By Jame Venturini

It’s September 10th, 2022 and I’m sitting at my little spring.  I’ve had a camera set on this spring for the past couple summers and have gotten lots of good pictures of elk, deer, bear and even a moose.  I’ve also come to learn that the spring is in a good central location and has different types of elk habitat surrounding it, so I have been starting my days there and then going in the direction that the calls take me.

At first light I throw out a few cow calls and get no response. I wait about 10 minutes and throw out another round of cow calls and still get no response.  I wait a little bit and I do a location bugle and get an immediate answer.  It’s coming from the drainage to the east again but not quite as far away as last year.  Once again, he stands his ground and isn’t coming to me so I start moving towards him.  I move through an oak brush flat and start to drop into the drainage and the bull bugles again off to my left. He’s above me on a hillside.  I move off the trail, climb over some deadfall and up a little rise.  I get to a little open flat spot and think that if I go any further, I’m going to expose myself.  I tuck in next to a tree and put out a little bugle, he answers sounding aggravated that I am in his bedroom but doesn’t budge.  I bark bugle at him, he accepts the challenge and starts coming to me.  I can see him through the brush and draw my bow, he steps out into the open at 16 yards.  I remember feeling calm and relaxed, my pin is steadily sitting on my target.  I touch the trigger of my release; the shot feels great and I watch the fletches of my arrow disappear into the elk but it’s farther back than where I was aiming.  After the shot I cow call and bugle and I see the bull calmly walk over a ridge and drop into a bowl on the other side.   It’s 7:45 am. And what happened next, still haunts me today.

I grew up hunting black tailed deer in California and moved to the Dallas area in the early 90’s.  A couple of years later my dad invited me to meet him and his hunting buddies in Colorado to hunt.  The first couple of years I could only afford a mule deer tag but my third year I also got a rifle cow tag.  I harvested my first elk that year, but it would be four or five years before I hunted elk again.  

A few years later I got tired of living in the city and decided to move to that small town in Colorado where I had been hunting for the past 8 years.  After moving to Colorado, I ran into a guy that I had gone to high school with in California.   He was across the street at my neighbor’s house and they were shooting bows getting ready for archery season.  He knew that I was a hunter and asked why I didn’t archery hunt.  I am right-handed but was born blind in my right eye so I learned to shoot a rifle left-handed at a very young age but couldn’t really do anything else with my left hand.  I never thought I’d be able to pull a left-handed bow and honestly, while growing up in California nobody around me archery hunted so I never gave it much thought.  Three or four weeks before archery season I picked up a VERY used left-handed bow for next to nothing and started shooting.

I bought an over the counter either sex archery elk tag and an archery bear tag, never expecting to have the opportunity for a shot but wanting to gain some elk hunting experience.  I harvested a bear with my bow that year.  My adrenalin surged for hours, the excitement lasted for days, the feelings of accomplishment lasted for weeks if not longer.  I hadn’t felt that way rifle hunting for years.  I was hooked on bow hunting.

That winter I ordered a brand-new Mathews bow and the following spring/summer I shot almost every day.  I bought my first diaphragm call and learned how to use it. I could cow call pretty good and make a decent bugle.  I told myself that my first bull elk would be harvested with a bow.  For the next 12 years I would only hunt for a bull with my bow.  Back then archery tags in my area were OTC either sex.  Over those 12 years I harvested four cow elk along with quite a few mule deer and even another bear, all with my bow, but never a bull.  I had some close calls but never got the job done.

During this time, my friend and I had been putting in for preference points so that we could hunt in a “trophy unit” someday.  I always thought that I would harvest a bull with my bow long before we had enough points to apply for the unit that we wanted to hunt but that never happened.  Eventually we had more than enough points to draw the tag that we wanted, but I kept putting off the “trophy hunt” because I wanted my FIRST bull to be with my bow.  In 2014 my friend gave me the ultimatum; he was putting in that year whether I did or not.  We drew the tags, had a great hunt, and both harvested great bulls…. with a rifle.  

After that hunt I felt deflated and defeated.  Don’t get me wrong, I appreciated and revered the bull that I harvested with a rifle but I didn’t accomplish my personal goal of getting my first bull with a bow.  

