What a fall it's been. To say it has been a busy hunting season is an understatement. As far as hunting I didn't get out as much as I would have liked, but life in general is showing just how busy it can get. This last spring Leah and I found out we had a second child on the way. We tried to plan the best we could and didn't do too bad. She would be due December 4th. Now this isn't a bad date at all I just knew it would affect the later part of my hunting season as it would be tough to go too far from home.
As always my fall started out with archery antelope season. I once again elected to go a little tougher route and drew an archery only permit in MT. I headed to an area I hunted last year in hopes of connecting with any antelope at all.
I found a few in an open field and made my move. I had two bucks grazing and I placed myself between them and a water source. Due to the fact the area was wide open I elected to use my MT decoy to cover me as I moved. I got in position behind a small Juniper tree and waited. After a while one of the bucks began to come to the water. There was very little cover so the buck was going to have to come right by me for this to work.
I waited as the buck approached. Things were coming together as I was hoping. I kept ranging the buck from 200 down to 76 yards. This is as close as he would get. Definitely out of my range. As hard as it was it was also an easy call to make to not take the shot. I had him broadside and feeding, unaware I was there.
The buck continued to a point where he finally noticed me. He eventually took off. It was a great start to the season and had me excited for things to come. A few days later I set up my ground blind on the water hole. I knew it was going to be a long sit as the sun doesn't set until around 8 PM. Also with antelope hunting you just never know when they are going to water.
I started my sit around 2 in the afternoon. I watched quite a few groups of antelope in the area, but nothing wanted to come to water. While sitting I almost got the opportunity to kill a coyote. He was out mousing and was unaware of my presence. Eventually he just kept moving and never got in range. I got to watch him try and put the sneak, but his hunt too was unsuccessful.
Right before dark the antelope began to move more and more. Eventually I had a doe and couple of fawns start heading my direction. Light was fading fast, but they began to play into the script and took off running in my direction. Eventually they worked to within 40 yards. With the way I had my blind set up they didn't come exactly where I needed them. I knew I had a good shot so I went to full draw on the doe. She kept working to my right and eventually got me into an awkward position in the blind. I let my arrow go and it was a clean miss.
Defeated, but not upset as a miss is only good when it is clean. I was upset that I had missed, but glad as now I still had plenty of time to hunt more. I continued to hit the area when I could, but I just couldn't get it to come together. I never got another decent opportunity again. It is a tough area to hunt just due to the lack of cover and it is not a giant area to cover.
After getting the opportunity to chase antelope for a while it was now time to move to archery elk season. This is still hands down my favorite time of year and season to hunt. I came into this season with what I felt was a different mindset that previous years. I was headed back to an area I was familiar with and had continued to gain more experience than last season.
I felt confident that I was going to knock down my first bull with my bow. I upgraded earlier in the year to a new Hoyt Faktor 30 and was confident in my shooting. I think you should feel confident every time you go out, but it just felt different.
I went out on opening day for the first time ever with my friend Matt. We decided to hit an area close to home that was a cow and spike only unit. I had never hunted this specific area and had drawn a limited permit in another spot so I was going to concentrate on just calling.
We loaded up the camper and headed to find a spot to camp. On the way in we ran into multiple people and vehicles. It was a little disheartening to say the least. Oh well it was opening day and you can't get anything accomplished if you give in that easy. We quickly found a great spot to set up and got camp all set up.
We hiked in a little ways just to get a feel of what the area looked like. With no scouting and hitting a new unknown area it was hard to say how it would go. After only going a little ways plenty of sign was found. It was looking pretty promising.
We got back to camp and settled in for the night. Of course a hard lesson was learned as I found out I had a leak in the roof of the camper. Matt got soaked and the rain kept coming. We woke up for the morning hunt, had breakfast, and got ready to head in.
As we were getting ready another rig pulled up and two hunters got out and headed in as we were leaving as well. It can be hard for me at times with these situations, but it is public ground and not much can be done. They were polite enough and we went our separate ways.
The rain wouldn't let up and we just continued on. The rain continued to come down and we ended up having to take cover. We enjoyed a good meal and eventually headed back to camp. Of course as soon as we made it back to camp the sun decided to come back out.
After assessing the damages to the camper we decided to pack it in and head home. Although it was the exact start we were looking for there was lots of season left.
I had a decent amount of time toward the latter part of September set aside to hit the limited area I had drawn. In the mean time I continued to chase antelope when I got the chance. I went back to the same area as before, but again just couldn't quite close that last 20 yards I needed to feel comfortable with my shooting.
Finally it was time to pack up and head to the east to start chasing elk in the rut. I met with my Brother Todd and set camp up in the same area I had hunted the past couple of seasons.
Todd made it in the day before I could come. He was able to hear the elk already and things were looking up. We headed in the first morning and went further back than I had the previous year, but I had also located more sign further in and wanted to try and get back further. Finally about 9:30 a bull ripped a bugle. It sounded good and we weren't too far off.
