4 Lessons Learned from Bowhunting Roosevelt's Elk
I could see the white tips of the bull’s antlers getting closer as he neared an opening in the thick brush. He was coming in so fast, that I had little time to set up and range some landmarks. When the bull hit the opening, I came to full draw. He caught the movement of the bow and hesitated. I guessed the yardage at 40, and released the arrow. The bull bolted, and I watched my arrow fly harmlessly into the brush below the elk.
Lesson Number One: Roosevelt’s elk are big, and they can look closer than they really are as a result. Be sure of the range before releasing an arrow.
Lesson Number Two: Draw your bow when the bull can’t see you.
The Pope and Young Club recognizes three species of elk in North America — Rocky Mountain, Tule, and Roosevelt’s. The Roosevelt’s elk is the largest of the subspecies. Due to a steep decline in their population in the early 1900s, Theodore Roosevelt established Olympic National Park in Washington State to protect the elk and enable the herd to eventually grow into the huntable populations that we enjoy today. Thus, it was only fitting for these elk to thereafter be known as “Roosevelt’s” elk.
The above-mentioned hunt took place in September 2014. I was hunting the famous “Sixes” unit along the Oregon Coast with Ron Hofsess of Avery Mountain Ranches. Ron is a semiretired logger who has lived and hunted in that area all his life. He has built many of the service roads on the thousands of acres that he has under lease, and he knows the area like the back of his hand. The area is a mixture of Douglas fir trees that have been managed for decades for their timber value, and meadows and pastures where the landowners graze herds of cattle. The cattle have free range over the entire area, and they are often found with the elk. On several occasions, we had cattle spook and stampede toward the elk, ultimately ruining our stalk.
During my hunt in 2014, we were after a 300-inch-plus bull that had been infrequently visiting a wallow Ron was monitoring with trail cameras. On the last night of my hunt, we saw the “wallow” bull 100 yards away as we watched him from the pickup truck. Once the bull left with his harem of cows, Ron hatched a plan. He knew where they were going, and before long I was watching the bull herd his cows in a meadow that was surrounded by thick timber. Try as we might, we could not get closer than 100 yards of that bull. Eventually, we ran out of light as my hunt came to an end.
September 2015 found me again hunting with Ron. This time we were chasing a 7x7 bull that we had glassed one evening before dark. The plan was to get between the elk and their bedding area, and only to rely on calling if absolutely necessary to get the bull into bow range.
We could hear the bull bugling in the meadow below the clearing, so we slowly crept in that direction while keeping the wind in our faces. Ron held back and urged me to slowly work my way forward. The bugles were getting louder. The bull was getting closer, and I started to see flashes of brown in the trees below me. His cows were coming ahead of him. I was in the open, and I was concerned that the cows would spot me before the bull got within range.
Once I lost sight of the cows in the timber below me, I crept closer to the edge of the timber where I could tuck into some cover. I was feeling good about my setup, when suddenly I saw antler tips coming over a rise in the clearing about 50 yards away. I was waiting for the bull’s body to come into sight so I could get the range, when the timber below me suddenly exploded with cow elk running behind me. The bull quickly reacted to the chaos, and he retreated back down the hill into the thick trees. I had gone too far forward, and the cows that got behind me had caught my wind.
Lesson Number Three: Always monitor the wind and the location of the cow elk during your stalks, so they don’t get downwind before you’re able to get a shot off.
A couple of days later, while glassing from one of our vantage points, we saw the same bull and his cows enter a block of timber. After a short drive and hike to follow, we were unable to get in front of the herd, so we had to rely on calling the bull back to us. The wind was in our favor, and it wasn’t long before Ron had the bull fired up. In fact, by my count, he had four bulls answering him. We cautiously pressed forward, but after my last blunder, I was mindful about not getting too far out in front of Ron.
We slowly pressed on until I could hear the brush breaking directly in front of me. I stopped and waited with an arrow nocked. Soon, I was staring at a raghorn bull at less than 20 yards. After a short staredown, the bull ran off and the timber grew silent. The herd must have smelled us or saw us, and quietly slipped away.
Lesson Number Four: When a bull is thrashing a tree, get aggressive and head directly at him, only stopping when the noise stops.
Another great hunt had come to an end. It would be two years before I could return to hunt for one of Teddy’s elk with Ron. I was determined to learn from my past failures and make my third time a charm.
During the first afternoon of my 2018 hunt, Ron called a spike bull to within 40 yards of us.
