“Whew” – what a year! The season started off with a shot first thing opening morning. Zack and I headed to one of our favorite places where early season scounting revealed lots of elk activity (tracks, dry wallows, droppings, rubs, worn beds, etc.).
Zack and I set up early in the morning hoping to lure a bull to our call set using fresh scent near heavily used elk beds. We placed ourselves about eighty yards apart playing the wind. We started out raking followed by soft grunts mixed with cow talk.
From there we paused and introduced soft cow and calf chirps with mews. Once again we paused for a few minutes in anticipation of a bugle or locate. After thirty minutes we added estrous calls followed by locate bugles mixed with increased raking. Sure enough when we least expected it, a beautiful 6X6 herd bull walked in silent approx. ten feet behind me. The bull had shifted with the wind and came in directly downwind from the estrous scent. Of course I didn’t have my bow ready so I thought to myself “I wonder how this will play out”? Right then I slowly reach for my Bow Tech “General” realizing the bull was looking directly through me with a tree in the way. As I pulled the bow to my side, the bull began to trot left crossing in front of us about thirty yards away. I barked causing him to abruptly stop offering a shot. Once I drew and settled the pin, I realized there were two small tree limbs in the way of the vitals. I decided the distance was good so I released.
My 440 grain Axis arrow with 4 blade Muzzy hit as the bull rose off the ground and spun turning back the direction he came. The bull did not look injured so I gave him some time followed by soft cow calls while continuing to rake. We walked up where the bull stood and found my arrow laying in the grass with a broken shaft missing the broadhead. We looked for blood and followed the tracks back where the bull came from to find little sign. The picture began to unfold – I had hit the shoulder blade with no penetration. Lucky for the bull he gets to live another day! As we headed back to camp all I could do is replay the scenario over and over trying to figure out how I missed the pocket.
Needless to say opening weekend offered great opportunities with lots of elk roaming the area. Nothing like the “silent season” when we build the excitement and the elk come in silent – happens every year!
Week two arrived quickly after spending a few days back in the office anxiously awaiting another opportunity to get back in the wild for another chance. This time I decided to head East 30 miles out of Prineville where a good friend allows us to hunt his ranch that holds elk when public lands pressure forces elk down for cover, water, food and most of all “protection”.
After talking with friends who couldn’t hunt the 2nd weekend, I chose to take my ATV and ride the ranch looking for fresh sign. Ended up everywhere I scouted down low provided little to no sign so I headed for the high country to see what may be hiding on top. As I rode up the road I began to see fresh rubs. I stopped to see if there were any other sign. When I got to the top of the hill near National Forest I began to observe trails worn like cattle. “Ah ha,” I found where elk were traveling so I parked my quad, grabbed my pack and walked about 200 yards through deep Mahogany where a lush grassy bench appeared. I decided I’d better check the wind, release fresh cow scent and introduce soft cow calls as elk should be close.
“Low and behold” a nice 6X6 walked right to me without making a single sound. As I saw the legs running through the grass I dropped my call and drew my bow thinking the bull would cross about 19 yards broadside for a shot. Sure enough the bull ran across me while I waited patiently for the shot! I settled the pin right behind his shoulder blade and released to witness the moment when he felt the arrow travel right threw him. He turned and walked down the trail about thirty yards where he started to limp struggling with his front left leg. I waited about an hour while continuing to produce cow calls from time to time in an effort to settle the bull.
When I walked over where the bull was I could not find blood so I looked for the arrow which never presented itself. Since it was almost nighfall I decided to get on the tracks to see what happened come to find a heavy blood trail on rocks, grass, branches, etc. I ended up following the bull about 150 yards where he proceeded over a steep ledge headed downhill . I backed off to come back in the morning with friends. On this hunt I forgot my camera so no pictures (sorry). We arrived early the next day to trail the bull. Once we got started the blood began to become scattered however the tracks were pretty easy to follow till the bull crossed over a saddle in the direction towards a massive bowl filled with wallows, aspen and other cover. “Ughh” – we lossed blood and tracks as we continued to search for over eight hours with four guys. “MAJOR BUMMER” as the bull should not have traveled more than 100 yards with the bright red blood trail we started with! At this point I couldn’t believe another branch bull got away. Determined to find him, I came back the next day and spent eight more hours using every tactic I knew to re-discover blood or to be blessed with a mature bull. Ended up I found three cow elk dead in the aspen grove for no reason other than they may have over eaten in the alfalfa fields below causing bloating – who knows??? I had to face the facts – another beautiful bull got away!
