Nice write up, congrats on your bullThis was my fourth year of really trying to kill an elk with my bow. I have been teaching myself and learning as I go this entire time. I have gotten to a point where I feel comfortable finding elk but have struggled making those elk dead. Many mess ups and missed opportunities. This year, I was able to take the full season off to really focus on fulfilling my dream. I did not care if I killed a big bull, a rag horn or even a cow.
The first week of season started off hot. Opening morning I had a buddy calling for me and I got within 50 yards of a big bull who was all worked up and ready for a fight before the wind changed and he scampered off. Throughout the rest of the week we noticed more hunting pressure and quieter elk. Out tactics had to change and we were set up for calling quiet bulls in. We had success with this but could never get a shot off. In the middle of the week I called a raghorn in for my buddy to 20 yards. But hunting this thick country can be tricky and he missed the shot. After the first week I was back to hunting solo.
Monday morning (September 21st) I reached the trailhead I wanted to hunt just before daylight. I met two other hunters who planned on heading West along the trail. My plan was to go East and call from the trail as I went along. I hiked along the trail for about 100 yards before stopping and waiting for it to get light enough out to see.
At daylight I began a lost calf calling sequence I learned from Joel Turner. I had tried this several different times during the week without success. I stopped and I listened. No response. I headed down the trail another 100 yards and did the same thing. At my third location, a bull responded to my calls from a distance with a roundup bugle trying to call me to him. I moved along the trail towards him and did the same calling sequence. He answered back again and this time he was closer. I moved forward once more and found a spot where I had a few shooting lanes and called again. This time the bull was even closer. I stopped calling and could hear him walking towards me. Branches were breaking and I could hear each of his steps crunching as he came. The bull reached about 30 yards from me and was standing behind some brush. I couldn’t see him, but I could hear him walking back and forth. I repeated my lost calf call sequence again trying to bring him in the final distance. All of a sudden, I heard cows mewing at me. It sounded like two cows were trying to call me to them. I did not make any more noise and it seemed like the cows called my bluff and grabbed the bull and headed directly away sensing some sort of danger.
Knowing I was close enough to this bull’s cows, I ripped a Bull Calling Cows bugle (also called a Challenge Bugle) as the bull was walking away. The bull immediately turned around and screamed a nasty bugle my way. I now knew he was willing to defend his cows. I could hear the elk still heading away and decided to get aggressive. I charged straight in at the elk breaking branches and moving quickly making sure to stay behind just enough cover that the elk wouldn’t spot me, only hear me. I screamed the same bugle as I charged in. When I hit an open area, I could see 3 cows being pushed away ahead of me. I kept chasing after them and bugling. I reached a point where I lost sight of the elk and stopped to listen.
Out of the corner of my eye I caught movement and turned to look. All I saw was a bull's body sneaking by me at 20 yards and I could see a large whale tale antler sticking up from his head. I immediately told myself that this was a legal bull and not to look at his head gear again. In retrospect, this bull had pushed his cows far enough away to be safe and he then turned around to come fight me. When the bull stopped behind the brush to my right, I ripped another bugle and then drew my bow back not knowing what the bull would do. I paced back and forth trying to find a hole in the brush to get a shot through. The bull turned around and started heading directly away from me. I found a small window in the brush where I had no obstructions. I cow called and the bull stopped and turned broadside. I was already at full draw so I could not range the bull, so I guessed 35 yards and held the pin behind his shoulder as the bow fired.
I did not hear the normal whack sound an arrow will make when hitting an animal, but I did see a mark behind his shoulder. The bull ran off and his cows ran off with him. It felt like a good shot and I was stunned thinking about what had just occurred. I grabbed some orange tape and marked the spot I shot from. I then walked to where the bull was standing and checked the distance. 28 yards… My heart immediately sank. I shoot a 625 grain arrow out of my 72lb draw bow and a 7 yard difference in distance can mean a missed target. This was the third shot I had messed up this season. I looked around and saw no blood. I searched behind where the bull was standing looking for my arrow and couldn’t find it anywhere. I was down in the dumps and wallowing in my self-pitty.
After a few minutes, I started thinking clearly. I figured that I could see the tracks from this herd along the trail and I may be able to slowly follow them and catch up with them. Maybe I could get another shot at this bull or one of his cows. I began sneaking down the trail and after about 50 yards I noticed a red mark on some leaves. Blood. Bright red and bubbly blood. The emotional rollercoaster kept going. I looked ahead and could see blood every few feet. Not a ton of blood but very consistent. Right then, I texted my buddies Joe and Nate asking for some assistance in tracking this bull. Nate responded immediately and was on his way to me.
I continued to follow the blood trail as the bull ran and weaved through thickets of brush. After about 250 yards I stopped. I marked my spot on my GPS and headed for the trail Nate would be walking in on to meet up with him. A couple minutes later I see Nate and Joe walking down the trail towards me. We agree that Nate and I will go back to last blood and continue following it while Joe makes a big loop out ahead of where the bull was going to see if he can pick up the trail so we don’t have to waste any time searching in between our locations. After about 5 minutes we hear Joe whistling loudly. And then hollering loudly. Nate and I start running through the woods towards Joe. As I approach him I see a large tan body laying on the ground. I drop my bow and my gear out of sheer excitement and relief as I walk up to this beautiful 6 point Roosevelt bull.
My feelings were indescribable. To be honest, I didn’t know what to feel. I just stood there staring at this beast of an animal. His red antlers protruding from his head like swords and his chocolate brown body laying there almost peacefully. It looked like he died in mid stride. There was no struggle and there was no blood. I had worked my ass off for 4 years now trying to teach myself how to archery hunt elk. Every year I had gotten closer and closer. I could now find elk regularly but was struggling to kill them when in the red zone. But this time, it finally came together.
The arrow had hit the bull a little high. Which was to be expected when I shot for 35 yards. The bull was also quartered away a little bit so the arrow went through both lungs and jammed in to his opposite side shoulder. The first lung collapsed immediately but the arrow stuck inside the bull preventing the other lung from immediately collapsing as well. The high shot meant that blood was pooling up inside his chest cavity but was so high that the blood had a hard time escaping. I never did find my arrow. The bull made it almost 500 yards from where I shot him.
This was the first elk kill I had ever been a part of. Having my buddies there was a godsend. They guided me through the process of cutting apart this bull using the gutless method. After 3 and a half hours, we had the bull cut up, in game bags and ready to be moved out of the woods.
Looking back, I am not sure if this was luck or skill. I am a firm believer that persistence, patience and time in the woods are what make a hunter successful. I never gave up, I never took a day off, I went in to every hunt as if this were going to be the time I kill one of these elk. I am extremely grateful for this bull and may never shoot one this big again in my life. But I won't stop trying.