The last time I killed a big game animal with a bow was about 12 years ago, while hunting a whitetail in Oklahoma. That was the first deer, which happened to be a buck I killed with a bow.
I didn’t pull out the bow again until three years ago.
I hunted antelope outside of Gillette and arrowed one using spot-n-stalk, at 45 yards, but hit him in the shoulder and it did not penetrate. I was so used to putting a bullet right behind the shoulder that it cost me a buck and lot of heart-ache over not thinking differently when using a bow. When the rifle season opened I killed that same buck with one of my MOA Maximum handguns in 6x47 Lapua on opening morning. I had not hunted with my bow since that time.
Joel and I applied for area in the Bighorn Mountains west of Buffalo, WY. Joel is a good friend and member of the church where I minister. He has been a licensed guide since he was 19 years old, and he is closer to 50 than 40 years old. He taught me a lot about archery hunting for elk the five days we hunted for elk. I think he has forgotten more about elk hunting than a lot of people know. The area we spent most of our time in was dark timber with small meadows here and there. I prefer more open country and at time felt oppressed by all of the cover (I have since learned to appreciate it).
This year has been hot late and the elk have been quiet. This is troubling when your way of locating and hunting elk is the use of calls. Neither one of us was going to quit though, even though we had come up dry on a regular basis. The first couple of days we hunted we were calling in a bull only to have it spoiled each time by another hunter whose calls sounded something like a wounded elephant. That was frustrating, but that is what happens when hunting in public land.
We hunted Thursday-Saturday of the previous week and then this past Friday-Saturday. This past Thursday night while driving in we spotted a couple of cows and yearlings and remembered where they were. On Friday morning and evening we hunted in areas relatively close to where we made camp. On Friday night we decided to go where we had seen elk for out Saturday morning hunt. Within 10 minutes after leaving the truck we spotted a spike bull, 88 yards away. Joel motioned for me to get in front of a tree and he was going to try to call the bull in. As I was getting set-up my fanny pack lightly scraped the tree, and I was immediately busted. He left the scene. We went further in to the area and Joel bugled and got a quick response from two different bulls. The wind was wrong so now we were trying to get to a location to continue calling with the wind in our face.
It was very dry and it sounded like we were walking on dry cereal. We were close to the highway, and every time a vehicle approached we used the cover noise to make time. Once we got where we wanted Joel bugled again, and we got a response. Joel then moved about 50 yards behind me to call again. I was now in the process of lasering different trees to get my distances down. I usually practice out to 50 yards when I do shoot my bow, but this year, I had only practiced out to 40 yards and was hitting good, but 40 yards was still my max distance this year.
A short time after I get my distances down, Joel bugled again, and I could tell the bull had closed the distance to us by half. Now my heart started pounding, and I told myself to just relax and focus on the basics. One of the biggest mistakes bow hunters make is to wait too long to draw. The elk sees the movement, and you can add that to another missed opportunity. When I first saw him, I knew it wasn’t the spike, and I saw one main beam, so I knew he was a big boy. He quickly disappeared in the trees. Again, self-talk ensued to forget about that and focus on good shooting. He was walking, but making good time. After he disappeared the first time, I held my bow out but not drawn. It looked like he would come close to my 27 yard tree, which was at my One O’Clock. I saw him briefly again, and he again went behind more trees and into a slight depression. I knew it was time to draw now. I pulled the 70 pound bow back, wondering a little if I was doing it too early, but at his present speed it seemed right. My bow was pointing in the area just to the right of my 27 yard tree. Trying to determine time is difficult at best, and to my best estimate I was drawn for about 8 seconds, and wouldn’t you know it he stops right behind that 27 yard tree with just a small amount of his vitals to the right of the tree. For a brief millisecond I thought about trying to thread the needle, but waited knowing that it would be real easy to either shoot right and hit his shoulder or shoot left and hit the tree. So I waited. The bull was not looking in my direction, but in Joel’s general direction, trying to find that bull he intended to fight. All of this time, I never looked at his antlers, but focused on his vital zone. Finally, he takes one more step and I have a clear shot. The time from when he first stopped behind the tree to giving me an open shot was likely 3-4 seconds, but seemed longer. I don’t remember being weary of remaining drawn. Now I focused on the spot I wanted to hit, internally talking to myself, “30 yard pin,” “center it in my peep,” “finger in correct position,” “focus on the pin” I had a sub conscious okay that when everything is right I would begin pulling the trigger. I never saw the arrow fly through the air or hit the bull. I was focused solely on that front pin. At the “thud” the bull wheels around counter-clockwise and runs back in the general direction he had come from. As he spun I saw that over half of my full length arrow had sunk in where I had been aiming. I see him for about 40-50 yards or so then he disappears curving slightly to the right from his original course. A short time after I lose sight of him, I hear what I perceive as a crash. Silence for a brief period of time followed by what I was convinced was a “death groan.” Now I can hear nothing. Now I am looking behind me to see where Joel is.
Joel was just in the process of putting the binoculars up when he saw the animal whirl and heard the thud, but was not sure if that was my arrow hitting him the bull hitting something else.
Through hand signals I tell him I hit him where I intended to. Once he gets to me I catch him what happened. Now we wait for 45 minutes before we go to find him. At 8:00 we begin following his tracks (no blood trail) at 80 yards from where he was standing when I shot, we found him dead. I was very pleased that I had made a good shot, and now I realized just how big he really was. Joel is guessing he will go around 320-330. I had no idea until after I got home that it only takes 265 it make Pope and Young. We will green score him this week sometime just for giggles.
The bull was 29 yards away when I shot. Having pre-ranged the distances beforehand gave me confidence to know what pin to use when the moment of truth came.
I know this will be hard to top, but it was an amazing way to finish my first time to hunt elk with a bow. If it had not been for Joel’s guidance and skill in calling I would have never had this opportunity. To top everything off it was the shortest pack out of any elk I have ever killed, less than 400 yards to the truck. I am truly blessed.