It was the third weekend of the 2012 MT archery elk season and the weather had finally started to cool a little it was scheduled to have a high of only 70 degrees. Thealarm in my camper went off at 5 AM. I hate getting up that early but I knew it was necessary to get to where I wanted to be by day break. It was 5:27 when I pulled my daypack over my shoulders and headed up the trail in the dark. A small flashlight illuminated the trail as I wandered over the log crossing the creek, and maneuvered around the cows grazing in the area. While walking thru the dark two whitetail deer waited until I was about 20 feet away before bursting up from the brush, loudly snorting and bounding off into the darkness. I almost wet my pants, but with a little chuckle I continued on.
By 6:00 I was at the mouth of a side canyon. I had hiked this trail numerous times and for some reason this narrow side canyon had always called out to me to explore for elk.I found a game trail and slowly picked my way up the drainage. A small flow of water babbled over rocks alongsidemy path and covered any of my sounds. By about 6:20 it was starting to get light and I stopped and let out a bugle. My call was answered with silence. I worked my way up about another mile and then made some cow calls. Immediately a bull on the slope above me screamed a response. Hot Dang! An interesting thing about a bugle in the forest you cant always tell- is it 100 yards away? Or is it mile away? My guess was a few hundred yards uphill.
A game trail served as a route to move up the slope on the forested side of a hogs back ridge. The other side was openrocks and grass. Several hundred yards later the timber was open enough to give me numerous shooting lanes and yet let the elk have some cover. My pack was dropped and I readied my bow. I laid in a sequence of cow calls- some calf calls and then some adult cows. I always carry two or three different cow calls. Each sounds a little different and by blowing them in sequence I can sound like a whole herd of different elk. The cow sequence was followed up with a single bugle trying to sound like a young, inexperienced bull. My goal was to let him think there was herd of cows for him to steal.
The hillside echoed with an immediate response from what sounded like a very mature bull. From my vantage point I could see up the hogs back and here came this large 6×6 bull straight down the hill toward me. I was sitting in timber about 20 yards from the ridge with a view straight up its line. The bull continued to scream out bugles as he came straight at me. The forest vibrated with each of his calls. Then- he was there… standing on the ridge at 20 yards.
I drew my bow when I saw his antlers coming into view. I was kneeling at full draw with this screaming bull elk at 20 yards! Oh my God! I have never had an experience like this in my entire life! Unfortunately the bull was quarteringtowards me! I held my bow- waiting, waiting, waiting Please God, just let him turn broadside! (We all turn religious at moments like this.) However, I could not hold my draw. Being 53 years old with severe shoulder arthritis took its toll. I let down my bow. The bull never even seemed to notice (thanks to my ASAT camo!). He turned around and wandered over into the timber about 60 yards off and let out another scream.
Crap! I blew it! However, I was not about to give up. Another series of a cow calls and a young bull bugle aimed downhill was an attempt to make him think the elk were further down the slope. The bulls response was immediate. He turned around and came straight back down. He passedthe point where he had been quartering toward me andwalked by me down the ridge and into an opening where hestood broadside at 25 yards. I drew my bow, placed my sight pin on his chest and released an arrow. The Magnus broad head did it job. The bull ran down the slope a short distance and piled up. I was absolutely dumbfounded. I had just shot the biggest bull of my life. During all this I was actually pretty calm. It was after he dropped that I started shaking. This was only the second bull of my lifetime. I had taken my first bull the year before with a bow and now I had just taken. This one was much bigger.
But, do you know the best part? I had done it by myself.I love hunting with other people but sometimes you need to step out on your own. (Later- while packing out the meat I was wishing I wasnt by myself!) The animal was shot about 7 AM and by 7 PM he was at the truck. I was able to get a game cart to within about mile from where he dropped. It was a mile of trail to get back to the truck. My body ached for the next 3 days.
I have a ritual where I give thanks to the spirit of the animal that gave its life to me. I treat the meat with great careto insure I have a high quality product to share with friendsand family to nourish us through the coming winter season.
The meat is sacred and the elk and the forest that made him are now becoming part of me Every bite offers me an opportunity to reflect on this great animal and the fantastic experience I had that morning.
Past president of WSB and lifetime member