Lucky Thirteen

2007 archery elk season had started off with a bang. Opening day found my brother Lance and I, at a favorite “low country” hunting spot. The evening before while scouting, we had some cows cross the road in front of us. Since we had poor luck in having a bull return our bugles, it made sense to be back there at first light where the cow elk had crossed.

Idaho low country honey hole.

As the sun began to rise in the east, we crept down an old logging road. We waited impatiently for shooting light before I began calling. Taking our positions, Lance sixty yards down the grassy old road from myself, and both of us in the brush I let out two tiny, quiet cow calls and Lance waved his hand to gesture that an elk was coming. Lance drew his bow just as elk started streaming across the grassy road. When a large cow walked within his sights, he made a cow call stopping the elk. With the cow stopped, he let fly with his shot and watched his arrow disappear, the shot felt good. We waited the normal time allowed after the shot, cow calling trying to settle the herd. After waiting thirty minutes we took up the trail. Hoof tracks littered the ground but no trace of blood. Lance searched where the cow had been standing and I stayed on the tracks. I continued to call as we searched. No blood. Lance had just walked over to me and began discussing our game plan when we were rudely interrupted by a screaming bull elk and hoof beats. I knocked an arrow and drew my bow in the nick of time to have the young five by seven bull come to a skidding stop, broadside at fifteen yards. Time stopped for a moment when thoughts of my ten day elk hunt later in the season popped into my head. Thoughts of “you cant shoot a big bull if you shoot a mediocre one”, and “don’t tag out on the first day”! Being plagued with never taking a six by six bull held me from releasing. I shot that bull about five times in my mind before he whirled and ran. I really thought my brother was going to slap me. “What the heck was that”? “Why didn’t you shoot”? He whispered in disgust. I tried to explain myself but he just shook his head. He was pacing around where the bull had been standing and found his arrow that he had shot at the cow with no blood on it. A clean miss. In all his excitement earlier he had miss judged yardage by not using his range finder. This was great news because that lonely bull was still bugling and trying to collect the scattered cows. Game on. Unfortunately after much effort with calling and dogging this bull, he clammed up.

Fast forward a couple weeks and it was now time to hit the high country with my good friend Brent. We pulled our campers seventy plus miles from town and set up camp. Day one of our hunt found us into elk immediately, but no shots fired. In fact all week long we found ourselves chasing bugling bulls, but too much brush or timing kept us from doing high fives over a fallen bull. We passed a few shots on wrong angles or bulls that were too small, and headed home with our tails tucked between our legs. Our vacation time over we both went back to work.

The work week found me pouting like a five year old. I would be able to hunt again on Sunday and I wanted to give my son Austin who was turning ten on Monday a special birthday gift, a day early. He accompanied me on his first high country elk hunt. He made me promise to bring our dirt bikes because he also wanted to take a little ride. I agreed and we left the house well before daylight to search for a fired up bull elk.

After driving for an hour and a half we arrived to the first drainage. We hiked in the beams of the morning sunrise with hopes of a reply from an elk. My fist bugle was met by the answer of three bulls. Walking carefully down the steep hillside that was covered in slick bear grass Austin struggled to stay upright. Seeing the look in his eyes I could tell he was not having fun. I said “hey buddy lets go find some bulls in a easier spot”. With a smile on his face, he agreed.

We wasted no time and drove the truck to the next spot. There was a nice trail down a gradually sloping ridge. After about a half mile we had a bull fire up. His wheezy double bugle got us very exited. Until that day, Austin had never heard an elk bugle. Now this morning he had heard four different bulls before nine am. As we made our way to the bull Austin whispered to me, “if we get an elk dad, I can help you drag him out”! I laughed and said we would have to cut the elk into many pieces and carry it out on our backs. We set up within the red zone of the bull and began calling. Austin sat on the ground under a tree about ten yards up the hill from me, watching the show. Within no time at all, the double bugling bull was stomping up the hill towards us. All of a sudden brush was cracking much closer than where the bulls bugle had last been heard. From out of no where a fuzzy horned spike came in, almost stepping on Austin. The bull just stood there about three yards from Austin, with a tree in between the elk and my razor sharp broad head. Yes, now we have a real life decoy. The big bull was almost to come into sight when the spike busted out of there taking the big boy with him. I screamed a challenge and charged forty yards down toward the direction the bulls had ran. The big guy fired up again but kept moving away. I grabbed Austin and we pursued, but after a couple more close encounters, we headed back to the truck with Austin chattering like a squirrel.