The next morning, we awoke to rain and fog. The fog was slow to lift, so Ron decided we should check some trail cameras before stopping to eat lunch. He had built a few food plots in some areas that the elk liked to frequent, and he had placed some trail cameras in each of the plots. When we checked the cameras in the first plot, they revealed that a good 6x6 along with several cow elk were frequently enjoying the chicory and brassicas that Ron had planted. After a short truck ride to the next plot, Ron got out and walked over to one of the cameras. This plot was in another great location at the base of a small mountain covered in thick timber. However, the cattle were competing with the elk for the lush, green growth in the plot.
I was standing near the truck watching Ron check his camera, when a loud bugle broke the silence. Ron hollered, “Get your bow!”
Soon we were wending our way into the timber in the direction of the bugle. To say that it was thick would be a gross understatement. The timber consisted of a mixture of large fir trees, poison oak brush, waist-high ferns, Spanish moss, and blowdowns. We entered the timber on a well-used elk trail that facilitated quiet navigation through the thick mess. Ron pointed to a high spot in the trail and told me to set up there. He walked several yards behind me to a point where I could no longer see him. I nocked an arrow and looked for a shooting lane. It was so thick, the elk would have to run past me on the trail that we walked in on in order for me to get a shot.
The bull was above us on the mountain, and he answered every one of Ron’s bugles. After a few minutes, the bull moved closer, but it was evident that he wasn't not going to come down that trail. I could not see Ron, but I decided to be aggressive and move in the direction of the bull. Ron followed behind me, and kept calling to keep the bull interested. I kept checking the wind. The brush was still wet from the rain, and although the sun was starting to shine, the thermals had not started to blow our scent up the mountain. The bull was not moving closer, but it was obvious from his bugles that he was coming down the mountain — probably in an effort to get our wind. We kept moving toward him.
After we had advanced to a location about 100 yards from the bull, he started thrashing trees and really screaming. Finally, we breached the bull’s comfort zone. The bull could no longer tolerate Ron’s disrespect, and he started coming in our direction. I was standing on a game trail, and I began to scour the timber ahead of me for a glimpse of the bull. No luck. I had moved a couple of steps closer, when I caught movement in the timber. There was a muddy bull elk staring directly at me. I did not move, but evidently the bull had already seen me moving and turned around and started to head down the mountain. I had blown my chance!
As I lost sight of that bull, I suddenly caught movement above him. It was another, much bigger bull, and he was heading my way! I slowly lifted my rangefinder and ranged an open area 30 yards away that would provide me with a good shooting lane. There was a huge fir tree between me and the bull. I thought to myself, When he passes behind that tree, I will draw and wait for him to walk into the shooting lane. It worked perfectly, and I was at full draw when he passed behind the big tree. But instead of walking into the shooting lane 30 yards away, he turned and started walking up the mountain. I had no shot. The brush was too thick. As he kept walking, I looked for an opening ahead of him and found one the size of a football. He walked into the opening and stopped, slightly quartering to me. I could see his muddy hide through that small window in the brush. I had no time to range him, so I guessed the range to be 45 yards, steadied my pin on the muddy hide, and triggered the release.
I heard the arrow hit as the bull bolted and crashed through the brush. Ron was several yards behind me and couldn't see the hit. The shot felt good, but I wasn't certain. As I was whispering my observations to Ron, we heard a loud crash…then silence…then another loud crash. “He’s down!” Ron proclaimed. But until I found the bloody arrow, I still wasn’t sure. After a short wait while Ron retrieved our packs, we walked over to where the bull had stood and found the top half of my arrow covered in blood. The bull had gone only 50 yards before crashing to the ground.
I'm thankful to Mr. Roosevelt for his forethought and courage to take the steps necessary to preserve this great species of elk. It's hard to believe that these wonderful animals live and thrive in these rainforest areas. I had learned many lessons over the course of three hunts that ultimately led to my success. If you get a chance, I highly recommend hunting one of Teddy’s elk in the Oregon rainforests, and you'll be participating in one of the greatest conservation achievements in North America.
Author’s Notes: On this hunt, I was shooting a PSE Carbon Air 34 set at 66 pounds with Easton Full Metal Jacket arrows tipped with 100-grain G5 Striker broadheads. My bow was equipped with a Hamskea rest and a Spot Hogg sight. I used a Nock On release manufactured by Carter Enterprises. If you want to hunt Roosevelt’s elk in Oregon, contact Ron Hofsess at Avery Mountain Ranches at: (541) 404-7207, firstname.lastname@example.org.