The evening of Sept. 6 started with me getting off work and getting my gear ready. I had scheduled time off for the 7th through the 13th. I got all of my gear gathered up, set it all out and made sure I had enough equipment to help me stay comfortable for 7 days out in the woods.
Here is what I would have to make work for 7 days or so I thought.
This was the finished product and how I would take camp in if needed.
As always the anticipation of the hunt was unbearable. I stayed up quite a while just getting my gear ready, and making the list for the final items I would need to pick up before heading to meet my brother Todd. After a good nights sleep it was time to hit the road and head to elk camp once again. This is my most anticipated hunt for the year, and one of my favorite hunts to go on.
It was finally here, the day I had long awaited. I headed to Billings to begin my trip, and stopped at a couple of sporting good stores to pick up the final items I would need to make a great week of staying away from the pickup. I made it Billings by 9:30 in the morning and hit up the stores, and finally made it out of town by noon and headed to meet my brother, get gear ready, and try to get an afternoon hunt in.
I met with Todd and we got all of our gear together and got everything we would need to head off the trail, and live away from civilization for a week for me. Todd would have to head out a little earlier due to other commitments, but I was cleared until the 13th.
We made it to an area that looked good and hit the trail. Todd and I hiked in for around 1 mile and decided to turn around as it looked like we would have to hike a long ways before we could effectively hunt, and we had not found any water to this point, which was going to be key to have an extended stay. After thinking things over we decided to back out of that area and head to another.
We headed to another area that looked good, and it was beginning to get to be late afternoon. We decided to try and hike in around 3/4 mile off of the main road and locate some elk. It wasn't long after parking the pickup and getting ready to hike when Todd thought he heard a bugle. Well that is exactly what Todd heard, and they were somewhat close. Pretty soon I could hear the bull, and it was obvious it was an older bull as the bugle was very raspy, and what you would think a mature bull would sound like. What an amazing start to our trip we now had located some elk. This can be the hardest part about hunting elk. If you can't locate them they can be very difficult to hunt.
We headed off in the direction of the sound of the bull. As we continued to hike in the bull continued to bugle. Pretty soon the bugles began to sound closer, so it was time to set up and try to call them in. We were no further than 1/4 mile from the pickup, and the sounds again sounded closer. Todd and I dropped our packs and got ready to find an area to set up.
I set up towards the opening to make sure I had a clear shot. Todd set up below me and began to call. I ranged around the areas I could see, and could range anywhere from under 15 yds to 60 yds where I may get a shot. During practice I continually made sure I was very accurate out of 60 yds, and boy did it pay off.
Todd continued to call, and pretty soon another bugle rattled off. If you have never experienced the elk rut and hearing a bugle in the wild you are truly missing out on the best sound ever made by an animal. I sat as still as I could and pretty soon I could hear something walking close to my right. I slowly kept looking to see if I could see what was walking as I knew it was elk in the area. Out of nowhere I heard one of the last sounds you want to hear. I heard a bull bark as to warn every other elk in the area of danger. I later found out from Todd that there was a 5x5 rag horn within 40 yds of him, and the bull spotted me, and blew up. I figured the gig was up and we were out of luck for the evening. I remained still and was going to wait for Todd to come out and head back to the pickup.
Not too long after the bull barked I could still hear something walking out in front of me I just couldn't see any movement. All of a sudden I saw what I was hearing. Right behind some tree I ranged at 50 yds I saw the rear end of an elk coming out of the trees. I drew my bow, stepped out from behind a limb, and readied myself. There it was, a big cow elk came out from the trees and looked right in my direction and to where the calling was coming from. I stood completely still, and remained at full draw. I thought to myself do I want to shoot a cow this soon since we were already into elk. That thought crossed my mind for around 3 seconds, and I knew it was time. The cow looked up the hill behind her and gave me an opportunity to put my pin on her. I knew she was only at 50 yds, and I was very confident in my shooting. I put my 50 yd pin right where it needed to be and let my arrow go. I MISSED, I watched my arrow go right over her back, or did it? The arrow flew perfect, but I just missed high. Right after I shot I heard Todd come out from where he was calling from. I turned around and told him I just missed her high. Todd immediately told me to hold still and be quiet. I turned around again, and saw the cow come back out into the open. I hurriedly tried to nock another arrow and get ready for another shot. Wait a minute something was wrong with the cow. She began to get weak in the legs and looked like she was hurting. Unbelievable, she began to wobble, and lose her footing. I now knew I had made a great shot. I watched her as she then fell. I was very confused on what had just happened. I knew my shot felt just like you want it to. I was very confident in the shot and it looked perfect left to right and flew well, but looked high. Well what had actually happened was that I lost sight of my arrow as it crossed her body. I almost made a huge mistake and didn't stay as quiet or still as I should have.
