After a frustrating 2008 archery elk hunt I made a resolution to find some un-pressured wapiti for 2009. I worked hard last year, hunting 16 days straight from dawn to dusk. I had a limb deflection on a nice 6 point and cleanly missed a 7×7 with 15 cows. The elk had been pressured early by hunters and were difficult to work. On the way home from that trip I was already planning this years hunt. I knew where I would be the second week of September and knew that it would take some preparation to make it happen.
The one drainage where I found some relaxed elk herds was several miles from roads or quad trails. I knew I would have to be in better shape to bivy hunt the steep terrain. I began the summer walking a local golf course usually played with carts, due to the hilly terrain and distance to tee boxes. I added about 10 pounds to my golf bag and would walk 27 holes 4 or 5 times a week. In May I started bear baiting. To stay in shape I carried bait a couple miles 5 times a week, instead of using the quad trail. I began the P90X workouts following bear season, and by August was feeling confident that my cardio was up to par for elk season.
I headed out of town on September 12th and arrived at elk camp in the evening. After setting up camp I hit the head end of a couple drainages after dark to listen for elk talk.
After hearing only one spike squeal I decided to start the bivy hunt the next morning as prospects for an easy bull next to the road were slim. Hopped out of the tent at 3am the next morning, threw camp on my back and started up the ridge. By daylight I was halfway to my destination and had still not heard any elk screams. Most of the sign looked to be a couple days old. The lack of fresh sign made me feel better about hiking up to the hole knowing some elk had probably moved up to avoid the hunting pressure low in the valley. I took several detours on the way to the top of the drainage to check out some wallows. Only one out of six wallows looked to be active with elk sign.
I reached my new spike camp as the sun was setting.
At 9:50pm I awoke to a bull-rut-roar a couple hundred yards from the tent. I normally don’t appreciate sleep interruptions but this was an exception! I could hear some faint cow calls a couple minutes later and tried to picture where the elk were feeding on the now pitch black hillside. At 10:20pm I heard a sound that I was NOT excited to hear. It was a long moaning wolf howl notifying pack members of a fresh kill. Spirits sank a little knowing the screaming bull was short one harem member and would probably be difficult to locate in the morning. The rest of the night was dead silent. I would have preferred to listen to elk music all night but guess I can thank the wolves for the few hours of sleep.
The next morning I climbed to the edge of the bowl, expecting to hear hot elk in concert. After about 45 minutes of nothing I tried a location bugle. The only reply was a squealy sounding rag-horn. Not what I was expecting. I began traversing the steep mile towards the creek bottom. I began to see fresh elk sign the lower I dropped into the canyon but still no mature bugles. The majority of the day was spent picking my way along the creek bottom. At 1p.m. with everything quiet and temps around 70 I headed back up towards the rim. My goal was to reach the top without being winded or disturbing bedding areas. I was using cow calls about every hundred yards mostly to cover my noise. At 400 yards from the top of the ridge I fired off a lost cow call as a last ditch effort to evoke a response from a bedded bull. A short scream erupted from a deadfall area 300 yards below me. After a disappointing morning and afternoon, in a split second it was game ON.
The wind was blowing steady up hill but I was afraid the elk were probably bedded. While moving downhill the bull fired off again ending with chuckles this time. I had cut the distance in half and felt I was about 150 yards from the bull. A single cow call had him screaming again but not moving up. I could now hear the bull raking a tree and used the opportunity to quickly close the gap. I hit an opening about 25 yards wide extending down the hill for another 80 yards to where I estimated the bull was raking trees. I found a rock about waist high with saplings on each side, offering side and back cover. I chose this location to set up.
I was pretty sure at this point the bull had cows bedded. It was time to challenge him and see if he was as aggressive as he sounded. I started with some pre-estrus cow calls. The bull roared before I could finish the sequence. I screamed back on a diaphragm, cutting him off mid bugle. I immediately heard rocks roll and limbs snap as he worked his way up the hill. I quickly ranged a tree in my shooting lane when an antler appeared at the bottom of the 6 power view. Twenty-three yards and the bull was approaching the spot fast. The tree I ranged was also the only cover between me and the bull. As he stepped behind the small tree, I drew and anchored. He immediately stopped dead behind the tree as seems to happen more than not. I thought he had seen the motion but was wrong. He paused just long enough to let out another bugle then continued walking up the shooting lane. At 23 yards I was just beginning to exhale a grunt to stop him. He stopped on his own with his near leg forward dead broadside. After settling the pin and release, the bull wheeled and headed back towards the bedded cows. A couple quick grunts and he stopped at 80 yards with 2 inches of fletching protruding tight to his shoulder. He stepped slowly out of sight at about where I figured the cows would spook. All was quiet, he ended up bedding next to a cow and expiring.
While waiting for recovery this rag horn came in from uphill and stood in the exact spot where I had shot the big bull.
The ride home was similar to 2008. I was planning next years hunt and workout goals. The difference is I have 400 pounds of natural protein to help supplement next years exercise!