With Donnie set up 60 yards below me, my responsibility was to bring the bull across the hillside in front of him for an open, broadside shot. We had drawn an imaginary straight line from the bull to the caller (me). Knowing that a rutting bull will still be firing on all his sensing cylinders, Donnie had set up on the imaginary, down-wind “arc”, anticipating the bull swinging down the hill to get the wind in his favor rather than walking straight in to the calls.
The plan was working to perfection until a second bull entered the scene from straight above me. Knowing the original bull would bust out of there as soon as the bigger bull discovered the source of the bugling, my instincts kicked me over from caller to shooter, despite the fact my release was currently attached to the string loop on Donnie’s bow. I grabbed my bow string with my bare fingers just as the big 5X6 bull bugled and stepped into view 60 yards up the hill.
When setting up on a bugling bull, it’s important to remember to set the shooter up 60 yards in front of the caller. It’s also important to remember the imaginary “arc” from the caller to the bull, and set the shooter up along this path. The “arc” set up also carries deeper meaning that is critical to keep in mind as you’re preparing to get a shot at a rutting elk…”Always Remember Concealment” (A.R.C.).
Rut-frenzied bull elk have been known to drop their guard more than once during the fall. If something triggers their senses, however, they will immediately jerk back into full-survival mode. We’ve definitely had more blown set-ups than successful ones, and 99% of the time our missed opportunity has had something to do with one of the elk’s 3 main senses – sound, sight, or smell.
Elk make a lot of noise when they’re walking through dry huckleberry brush and dead pine branches. It isn’t 100% necessary to remain completely quiet at all times. When a bull is coming in looking for the source of the challenging bugles you have been throwing at him, however, the slighest noise will trigger his senses and allow him to pinpoint your location. There’s a good chance he won’t be coming any closer. Clear any dead branches from around your feet and make sure you aren’t going to rub against any brush as you draw your bow. Wearing quiet clothing will also allow you to move silently without setting off the bulls’ built-in alarm. Concealing your noise is extremely important.
A contrasting outline or object, or the slightest movement, can trigger an elk’s sense of sight. With eye’s located on the side of their heads, an elk’s field of view is around 270 degrees. This means they are able to see movement behind them. They are are also able to obtain a full 360-degree view of their surroundings with a slight turn of their head.
An elk’s sight is also a back-up sense to their senses of sound and smell. When they hear or smell something, they hone in on the source of the object and use their eyes to assess the threat. Using camouflage and your surrounding to blend in (not hide) and concealing your movement is critical.
The last, and most important, sense to remember is the sense of smell. An elk’s sense of smell has been estimated to be up to 1000 times more acute than that of a human. Their nasal passage allows for large samplings of air to be brought into the millions of nasal receptors that help them sort out odors and detect danger. With a wind current travelling in their favor, elk have been known to detect odor from well over 600 yards away. Continually checking the direction of the wind currents and setting up in an area that allows you to take advantage of the thermals is imperative. Using a scent elimination product can also be very helpful in breaking down and masking the quantity of odor molecules that could eventually make it into an elks nose. Concealing your scent and avoiding an elk’s olfactory defense is essential.
For an elk hunter, nothing is as critical as the set-up. A poor caller can bring a bull to within bow range. Someone who doesn’t work out 345 days a year can still call in a rutting bull. But the best elk hunter in the world will fail more times than not if his set-up doesn’t involve concealment to eliminate (or at least attempt to control) an elk’s survival sense’s.
With just one small pine tree between the elk and myself, I was set up against the backdrop of a large patch of alder trees. When the bull moved behind the pine tree at 35 yards, I drew my bow. He emerged from the uphill side and turned to walk down the hill, coming on a string straight towards me. I’m not sure if my pounding heart was causing as much movement as it felt like it was, but the bull was looking right through me when he stopped at a mere 10 yards, completely unaware of my presence.
At the shot he whirled and ran 20 yards, then turned back to look at the source of the noise that had caught him off guard. He never took another step. We were able to maintain control of our concealment and fool the old bulls senses long enough to bring him in sufficiently close for an effective archery shot. For me, that is the summation of archery elk hunting. With or without a kill, getting close to a big bull and successfully overcoming his astute sense of survival. When it comes to elk hunting, this is as good as it gets!
Also, check out these awesome videos put out by Gore on the “Science of Nothing”. They do an amazing job of breaking down an ungulates vision and what is required to conceal yourself from their sight.