I stopped bow hunting.  

By this time archery tags in my area had become a draw only tag in my GMU, while rifle bull tags were OTC.  If I had to apply for a tag I might as well put in for a rifle cow tag.  I could apply for a rifle cow tag and if I didn’t get one, I could hunt a bull during an OTC rifle season.  Over the next 4 or 5 years I was fortunate enough to harvest a few cows and I’d get a mule deer or two every year, so I always had enough meat in the freezer and I don’t think I ever bought an OTC bull tag.

In 2019 I turned 50 years old.  I set a new goal for myself, “I wanted to harvest a bull with my bow” it won’t be my FIRST bull but it’ll be a bull with a bow.  A great accomplishment in my mind.  

The draw deadline had already passed so I couldn’t put in for an archery tag that year.  I might have had a private land cow tag if I hunted elk at all.  I set my sights on 2020.

Looking back to when I was bow hunting prior to 2014, my dad would always ask me why I didn’t hunt the mountain that he took me to when I harvested my first cow back in the mid 90’s with a rifle.  He and his buddies had a lot of success on that mountain over the years.  I explained to him that since I lived here, I had time to explore different areas, I’ve had success in those areas and so I just kept going back.

When I picked up the bow again in 2020, of course he asked me if I was going to hunt (we’ll just call it) “mountain X”.  I told him I’d look into it and went back to hunting all my old spots.  With the advent of apps like GoHunt and OnX, all my old spots were getting over hunted.  I had places that I’d hunted for years and was surprised if I bumped into another hunter in there and it was usually someone I knew from town.  I’d find little chunks of public land surrounded by private property on the forest map and show ‘em to an old cowboy friend of mine and he’d tell me how to get in there.  Nowadays, you just set a pin and your phone will take you to the right spot.  I decided that for the last weekend of the 2020 season I’d give “mountain X” a try.

I had a great hunt that day.  I got on a herd of elk before first light, they moved up in elevation and started side hilling around the mountain, I shadowed them from a lower elevation for about 45 minutes until they moved back down and into a meadow for a little snack before going off to bed.  I snuck in on the herd and ended up about 30 yards away from a bull that was on the other side of a spruce tree.  We bugled back and forth for what seemed like 10 minutes but realistically was probably more like 2 or 3 before he realized that 2 satellite bulls were moving off with his cows and he took off after ‘em.  The elk went quiet, I followed tracks and fresh droppings for a while until I lost their trail.  It’s funny how a herd of elk can vanish on a mountain with no trace.

That night when I called my dad to tell him about my day he never said “I told you so” but I could almost see his shit-eatin’-grin through the phone.  

The next day was my last day to hunt the 2020 season.  I went back to where I started the day before but didn’t hear a single peep.  I worked my way up the mountain and off in the opposite direction of the day before just trying to learn the area a little better.  I found an old dry pond, then another that was all reeded up and moist in the bottom but no standing water.  I worked my way around to a little bench and found a small meadow, maybe 60 yards long and 20 yards wide.  On the west edge of the meadow there is a spring coming up out of the ground, it’s about a 3 foot by 1 ½-foot oval with a little seep draining off to the south I’ve seen it crystal clear and I’ve seen it when the sediment is all stirred up after something has been drinking out of it.  There were tracks all around the spring and 6 different trails coming back and forth from the meadow.  Right then and there I told myself that I was going to spend a lot of time in the summer of 2021 learning that part of the mountain.

Up until that point, everything that I knew about elk (which in retrospect, was way less than I actually thought) I had learned from a few friends (that thought they knew a lot more about elk then they actually knew) and my experiences in the woods.  I realized that the success that I DID have with my bow was because I’m a pretty good HUNTER but not necessarily a good ELK hunter.  Looking back at the opportunities that I had in the past, they were all because I saw elk moving and I put myself in front of them or I snuck in on a vocal herd and was able to get a shot off. Or I set up in a tight travel corridor and something just happened to pass by.  I went to the elk, or the elk CAME to me but I never BROUGHT them to me.

