After three years of rifle hunting the Bob Marshall with few elk the last two of those three years, my buddies and I switched weapons and drew a Missouri Breaks tag this year. We had some local intel from relatives, but arrived without having ever been on the ground there before.
While the regular hunters there told us there were WAY less elk than in prior years, we were still happy to be seeing elk every day. The elk were pressured and didn't talk much, but about once a day we'd hear a bugle that let us spot a bull and go in for a stalk. One of the most memorable was when we saw two big bulls sparring and got within 100 yards, nearly getting one of them to come in to my buddy before the other came after him again and they moved off without us getting a shot.
By Day Six of an 8 day hunt, we were getting nervous that we were going to be going home empty-handed. The weather was hot (80-87 degrees most days), and with the pressure the elk were mostly nocturnal and retreated into the deep timber where noone was having luck with them soon after first light. That morning, for example, we bumped a small herd with a nice bull only 150 yards from our tent just before light, then further down the ridge found a 340-360 class bull with a satellite and 6 cows who retreated into timber before sunup.
We made a large circle to get downwind of where the big bull had gone. We came in and got a cow mewing back at us; soon we spotted another hunter doing the calling! We backed out and went around, and a couple hundred yards further heard more mewing. Stillhunting in, once again we found another hunter. He told us he'd seen the big bull, and his 30-yard shot had been deflected by a branch. He said that there were five of them that had come in by boat stretched out in a line; we decided to give up on the area and returned to the ridge top. Soon, the other 5 hunters gathered down the ridge from us to wait out the heat of the day.
As evening approached and the other 5 went down to hunt again, we checked with them to make sure we did not hunt on top of them. They told us they were basically hunting out and around the area in front of us. Knowing spot-and-stalk was out with other hunters down there closer to the action (running down and cutting in on them would be rude!!), we decided to pick a likely funnel spot where elk they spooked back and forth may run to avoid having to cross a large open clearing.
The two hour sit was uneventful, except for being pinned down by two muley does that made me stay completely still, even when my legs screamed to adjust positions. It finally got so dark that I figured five more minutes, and I'd have to go get my buddy 40 yards away and head back.
With a crash, a bull suddenly emerged right in front of my and trotted across the 75 yard opening toward me. He stopped at about 30 yards, seemingly uncomfortable of being out in the open and wanting to look which way to go. I knew he could see me if I moved, but I also knew I only had seconds before he left so I eased the bow back; he didn't see me. Going through me usual anchoring checklist and sighting the pins, I was dismayed to see that it was dark enough that I had problems discerning the pins from one another. I focused, lined up what I thought was right, and squeezed the release.
The arrow flew, and I heard a crack (bone, I already didn't like this). The bull rolled and tried to get up immediately, but only his front end responded. I knew immediately what must have happened; I'd picked the wrong pin in the dim light and shot high, spineing him. I grabbed another arrow from the quiver at my side, drew and raised the bow to the sky to guarantee I centered the right pin. Bringing it back down, I blew the second shot through-and-through both lungs.
I always feel bad when I do not perform perfectly on game...have not made a bad shot with a bow in 15 years...but it does happen and all one can do is do their best to fix the situation.
He's not the biggest bull...I'd estimate 220-230 score...but I'm very happy with him as my first archery elk. We picked him clean and got about 250lbs of meat. The experience was a real rush; it took me a few minutes afterward to really recall what happened, as I'd been on autopilot from the moment he busted out.