Todd and I came together and just realized I had just killed my first elk with my bow in the first 20 minutes of the hunt. My emotions went from I missed to I just killed an elk in less than a minute. It's hard to describe the feeling, but it will be something I will never forget. When I saw the arrow go high I figured I had made a mistake in my shot, even as good as it felt. I knew I had the range right, and I knew everything felt good, I just knew it was something that fell apart when I let the arrow go. I felt disappointed I missed, but after realizing it all came together it was almost too much. I have been trying to kill an elk with my bow for the previous 4 seasons and I now have just killed my first on the very first evening of the hunt. Not only was I tagged out, but the pack out was only 1/4 mile from the pickup and it was down hill. It doesn't get much better than that.
Todd and I gave the cow some time to expire, but knew she was finished as she fell within sight, and we could hear her coughing, which meant there was lung involved in the shot. We just sat there and took it all in and tried to wrap our heads around what had just happened. Normally I would just expect to have a couple of encounters at best, and get to hear the elk bugle once in a while. I couldn't have dreamed up a better scenario. The only thing that would have been better, would be to take a huge bull, which wouldn't taste near as good.
Finally after giving her enough time we went to track her and see where she was. The first thing was to find the arrow. I did not see or hear the arrow hit her so it was unknown if my arrow passed completely through or not. We went to where I shot her and found no arrow or blood. I started to head to where I last saw her at, and still found no blood or arrow. I continued to look and started to head to where I last saw her fall. I looked, and THERE SHE WAS out for the count. We went to where she was and there was very little blood in the area, and still no arrow.
Now for the work to begin. Todd did the majority of the work as I helped where needed. I have some amazing brothers that makes things way to easy for me. I can't thank them enough. Before skinning my cow out we took some photos for memories then got after it. We rolled her over and found the entrance hole. It was a perfect shot. If anything I hit her a little low, but Todd watched her after my shot, and she began to wobble in the first 20 seconds and was dead in just over half a minute. The shot was right behind the shoulder in the pocket you always try to aim for. I ranged from where I she was shot from and she fell within 33 yds. It's absolutely amazing how fast archery equipment works when done right. While skinning the cow out I finally found part of my arrow, which was on the ground just up the draw from her. I also found a good blood trail, and it was amazing that with the size of the animal there was actually minimal blood. The arrow had broken off inside of her. We finally got her quartered up, got the back-straps, loins, and even brought out the cape. It was an ideal pack out as it was mostly down hill and close to the road.
We made most of the trip in one load, and I headed back to the kill site, and pulled out the ivories and came out with the last quarter. Both Todd and I were exhausted, but headed into town and got the meat to a freezer and found a good place to rest for the night. All I could think about is that I was tagged out. What a memory it will be. We could not have been much luckier, and blessed. It was luck for the elk to come in like they did, but also took some skill on my part to make the shot. Elk are a big target, but everything has to come together, and my practice surely paid off in the end.
The morning of the 8th started with us resting our bodies for the rest of the trip. We had one elk and did it right away, which was way more than we could have asked for. With our bodies refreshed we went and did some laundry to get the stink off of our clothes then grabbed some food to keep us going. We headed to set up camp and then head back out hunting for the night.