We began to start working his way, bugling as we went. He would answer, but didn't appear he was that interested in what I had to say. Eventually he went his own way.
We hunted hard the next few days, but things just go worse. In the end a decision was made to move areas. It can be a hard decision at times, but the fact that the local rancher was weaning his calves on the main water source it was an easy decision to make.
I headed further east while Todd had to go back to work for a little while. I set up camp and headed in for an afternoon hunt in an area I hadn't hunted in a few years. It yielded nothing, but I knew if we stayed persistent we would find some elk. The next morning I went into an area my Brother Kirk informed me about.
The temps were warm and the forecast called for hot temperatures. I was finding sign as I went and eventually I looked up to my left and found a doe antelope bedded in the timber. As she now noticed me she got up. Immediately to her left was a buck. I couldn't tell how big he was, but I didn't care. I had her at 45 yards and she began to go the other direction. Soon the buck stood up and began to follow her. I was never presented a shot.
I followed the two to try and put a stalk on. I got to the top and went the direction they headed. I quickly spotted them again. The buck was oblivious to my presence and he was only concentrated on the doe. Due to the fact the buck was so keyed in on the doe she would try and get away from me, but he would just run her back at me.
I had multiple opportunities to take a shot on the doe, but I figured she would eventually get run right back at me. I continued to push at them. Finally I was in position and just needed to have him get within range. The doe would continually be within 50 yards, but the buck would sit between 70 and 90. Just a tad too far.
I eventually had the buck and doe run off and figured it was over. They were now in the wide open and I only had a couple of small pine trees to cover myself. To my surprise I lost track of the doe, but up popped the buck within range. I didn't have time to grab my rangefinder. As you will read not ranging cost me on a couple of shots this year and made me remember that the small things make all the difference.
There he stood slightly quartering to me. I was at full draw and estimated him at 30. I held my spot , released my arrow, and over his back it went. I was crushed. I quickly realized this buck was under 20 yards. I felt confident in the shot and it flew true, I had simply estimated my range wrong. Great two shots so far and nothing down. I continued to hike and hike and located more antelope. It was great to see as the antelope population in this area had been down, but was looking on the up and up. I was unable to close the distance on any more antelope. This wasn't all bad as temps were in the mid 90's and taking care of any animal would be tough.
I headed back towards camp and on the way was met by Kirk. We got back to camp and settled in for a bit. After relaxing we got ready and headed back for the afternoon. We headed back to the same general area, but didn't turn anything up.
We were later joined up with Todd again. The next morning we headed to another area. I set up my MT decoy and began to call. I wasn't hearing anything, but still held onto hope the elk were there. eventually a long ways away I thought I may have heard a bugle, but didn't think anything of it. I headed back to the pick up point. On the way in right at daylight we spotted some antelope by the area I was dropped off at. They soon spotted me and took off.
We all met back up and Todd had an encounter from rifle range so we finally found the elk. What surprised me is what I thought might have been a bugle actually turned out in fact to be just that.
We went back into the same area and continued to get into the elk. We finally got into them every time we were going in. Just what I was hoping for. Now that they were located it was time to get the job done and have it all come together.
We continued to pursue the same elk for a few days. We finally got eyes on a few spikes. Todd and Kirk began to call and they started to come. I was set up and waiting with the wind in my favor. After a very lengthy sit I began to see one of the spike's antlers appear. This time I had ranged in the area he was coming and it was a mere 20 yards. All he needed to do was step up and he was mine. He got to where I could just see the tops of his eyes and never came further. He eventually worked towards another spike, and never presented a shot.
Shortly thereafter a few turkeys began to work our way. Kirk wanted to punch a tag so we first tried to voice call them and they slowly started our way. I thought what the heck and tried calling them with my Mistress diaphragm. It worked and they began to get closer. They got within 30 yards and Kirk had a near miss low.
I was down to one day left and Todd had to head back home. Kirk and I went in hoping for the best. It was pushing towards evening and last light. We had bulls in a couple of directions. One specific bull was separate from the others, which was obviously one of the herds satellite bulls.
He began to come our direction, but with all of the bugling going on in the direction of the herd he never quite made it to us. I was kind of to the point where I wasn't sure if it was going to happen. Kirk kept me going and I was very thankful he was there. We pressed on and tried to get to a viewing point, where we might get a look at the herd bull finally. With his bugle it made him sound like a very mature bull. You never quite can tell until you get your eyes on them.
Finally they came out into the open. We never did see the herd bull, but did get a good look at all of the others with him. There was approximately 6 to 8 bulls in the area. While looking things over Kirk began to cow call. The bulls were now going full force with their bugling. Two raghorns were in the back of the pack and began to work our direction. As I was watching the raghorns I overheard my brother whisper my name. He pointed down below me and I couldn't see anything.
