First solo elk hunt success

Dos Perros

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Jul 30, 2015
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Lenexa, KS
I burned points in WY this year on a fair to middlin' unit. Kinda just wanted to dump points because I knew I'd never catch a 'good' hunt and get on the general tag train. Took one scouting trip in May and then another in August. We found lots of elk both times and were feeling pretty confident--no giants but in May we found 10 bulls in one spot and several had really nice fronts, and then in August we were in different spots and found 1 280ish 6x6 that I'd shoot. My goal was any legit 6x6, 270+, and I wouldn't pass a big 5x5 or a freak or something cool either.

The season opened on a Tuesday so myself and two friends got several days of scouting in ahead of the hunt. We did a 15 mile loop in our primary location trying to find the 10 bulls again, but there was zero fresh sign. Also, not seeing any cows in there either time was concerning. We decided the lack of moisture probably had the elk really low feeding in private alfalfa fields, so we scratched that place off the list and moved to the other end of the unit. Two days before the opener we found a herd with bugling bulls and cows together. Nothing big but there was one bull that looked pretty cool. We also heard a party going on in the neighboring unit not far away. I love those late August early September elk parties.

Opening morning we found another herd, 50 elk or so, with one good bull in it. We initially called him the 280 bull. We watched them bed in some thick timber and decided to stalk in in the middle of the day. The plan was to get close to some cows and then squat and wait for the bull to come around and check them. After a few hours of slow sloooow timber creeping they are coming towards us on the move. I fumbled getting an arrow out of my quiver and the opportunity at the bull dissolved quickly. But we dogged them for a couple hours, had two encounters with cows and spikes feeding literally yards from us. Like me on a knee in the wide open timber and cows feeding 3 yards from me without a care in the world. I literally got so amped I almost passed out, vision started closing in and I had to flex my abdominal muscles to force blood to my brain, nearly started gagging on diaphragm call in my mouth. Afterwards I told my friends that was worth the 5 points alone--I had never been that close to elk and for many minutes at a time.

Got on the same herd as they headed to water that evening and I aggressively stalked in, blew out some elk I never saw as I was focused on the bull, and they headed to the next county. But, I glassed them up the next morning, maybe just a mile away from where I bumped them the night before. Then, for days, we hunted this group of elk in the same 200 acres of timber, bumping them all over damnation. In a patch that small we thought we could guess what they would do but they were always a step ahead. A new 6x6 bull we called the Chuckler came in a split the cows with the 280 bull, but after seeing the 280 bull next to a raggy 6x6 we decided he was much bigger, just huge body, tall and wide, 320 or so, he was renamed the Big 6.

Day 4 we found the Chuckler and his cows in a wide creek bottom lined with willows. I stalked in. There was a 5x5 in there too, and my friend called him in. I passed on him at 20 yards or so with the Chuckler at 43 but heavy quartered to me. The 5x5 got to the spot my friends was, saw him, and came barreling down the hill towards me. I thought he was going to run me over and kill me, and I contemplated just jumping in the creek. All I was focused on was his knees and hooves thumping towards me and lethal speed. At the last second he veered and sailed over the creek just feet from me, and the Chuckler spooked behind the willows. I dogged him, ranged a spot where some cows were coming out at 56 yards, locked that yardage in my ballistic computer, and when he came out I stopped him and sent one, but it went high. He had come out on a trail much closer than the cows, and my brain did not account for it. I'm not an experienced archery killer, and I just melt during opportunities sometimes. I don't have the brain capacity to quickly recompute and adjust holdovers, and I kinda think opportunities are too fleeting to stop him, get a good range, then draw my bow and shoot. I welcome any feedback on that folks. I have missed two 150" deer like this too.

