One elk in their first 40 minutes of Colorado elk bowhunting would be amazing, but two? That would be a "hunt of a lifetime.
This 6x5 herd bull was my first-ever elk, killed on my first-ever elk hunt.
ARMED WITH THOROUGH KNOWLEDGE of the elk herd's behavior, guide Jake Kraus led my father, Bill, and me on a trek up a dry, sandy riverbed in the hopes of reaching the herd's bedding area well ahead of the elk. This particular herd consisted of many cows and calves, a pair of spike bulls, and a 6x5 herd bull. They had been feeding in an agricultural field every morning before making their way east toward cover at daybreak.
As we crept farther into the cover, Jake suggested we split up to improve our odds of getting a shot. My dad remained on the south edge of the cover while Jake and I moved farther north to the point of the shrubs, where we settled in behind a bush and watched the herd through binoculars, hoping they would continue our way.
After several minutes the elk, led by a matriarch cow, made a hard right toward the riverbottom we had used for cover to reach our ambush location. With five full days to hunt, I wasn't too disappointed when the herd took a new direction. Although it meant I'd have to wait for another time to get close to one of these majestic animals, I was still soaking up every moment of this experience. After all, this was my first elk hunt, and I was already closer than I'd ever been before.
When the herd hit the trees along the river, they once again changed course and began walking east toward our location, but they were still more than 200 yards south of us. At this point I was even less concerned about getting a shot. Watching the 6x5 herd bull through my binoculars, I was fascinated as he licked his lips, tested the air, and dogged a cow with elevated interest.
Watching this behavior sparked another desire I had in this hunt -- to hear the legendary bugle of a bull elk at close range. As I strained to listen, I did not hear the bellow of a bull, but I did hear the piercing mews and chirps of the cows and calves.
After changing locations to avoid being trampled by the startled herd, my dad arrowed this cow elk at 40 yards.
In response, Jake reached into his pack, pulled out his cow call, and mimicked the cows with a short sequence of calls. I have no idea what Jake said to those elk, but whatever it was sparked their interest as the entire herd changed course and began walking straight at us.
Jake and I dropped to our knees behind the brush to prepare for a shot. Earlier we had discussed our expectations for the hunt, and since this was my first go at elk, I told Jake I would take the first legal animal to give me a good opportunity. With that conversation fresh in my mind, I handed Jake my rangefinder and asked him to relay distances to me.
After turning my knees to the right and resting my bow on my leg, I heard Jake whisper, "Seventy yards and heading straight at us." Slowly I attached my release aid to the loop and took a deep breath.
"Twenty-four yards," Jake whispered.
Impossible, I thought, as I had yet to see any elk. How could something so big be right on top of me?
Our Colorado father/son double truly qualified as a hunt of a lifetime.
Just then I saw the black nose of a cow move into view between the bushes off to my left, a stone's throw away, followed by another cow and a couple of calves. Sitting there on my heels with elk in plain sight, I was thinking: Here I am, 25 yards away from the largest animal I have ever hunted, from the first elk I have ever seen up close, from hundreds of pounds of lean red meat -- and I am doing nothing!
Interrupting my internal monologue, Jake whispered, "Do you want to shoot that cow?" Impulsively, I nodded yes as the largest cow in the herd cleared the brush off to my left and entered my main shooting lane.
With my eyes fixed on the cow, I slowly brought my bow to full draw, amazingly undetected, and was locking my sight pin on the big cow's ribs when Jake once again shattered my concentration with what sounded to me like shouting. "Wait, wait!" he said. "The bull is right behind her."
Quickly I broke out of my trance and peered out around my peep sight to behold the 6x5 herd bull rounding a row of shrubs. As I centered my peep on the sight and steadied myself for the aiming process, Jake whispered, "Hold on. I will stop him with a cow call."
With my 50-yard pin locked on his rib cage, I needed only to rise off my heels and lean forward slightly to clear my shooting lane before the bull was swallowed up by brush. The instant my pin reached that magical spot behind his shoulder, I squeezed the release.
Rocketing out of my bow, the arrow disappeared instantly, but the distinct thud of impact was unmistakable. I sat there for a split second, replaying the shot in my mind, and after several replays the same final result became clear: My arrow had disappeared right behind the bull's shoulder, right where it was supposed to go. When this realization finally hit home, I simply rose to my feet, turned to Jake, and expressed my utter elation in three words: "I smoked him!"
Jake sprang to his feet, slapped me on the back, and took off in the bull's direction. As I followed close behind, I was startled by the apparent sound of a discharged compound bow, and as Jake and I rounded the edge of the brush, we saw my father standing 40 yards away with his bow held high in the air. Judging by his location, I assumed he was rejoicing over my success, as my bull had passed by him at close range and fallen within 35 yards of where he now stood.
Little did I know my dad had a surprise of his own. During the commotion resulting from my shot, the other elk had hurriedly moved south toward my dad, coming so close he actually had to abandon his original ambush site to avoid being trampled by the startled elk. After they brushed by him, several of the elk turned to look back toward my location, and at that point my 61-year-old father anchored his bowstring, settled his 40-yard pin on the ribs of the largest cow, and released a perfect arrow.
We now understood why he had his arms in the air and a huge grin on his face.
Jake proceeded to let loose a barrage of high-fives, handshakes, and fist-bumps. After all, we had just pulled off a father/son archery double on elk, 40 minutes after sunrise on Colorado's opening morning!
WATCH ANY HUNTING SHOW on TV and the phrase "hunt of a lifetime" is thrown around more than a pigskin on Sunday afternoon. This overexposure has unfortunately lessened the impact of individual experiences that may very well qualify for such distinction. Both my dad and I feel our experience was such a hunt. We have bowhunted together for the past six years and had never before achieved a double on anything.
As we struggled to move his cow the short 30 yards to where my bull lay, I simply thought to myself, how could it possibly get any more hunt-of-a-lifetime than this!
Ryan and Bill Manning are avid bowhunters from Norton, Kansas, where they operate a sporting goods and office supplies business.
Author's Notes: I killed my bull with a Mathews Monster set at 66 lbs., Carbon Express Maxima 350 arrow, and 100-grain NAP Bloodrunner broadhead. My dad's cow fell to his Mathews HyperLite set at 56 lbs., Easton Full Metal Jacket arrow, and 125-grain Muzzy Phantom broadhead.
Dad and I extend an enormous thank you to Fred and Michele Eichler of Fulldraw Outfitters, and to Jake Kraus for all his hard work, dedication, and expert calling. We could not have done this without their help! To book your own hunt for elk, mule deer, antelope, and other big game, contact: Fulldraw Outfitters, 22250 County Road 44, PO Box 451, Aguilar, CO 81020; (719) 941-4392; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.fulldrawoutfitters.net