November 04, 2010
Only one thing beats killing a big bull elk, and that's doing it with your best friend at your side.
Pete greeted us with a youthful exuberance that betrayed his 67 years. "Hey, as we were coming in from our morning hunt, we spooked a bull off the creek just up the trail from here. You guys ought to go check out that area!"
Each fall my wife, Mollie (right), and I travel from our home in Arkansas to Colorado to hunt elk. Here's why!
My wife, Mollie, and I had just returned from a supply run to the nearest northwest Colorado town when Pete and his friend Tony approached me. Already exhausted from a tough morning hunt in a ravine far from camp, I found myself laboring to reach Pete's level of enthusiasm.
Pete Deville and Tony Fisher, along with two other South Dakotans, had set up camp just across the trail from us. They were muzzleloader hunters with cow elk tags, while I had an either-sex elk archery tag.
As I thanked Pete and Tony for the sighting, my initial thought was, Yeah, but that bull is probably miles from here by now.
Still, as I shared the story with Mollie, I couldn't quit thinking about their unselfish act. "You know, if nothing else, we owe it to Pete and Tony to check out that spot. What do we have to lose?"
Mollie agreed with a simple, "Let's go!"
After first letting folks around my hometown of Texarkana, Arkansas, know that Mollie is "the best elk-hunting partner in the world," I jokingly tell them that she's worth a lot more in Colorado than in Arkansas. Most folks don't take me seriously. Mollie's femininity belies her one outdoor passion -- accompanying me on Colorado bowhunts for elk. Already my best friend of 37 years, she has also become my favorite hunting companion. And, she knows exactly what to do to help me call a bull in close.
That evening, we doggedly made the short trek to Pete's suggested destination (after all, we were just paying homage to an unselfish act). Upon arrival, we walked to the base of the nearest hill, eased 15 yards into the edge of the dark timber, sat on a log, and made a single cow elk call.
One bull answered, then another, and another, and Mollie and I stared at each other in disbelief. As the sun disappeared behind the mountain, taking the last remnants of shooting light with it, we resolved to abandon our "faraway elk hole" and return the following day. Before daybreak the next morning, we carefully ascended through deadfalls. We had decided to move farther up the mountain before attempting a cow call. My fear that the area had been vacated was soon relieved as three bulls again responded to our first call. After determining the bulls' locations and checking the wind, we eased toward the bulls that seemed to present our best chance.
A southeasterly wind protected us from two of the bulls, while the third was directly downwind. As we began closing the gap, the bugling became less prolific. At one point, we seemed to be closing in, but when we set up for a possible shot, the bulls went completely silent.
Suddenly, we heard crashing timber off to our right. Apparently, the downwind bull had moved in silently and scented us. He was gone in a heartbeat. It was time to regroup. I waved for Mollie to join me, as she always sets up well behind me.
We noted the direction of the last bugling bull and headed toward him. Moving through the timber, we tried all the cow calls in our arsenal -- Mollie's voice, a reed call, a squeeze call. Still no answer. Was he still there?
With Mollie 25 yards behind me, we crept along silently, listening. Then, to my horror, I stepped on a stick, causing a sharp pop. Amazingly, the bull responded with a low, soft bugle. He was still there!
I signaled Mollie, and we immediately began a territorial challenge. She picked up a dead limb and began raking a spruce tree as I brought out the grunt tube and diaphragm call. Aggressively, we bugled, chuckled, raked, stomped, and yelped. A switch in strategy and we had the bull's full attention. The hunt was on.
He was close and coming. Nothing compares to the overwhelming excitement of a close encounter with a bugling bull. The deep, almost deafening tone echoing through spruce and aspen, and the spirit-like, silent movement of a 700-pound animal, is magical. It seems as if the sound is simply floating, unconnected to any earthly being. It is as mesmerizing and enchanting as it is exciting.
As we positioned for the shot, the bull suddenly stopped his advance. We could not see him in the thick timber, but he clearly was moving away. We still had the wind in our favor, but something was wrong. Was he a small bull and not interested in an encounter? Was he backing off so he could circle and wind us?
Again, we regrouped. The bull still responded to my calling but was now more than 100 yards away. We waited for his next move. After several minutes, we realized the bull was no longer distancing himself. We now assumed that he did not want to give up his mountain to the would-be challenger.
"Let's really put the pressure on him," I whispered. Mollie agreed. Once again, we moved toward the bull, only this time my bugling and chuckling would be less aggressive.
As we closed the gap, the bull instantly answered my every challenge. I couldn't finish my bugle before he defiantly countered. We were really close, and this time he obviously wasn't going anywhere. Still, we couldn't see him.
I know he's there, I thought. But where?
Surveying the area, I picked what looked to be a good ambush spot. Mollie, behind me and to my right, began raking aggressively. Immediately, I noticed a young spruce tree swaying back and forth 60 yards out and could hear the sound of antlers ripping tree bark.
Realizing that Mollie could not see the swaying spruce tree, I got her attention and pointed in the elk's direction. Excit-edly, I made out the words, "He's right there!" as silently and as vividly as possible. She acknowledged and continued raking. The bull moved away from the tree he was destroying and came into view. The "spirit" did really exist and had a nice set of antlers atop a large body.
My heart raced as he stopped briefly to hook another small tree. Then he began a slow, swaggering walk toward Mollie's location -- a journey that would bring him a mere 19 yards from my kneeling ambush spot.
Finally seeing him, Mollie stopped raking and remained motionless. The silence seeme
d deafening as the bull continued his deliberate approach. Picking a small opening ahead of him, I drew my bow.
As the bull paused to step over a log at that very spot, I released the arrow, and only the white fletching remained visible as the bull spun and thundered off. Mollie immediately began cow-calling in order to slow the mortally-wounded bull.
"Listen for him to fall," she instructed, as the bull quickly vanished into the dark timber. The 6x5 bull did not go far, and as we approached the beautiful animal, we celebrated like two young kids.
When we reached the bottom of the hill with the last load of meat, Mollie gave me a much-needed reprieve from the six hours of skinning, butchering, and packing by walking back to camp for the ATV. I crashed in the shade of the mountain and let the events of the day flood my thoughts.
Two fellow hunters had unselfishly pointed the way. My wife and best friend had participated in the success and shared the joy. We had put all of our hunting skills and knowledge to work on one hunt. And we had taken a nice bull on public land. Wow! What a beautiful place. What a fantastic day. What a special feeling.
I thanked God for the blessing and selfishly prayed for elk hunting in Heaven once my days on earth were done. For a brief moment in time, all was right in the world. Author's Note:
My hunting equipment included a Mathews Ultra 2 bow, Gold Tip arrows, and Steel Force two-blade broadheads. The author and his wife are diehard elk hunters from Texarkana, Arkansas.