The following is a detailed description of a successful archery elk hunt. It is a lengthier read but depicts many details of the adventure leading up to the filling of my 2019 elk tag:
This day in the elk woods started out slow since every bull tag in camp had been filled. After catching a few extra hours of sleep and filling our bellies with a large breakfast. A couple of guys and myself set out to glass for black bears. We hiked in a short distance and set up looking at 2 large north facing valleys. From the bottom floor, these valleys climbed up in elevation with thick scrub oak, scattered aspen groves and dark timber towards the very top of the range. Elevations in this area range from 7,200 feet to 8,700 feet above sea level. Unbeknownst to me is that I would be covered in 18 inches of snow chasing elk in this same area just over 2 weeks from this day. We spent a little over an hour glassing from the position when we decided to move locations.
Since I had a cow elk tag, the guys dropped me off on the east side of the ranch with a plan to meet up around 3pm at a set location about 1.5 miles away as the crow flies. With the wind in my face, I began walking northwest towards some of the dark timber. My walk was slowed considerably as I had to make my way through blow downs and a thick oak brush area. Yet, it only took me 15 minutes before I was in the middle of a herd. I had an elevated position above the herd as they were moving below me at distances ranging from 35- 60 yards. I moved slowly through the thick timber trying to find a clear lane to place my arrow through. It was very dark in this area and the ground was well worn making my footsteps silent as a moved between the trees in the soft dirt. Between their movement and the thick brush that lay between me and a my quarry, I was unsuccessful in finding a shooting lane before they moved on down the mountain. I trailed the herd for half a mile, but as any elk hunter will tell you, it is impossible to catch up to elk.
I spent the next 2 hours slowly making my way through the thick pines. There was fresh elk sign everywhere I looked. Many trails had up to 6 inches of lose dirt on them as this was a high traffic area for these animals. I slowly made my way down the mountain and at some points found myself sliding down because of the steep terrain. The game was who would see each other first: the elk or me. Through those two hours, the elk went 3 for 3 on those battles. 2pm found me working my way up a thick brush hillside. Three weeks later I would be packing out a bull up this same hillside and would be regretting that decision due to the heavy snows that would eventually hit the area. As I crossed an open gully, I heard some brush crashing about 150 yards in front of me. With the wind still out of the west, I quickly made my way to the thicket where the noise had originated from. I made a few cow calls and sure enough a very large bull emerged from the thicket. This was one of the largest bulls I had seen all season. He presented a 35 yard shot to which I made a perfect pretend archery shot on him as he made his presence known through a small window in the low level scrub oak. As quick as he appeared, he disappeared back into the brush. I made my way through this thicket hoping the bull had a few female friends with him, but my search was unsuccessful.
I made it to our rally point right at 3pm. I waited 10 minutes under the shade of a pine tree before I started making plans of my own. Farther to my west was the valley where yesterday Stephen and I had been in the middle of a large herd, and while I was waiting there for the guys, the bulls were bugling their heads off. My next move was a very poor communication move, but I was in the business of hunting elk and not waiting. My phone had just died along with my satellite texting device. I did have a SOS emergency beacon so there was hope if an emergency happened. I was only 3 miles from the camp and would be hunting my way towards the camp, so off I went. You can’t kill an elk if you ain’t hunting elk.
I moved half a mile down the valley keeping to the shadows and thick areas on the mountain side. I was spotting elk on the opposite hillside and knew that is where I needed to end up. My best plan of action would be to hunt downhill while the afternoon winds were coming uphill in the valley and then hunt back up the mountain side as the winds cooled off and fell down the mountain. After some crawling, sneaking and tumbling, I had made it undetected to the valley bottom. I was working my way through a wallow (an elky term for mud bathing area), and as I was about six inches into the mud, a cow elk began to run straight towards me. I was in the shade of the mountain and she had the sun in her face. I was fully exposed in the middle of this wallow but she would not be able to see me until she was 20 yards away. Unfortunately, I could not move fast enough to nock an arrow before she decided that she did not need a mud bath. Just imagine yourself stuck in the mud with a wild animal running towards you and can understand what I was feeling in that moment. Very comical if you ask me.
It was still early in the afternoon, so I worked my way farther down the valley keeping the wind in my face. I pushed my way through the thick creek bottom as I could keep myself just low enough on the bank to stay out of sight. I was in the middle of a large thicket of pine trees with the east facing hillside to my left. It was dense and filled with scrub oak. I heard some branches breaking ahead of me so I dropped down to my knees and readied my bow. Less than a minute later a bull showed himself at 25 yards. He was an old 5×6 bull (11 pointer for you Texans). He closed the distance to 15 yards and was going to continue walking past me, but a distance bugle changed his path. This 5×6 did not like that another bull had just bugled in his valley and he quickly changed his course in checking out this other bull. His new course went right through me. The 5×6 bull began closing the distance. 12, 10, 8 yards and getting closer. He stopped about at just under 2 yards from me. No trees or brush separated us. He then let out a bugle and stared at me for 20 seconds. I was eye level with his belly. I could hear his deep breathing and could see his chest expanding with every breath. He had some slobber coming out of his mouth which was a result of his bugle he just made. I was doing my best to not burst out in laughter. He looked puzzled as to what exactly I was, but he had other things on his mind as he continued on his path to go check out the other bull.