The herd wasn't spooked too bad and fed up a slope. We gave them some time and waited for the thermals to get strong and we looped in above them. We quickly spotted some cows in the timber and I took off my boots and moved in. After a couple hours of sitting and waiting, watching cows feed, at about noon the bull shows up. At this point I have one cow to my left at 15 yards, one below me at 25 yards, several up and to the left I couldn't see but knew they were there getting close to my friends who were now dead ass asleep. The bull was on a cow 55 yards down and to my left, and as he came through he smelled and licked her and let out a really quiet groany bugle. My friends just 100 yards away never even heard it. The cow he was following came sidehilling below me and button hooked up into a clearing, just 40 yards perfectly broadside below me, perfect wide open shot. This was going to be a great opportunity. I clipped in and put a slight tension on my string, and I was going to draw the second I saw his snout come from behind some trees. Then, just a few seconds later, pure madness. The cows up and to my left had gotten high enough that a temporary crosswind got my scent to them, and they came barreling towards me. 6 or 8 cows in a tight bunch running at full speed right at me. I said a prayer and drew my bow, and they stopped literally inches from the end of my Quivalizer. They kinda paused, confused or embarrassed, and were stammering around me not sure what to do. The bull raced sidehilling below me and stopped in a window I guessed to be 40 yards away, and I took a shot, but he was gone before the arrow got there. I could see he never relaxed the tension in his muscles. We sat for an hour, dumbfounded and depressed. I couldn't tell if my friends were angry or frustrated or what, with me or the elk or the situation. I definitely felt like I let them down twice that morning, and we all knew the week was coming to an end soon.

I did have some other close encounters. And then a winter storm chased us out of there, dumping 12" of snow in the high country the night we left.
 
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Dos Perros

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Joined
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Location
Lenexa, KS
One of my friends rode home with me, and the other went on to Montana to hunt for himself. After a few days his brother joined him, and I received texts just a few days apart that they both filled their tags on nice representative 6 points. I was really proud of them, those dudes grind and are willing to suffer if they think it'll give them a better shot a elk. But I can admit it ate at me. I needed to go back.

Work is really busy later in the month, and September is end of the federal fiscal year which is even more work. But, eff it sometimes, you know? I floated the idea to my wife and she is just so damn awesome I will never fully know how lucky I am. It was settled, I was going to go on my first solo elk hunt.

Got into the area in the afternoon and sneaked around that 200 acre patch of timber and hung three game cameras on different wallows, even bumped a couple bulls doing so. That night I was back on the Big 6, but he was down a few cows, had only 10 by this point. More of the same, just couldn't stay ahead of the elk. Now though the bugling action was way less. He'd only bugle twice in the morning and twice in the evening. Dumb luck I got onto him one evening as he fed in a clearing with his cows and he'd rut and stomp around and tip his head back but no sound would come out. He had adapted to our pressure. Only saw elk on camera one day, they weren't in the wallows like before. Never found the Chuckler, and the party in the neighboring unit was dead. I did rake in one random 6x6 but wasn't ready when he appeared and he quickly boogied. Had another bull coming in 1000 yards across the wide open but some dudes on ATV's driving during prime time boogered him. I needed new elk in places that only I would go. So I packed in to this new spot, mostly to listen for bugles at night. Did find one bull just barely on private. Found a plethora of fresh rubs, not much fresh poop, but some! It appeared there was a party in there the week or two before. But it was the 4th quarter and I didn't have any better ideas. I was actually hopeful. That evening I did get one bull to bugle but he dove off onto private as I approached. I kept the "don't do this stupid stuff" thread in mind selecting my camping spot that night. I had to laugh though when I realized I was camping on top of old elk poop and right next to an old rub. Hey man, I tried, there was just sign everywhere. Oh, somewhere during the week I got an InReach message that a buddy killed a nice 6x6 in Idaho, too, and that their elk were talking.

Hope really faded when I heard zero bugles that night. What thee eff man. I was in need of a break. Packed up camp in the dark the next morning and made my way towards where the bugler was the previous evening. He was there, I moved closer, his next bugle sounded just a couple hundred yards away, I crept forward, and his next sounded really far, like he was diving off onto private again. I continued forward silently, and surprisingly we were on a collision course. He came over a rocky precipice just as I got to it. He was there to my flank at 40ish yards looking for danger. I froze, and sloooowly set my bugle tube down. Just like a dope, the mouth side of the tube made a noticeable contact with the rock, the elk heard it and looked at me, I froze, promised myself I would hold in this uncomfortable position until I passed out if needed, but a minute later he was gone. There was my break, and I blew it. I am such a loser. What the hell am I even doing here? Why am I not at home with my family or advancing my career for their benefit? This is a complete waste of time. I suck.

