Every year there is a place in Montana where I apply for an archery permit because it has 75% draw odds so I can draw it and hunt with the rest of the crew. This is one of my favorite hunts during the year, as we are able to see elk and every once in a while be able to get within bow range. This is a public land hunt, but sometimes it can seem as if it were not a public land hunt. This year I invited a friend, Kevin, to come along on this hunt and put in for the same draw for a permit.
This year ended up a bit differently. We applied for the permits and then came the long wait. The months and weeks seemed to crawl by, waiting to see how our crew did with the lottery. One day, while on Facebook, I saw someone post that the permits had been drawn and were available to look at on the Montana Fish Wildlife and parks website.
I went to look and after a couple of minutes, my hopes were dashed. I ended up not drawing the elk tag. After a few phone calls and text messages, I found out the rest of the party had. Since I didn’t want to miss out on this hunt though, this would essentially make me the caller for this trip. * On a side note, I would end up drawing a cow tag for the same unit, but that tag would not be a priority during bow season.
Kevin (my friend who I had apply for the unit), Henry (my father-in-law) and I packed up the camper and Kevin’s truck to go see what we could find. We pulled into the spot late on Friday and got ready for the next day. That first night is always a restless one, with the all too familiar dreams of grandeur and excitement. The morning also came with the familiar feeling of grogginess from the lack of sleep.
This morning was one of a close call. We were in position for where the elk were heading when a couple of hunters walked into the elk and they split and we weren’t able to get
back into them that day. The one good thing was as we split up and walked back to the truck. Henry found the best dead head of a 6X6 I have ever seen. He initially saw just the top two tines sticking up out of the mud, but as he pulled, the antlers just kept coming! It was a neat find.
The next day we saw more elk, but no luck in slipping in for a shot. That afternoon started the rain, which would continue throughout the night and into the next day. We decided to pack up the gear and headed out since the rain was really coming down. The area we were in could become a giant mudhole and we could potentially get stuck in there until it dried out some.
The Week Long Trip
The next week at work was fast and furious as I was attempting to get everything done in four days that I would have to take care of to be gone for 10 total. Finally Thursday night rolled around. Kevin and I would be taking his camper out so we met at his house to get all of the final items ready for us to get on the road.
Once in Lewistown, we decided to check out a piece of private land that I had permission to hunt antelope on. This time there were antelope on it, so what was supposed to be traveling to our elk hunt quickly turned into an antelope hunt.
Kevin and I got my bow out and started to pull a sneak on. I ended up seeing a buck chasing a doe and they were not really paying much attention, so I got into the irrigation ditch and snuck in.
I kept as low as I could and eventually they turned broadside. The only issue, they were at 90 yards and I had no way of trying to get any closer. I knew we should get going, so I pushed it a bit and tried to belly crawl. Their eyes were too good and I ended up spooking them on to the neighbor’s property.
We loaded up and got ready for another 2 hour drive to get to our camp.
We arrived later to camp without a problem and began setting up for the week. Later that evening, Henry made his way into camp and gave us a hard time about not being out yet.
We hunted that Saturday and we saw elk, but it didn’t end with a shot. We talked about the plan for the next day and went to bed, ready to try and execute the plan.
The next morning we headed out and parked the truck. We moved to the top of the ridge and I let out a location bugle. To our surprise, three different bulls sounded off down the canyon. From this reaction, I figured it was going to be a good morning. We then split up from Henry and moved in closer.
As we got closer to where the bulls could be, I decided to adjust some gear. Kevin was new to bowhunting and all he had this year was a hiking backpack and with every step he took, it was making a swishing sound. I had him take it off in order to kill some of the noise we might make. He grabbed a few items and we moved on forward. We moved to the edge of a field and I put Kevin into a spot I thought would be perfect if the bull kept coming.
I moved off about 75 yards and set up my decoy. During this whole time the bulls were screaming bugle after bugle, getting us excited about what may be coming. I thought they were within about 150 yards and so I started cow calling since we heard a couple of cows in the mix. After a few minutes of calling, one bull seemed to be moving away , but the two other bulls were still bugling.