The afternoon of the 8th we headed right back to where we were the previous day, but headed further in. We sat and listened and began to hear them bugle right before sunset. I set up in the trees with the decoys and watched Todd as he called and would signal for me to call. I continued to watch, and noticed Todd could see something. I heard something walking, and heard a branch break, which meant elk were in the area. After several calling sequences dark began to set in, and the elk were close, but we didn't want to put too much pressure on them and have them leave the area completely. Right before dark Todd signaled to head out and back to the pickup. We made it back to the pickup and headed to camp for the night. While calling Todd could see a tree moving close to him and I both. He said it was a rag horn at 50 yds, but he just didn't offer a shot, but also stayed in the area for around 20 minutes.
It was a short day, but a successful day as the elk were still in the area. While hiking in we found some good tree rubs, and there was elk sign all over the place.
We finally made it back to the pickup and back to camp for the night.
The morning of the 9th started out with a hearty Mountain House meal, and a good cup of coffee. If you ask Todd I move really fast in the morning. We were going to head in where we finished off the night before.
We headed off at around 6 am and headed back in. We set up and just listened for them to bugle and try to figure out where they were at. I again set up with the decoys, and a couple of bulls began to bugle back to the cow calling that Todd was doing. After a while the bugling stopped and it looked like everything was bedded down for the day. The forecast for the weather for the days was going to be the hottest day we would be hunting, so them bedding down was no surprise.
We headed further in and found a good opening where the elk had been using multiple trails. We shaded up for the day and would wait to see if they would move mid day or if it was going to be a sit all day and hunt just before dark. It turned out it was going to be a sit all day and hunt the last part of the day and see what we could come up with.
Finally at around 6:30 pm a bull bugled, but he was quite a ways away from where we were at. A little while later the bull bugled again, but this time it was farther away. Todd decided it was time to set up and see if we could get some elk to come from the south of us. Once again I set up the decoys and tucked back into the trees as to not be seen. I stayed within ear shot of Todd so I could hear if he needed me to call. Todd began to call, and there was no answered bugles, but he continued to call every so often.
Pretty soon the calling stopped, and I could hear Todd saying something, but I wasn't exactly sure what it was. All at once it clicked and I began to call. As I called I could hear something walking, but I wasn't sure what it was. Pretty soon I looked through the trees and could make out an elk and pretty soon I could tell it was a cow. I continued to call and try to keep the cow's attention on me rather than Todd. I continued to give soft cow calls, and she continued to come closer. Pretty soon the cow stopped. I continued to call, and watched the cow take a couple more steps, and then I heard the shot. I heard the bow go and then the smack of the arrow hitting the cow. I hurriedly cow called in hopes of slowing the cow down, and then I could hear Todd begin to celebrate. At that point I knew the cow was dead and met Todd in celebration. I looked to where the cow headed and saw her fall in the trees and begin to cough, I knew it was a great lung shot.
After realizing both of us were tagged out in basically two days, Todd filled me in with what I didn't see. While he was calling he heard the cow step on a rock, and she had him pinned down to where the calling was coming from, and that is when he was telling me to call. He said before I began to call the cow came in cautious, and was unsure of the other cows, Todd and I, were all about. He said after I began to call the cow saw the head of the Elk III decoy, and she came in on a string. He said she was unsure, and then came on a b-line towards the decoys as I called. I could see the cow looking for the calling, but she couldn't tell where it was coming from. The cow stopped behind a tree between her and Todd, as he drew his bow. Todd said as I kept calling she stepped out and gave him a broadside shot at 38 yds, and it was game over. The cow ran down hill 100 yds and tipped over. It was another young dry cow that was going to taste amazing.
It was time for photos and pack out. Todd made a perfect double lung shot. Once again it is absolutely amazing to see how effective archery hunting is when it is done right. It was still so unreal to be done, not only myself, but both of us. It had been 10 years since Todd had last archery killed an elk. It was my first kill of an elk with a bow, and we were done in just a couple of days. It will be an elk season we will never forget. Todd boned out the cow and we packed her out once again downhill and close to the road. You couldn't ask for much better. It will be very hard to top this weekend hunt we had.