I realized that if I was going to do this, I needed to put in the work.  I needed to work out a little harder to be in better shape.  I needed to spend more time in the woods during the summer scouting, setting trail cameras, and learning new areas.  Most importantly, I needed to learn more about elk and elk behavior.  I could make a lot of the noises but I didn’t know the difference between a location bugle and a challenge bugle, I had been making different cow calls but I had no idea why.  I didn’t know anything about different “scenarios”.

I read a little, but really started listening to podcasts during my morning workouts.  Elk Talk gave out a lot of good information regarding draw odds and point creep and herd health but no so much about hunting and elk behavior.  Remi can be kinda all over the place but I pick up a good tidbit from him every now and then.  Lots of podcasts that talked about hunting and giving gear reviews and stuff, but not really TEACHING anything.  

Then one day I stumbled across the ElkBros Blue Collar Elk Hunting podcast.  Those guys are entertaining and informative but they also TEACH.  They’d talk about a situation that they came across during a hunt and I’d think “yeah, I’ve been in that situation”.  But then they would go on to EXPLAIN; why the elk were doing what they were doing, what they were thinking in that situation, and how they handled it.  Things that they said really made sense to me.  Over the years I had had a lot of those same experiences but I didn’t know what was really going on or what I needed to do to take advantage of the situation.

If I had already listened to their latest podcast drop, I would scroll back and listen to past episodes.  I couldn’t get enough.  One day I landed on episode 69.  Paul Medel’s May 2020 appearance.  Everything that Joe and Paul talked about made perfect sense.  I was able to think back on some of my previous encounters and understand why they played out the way they did and think about what I would do differently in the same situation.  I downloaded the ElkNut app and did a YouTube binge on Paul Medel that winter and into the spring of 2021.  

Between finding my new hunting spot in the fall of 2020 and finding the ElkBros and Paul Medel in the winter of 20-21, I was very excited about the prospect of the 2021 season.  

During the winter of 2021 my dad’s health started deteriorating rapidly.  I made a few trips back and forth between Colorado and California that spring and summer and didn’t get to spend as much time on “mountain X” as I had hoped.  My dad passed in July of 2021. He would have turned 80 on the 3rd of September. We planned to have his memorial on the weekend of his 80th birthday.  I spent opening day of the 2021 archery season (Sept 2nd) in California getting things ready for my dad’s memorial.

I upgraded my goal.  Harvest a bull…with my bow…on my dad’s mountain (“mountain X”)!

During the 2021 season I had a few good encounters.  On the last weekend I had 3 days to hunt.  Friday morning, I started off at the spring.  About 7:45-8am I hear a bugle; it sounds to me like it’s coming from the drainage to the east.  I throw out a couple cow calls and he bugles again but this time he adds a chuckle at the end.  I waited a few minutes to put out another set of cow calls and he continues to bugle and chuckle while I’m waiting.  After my next round of cow calls, he bugled and chuckles again with a little more emotion.  In the past I always thought that a chuckle was aggression towards another bull, now I understand that it’s an invitation, he wants me to come to him.  So, I oblige.

I make my way to the bottom of the northeast facing slope where the bull is, I keep throwing out a cow call every now and then along the way to keep him interested. I get to a spot that a couple of trees have fallen almost on top of each other creating a little wall just over waist high. Just beyond that wall the slope starts to rise sharply.  The “wall” creates a bit of an impasse but also provides cover.  I decide that this is where I’ll make my play.  

I cow call and he answers.  He’s right on top of me but I still can’t see him.  I start swaying back and forth, up and down trying to see around the brush and trees, trying to catch a glimpse of him but still no luck.  Now I decide to introduce another bull.  I cast a little bugle off behind me, he comes unglued and starts crashing off of the slope, I see him for the first time and he’s coming right to me.  I start to draw my bow.  Out of the corner of my eye I see that my arrow is laying across my right arm.  While I was swaying back and forth my arrow must have gotten caught on a piece of brush and lifted out of the cage around my rest.  I’m almost half drawn and I lay my bow over sideways and give it a little “bounce” trying to get my arrow back into the rest.  I don’t know if I touched the trigger or if my release came off the string, but my string is released and the arrow flies off in the wrong direction.  I knelt down behind the wall while pulling another arrow out of my quiver and the bull stops…broadside…11 yards away.