Week three arrived for our big trip scheduled in the wilderness. We had over eight guys headed to elk camp for serious fun… We arrived a few days early with the RV, trailer, quads and all the fixins! Lucky for us we got to get out and hunt a couple “hot spots” where elk traditionally hang out. My buddy Ed and I got up early in the morning to head to the top of the ridge where we could hear bulls bugling at sunrise.
We arrived just in time when we got off our quads to hear multiple bulls bugling right below us. We grabbed our packs, bows and fresh scent in order to get down the hill quickly for a chance at sneaking into the herd. I ended up bugling to keep the bulls located with the possibility of attracting another bull since we knew there were multiple satellite bulls working the area.
The morning air was filled with bugles and cow calls while harems moved with smaller bulls pecking on herd bulls. We were able to focus on the herd bulls by listening to their voices. The herd bulls were busy bellowing out herding bugles which sound like that of a large angus bull. The other bulls were screaming for challenges and some were locating with high notes that would carry for longer periods of time. As we glassed the hills we found multiple herds cross canyon and below.
Once we located the herd, Ed and I closed in acting like a group of cows with a smaller bull challenging. We ended up dropping right into the herd as they bedded down around 10:30 am. The bulls bugled from 5:45 till 10:30 with occasional excited cow calls in estrous. We knew the big bulls were looking to breed! As we got close to the herd bull, we decided to take a break near a spring just above the timber line where we observed what we call a “bedroom” full of recently used beds about 800 feet below.
Once the bulls calmed down we figured we would drive them crazy with estrous calls coupled with fresh estrous scent. We didn’t want to sneak into the herd since there were so many cows. The plan turned into a strategy to attract a smaller bull looking to breed. After forty five minutes of calling we got another bugle which sounded close. The bugle was a “love groan” followed by slow deep “gutteral” chuckles. Just after the bugle I saw a nice rack traveling through the timber headed right for us when I told Ed, “grab your bow, there’s a bull approaching fast”. Ed laughed looking at me and responded “very funny – nice joke”! I then stated “draw your bow NOW! The bull’s about fifty yards and closing”. Ed began to realize I was serious so he grabbed his bow and began to draw as the bull came to a slow pace walking across our shooting lane. Ed set the pin when I gave a couple cow calls to stop the bull at thirty yards.
Right then I heard Ed release as we witnessed the arrow hit. The energy knocked the bull off his feet causing him to land in a hole below with antlers lodged against a tree.
We realized the bull wasn’t dead so I told Ed “shoot again before he gets up,” that’s when we watched the second arrow pass right through the heart. I knew at that point the bull had lost his life! Our plan worked… we were able to lure a smaller bull from the herd greedy to breed without busting cows… What a thrill! We felt blessed to enjoy such a wonderful morning listening to the variety of bugles. Ed and I agree, we must have bugled over thirty times since sunrise to keep them vocal. Time for the real work to begin once you have a 900 lb. Wapiti on the ground. Nothing but blow down and elevation back up over 700 feet to the road above!
Back up the steep climb…
Once back at camp the time for serious celebration arrived!!! It took us two days to pack the bull out. Ed took the meat to a nearby cooler for storage and caped the head. The days that followed were filled with more excitement than we could handle as the bulls were really starting to light up. It seemed like each place we ventured, bulls responded. We were blessed with multiple close encounters however unable to get a fatal shot. The bulls we challenged began to rush, scream, and surround us. Wallows started getting hit hard and the harems were showing cows dropping into heat. On the last weekend we found ourselves in the middle of multiple herds with younger bulls on the move looking to pick off a cow while the herd bulls were tending to other cows. Thanks to Jeremy from PTO we were able to film most of the activity all week so we will have lots to share with next years seminars. What a great year filled with friends, elk and most of all the Lords presence!
Here are more pictures of serious elk hunting fun – enjoy! Thanks to everyone for such a memory filled adventure. Watch out elk… here comes rifle season!!!
Till we meet again next year – good hunting….