The first hunt of the 2001 archery elk season left me kicking rocks for five miles back to the trailhead. The morning bugle-fest was incredible and continued into the early afternoon. I couldn’t recall another opening day quite so full of the rut. Two herd bulls would not leave each other alone. They were very intent on one another; so I felt stalking in on them would be the best option. I was close a couple of times but just couldn’t get past the cows and they soon headed toward bedding. I decided to back off and wait for the evening hunt. I found a comfortable spot and took in some scenery. A few hours passed and they were back in action. Shortly before dark I found myself 20 yards from the biggest bull I’d ever had in bow range. My heart stopped as my recurve string hit the bill of my hat just before full draw. I forgot to turn my hat! Undetected, I quickly let up, turned my hat to the side, and drew my bow just in time to watch my opportunity disappear as quickly as it had appeared.
The following week seemed to drag while anticipating the next outing; but before I knew it my brother-in-law, Gary Todd, hunting buddy, Kip Smith, and I were loading up the horses at the trailhead. Although it was soon dark, the pack in went quite well. As we rounded the last corner before our camp we could hear voices. Our fears turned to reality while riding up to the biggest sheepherder tent we had ever seen. Five bow hunters from Washington came out and invited us in for the night. I was disappointed but also excited as I tried to fall asleep that night. To stay and hunt wasn’t an option. I knew that I wouldn’t be getting another chance at that big bull but I couldn’t wait to go see the “plan b” country. I had often imagined what it would look like while studying my topo maps and this was the opportunity to find out. I am a firm believer in having several planned locations to hunt, with maps in hand, just in case something like this happens.
The next morning we were up early and back on the trail. The mobilization ate up most of the day. We decided to ride the bikes in and if it were good we would come back out for the horses. We set up camp to fading sunlight. We were basically scouting so we carried a very rustic camp…two tarps, sleeping bags, and some food. After dinner the mood seemed to be a little down…the eight-mile ride in consisted of no bugling, zero elk sign and a whole lot of wolf sign. It didn’t look very promising up to that point, but I had a good feeling inside of where I wanted to go. While lying in the bag that night I remember thinking I had never been anywhere so quiet. The silence seemed to cause a ringing in my ears.
The next morning we got an early start. We walked the trail for about a mile and a half, still not hearing any bulls. I wanted us to get to a particular ridge I thought would give us a vantage point to listen for bulls. When the trail reached the ridge, Kip and I stared up. Gary stayed on the trail, knowing he’d need to go back and feed the horses. It wasn’t long before Kip and I were on a bugling bull. We camped on the elk for a good hour. Once I thought the bull was there to stay, I moved in and Kip stayed back cow-calling, so I could pinpoint the bull’s location. I was within seventy yards of the bull when another bull came into the canyon bugling 3/4 of a mile away. This bull was hot and it didn’t take long to realize there was an opportunity for both of us to get in between the two bulls.
I hurried up the hill and got Kip’s attention. Within fifteen minutes we were between two rutting elk. It was a perfect set up. We were on a little bench next to two big wallows. One of the bulls was coming hard. Kip knelt by the first wallow and I continued to creep down hill until I spotted the first bull coming toward me. He was screaming every ten steps. Before I knew it, I was at full draw and the 6×7 was passing me at five yards. I cow-called to stop him, with no response. I kept my pin focused behind the shoulder and released. The arrow passed through both lungs and buried into the ground. Never flinching or breaking stride, the bull continued another fifteen yards and stopped next to the other wallow. Seconds later, his hind-end dropped, and at that point, I could see the other bull coming. I immediately turned to Kip and motioned for him to get ready. He was confused, thinking I was telling him to put another arrow in the bull I had just shot. I frantically pointed at the oncoming bull as my bull fell to the ground. Kip’s eyes grew wide as he saw the other bull coming right toward us.
Before I knew what was happening, the other bull came crashing through the brush right for my dying bull. Head down and charging, it impaled my bull, lifted it, whole-body, and flipped it into the middle of the wallow, in one fluid motion! This bull, a nice 6-point, continued his attack, driving the now lifeless bull out of the wallow, uphill and through the brush, for about twenty feet. He then turned the direction of his attack toward me and drove it to within nine yards of my position.
The aggressive bull buried his tines, all the way to his main beam, into the side of my bull. Mud and blood was flying everywhere and Kip and I couldn’t believe our eyes. No one can imagine what it felt like to see the awesome power of a mature 6-point literally throwing another mature 6×7 through the air like a rag doll.
Kip was still holding his ground waiting for a broadside shot…the elk was facing him the entire time. The bull continued to gore my bull. At one point, he jumped back, as if startled. The woods were dead silent, so it was easy to hear the “raging bull” breathing heavily. The whites of his eyes were showing and his head was cocked, as he stared at the twitching body of the other bull. Pinning his ears back, he charged again, and this time he ripped open the brisket of my bull. At this point the elk finally seemed to be tiring. He slowly began to work his body around toward Kip. I looked at Kip and he nodded his head, signaling he was ready. He then drew and released. After a well-placed shot, the bull was oblivious to the impact and still continued to horn my bull! Though, he soon realized something was wrong and trotted off about forty yards before expiring. Kip and I looked at each other in amazement. We had just experienced the elk hunt of a lifetime. We both knew this would be a hard one to top. “Plan b” definitely paid off!
The following May we lost Kip in a construction accident. He was a good man and is very much missed today. We shared several hunting memories together but this was the one we talked about the most. I often think about Kip and the incredibly powerful display of “The Rut” we witnessed that day.