Keeping an eye on the bull I try to knock another arrow but I can’t find my string, I slowly look down and see that my bow has come unstrung.  Here I am with a bull standing broadside 11 yards away with a nonfunctional bow. The bull loses interest and slowly turns and starts to walk away.

I sat there in disbelief for a good 10 minutes before hiking back out.  On my way out a couple different bulls bugled around me, but without a bow I just had to enjoy the sweet sounds and keep on walking.  I went straight to the bow shop and they restrung and checked out my bow.  Everything looked good so I shot a few groups and headed home.

Over the next two days I would have that same bull within bow range on that same northeast facing slope on two separate occasions.  He outsmarted me in both of those encounters.  I went home that night and posted this to my Facebook page:

“Well, three days in a row I had you close enough to put an arrow in you. Once you got lucky but you bested me twice. You showed me new parts of an old familiar mountain and tested my abilities. I’m happy with the way I hunted you and can’t really say “if I only did this”. You’ve been a worthy adversary. I hope you make it to next year so we can do it again.”

That was the end of my 2021 archery season. That’s what brings us to back that day in 2022 at the beginning of my story. The day that will haunt me forever.

Since I saw him go over the ridge, I immediately drop my pack next to the tree, grab some flagging tape and go mark where he was standing.  I start looking for my arrow to try and get some information as to what kind of hit I had.  I looked for my arrow for about 35 minutes but couldn’t find it so I went back to my pack and had a little something to eat while giving him more time before taking off after him.  At 9:00 am I put on my pack, bypassed the first part of the blood trail and went to where I saw him go over the ridge and picked up the trail there. (I would find my arrow the following summer after the snow melt about 3 yards up his exit trail that I initially bypassed)

The blood was bright red, no dark liver blood, no green from a gut shot and no pink lung foam.  I was getting blood on both sides of the trail so I knew that I had a pass-through shot.  It took me about an hour and a half to follow that blood just under 500 yards and that’s where I bumped him, it was 10:30 am.

I texted a friend who is a very good tracker, he said he was on his way and would meet me at the spring, I waited a half hour and eased up to where the bull was when I bumped him.  I found a small pool of congealed blood where he was laying, started a grid and found his exit path with a small spot of blood and then another spot about 20 -30 yards past that one.  I marked my last spot of blood and went to meet my buddy at the spring.  

We followed that bull downhill and uphill, through thick pockets of brush, and over deadfall that we had to climb over.  Mostly following tracks and turned over rocks finding a spot of blood every now and then to let us know we were still on the right track.  We finally got to a spot that he had to sidehill across a pretty steep slope probably about 100 yards wide that was all loose dirt.  He could have taken a trail that dropped him down into the bottom but he chose to cross the steep slope and did so without a single slip.  The sun had already set and the light was starting to dwindle, my friend told me that he thought the bull was going to make it.  He wasn’t taking the easy routes that a wounded and weak bull would take.  He said that according to the blood sign that we were getting he would have stopped looking earlier but knew how badly I wanted to harvest a bull with my bow so he kept looking.  We headed back to the trucks in the dark, with the only conversation all the way out being a word of encouragement from him every now and then that he thought the bull was going to be okay.

I went back the next morning to try and pick up where we left off.  I spent most of that day looking and listening for birds and looking for any kind of sign that might lead me to an expired bull.  All to no avail.  

From the small drops of blood that we were following the previous day, the path that we followed for hours and the lack of sign I was finding I really felt that the bull was going to be ok but I couldn’t be sure. When I got home that evening, I hung up my bow and considered my hunt done for the year. It still haunts me.

When I started shooting in the spring of 2023 my arrows were going back and forth from left to right with no consistency whatsoever.  After checking out my bow I found that the screw that sets my arrow rest for tuning, had come loose and the rest was moving.  I’m assuming that is why my shot was off the year before because as I said everything about that shot felt great and I couldn’t believe that I hit as far back as I did.  I took my bow in to get tuned and tightened and started to prepare for the 2023 season.

September 16th 2023, it’s my 7th day hunting this season and I haven’t heard a single bugle.  Up until that point I had been doing early season calling scenarios; light bugles, raking, stuff like that. I did have a bull come close and rake a tree nearby and I could hear him circling around me in the trees the previous weekend, but I never saw him and he didn’t bugle at all.  I figured that this weekend I would start adding cow calls into the mix.

