August 09, 2023
It was pitch-black when we left the truck and started hiking along the ridge before dropping into the thick brush along the river. Our pace quickened when we heard a bugle in the dark, upriver from our position. There is just something about a bugle that makes you want to get into position or want to close the distance quickly, but my plan for that day wasn’t to be mobile, but rather to sit and wait, and hope the elk came to us.
Tim, who was running the camera on this hunt, climbed up the Millennium double ladder stand in front of me. It was still pretty dark, but the Eastern sky was starting to light up on the horizon. The ladder stand was made for two, but when both guys are over six-feet tall and in the 200-pound range, it gets pretty tight — especially when you add a camera and a recurve bow to the mix!
We had already guided some archery elk clients on bulls, and now it was my turn to finally go out and see if I could get some elk meat for my freezer. I had taken a cow elk the year before, and I would be happy to take any legal elk that showed up. Tim knew this, and he smiled in the dark when I whispered, “First one by us is the first one in the freezer.”
As I practiced drawing before hanging my Bear recurve in the tree, I realized that Tim and I kept bumping into each other. Consequently, I made a mental note to be careful to avoid making any excess noise bumping into him or his camera or monopod if an elk did come by.
Some of our clients had shot elk from this same stand, and the elk were starting to get wise to the setup. I was hoping the rut would keep the bulls a little off their game. The cows are usually so busy trying to stay away from the bulls they often miss things they would normally catch. On this particular morning, I was hoping two guys in a tree wouldn’t look suspicious at all.
My bow sported 40-pound limbs that made my setup roughly 45 pounds at my draw length. Most would say that is too light for elk, but the last nine elk I’ve harvested would disagree. I find that Fred Bear had the right idea on arrow weight as well. It still holds true, and that was 10 grains per pound of bow weight. My Easton Legacy shaft tipped with a Muzzy weighed in just over that, and I’d already arrowed a bull earlier in the year in Oregon with said rig. I was confident in my setup — all I needed now was for an elk to wander by.
As the morning progressed, nothing had come by what I thought was the perfect ambush for a morning hunt. What made me question my spot choice even more was a bull bugling off to the north that was obviously going to pass by a few hundred yards out of range.
I caught a glimpse of some bulls through the trees, but I knew they were definitely not headed in our direction. So, I decided to bugle softly in an attempt to sound like a young bull. I then threw out a few cow calls.
I couldn’t see the elk, and nothing responded, so I assumed we were out of luck. Experience has taught me that elk often sneak in without making a sound, so I stayed vigilant but also doubtful.
My first clue anything was even close to us was the click of a hoof hitting a rock. I lifted my recurve off its hanger as a bull stepped out of the brush. There was a small clearing in front of us, and the bull was scanning it and checking the wind, which was still in our favor.
You could tell the bull was listening and looking for the elk he thought should be close by. I mentally kicked myself for not having a decoy out in the opening, because I think it would have worked like a charm. The bull, not seeing anything, stayed in the brush but was now going to walk behind our stand. That’s when the rodeo started!
I was trying to turn around and find a hole between the ladder stand and the brush. Tim was trying to turn around with his camera.
Eventually, I found a small hole, but I knew the only way I could get drawn was to lean against my harness that was now way too tight as I kind of hit three-quarters draw. It was all I could get and it felt good, so I let fly.
My arrow flashed through the 20 yards of air separating me and the bull, and I saw it bury deep in the bull’s chest. Tim and I were both freaking out at our ridiculous good fortune of having a bull slip in quietly, not to mention the fact that we had both managed to turn around without either of us testing our safety harnesses. Within 20 seconds, we heard the bull crash in the riverbottom, at which point Tim and I excitedly crawled down from the stand.
The young bull was perfect. I had elk meat for myself, plus plenty to share. It had also been a quick, clean kill, and it really doesn’t get much better than that.
For more information, visit fredeichler.com, and don’t miss Fred’s new show, “Everything Eichler,” every Sunday at 12:30 p.m. on Sportsman Channel.