I very carefully and gingerly dismounted the two seat 4-wheeler, after a 25 minute ride from camp. At 67 years old, you have to be careful. Just four weeks ago on a scouting trip, I leaped off the machine and both of my hamstrings immediately cramped up. After an agonizing and almost tearful period of time, they finally relaxed. After gulping down some pickle juice and lots of water we were able to continue our scouting trip.
That scouting trip placed us here on this spot on the opening day of the 2019 archery hunt. We surveyed several possible hunting areas, but this was our first pick of the options we identified. We were on the outskirts of a newly burnt area. Late Summer rains had left a carpet of lush grass in areas that did not burn very hot. Those hotly burned areas still looked like a moon-scape with absolutely nothing growing yet, only splotches of gray and white ground and the skeletal remains of burnt timber. The burn area was surrounded by dark timber and scattered meadows.
We arrived well before daylight and started our walk down an old two-lane track in the dark. After walking about a half mile we could start to see gray light slowly overcome the darkness. Soon we would be able to make objects out.
As if on cue, Joe stopped and motioned to our left. He whispered,” two spikes!” I quickly nocked an arrow and anxiously waited for sunrise and hopefully for an opportunity.
The spikes were on a mountainside and feeding, but they sensed something and moved about nervously, always behind cover. Joe cow called and somewhat settled them down, but our close proximity, about 25 paces, kept them on high alert. Eventually, trusting their instincts or perhaps not seeing the cow that had been calling, they ran off to our left up the mountain. They detained us for about 20 minutes, but the adrenalin rush of being so close, now had us on high alert.
As we started to enter a large somewhat open burn area, Joe bugled and cow called. Seconds later, we heard an answer directly in front at about 300 to 400 yards ahead.
Joe motioned me to move up and to his right. The breeze that we felt was moving diagonally from left to right. I moved about 60 yards ahead of Joe and to his right. He is on the ridge behind me, while I’m on a burnt meadow. We have no visual contact, but I know where he is as he continues to cow call.
Just as I settle in, I see movement several hundred yards ahead of me. I take out my binos and can see several bulls, including one with huge antlers.
I’m somewhat in an open area, but I make sure my background breaks up my silhouette. I quickly range the few remnants of trees around me and I can now see at least seven bulls and one is huge. Joe begins to alternate bugles with cow calls and the bulls take notice and slowly start our way.
150 yards out, three bulls break away from the pack and in single file start to circle me to the right. When I can, I slowly rotate to get my knees and body lined up for a shot. Only the lead bull, a nice 6X6 is even a little cautious. My back is now to the bulls that stayed and I’m positioned for a shot if the bull continues on his course.
Suddenly, I feel a slight breeze hit my neck from a slightly different direction. The lead bull stops and looks in my direction as the two other bulls literally run into each other. Not appearing to see me, the lead bull takes no chances and trots away to the right and vanishes into the dark timber. The two other bulls reluctantly follow him.
I glance over my shoulder and see that the four other bulls are still feeding 150 yards ahead of me and still to my left. I notice that the huge bull is a freak with a perfect 6 point beam on his right and a deformed nondescript 6 to 7 points on his left. One of the points end with a baseball bat like club.
Even though Joe can’t see me, he has been exchanging challenges and gives off a monster bugle, then rakes a tree. The response is immediate, the big bull turns to his left and brutally batters a live pine tree, then starts to RUN in Joe’s direction.
He will come within 35 yards to my left, I have to turn almost 90 degrees to get in position, then draw and shoot. The bull is moving too quick and I’m unable to shoot as he goes by me.
Joe has seen none of the action and puts his bow down and picks up another branch and is just about to rake again, when he spots movement below him.
All Joe can see is horns and some of the elk’s body moving towards him about 60 yards out. Totally out of position, he reaches down to slowly get his bow and move forward to find a spot in front of trees he is now behind. Knowing that unless he makes a move to find shooting lanes, there is no way he will have an opportunity.
In position and with the bull still coming, Joe nocks an arrow, checks for draw clearance around him and gets ready.
Only 30 yards out and moving directly towards him, the bull is screened by a group of trees and Joe figures him to pop out at only 20 yards on the left so he pulls back and finds his anchor. Next thing he knows the bull pops out to his right moving broadside through some trees.
Rotating to his right, Joe sees the bull stop perfectly screened with parts of his body framed by several sized pines only 18 yards away. At full draw, and with the bulls head screened, he finds himself trying to decipher the exposed body parts.
It was then that Joe sees the bull starting to bounce his belly and pee on himself. It all comes together as he suddenly realizes that the 12 inch wide patch of fur to the right, between two pines, is just behind the shoulder.
As if on cue, the bull suddenly throws out an ear piercing bugle, ending as Joe’s arrow penetrates his kill zone. The bull immediately reverses course, runs for about twenty yards and then slows to a crawl as it walks away.
Continuous bugles and cow calls lead me right up to my jubilant partner. We trade stories, then Joe stops and points behind me. I quickly nock and arrow, turning to see a small bull 20 steps away. I draw as Joe cow calls and freezes the bull broadside. My release is smooth and I hear a loud WHACK! Unbelievably, the bull turns and blows away up the mountain. Still confused, I then spot my arrow 20 paces away sticking out of a sapling that I never saw in the heat of the moment.
Even though the bull, a small 5×5, is still lingering around, we start to laugh almost to the point of crying. The two inch sapling was in the kill zone and I made the perfect shot. Only one inch right or left and I have a bull down. All we can do is shake our heads and laugh. Perfect kill on a sapling!
Our laughter froze on our faces when suddenly a big 6X6 trots out of an opening and comes to a screeching halt less that ten feet in front of us. Caught dead to rights, with no chance to draw an arrow, I instead pick up a pine cone and throw it at him as he wheels away. Now the laughing is to the point of hurting. You know, that kind where you can’t catch your breath and the tears are rolling. Oh my gosh. What a moment!
After the laughter melted away, we check on the big bull Joe shot and find him hidden under a large oak tree. He is well hidden, so we leave to get the four-wheeler so that we can get as close as possible, quarter him and take him back to camp.
Walking back to the 4-wheeler, Joe continues to cow call and bugle occasionally as we relive and re-laugh the crazy hunt.
As we make a turn on the 2 track road, we catch movement spot a bull working his way down the hill diagonally in our direction. We drop and for the third time this morning, I nock an arrow. The bull steps onto the road 25 yards away. He spots us and comes to an abrupt stop, but the arrow is already on its way and hits mid-body behind the elbow. He wheels around and runs up the hill. We hear some thrashing about and know that our haul plan has changed.
After some fist bumping we get on the four wheeler and head back to camp shaking our heads the whole way and reliving what we still couldn’t believe had just happened. We return with the pick-up and luckily find a small two track goes almost right to Joe’s big bull.
Thank God the truck was only a few feet away when we loaded the front and hind quarters. The neck yielded over 100 lbs of meat by itself as did the lomo (back strap).
We then drove 150 yards away parked and found the 6×7 rag horn only 40 yards off the two track. Though a nice sized bull it was dwarf compared to the big bull. After two and a half trips, only forty yards up and down the hill, our second bull was also in the truck.
By 10:00am our epic and unbelievable opening day hunt had ended.
What a memory.
Note: Joe shoots bare bow and pulls about 80lbs, with 60% let-off. He does not use sights of any kind and shoots with fingers—-totally instinctive. I, on the other hand also shoot fingers, but use sights. I pull about 55-60 lbs and shot a PSE Stinger. Because of my reoccurring problem with arrow pinch, and thanks to Gilbert Ornelas, I will now shoot a fully-loaded Mathews with a release.