Kirk continued to cow call and a bull let out a bugle right below me. Very shortly a very nice 300 class 6x6 started to appear. We were positioned above the elk and had a good wind in our favor. I couldn't believe just the night before I was dreaming of getting my chance at any elk and was blessed enough to possibly kill a great archery bull. The bull was coming on a string and even had a great 320 class bull behind him now jogging our way.
It was now the moment of truth. The bull continued in the direction of the calls and was now working up hill and reading the script the way you see on TV. The bull was working perfect. In my haste I forgot to range around me. This was a huge mistake. The bull stopped for a second and I was already at full draw. I estimated him at around 40 yards. Well within my comfort zone. I put my pin where it needed to be and let it fly. Missed low. I later found out he was closer to 55 yards. Amazingly the bull only ran a little ways and appeared to go further out than my last shot. I wasn't sure about my first arrow other than I was low. This time I knew he had to be at 50. Nope just over his back. The bull was so much in the rut he offered one more shot. This time I knew he was further yet. There was a few branches between us, but I was comfortable with my lanes. Nope hit a branch. The bull stayed in the area, but would not come in.
To this day I still don't understand why I didn't range around me. Every time I set up for a calling situation the first thing I do is range different areas. Why I didn't this time I still don't know. Had I remembered that small step I know I would have killed my bull. I'm not embarrassed or ashamed I missed my bull three times and it would be just as easy to say I just missed once and the bull ran off. It's all apart of learning each season. I now have gained valuable information that will help me out next time. One thing I can tell you is that I was comfortable with everything as the adrenaline didn't kick in until the bull was well out of range and on his way. I will say I did get flustered after the first shot and had time to range for the second shot I just blew the opportunity.
This above scenario is what I live for and love about archery. With a rifle it would most likely have been a slam dunk, but archery there is a lot that gets taken into consideration. This all goes back to where I mentioned before about remember the small things. I have gotten to the point especially after this last season that I just simply have to range before I shoot. I was fortunate enough that I didn't wound anything, but that may have been a possibility. I'm confident in my shooting abilities I just need to take that extra time to make sure I have my range. Lesson learned.
The next morning Kirk and I went back to the same spot as I had to leave my arrows behind as it got too dark to see. Upon returning I found my arrows and all were clean misses. Back to square one. On the way out we could hear the herd, but I had to head back home as my time was up. We finally were able to lay eyes on the herd bull we had only previously heard. He had a very distinctive bugle and finally showed his face. He was an awesome 350 to 360 class 6x6. I can only hope he made it through rifle season.
On the way out the antelope herd that had been hanging in the area were bedded down in a pretty good stalk-able position. I was able to belly crawl right into the herd. There were two bucks in the herd with both appearing to be well into the P&Y book. I began to scan the herd and found one of the bucks. There was a tree just beyond him at 50 yards. I couldn't go any further as I was right in the mix of them all. I got to my knees, got to full draw, and they stood. I held my pin on the buck and just missed from taking hair off of his back. I'm not sure if he ducked my arrow or not but it all felt right. To say I had a good start to archery elk season is an understatement. I may not have arrowed what I wanted, but I gain invaluable experience and can't wait for next year.
With all that excitement I packed up and headed home. After getting home I was excited to start chasing deer again. Before the fall I picked up a new rifle, a .270 Tikka and added a Vortex Viper 4-16 x 44. I was excited once again to start rifle hunting. I knew of some good areas holding some great whitetails and decided to leave the bow at home this year.
I headed to a few areas I hit before and had one buck in mind from last year I was looking for. I was unable to turn him up, but did locate three other bucks that were very nice with one that looked to be in the mid 150's. The first time I came across these bucks two of them both well into the mid 130's and bigger I was unable to close the deal. I returned with just one day left to get it done. Our daughter was due in not too long so time was short towards the end of the year. Once I got to where I saw the deer last I was excited as no one else was in the area. This was soon ruined as I watched a pickup drive on a closed road to where I was headed.
My hunt was ruined by two hunters that decided to cheat a little. This isn't the first time this has happened to me and definitely won't be the last, but it gets old. I let the landowner know about my run in with them. I wasn't able to get a good look at the individuals or their vehicle and I left it at that. It was a disappointing end to a tough season, but I can't wait for next year. I'm already gearing up for a fantastic spring bear season and am making sure to put in for spring turkey. I was a little spoiled out east where the turkey tags were guaranteed and not a limited draw. After my elk hunt there wasn't much for highlights, but that's how it goes sometimes.
I just recently moved once again and now have 10 acres to shoot my bow on. I literally have no excuse as I can shoot everyday. I'm excited for the prospect of getting horses once again and setting up my own personal archery range. Although it wasn't a season of filling tags that's ok in my book. I got to spend valuable time with family and friends once again as well as learn from mistakes made. My season is not finished though as there is now an extended late season cow hunt left.
I'm not sure if I'll make it out, but things are looking up come January. Hopefully I will have an update on that in the near future and a full freezer. As always shoot straight and aim small. Here's a few photos to end on.