As it starts to get light, I just sit and listen for a while to see if there’s anything going on around me.  A little after 7am I throw out some cow calls, wait a few minutes and do another round of cow calls.  I listen and wait but don’t hear anything.  I wait about a half hour and put out another round of cow calls. I get up and move about 100-150 yards up a little rise behind me and bugle like I’m a bull moving into the cow and then quickly move back down to my previous position.  As soon as I get back, I hear a bugle on the trail through the oak brush flat to the east of me, I’m guessing the he was like 70-80 yards away and coming.  I cast a cow call to the far end of the meadow and move into a shooting position where I have an open lane to the trail that the bull is coming in on.  He’s moving east to west and I’m set up to the north of the trail just slightly higher in elevation.  I start seeing movement in the oak brush so I draw my bow, as he approaches.  

He bugles just before stepping out of the oak brush into the open edge of the meadow. He’s 8 yards away, slightly downhill.  His head crosses into my shooting lane, he takes one more step and he stops and scans the meadow looking for his cow.  I have a wide-open lane to his head and front shoulder; there is a small aspen tree between us covering the crease behind the front shoulder, then an 8-inch opening to his lungs.  I have my pin sitting on his front shoulder waiting for him to take another step, two steps would be ideal but he’s not moving, I slide my pin to the left behind the aspen tree and hold it in place over the lungs hoping to follow him forward as he moves into the bigger lane, but he doesn’t take that step.  He continues scanning the meadow for his cow and his head starts turning in my direction.  I release the arrow and watch my fletch disappear again but this time it hits exactly where I’m aiming!

The bull takes a few strides forward and turns south crossing the meadow. I cow call as I see him jumping a log to leave the meadow and head for the protection of the woods.  I continue calling and he slows down. He turns to look back in my direction, takes a couple steps and disappears from sight as I hear him hit the ground.  I hear him struggle to take his last couple of breaths and then silence.  He went less than 40 yards from where he was standing at the edge of the meadow and it took him less than 60 seconds to take his last breath.  I look at my watch, its 8:11 am.

I saw him fall, I heard him hit the ground and take his last breath, but I still wait 10 minutes before going to look for my arrow.  10 yards beyond the trail that he was standing on, I see my arrow stuck in the ground covered in blood.  Double lung pass through, TWO HOLES!!  I take a picture of the arrow and text it to some of my closest buddies.  It’s been about 15 minutes but I can’t wait any longer it’s time to get hands on my first archery bull.  I saw him fall, I know where he is, but I don’t go straight to him. I follow his blood trail.  I wanted to take it all in, anticipation growing with every step I take while tracing his final steps.

When I finally put my hands on him, I was overwhelmed with emotions. My eyes filled up with tears as they are right now and every other time I’ve thought back on that moment.  I thanked the Lord for the harvest. I thanked the bull for his sacrifice, and I thanked my dad for teaching me to hunt and fish and to love and respect nature and the outdoor lifestyle.  I told my dad that I missed him and I wished that I could call him when I got home that night and tell him every detail.  

I took a few pictures and sent one to my buddies, I got a few texts of congratulations and one of my buddies asked if I needed any help.  I gladly accepted and told him to meet me at the spring and I got to work breaking down the bull.  My buddy showed up right around the time I was finishing up.  Everything was hanging in trees and cooling so I got to take a few minutes to relive the experience and show him how it all went down.  The two of us were able to pack him out in two trips.  I released the arrow at 8:11 am and took my boots off at 9:27 that night.  It’s nice to have good friends.

In 13 years of hunting elk with a bow I may have had 1 or 2 truly good opportunities to harvest a bull. 

In the 3 years since committing myself to learning more about elk behavior and finding The ElkBros Blue Collar Elk Hunting podcast, I’ve had multiple opportunities and I honestly believe that if it hadn’t been for mechanical malfunctions during the 2021 and 2022 seasons I would have harvested a bull in each of the last three years. All because of the knowledge that I have gotten and continue to get from The Elk Bros and Paul Medel.  Thanks to The Elk Bros I am now part of the 10% club. 

Finally Successful.


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