DIY Archery Elk Hunt - 3

We came to the last large section of timber in the valley. The valley continued on for a few more miles, but it was very rocky beyond this timber patch with some patchy willows and grassy areas. This timber looked pretty good. The vegetation between the trees looked as green and lush as anything we had seen all week and it felt especially shady and cool. I let out a locator bugle and, as usual, heard nothing in response. I bugled again and added some chuckles at the end. My eyes lit up and I asked Matt, "Did I just hear what I think I heard?". He confirmed that we had heard a bugle and we debated a bit as to whether it came from above or further into the timber. We slowly eased into the timber staying at the same elevation. We were about 1/2 of the way to the top of the timber and the thermals were coming down the mountain in the cool morning. We got to an area that looked like a small avalanche had come through at some point taking out some of the smaller trees but leaving the largest trees. It was open enough to provide good shooting lanes and we decided to set up our Montana Decoy and do some calling. Matt found a spot above and to the left of the decoy and I set up above and to the right.

We were hunting the last week of the archery season in Colorado and I assumed that if there was a herd bull in the area, he would want to protect his harem of cows. I didn't want to bugle any more unless I knew I was extremely close to the herd bull knowing that he was just as likely to take his cows and leave the area upon hearing more bugling. I started some soft cow calling and we heard a bugle response right away. I continued to cow call and added some pleading estrus whines to the mix. It sounded like we were hearing more than one bull bugling but they didn't seem to be getting any closer. I stood up, put my backpack on and took a few steps down towards the decoy. I was going to grab it and tell Matt we should move up the mountain and get closer to the herd. Just then, a very close bugle ripped through the timber. I scrambled back to my post just in time to see a bull at the top of the open area we were in. He was looking in my direction and my first thought was that I had blown it and he had seen me move. After a few moments he looked away trying to find the cow he'd been hearing. I don't think he could see our decoy so I did my best to point my cow calls in the direction of the decoy. I couldn't see Matt from where I was hunkered down, and I assumed he would not have a shot unless I could get the bull to come down the mountain a few more yards towards the decoy. I tried every trick I could think of to get the bull to see the decoy including rolling rocks towards it and even throwing some small sticks.

After what seemed like an eternity, the bull began to slowly turn around to head back up the mountain from where he'd come. My first thought was, "Oh well – that was a great experience and at least now we know we have found some elk". Just then I heard a WHACK and saw the bull kick and run up the hill into some thick pines. I was so surprised for a moment that it took my brain a second to compute what had just happened. Luckily I remembered to cow call and heard the bull stop. Within moments I heard him fall and thrash around in the thick trees. Shortly after that he let out several death groans and I knew Matt had just killed his first elk!

When I got over to Matt, he had a wide-eyed look on his face. He was concerned about his shot placement but I assured him that his bull was dead just up the hill. I told him I thought he probably heart-shot it. Matt explained to me that when the bull first appeared, he drew his bow expecting the bull to take a couple more steps which would have brought his vitals into a shooting lane. But, as often happens, the bull stopped and Matt was stuck holding his draw for what seemed like forever. The bull was looking in his direction quite a bit so he didn't want to let down. He finally got a chance when the bull looked over in my direction. As the bull started to turn up hill, Matt had a small window to shoot between two trees at 33 yards and he obviously made it count! As we relived Matt's shot, a loud aggressive bugle erupted up the hill. I did some aggressive bugling and raked a tree with a stick hoping to get a chance to see the herd bull. I didn't want to shoot him at this point because I knew how much work we had ahead of us, but I would have loved to see him.

Matt killed the bull at about 10:30 am and after cutting it up, shuttling the meat and head to the bottom of the mountainside and shuttling the meat and head to our spike camp it was just getting dark. We loaded a little less than half the meat in our packs and put the rest in a garbage bag in the stream to cool. Then we hike the four miles down to base camp in the dark with our heavy packs loaded with meat and Matt carrying the head on top of his pack. We arrived at base camp at about 10:30 at night. The next morning we ran to town to get ice and have a good breakfast then headed back for the rest of the meat. On the way out our Eberlestock frame packs were loaded with meat bags full of bloody meat and as we popped out of some timber into a willowy river bottom Matt spotted a large bear about 75 yard up the trail. Luckily he headed for the timber and the wind was blowing from him to us. It's an uneasy feeling carrying that much meat knowing a hungry bear is nearby. We joked about who was the faster runner and sang silly songs to make ourselves feel a little better about the situation. We made it back to base camp around dinner time and had a nice evening around the fire reliving the whole experience. Sunday morning we headed back into the valley one last time to collect our bivy camp. We made it back to base camp around noon and spent the next few hours packing up camp, loading the truck and then we hit the road. Our wives expected us home on a schedule that meant we needed to leave camp exactly when we did. So killing the bull on Friday morning ended up being perfect timing!

During this week-long elk hunt we obviously didn't get to encounter nearly as many elk as we had hoped, but we made the best of the encounter we did have. We worked incredibly hard and kept after it. We only saw one other human the entire hunt and he seemed to be a hiker climbing to the summit of one of the 13,000 foot plus peaks in the area. We were lucky to have beautiful weather most of the hunt, although the unusually warm weather probably contributed to the lack of elk encounters. Every day was spent in some of the most beautiful country on earth with a great friend and hunting partner. As difficult as this hunt was and as few encounters as we had, I don't think I would change a thing!

Andy's Gear on this Hunt:

Andy Backus is a husband and father of two little girls. He grew up hunting whitetail deer in Wisconsin with gun and bow and over the years has been fortunate to hunt and explore most of the Western US states and Alaska. He plays soccer to stay in shape and also enjoys most other sports and outdoor activities. Andy is the Field Editor for Long Range Hunting Online Magazine and also manages the Long Range Hunting Store.