My son, Isaac, is an eight-grader and plays on the 8th grade football team. Due to school and football, his time off is incredibly limited, but we were able to convince my wife to let him skip school on the last 2 days of the season in exchange for his good behavior while I was gone on the previous 2 hunts.
After his football game on Wednesday evening (September 28), Donnie accompanied us and we jumped in the truck and headed to the mountains. By the way, Isaac had the game winning tackle at the goal line on the last play of the game to stop the other team from scoring, and his team won, 8-6. I hoped he hadn’t used up all of his luck with that play…However, the next morning was super slow, and we couldn’t find any elk. There was no sign, no bugling, nothing. Maybe he had used it all up, after all.
After a healthy hike up the mountain, we heard a faint bugle from way across the canyon. It was 9 a.m., and the elk were moving up the other side to bed. We decided that those elk were our only option, so we headed over toward them. We knew the thermals would be going up and we would need to ascent the mountain from up-canyon. It was one of the steepest mountains I climbed all season, but we finally got in position where we could hear the bull bugling across the draw from us. It took a few minutes to convince the bull, but he finally gave in and started our direction. Unfortunately, he made it to within 100 yards, then went quiet. The next bugle we heard, we was back up with his cows.
We circled the mountain and came in above the herd. The bull bugled a few times throughout the afternoon, and we watched several cows mill around and feed or go to water, but the bull was holding tight. Finally, I told Isaac he needed to make a decision. It was 4:00 p.m., and we could sit on that bull and hope something happened, or we could leave the area and go look for a bull that was a little more fired up and in a better place to try to get in and get a shot. After spending a couple hours climbing the mountain, Isaac was hesitant to leave, but he finally decided to relocate completely. He wanted to go up to where he had shot his bull with a rifle last season….a solid 3 hour drive.
We scrambled off the mountain, then scrambled to throw our camping gear into the truck and head off to the new area. I knew the likelihood of getting a hunt in that evening was pretty low, but I hoped we could at least hike in and locate a bull for the next morning. About 2 hours into the drive, I came around a bend in the road that exposed a beautiful basin off to the left. We had 20-30 minutes of shooting light left, and we were still 45 minutes from the area he wanted to get to. I pulled the truck over and hiked out the ridge. Two seconds after my first cow call, a bull answered from the bottom of the basin. He continued to answer every cow call and buge I threw at him for the next 3-4 minutes, and I could tell he was fired up. I turned to Isaac and asked, “Do you feel like hustling?” He immediately said “YES!” and scrambled back up the ridge to the truck. We grabbed our packs and he grabbed his bow, and we were off.
Donnie was using his On X Maps mobile app on his phone and found a large meadow in the bottom of the basin. We hoped the elk were heading there, and knew we only had one chance to get it right. We hit the edge of the meadow with about 8 minutes of shooting light left, and I let out a cow call. Immediately, the bull answered from 200 yards to our left. I sent Isaac to the edge of the meadow, and Donnie and I stayed back to call. Isaac no sooner made it to the edge of the meadow, and I could see elk running into the opening. There were four cows out in the middle of the meadow, and they looked like they were 100 yards away from the edge. I quickly circled around behind Issac, hoping to pull the elk closer to the edge and close enough for him to get a shot. Up to this point, I had not bugled since we left the upper ridge. The bull was screaming every time I cow called, and as I saw him make his way to the center of the meadow, I screamed a challenge back at him. The bull turned and started heading my direction, but stopped short when he got below Isaac and caught his wind.
The bull whirled to run and Isaac came to full draw. As he had reached the edge of the meadow a few minutes earlier, Isaac has wisely ranged several clumps of grass in the meadow. Now, with a nose full of human scent, the bull came to a stop right on the closest clump of grass. Isaac anchored, settled, and released. I can’t explain the emotions I felt when I heard the shot, then found the bull in my binoculars and saw blood running down his side right behind the shoulder. Fortunately, the entire experience was captured on video, so I won’t even try to explain what Isaac felt. You’ll just have to watch and see his reaction! It was priceless. The bull walked to the edge of the meadow, then made it another 50 yards before expiring.
That hunt was the perfect capstone to an already incredible September, and is one of the most special hunts I’ve ever experienced. But elk season wasn’t over yet…