The magnificent 6×7 bull raised his head, laying the white tips of his antlers on his rump, and screamed a challenging bugle at his unseen adversary.
Meanwhile, the unseen adversary, Joe Giglia, was having trouble keeping it all together. His pounding heart threatened to burst out his chest at any moment and his mouth suddenly went dry. He had never seen a bull this big and at only 20 yards away. And wouldn’t you know it, the vitals were covered by a couple of pine trees.
In what seemed like an eternity, the bull finally took two steps into an opening. Joe was already at full draw, when he screamed a bugle freezing the bull for an instant, and it was then that instinct took over.
Getting to that situation started a little over seven hours before as Joe, myself and Billy woke up at 3:00 in the morning, dressed and headed out in the dark in search of the elusive wapiti. After two unsuccessful days in which the trio had seen absolutely zero elk, the plan was to get out in the dark, hopefully locate and then move in before daylight.
Sure enough, around 5:00am, a cow call and some bugles broke the silence of the night. Our trio closed in on the calls, then joined a slow moving herd. When the herd stopped to feed, we slumped against the base of whatever tree stood by and rested.
An occasional bugle signaled it was time to move and we all moved. As gray light slowly replaced the darkness, we could make out cows between oak stands. We were moving in a large flat meadow that had numerous stands of oak trees and oak brush. Thick oak stands would open up into grass meadows, then close up again.
As expected, a cow or two would spots us and spook, but before that situation turned into a stampede, Joe would cow call and settle the herd down. The bull always seemed to be at the far side of the herd and bugled only to keep his cows apprised of his presence and remind other bulls of his dominance .
A steady western wind in our face allowed us to stay close. Opportunity would would soon present itself, hopefully.
Around 6:30, Billy and I lost Joe in a thick stand of oak brush, and we took an alternate route in our hunt. We get a few opportunities with some spikes that have also been trailing the herd. We get close, but the spikes spot us and scamper away. Not wanting to get in Joe’s way, since we no longer know where he is at, we chose an alternate plan and head up the mountain.
Around 7:30, Joe decides to bugle to pinpoint the bull and the strategy backfires as the cunning bull screams, rounds up his cows and heads into the wind. The oak brush country is broken up by large, long finger valleys, coming off the ancient volcano. The grassy fingers are a couple of hundred yards wide and miles long and surrounded by the oak stands and oak brush.
A persistent Joe, follows the herd down into the valley, then across the valley, then up into the oak brush. The same scene repeats itself three more times. Inexplicably, the wind stops and the air currents change direction and the herd bull adjusts. Yup, he changes direction as does the herd with Joe in tow.
After re-crossing three valleys, Joe looks ahead and sees that the bull is heading toward two small hills that appear directly in front. If he can just get around the first hill, he can spring an ambush in the small valley between the hills.
Joe drops below the herd and starts running to his destination. The thermals and any semblance of wind, is going straight downhill away from the herd and prey, so as Joe starts to sweat profusely, he knows he is still good to go.
As he tops out on the hill expecting to get back on the herd, they are nowhere to be found. Something made him look back behind him and there they were, again heading in another direction and again heading away from him.
Not sure whether it was frustration, anger or what, but reaching a breaking point he decides to do something completely radical. He starts running down the hill, screaming bugles and thrashing the scrub oak with his free arm until he is at the last location he has seen the herd. Just about to exit the scrub oak, he freezes before entering a small meadow. At the opposite end of the small park, two spikes are bedded on the other side of a large ponderosa, about eighty yards out.
He can hear the herd just above the spikes, and knows that if he spooks them, the herd may blow out.
Tired of the chase, Joe knows it’s crunch time. He is close and a wrong move will result in the herd disappearing from the area. It’s also approaching 10am and the thermals tend to get inconsistent and will soon start to swirl around.
Joe can still see the spikes 75 yards away, resting in the shade. With the spikes accounted for, Joe settles in and decides to try a new tactic. He decides to put on a show. Instead of calling to the herd bull that has continuously run when challenged, Joe hopes the bull might come to check out another herd bull trying to fend off his own challengers. What guy can resist watching a fight, right?
He lays three different latex mouth calls on his leg. The whole idea is to sound like 3 different bulls that are getting more and more worked up with each other and moving in for a fight. The story he is trying to portray involves the bugle of a spike or small bull; then a good-sized satellite bull; and finally one that sounds like a herd bull. Some cow calls in the direction of the herd bull will give depth to the scenario.
If Joe can’t convince the herd bull to come in and fight, then maybe, just maybe he can get him curious enough to come to a fight when he’s not the focus.
So, he starts to throw out bugles in three different directions making it seem that a small bull is to his right, a medium bull is to his left and a large bull is directly behind him. The two spikes in front of him stay put, but raise their heads and follow the semi circle of bugles with their ears. A fourth bugle suddenly emerges from above the spikes, which they also acknowledge.
Curiosity, a chance to fight, or perhaps a chance to see others fight gets the better of the herd bull and he continues to get closer. With the next round of calls, Joe raises the intensity and emotion as if the trio are converging for a face off. He is positioned, arrow nocked, with his grunt tube aimed directly behind him.
Suddenly, the spikes in the meadow stand up, look behind them and run. A huge 6×7 enters the meadow and immediately destroys a six-foot pine tree in front of him, then lets out a blood curdling challenge and continues towards Joe’s location fifty, forty, thirty, until he is only twenty yards out. That was when he locked up behind two pines for what seemed an eternity…. and then… FINALLY taking two steps forward.
After all that, the 6 hours of hounding the elk herd approximately 5 miles through unforgiving volcanic rock and scrub oak, the pounding heart, and the profusion of sweat led to this moment.
Instinctively bugling during his draw and releasing a shot, a shot that he had no recollection of letting go, Joe sees time stand still and then explode in a blur of hooves and horns.
He immediately bugles and continues to bugle and cow call like a madman, letting all the adrenalin and pressure ooze out of him. Did he make the hit? Was it good? He plays the shot over and over in his head, seeing the fletch bury right behind the shoulder.
Despite the commotion and with scent swirling all around, several cows, spikes and small bulls continue in and out of the meadow in the ensuing minutes.
Laying back and resting for what seemed like an eternity, but actually only thirty minutes, Joe walks to his landmark and immediately spots blood, a lot of it and bright foamy red—-it’s a solid lung hit!
One hour later, after screaming calls to bring in Billy and myself, we all find each other and start the search. It didn’t take long. Only 70 yards from the small meadow we see the horns before we see the body. With emotional hugs and lots of high fives we find the huge 6X7, that would later measure out to 352 inches, under a small oak brush stand.
A whole lot of years have passed since that long ago September day. But Joe’s bull and the adventure of that hunt are still with us. Joe learned a lot of lessons then that he still uses to this day. What a magnificent bull. What a memory of a lifetime. What an epic hunt!
So the next time you think all is lost. That everything you are trying is just not working. Take a chance and think outside the box. Because you just never know. You too, just might create the memory of a lifetime. Even if you don’t, It will be a great story. Just like Joe’s Bull.