Heading to the truck

The sun was high in the sky as we drove down the bumpy old mountain road to the next spot. We sat in the truck eating our lunch and talking about what was next, enjoying the fall day. Off in the distance we could see a storm rolling across the mountains towards us, so we hastened to our next bugle point. Calling deep into a large drainage we could hear a faint bugle way down in the bottom. Knowing our limits and with the storm coming we went back to the truck. Right about the time the rain started pelting the truck Austin says ” lets take a motorcycle ride”! Not wanting to get soaked to the bone I suggested we wait until the rain stopped. He agreed to the plan and we took a long nap.

We woke up and the rain had all but stopped. I drove to a place where there was a gated road that allowed dirt bike access. Unloading and starting the bikes, I thought perhaps I shouldn’t take my bow. No sooner had that thought passed through my head, I grabbed the bow and scolded myself for such a foolish idea. “Dad you don’t need your bow, your not gonna kill an elk”! Austin said as I climbed on the bike. I ignored him and headed down the old road with him following behind on his dirt bike.

Riding along we came to a beautiful overlook and I stopped our bikes, walked over the hill and ripped a bugle. Two bulls answered immediately. They were to far out of our range for that time of day, so we sat there listening to their music. We got back on the bikes and rode on. With about an hour of daylight remaining I stopped at another likely spot. Austin said “your not gonna kill an elk” again to me, and I replied that “I just wanted to hear another elk bugle”. I walked over the crest of the ridge and sounded off. Within a few seconds three bulls pipped up, and a couple of them were close by. I ran back and got Austin, then walked over to a likely spot to ambush a bull. Not figuring we would have much luck, I half heartedly called to the bulls, soaking up the last rays of the sunset listening to the mountain serenade. After about fifteen minutes, the brush started popping and a five point bull trotted in to thirty yards, but no clear shot was presented. The bull saw no other elk and bolted.

Cool, now we still have two other bulls to draw in. I doubled my efforts, but nothing came. One more bull quit answering and we were left with one last bull. He would answer my every call so I started cutting him off. Then all of a sudden, he clammed up also. “Well, that was neat buddy” I said and began getting Austin to his feet and headed down the trail. That’s when I hear the bull raking his horns less than a hundred yards away. We snuck down the steep brushy hillside and found an opening. The bull continued to rake, and then he blasted us with a scream. I cut him off with a muffled scream of my own hoping to project our position higher on the hill. At that he came up the hill passing through lane after shooting lane. As he traveled through each lane the angle was wrong or too much brush. When the bull got fifteen yards parallel to me, he turned straight on, and then, at five yards quartered up hill. It was now or never, if I didn’t shoot now he was going to walk over Austin! When the bow went off the bull didn’t know what happened. He spun, then trotted ten yards and stopped, my bugle had stopped him. I had another arrow knocked and drawn in no time, sending it toward the elk. An unseen branch deflected the shaft, causing it to bury deep in his left rear hind quarter nearly dropping the bull. He stumbled down the hill forty yards, and then a big crash. All was silent. “Dad you missed him” Austin exclaimed! ” You missed the first shot right here, he ran and you missed him again right there”! “Austin, I hit him with both shots and he’s laying down there dead”! I stated. And with that, we also crashed down the hill to the fallen bull.

Dirk with his trophy six by six bull

He was beautiful. Bittersweet emotions washed over me as couldn’t help but feel some sadness from taking such a majestic creature from the forest. After thanking the bull for the hunt and his meat, Austin and I giggled like school girls while we worked quickly at quartering up the elk before dark. I was quite unprepared, only carrying a large folding knife, and no flashlights or even meat bags. We fashioned a makeshift rack to suspend and cool the meat away from the ground and hiked out in total darkness, leaving behind some articles of clothing around the butchered out elk to detour scavengers.

Austin and Sadie with his birthday grouse

Arriving home two and a half hours later I phoned my boss to tell him I wouldn’t be in the next day, as we had some real work to do. The next morning was September 24th, Austins tenth birthday. He was happy to skip school and head back to the high country to pack out elk meat. On the way back to the bull along side the bumpy old mountain road Austin spied two large blue grouse. He made short work of the two fool hens with his .410 shotgun, and we were back on our way. Back at the scene we were elated to find the elk untouched. We loaded our pack frames with meat and made the required trips up the steep hill through the thick huckleberry brush. After our labor of love was over, we enjoyed the ride on the bikes back to the truck.

Father and son "packin meat" in the Idaho backcountry

It may have taken many years and many bulls but I finally had taken my six point bull elk. Just as luck would have it,the bull was my thirteenth bull and I couldn’t have asked for a more special day, and better companion to share it with. Good things come to those who wait!