Over the years there have been SO many favorite elk hunts, they all, every last one of them, stick out as favorites. All of them! There were a few years there wasn’t a favorite elk hunt, only because I was off chasing other North American big game animals. But there is nothing I love more than chasing and fighting with a bugling, screaming bull elk!
My first elk hunt was a do it yourself archery hunt in Oregon back in 1988…come to think of it all my elk hunts have been do-it-yourself. Coming from Michigan, the only thing I knew about Elk was what I learned from watching videos Larry Jones, Dwight Schuh and Pete Shepley had made years ago. A few scouting trips into elk country prior to the season gave me a little insight for what I was getting myself into, but I had no way to know or prepare for how that first screaming bull elk was going to effect me that day and for the rest of my life.
That first hunt, the first bull elk I ever saw came screaming in and had me so shaken, I was an absolute mess! The arrow fell off the rest numerous times, my breathing was more like hyperventilating, and my heart has never beat the same since, or maybe it was my mind that has never been the same since! Anyway, the bull was 25 yards away when he finally lost interest and walked back up the hill. I composed my breathing and shaking the best I could, but the heart was a lost cause it was still trying to leap from my chest. I moved up hill and away from him to get the wind in a little better direction. Once settled, I let him have it again with some call cows leading into a bugle…. before I could finish he cut me off with a screaming bugle. When the bull stopped at 20 yards I was ready and the arrow found its mark!! Again the uncontrollable hyperventilating and shaking took over, from that point forward I have been chasing elk just about every year and some times twice a year. I’ll share a few of my “favorite” successful hunts. Hopefully you may learn a little something from them, or if not, hopefully you’ll enjoy the stories!
In 1992, with 4 bulls on the ground since I started chasing elk in ’88, I was off to Oregon with 15 days vacation days in front of me and a recurve bow in my hand. This was going to be my first year hunting with a recurve and elk was the first animal I was going to hunt.
Opening day hunting by myself I was able to call in a rag horn bull into 8 yards. As I canted my bow I picked a spot and the arrow was on its way. The bull piled up less than 40 yards away! I couldn’t believe it, an elk with a recurve – I was ecstatic! As I was packing the heavy loads back to the truck my mind was just a spinnin’! I still had 14 days off and no elk tag in my pocket but I was formulating a plan and knew back then I could still get an Idaho elk tag. With all the meat loaded up I was headed back home to Reno. The next day with the meat in the locker, and after a bunch of phone calls were made, a new plan was set into action. Idaho was now my focus, and because I found myself in almost the same situation the year before, I knew just where I wanted to be.
I arrived just at dark, got my pack ready for the next day, and climbed in my sleeping bag for the night. The next morning several hours before light I worked my way up the back side of a ridge where most people would not consider climbing in the light let alone in the dark, hoping I could find a big bull like the one I found in the same spot the year before. Unfortunately, last year I put myself in a bad spot and could not get the excited 6×6 bull to come across a 60 yard wide open spot. This year, as the birds started to sing, and with shooting light fast approaching, I continued to make my way to a saddle the bull disappeared through the year before. As I approached the saddle I calf called, then cow called, followed by young bull bugle squeal. Before I could finish, a bull cut me off! The ground shook and thundered as he fast approached. I knelt and just as I got the arrow knocked he appeared. At 8 feet, not 8 yards but 8 FEET, he stopped broadside. I swung my bow as I drew, picked a spot, and let fly all in one motion. The wood arrow went clear to the fletch right behind the front shoulder. As he bolted I called to stop him and he stopped about 18 yards away. Another wood arrow was on its way catching him behind the front shoulder on the other side. A short while later I found the bull piled up…a huge 7×7 with an SCI score of 332.
Lots of bulls and many favorite hunts later I drew an elk tag in Nevada after 16 years of applying. Opening day of the Nevada season, I watched 17 different bulls from a water hole and a vantage point that overlooked miles and miles of country. The plan was to look for a bull a friend had told me about and outfitters had been watching. If I was really lucky the bull might just come in for a quick drink. Long story short, on day 4 I listened to a bull raking a tree a few hundred yards away. I couldn’t get out of the blind fast enough as sitting water wasn’t for me and the words Randy Ulmer spoke at a seminar years before ran through my head “I would run right to the bulls as they raked” he said. Quickly I ran up a ravine, and then up the back side of a small ridge the bull was raking on. Not long after, I could see the tree moving. I knocked an arrow and snuck in close. I had 3 different 6×6 bulls between 28 and 40 yards, all 3 in the 300 to 320 class. Hoping for something bigger I slowly backed out.
Later that morning I sat out to look for a small seep a friend had told me about. Having looked for it the day before I wasn’t very optimistic, but Gary was sure it was there. Finally I found it and it was covered up in elk sign. A beautiful elk trail lead up to a small saddle a few hundred yards away, and as I worked up the trail I jumped 2 cows and 2 calf elk. I bugled hoping to calm them and when I did a bull bugled up the ridge. Knowing he would not come to me I set out after him. I stopped, picked up a stick, smacked a tree and started raking. The bull bugled and grunted several time and then he started raking a tree of his own. I headed right to him still not knowing if it was a bull I would even be interested in. At 75 yards I could see the tree shaking. I knelt down, pulled up my binoculars, and instantly knew I wanted this bull. At 30 yards I stood at full draw. I needed one step to clear a small tree when the bull stopped raking and walked straight away. I couldn’t believe it…I needed just a few more seconds! As he walked away, I walked towards him. The bull dropped down in a small draw and with his head out of sight, I quickly ahead. I came to full draw and as I peeked over the hill he was slightly quartered away at 20 yards. The arrow caught him just behind the front shoulder and in less than 15 seconds and about 60 yards away, this bull of a life time was mine. He was an amazing 9×10 bull with an SCI score of 400 6/8″!