me and I feel very good about getting him. I didn’t know he was wounded and if I did I still would have took him. He’s a great bull and for my first elk he’s perfect. Our cell phones work so I call and let my wife and family know. The kids are very excited to hear that daddy got his elk!!
Lessons learned from a bow hunting novice:
Squirrels sound like big elk and can get you turned in a hurry, listen carefully.
Elk bark like dogs, don’t let them fool you.
Scent is important, be obsessive about it.
Calling does work, if for no more than locating them.
Work out some calls to communicate with your hunting partners.
Be in shape and ready to hike, also try and keep your daypack light.
Hunt all day, I got my bull at 2:00 in the afternoon and my GPS said it was a bad day to hunt.
Be specific about your point of aim, I had practiced a lot on targets and think that a realistic target would have helped me, I might even have that 1st bull if I did.
Bring black pepper or game bag to keep the flies off the meat.
Space blankets work great for putting boned out meat on and wrapping it to put in your pack.
What an amazing September the best time of the year. Elk in the freezer, horns on the wall and 12 lbs lighter. Now need to keep the weight off!!! Can't wait till next year!!!!!