To add insult to injury it started raining. I did a big loop to cover as much ground as I could before 9AM and got no other responses. I convinced myself to set up my tent and sulk and take a nap. At about 3PM it stopped raining and I had listened to some music on my phone and for some reason was really happy. My plan was to go after the bull that was closer to the truck, exit that night, and get on the road early the next morning so I could see my kids before they went to bed (15 hour drive). But, well I might as well go after the bull I messed up early that morning first. Better to have two opportunities than one. So I looped around for a fresh angle and started calling and raking. He responded. More calling more raking. He's coming in. I was stashed in some blow down and as he came around I thought his head was obscured enough to draw my bow. It wasn't. He saw me draw and stopped 40 yards broadside but with a jungle between us. I would never publicly admit to taking a less than ethical shot. So let's just leave it at that. He walked away still bugling and I tried to stalk him but he started to loop up so he'd get my wind, so I doubled back and got around him. I gave it a little bit of time and moved forward and bugled. He responded. Moved forward and now he was bugling on his own. Caught up to him and he's in a clearing feeding with several cows less than 100 yards away. I thought he was a solo bull but now the dynamic is changed--he has something to lose.

Without any better ideas, I didn't really think this was going to work, I backed up into that same geological feature I got into him earlier. There were rocks a few feet high in front of me, a flat maybe 20 yards deep behind, and then even taller rocks behind. A great calling and ambush position. I proceeded to beat the shit out of a tree, got him to bugle. More tree beating, and I ripped a short lip balling bugle at his cows. Silence, so I stepped forward and looked over the rocks, and to my surprise he's walking over to me! Holy shit. I watched him, trying to decide where he'd come, where I'd kill him, ranging things, etc. He stopped in front of me and started raking a tree. I ranged him at 64 yards. He was perfectly broadside, so I decided to send it. The green LED nock streaked through the air and disappeared exactly where I was aiming. He trotted a bit, looked around confused, I cow called and bugled, and he walked downhill with blood starting to appear where I had hit him. He disappeared in the timber and I listened for a crash, but nothing. I marked my shooting location, dumped my camp there, and moved forward to mark the location where he was standing. It was tough to find and took several rounds of going up and down up and down ranging, but I found it and marked it. I followed his tracks down looking for blood but nothing. A while further I glassed down, and there he was dead as dead. Holy shit, holy shit.

I was so overwhelmed. My two buddies were on their way back from Idaho, and a friend had offered to drive from Kansas, so I sent them InReach messages Bull Down! to see if they could help pack and I got to work. Unfortunately the two were already in Nebraska and my buddy in Kansas had to be at work in a suit on Monday so I would be solo. He was dead at 6pm and I had him cut up by 2am. There was no clean place to put meat, just pine needles everywhere, and I'm not strong enough to lift and cut a whole elk quarter off by myself anyway, so I just boned him out right there. At one point, I had to jam my legs up against a tree and get completely horizontal and push on his dorsal to roll him over, but I did it. Did I mention it began to snow? It did! I setup my tent again to keep the meat under and dry. It felt good to get my hands inside the muscle groups while cutting but eventually they were numb. At 2am I left with a load of meat and half of my gear, leaving tent bag pad and stove behind. I thought it would only be a 2 mile walk, but with darkness blinding snow and blowdown my OnX tracker told me it was just shy of 4 miles. Got to my truck at 4AM, 45 minute snowy drive back to camp, and decided to truck sleep before heading to town for ice.

Once in town I managed to get ahold of a landowner with much better access to the bull. She invited me up to her cabin and even offered two hunter friends of hers to help me get him out! We took their UTV and my dirt bike up a 2 track trail and got to within a few hundred yards of him and after many handshakes and thank you's I was bouncing back down their private drive by lunch, with a heart filled by the kindness of complete strangers.

With a fresh blanket of snow on the mountains and aspens in peak color I couldn't help but acknowledge how blessed I am to have experiences like this, and how thankful I am for the people that make them possible.

Standby and I'll get some pictures added to this thread...
 
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Dos Perros

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Tryin

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Oct 28, 2018
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An excellent tale of perseverance! I thoroughly enjoyed the retelling of an amazing adventure.
 

canthitbombz

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Aug 20, 2020
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Wyoming
Very cool story brother! Great bull too

Never underestimate the kindness of folks from Wyoming ;-)
 

Wapiti1

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Sep 18, 2017
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Indiana
Man I haven't seen a trail wheel in years. I hated riding those things. Just felt squirrelly under me compared to a standard tire bike.

Great job on the elk and a good read.

Jeremy
 
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Dos Perros

Senior Member
Joined
Jul 30, 2015
Messages
1,739
Location
Lenexa, KS
Man I haven't seen a trail wheel in years. I hated riding those things. Just felt squirrelly under me compared to a standard tire bike.

Great job on the elk and a good read.

Jeremy

I dumped mine on the way up in the snow. Bent the shift lever so I had to do the rest on first gear the whole way. But damn they look cool.
 
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