We decided the only way to get him to come in was to get closer to the action. We pulled the decoy and moved about 300 yards down the ridge to where the drainage we were on opened up to another drainage. I then set out the decoy and started cow calling again. While I was calling this time, after about every third call, I would hear what sounded like a hoochie mama from primos. Kevin and I talked about this for a moment and we decided that we should keep calling and that the primos call was maybe a hunter but hopefully they would stay were they were at. After about 10 minutes, the bull seemed to be moving further away again. This is when I went to desperation mode and I decided to rake the tree.
When I raked the tree, the bull lit back up and I started into my cow calls again. I sent Kevin down across the other side of the draw. I ended up cow calling a couple more times and then the surprise of the day happened. What we both had thought was a hunter calling using a hoochie mama, was actually a cow! She appeared over the ridge to our right. She saw the decoy and I called again and she started coming.
It was at this time I saw the bull, his antlers coming over the top of the ridge. From where Kevin was sitting, however, he couldn’t see him coming. I cow called one more time and he ripped off a bugle, which let Kevin know he was almost there.
It was just after this bugle, the bull saw the decoy (which I was sitting behind). Once he saw the decoy he lost his mind and he moved quickly toward the bottom of the draw and was 32 yards in front of Kevin. I saw Kevin draw and heard the bow go off and the great thwack the arrow makes when entering the body. The elk ran up the ridge a ways and then coughed out blood. I kept calling and he stopped one more time.
Kevin was jumping around with excitement and as he looked at me I signaled him to calm down and that I could still see him. I cow called one more time and he disappeared up over the top of the ridge.
I then packed up my gear and took my bow and strapped it to my badlands diablo dos pack. I moved across the draw and got up to Kevin. He was beside himself trying to decide what to do next.
From what I had seen I told we should wait about another 15 minutes and that we should go take a look at the arrow. We found the arrow in a bush and Kevin was worried as the broad head didn’t look like it deployed. I had him hand it to me and I opened it up, to which we saw it had blood and hair on the inside. This told me we probably were going to find the bull not too far away.
We moved up the hill to follow the blood trail (although it wasn’t where I last saw the elk). When we moved up to where he had coughed, there was a good amount of blood. So we kept moving. At the top of the hill, there was an insane amount of blood and I absolutely knew that the bull was close.
But for Kevin, he expected the bull to keep moving, as this was his first elk ever (and with a bow). As we approached the top of the hill, in a dip to the left I saw the bull upside down. Just as in the hunting shows, I ended tapping Kevin on the shoulder and pointing out his bull to him. It was at this moment he lost his mind.
The bull in the end ran about 200 yards but ended up only being about 100 yards away from the initial shot. Kevin had hit the main artery in the neck with his frontal shot (which we discussed a few months earlier about where to aim). I gave him my phone to take pictures with and I used my GPS to find where we left his pack.
We took a couple of pictures with Kevin and his bull and then we started to work. We tried to call Henry on the radio, but he didn’t respond.
From where he was located in relationship from the truck we determined to gut the elk, cut him in half and then go get the cart. The cleaning was probably the least bloody one we have ever had as most of the blood had come out of the neck. We cut between the third and fourth rib and moved the bull in to the shade. Just as we started heading up to the pickup Henry called and said to come pick him up.
We responded that he should come find us and we headed up to the pickup. We got the back half loaded in to the cart and headed back up to the pickup. Just as we were about a hundred yards away from the pickup, Henry saw us loading up the back half so he joyfully sat down and watched us load the back half.
He met up with us and said “Where’s the other half?”
We said down the hill a bit. He loaded up his pack and bow into the truck and we finished the pack out process for the bull.
After he was loaded up, we took him into the processor.
Things we did right:
Kept trying to get close in to the bull even while he is moving
Didn’t give threatening bugles after we figured he had cows
Using the decoy – this provided the bull the confidence when he got within the view of where he was hearing the calls.
Kevin was in a spot that the bull had to come through when he would see the decoy.
Things we could work on:
Making sure that we all had a radio – Kevin left his in his bag. Doesn’t help in that we split up at some point.
Don’t always assume that the calls being made are humans. Sometimes elk will sound funny or just like a call.
Keep working on calling. The more you practice, the more confident you can be at calling.