As the winds wailed and howled outside the cabin, Joe struggled to sleep, tossing and turning in his sleeping bag and knowing that his yearly elk hunt would probably end as a failure.
Though he had yet to fill his tag, he was also unable to get Steven a look which was the priority. Steven was Joe’s 13 year old student who was bow hunting elk for the first time. Several opportunities had been busted for a variety of reasons and the wind outside would make the morning hunt, the last chance, impossible.
Begrudgingly, Joe got out of bed late and climbed into the back of Stan’s Jeep. Stan, Steven’s Dad, suggested they hunt a different area and drove in that direction.
This just was not Joe’s style, as negative thoughts filled his mind. He liked to get out in the dark, walk to an area and listen. Call, then listen, move repeat. The wind took that tactic out of the equation.
Stan parked in an open meadow that was surrounded by alpine timber and aspen groves. The wind howled down the mountain at the father and son and a very “negative Nancy”.
Joe’s negativity was heightened when Stan pulls out an antiquated, triple coiled, piece of gas tubing and lets out a quiet but musical whistle.
As Joe puts his head down thinking “there is no way in heck a bull is going to hear that in this wind”, a bugle unbelievingly rings out from the mountain in front of them. Whether or not the bull heard the musical bugle, a bull was in the vicinity and the wind carried down his bugle to the trio.
With a whole new outlook and still shaking his head at the irony, Joe grabbed Steven and they ran towards the mountain, then they quickly started running up the mountain. The wind would cover any sound they would make as they worked their way up, so they didn’t waste any time.
This was a typical western alpine mountain with a lot of aspen stands intermingled with pine trees. The side of the mountain had many benches and plenty of downfalls, but would eventually open up to a beautiful meadow, surrounded by aspen groves and dark timber.
Joe mewed a few times and the bull quickly answered from above and moved towards the duo. Joe placed Steven in a position downwind to his right. Checked for good shooting lanes, then left him. Steven nocked an arrow and waited.
Moving below Steven and to his left, but keeping him in sight, Joe settled down at the end of the bench meadow. He preceded to cow call aiming his calls behind him and to his right to pull the bull in. If things went according to plan, Steven would get a shot at the bull trying to circle downwind from his cow call. Joe nocked an arrow in case the bull did something different giving him the shot instead.
Suddenly a big 6×6 bull appeared moving down a game trail and directly in Steven’s direction. But before getting into Steven’s shooting lanes, the bull suddenly turned as 3 other bulls screamed from a few hundred yards away, but to Joes left. The big six walked even further from Steve and out of range to throw a challenge bugle at his unseen rivals.
Not wanting to lose the opportunity and with his grunt tube pointed backwards and in a direction towards the area behind Steven, Joe threw a cow call wanting to pull the bull back towards his student. The bull turned and like a fish on a string, he started walking away from the other bulls. Now on a different game trail.
Joe’s eyes immediately focused on the trail the bull was on, and saw that it meandered one way, then another and would end up—–right where he knelt! He was literally in the middle of the trail.
His mind raced as the bull closed the distance to 50, 40, 30, 20 and he was still coming. The bull’s focus was well beyond Joe, He did not see the kneeling figure.
“I knew that one of us had to make a move because once he got to 6 feet—it was about to get western real quick,” noted Joe.
Joe quickly bugled and drew at the same time, freezing the bull for just a split second. As the bull spun around, all he could see at 5 feet was kill zone and the arrow left his fingers instinctively.
The bull ran to the other side of the meadow and stopped. The arrow appeared to have entered the rib cage and pierced both lungs and possibly the heart. A solid shot. The bull was in a world of hurt and started to wobble.
Suddenly, an ear-piercing bugle sounded from the right side of the dark timber and several cows entered the meadow and moved past the dying bull. The cows were within 10 yards to the bull as they trotted by.
Then, clearing the dark timber and trailing the cows was a magnificent 7×7 that dwarfed the wounded bull, and as he walked into the meadow seeing the other bull, he laid his white tipped horns back on his rump and bugled as he walked past the wounded bull.
Getting no respect, the big bull stopped, wheeled around and with a twenty yard full run up, plowed into the hapless bull. With nothing left, the wounded bull was driven ten yards forward and collapsed dead on the spot.
The startled big Imperial bull hovered over the dead bull. He raised his head, laid the ivory tips on his rump, and bugled triumphantly as he proudly walked out the meadow. What an unbelievable and memorable sight.
“What started as a “negative Nancy” day turned into a scene that Steve and I will forever have ingrained in our brains,” concluded Joe. ” Who would have thought?”
Once again, as it has been proven over and over again to this long time writer and elk hunter…….it’s never over til the fat lady sings.
You just never know.