Clearing the Way: Misadventure and Success in the Elk Woods

The bull darted through the small saplings, stopped, and bugled. The magnificent roar echoed through the tall pine forest. The bull was only 50 yards away! I cow called once, and the bull headed towards my way, “glunking” with every step. At 30 yards, the bull stopped and bugled again. I realized this was the caliber of bull I was looking for. When the bull turned his head, I carefully and quietly backed out and left the area. In reality, I was scouting for a client and the hunt was a week away. As I made my way back to the truck I could hear the continual bugles of the bull. Hopefully, I would see this bull again.

The day before the hunt, my client from Indiana, Brian Stephenson arrived at mid-day. After settling into camp he and I headed out to scout and to familiarize Brian with our hunting unit. When Brian asked me what I had seen while scouting, I told him about the bull I had seen a week earlier. That evening we saw a few elk and heard several bulls bugling in the area we would hunt opening morning. I had learned earlier in the day that Brian had been on a few successful elk hunts, but I could tell that he was genuinely excited about this hunt. What I didn’t know was all that we would have to endure to have a successful hunt.

On opening morning Brian and I eagerly headed into the elk-woods. Our boots were dampened by the dew covered grass with every step. The morning air was cool, and I could see my breath as I prepared to make a locating bugle. Before I could bugle, a bugle sounded in the distance. With the truck still in sight, we hurried ahead to make a stand. In no time the bull was all over us, however, it was just a small five-point and we were not interested so we slipped away. As the morning progressed, several bulls started to bugle. We continued toward the area I had last seen the bull we were after. As we made our approach, I caught the movement of a herd of elk as they made their way up the opposing hillside. Sure enough, herding cows up the hill was the bull. I tried to call the bull back down the hill, but that does not work more times than not. At least I knew this particular bull was still in the area, and Brian had now seen the bull as well.

That evening we gave the area a rest and hunted another location. On the second morning of the hunt, Brian and I returned to the same location as the morning before. Again, we were unable to entice a bull worth taking close enough for a shot. However, two days in a row we saw the same big bull exiting a small drainage at the same location. So, on the third morning we set an ambush. We set up at the base of a hill, directly below a saddle where the big bull ventured each day. Eventually, we heard what we presumed to be the bull we were after. The bugling bull was within 200 yards and closing. I made a couple cow calls and the bull continued in our direction. Finally, the bull was within 80 yards, led by a cow, which was now in sight. The big bull bugled one more time. As the bugle faded into the morning air, I caught movement in the bowl behind me. I turned to see what was causing the ruckus. When I realized that a Mule deer doe was chasing a coyote I was amazed. The doe, determined to save its fawn, chased the coyote within three yards of me, right behind Brian, and of course, right toward the approaching bull. The big bull spooked and vanished into the timber; our ambush ruined. Stunned by the event, Brian and I sat down and tried to understand what had just happened. Although it was fairly early in the morning, the bulls had stopped bugling, so we headed back to camp.

Upon our return, our camp cook, Randy Servis, offered us some bacon and eggs, to heal our wounds. Randy too was amazed by our encounter with the coyote-chasing doe. Well, it was about to get crazy again. As we ate breakfast, we heard a bull bugle behind our camp, and the hunt was on. Quickly we stalked to within sight of the bull. We started to call to the bull, but before the bull responded elk scattered in every direction. In disbelief, I watched a local cowboy ride his 4-wheeler right through the middle of the herd of elk, scattering the elk into the thick timber. We returned to camp distraught.

On the fifth morning of the hunt Brian and I returned to the area we had been hunting. As we prepared our packs for the morning hunt, I offered a locating bugle and several bulls responded. However, all of the elk were headed out of the small drainage in the opposite direction, probably because the wind had shifted direction that day. Because of the shift by the elk we were far behind; nevertheless, we donned our packs and gear and started our pursuit. After following several groups of elk over “hill and dale” we finally caught up with one group, and quickly setup to call. We tried several stands, but were never able to call the bull into our position.

Although it was now late morning, there were bulls bugling all around us so we continued our pursuit. I was fairly sure that the elk were headed to the finger canyons of a large drainage to bed, so we attempted to get ahead of them. Before we reached the drainage, a bull bugled fairly close to us. The bull was running its harem on a flat, which was just above us. We made our way through the rust-colored ferns that covered the landscape to get within sight of the bull. Finally we could see the bull, and it was a shooter-bull! I tried a couple of cow calls, but the bull was hesitant to respond. We waited patiently for the elk to get in front of us then we moved to the opposite flank to take advantage of the wind. We were behind, but fortunately, the bull continued to bugle, which allowed us to monitor its position.

As we made our final approach, I could now hear two bulls just screaming. I turned to Brian and said “we are going to have to run a couple of hundred yards so that we can get in position in front of the bulls.”

“Whatever it takes, I’m game,” Brian replied.

At a full sprint we raced down the ridge and arrived just in time! Although we were both out of breath, we setup and started to call. It appeared that the two bulls had left their cows and were heading in our direction. Because of our position we really didn’t have to call, the bulls were headed to bed so we just waited. The first bull appeared below us and sauntered up the hill toward us. The bull, a large 5 x 5, stepped into a lane between two trees. I cow called and stopped the bull broadside at 40 yards. Brian, already at full draw, fired. We watched his arrow speed toward the bull. The arrow flew toward its intended target perfectly, but at the last moment hit a small branch on one of the trees between. The arrow fell harmlessly at bull’s hooves, and all we saw was hide and horns as the bull fled into the canyon below.

What seemed like minutes had happened in a split second, and now the second bull, bugling like mad, was coming toward us on the exact path as the first bull. The bull stopped below us, I cow called, and the bull continued toward us. I watched the bull move through the timber, which was fairly thick, but I knew that this was a bigger bull When the bull stepped into the same shooting lane, I cow called and stopped the bull in his tracks. It was the exact shot Brian had just taken; however, Brian had cleared the way with his last shot. Again, Brian was at full draw. He fired and we both watched as the arrow disappeared into the bull. The bull whirled and went down the hill towards the bottom of a finger canyon.

We waited approximately 45 minutes before pursuing the bull. After all of the misadventures we had encountered on this hunt, 45 minutes seemed like nothing. The bull went less than 100 yards. Finally, all of our hard work and patience had paid off. Brian’s Arizona bull grossed scored 342 BC points and is now displayed proudly in his trophy room.

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