I followed this bull for a few minutes, but soon felt a wind change and knew it was time to change my plans. I backtracked to the wallow where I had been stuck earlier and followed a trail taking me to area where I had spotted the herds of elk a couple hours earlier. As I snuck up the narrow trail, the mountainside began to erupt in bugles and cow chatter. The trail forked and to my left was an open aspen grove and to my right was a scrub oak thicket. I stayed right and slowly walked with my eyes peeled on the brush ahead of me. I began to see elk moving in front of me at 20-40 yards. This area was too thick for a shot so I continued on the trail hoping to find a clearing ahead. At this point, I had nocked an arrow as to not miss out on any shot opportunity that might arise. I was literally surrounded by elk at this point. The elk in front of me stayed on a lower trail so I moved above them just slightly and found myself in Aspen grove surrounded by a large scrub oak thicket. At this point, I had 6 different bulls bugling all around me and could see elk running around me at 60+ yards. There was some smaller trees in the opening in front of me but I knew that I would have a clear shot out to the brush line. I had been in my spot at the edge of this thicket for only a minute when I saw movement coming from the thicket into the opening. I quickly spotted a cow with a very nice 6×6 bull in chase right behind her. They appeared at my 1 o’clock position at 50 yards and were headed straight towards me so I quickly came to full draw on my bow. The bull was chasing her hard and she was closing the distance to my location fast. She was now just 20 yards away and still coming straight towards me. Once she closed the distance to under 10 yards, I begin to lean to my right to take a frontal shot once she cleared an aspen that was just 3 yards in front of me. At the last second, she turned and bumped that aspen tree. With my finger already on the trigger and my mental shot sequence completed, I found her shoulder as she was sprinting by me and made the shot. From when I first saw the cow to when I released the arrow was only 6-7 seconds at most. Things happen quick in the elk woods.
After I had released the arrow on the cow, she immediately turned and headed back to where she had first appeared out of the thicket. The bull still in full chase ran by me at 5 yards and followed the cow. The cow only made it 20 yards before she started heading downhill. I heard her fall maybe 100 yards down the mountain before the brush caught her. The bull stopped and looked at her for a couple seconds then proceeded the chase of another female. No elk knew I was there or was aware of what had just happened. Knowing my arrow had been well placed, I quickly found it buried in the ground with the fresh smell of lung blood coating the arrow. I hiked over to where I last saw the cow and saw her piled up in a large bush just down the mountain side. Upon inspection, my shot placement was exactly where I had instructed my previous hunters from the weeks before on where to aim on there elk. At this point, I finally began to get the shakes as the adrenaline began to hit me pretty hard. During the whole shot process, I had been calm, cool and collected and never once felt nervous, but now that the job had been completed the nerves finally set it. I great feeling to have after a very successful bow hunt.
The next 90 minutes consisted of me wrestling the elk to keep my meat from getting dirty. The slope was at such an angle so that when I removed a leg from the carcass, the elk would lose a hold on the brush and would slide down a ways. Once I had taken every piece of meat of the elk, I had moved about 25 yards down the mountainside. A very rewarding yet exhausting job. I quickly deboned all of the meat and stored in in my meat bags. Once I had all of the meat stored safely I laid out all of my gear to run through a check of equipment. Once that was completed, I began the process of loading up my pack. First loading half of the meat in between my frame and my bag. Once that was strapped down, I proceeded to load the other half in my bag followed by the rest of my gear and of course my bow. Standing up was a challenge, but once up I began the slow trip down the mountain. Last light had just left as I began my trek down so my eyes quickly adjusted to the darkness. Because of the weight of my bag and the slope angle, I could not walk down the mountain so in turn I just slid down the whole way. After 45 minutes of doing that, I finally reached the valley floor and began my way to the nearest road. Tired, dehydrated and bleeding made me very excited to make it to flatter country.
Not expecting a ride, I decided to just slowly start making my way back to camp. My hope was that someone would happen to drive down the road and would give me a ride, but unfortunately luck was not with me in those regards on that day. For the next 1-2 hours(remember, I didn’t have my phone so I don’t know for sure how long the last part of my trip was), I walked looking at a multitude of stars and listened to coyotes and elk bugles. There truly is no feeling like feeling the weight of a successful hunt. I thought of many memories and past unsuccessful hunts and enjoyed every step I was taking. I arrived back to camp quite hungry and thirsty and very ready to get my pack off of my back. The rest of the guys showed up thirty minutes later and we enjoyed a late night filled with stories of elk failures and successes. Just another day in the elk woods.