Skip to main content

A Little Luck

A Little Luck

Nobody believes the myth about lucky horseshoes -- except maybe this one lucky elk hunter.

With a 330 P&Y-class bull slowly making his way toward my position, no calls were needed. In fact, my guide, Andy Valerio, never made a sound. With only 10 yards and a small tree separating the 6x6 from Andy, cameraman Mike Malley, and me, I drew my bow. The bull must have seen me draw, because he stopped and was now on full alert. With my knees firmly planted behind the tree, I waited at full draw for the bull to take one more step into the open.




What were the odds for my finding a horseshoe in the midst of 30,000 acres of prime elk habitat? Was this really the source for my change of fortune?

You guessed it -- the big 6x6 never took that step. He knew something was wrong.


As we watched the bull run off, Andy hissed, "Why in the world didn't you shoot?"

"Your viewpoint was different from mine," I explained. "I never had a clear shot at him."

For many of us, bowhunting is an emotional experience, and that seems especially true for those of us who pursue elk. When my first elk hunt concluded with my walking up to my first elk, a Colorado 5x5 I'd shot from a treestand overlooking a waterhole, I actually started to cry. Ever since that eventful day, the seed has been firmly planted in my heart to bowhunt these magnificent animals as often as possible.

My next challenge was to take a bull elk from the ground, which was what lured me to the 30,000-acre Cottonwood Ranch located near Cimarron, New Mexico. But after our initial encounters -- like the one with that 6x6 bull -- it seemed I needed a little luck to meet the challenge.

Although we dented only a small portion of the Cottonwood Ranch, my first impression was that the ranch hardly looked like good habitat. Could it even support elk? After all, in 2001, a forest fire that had destroyed nearly 100,000 acres in this region, including much of the ranch, had left little but burned-out, skeletonlike trees.

Time seemed to be running out until we heard this bull bugle across the valley. After taking this, my first Pope and Young-class bull, my smile reveals my heart.

However, a fresh carpet of lush undergrowth now flourished in the wake of the destruction from eight years ago, creating fantastic elk habitat. With a closer look on the ground at the rich vegetation, my hopes started to soar.

Our typical hunting scenario was to climb to the top of a mountain and listen for elk. If we heard a bugle, we would check the wind and then beat feet in the direction of the bull. Andy was an expert caller, and even though I pretended to know what I was doing, his patience while working with a treestand hunter from the East was nothing more than professional.

The first three days of the hunt were like all the TV hunting shows -- bulls bugling everywhere, elk within easy bow range, constant action. The only difference was that I didn't have an elk on the ground. I needed some luck to turn things my way.

And it seemed to come as the end of the hunt became a looming reality. We had stopped along a well-used elk trail to take a breather, and as I chugged down the last sip of my water, a familiar shape caught my eye -- a horseshoe that someone had hung over a branch. What are the chances of coming across something like this in the middle of nowhere? I thought.

Andy set up a Montana Decoy cow elk decoy, a smart move that got the bull's attention and brought him a little closer to me.

The author should be no stranger to Bowhunter readers as he writes our "Hunting Whitetails" column. He and his family make their home in Randallstown, Maryland.

"C.J., maybe this is what we need to change our luck?" Mike said as he took a picture of me and the horseshoe.

Without missing a beat, Andy said, "Yes, C.J., you need all the help you can get. I've seen you shoot!"

"With a comment like that, you are officially off my Christmas card list!" I declared to Andy.

Late in the afternoon of day five, we trekked down the mountain toward the truck. Although one day remained in my hunt, I felt as if I was running out of time -- and opportunities.

Then we heard a bugle. Unbelievably, directly across the valley on the adjoining mountain ridge, five cows, two calves, and a big 6x6 bull emerged.

Instantly, Andy belted out a bugle, and the bull responded. But instead of coming toward us, all the elk headed to the right side of the mountain. Andy grabbed me and Mike and told us to quickly follow the spruce trees down to the bottom of the valley.

Andy kept the elk interested with an occasional cow call as we made our way down to the valley. We were 50 yards from the bottom when the elk started to take another hard right down the mountain away from us. Andy quickly cow-called and, magically, the cows and calves started in our direction.

With less than 100 yards now separating me and the cows, I set my eyes on the bull. His tall antlers emerged from a small stream drainage and then disappeared into another shallow swale. From his bugles I could tell he was getting closer.

Then the bull started to reappear from the swale, but he stopped with only his head and the upper half of his body showing. Trying to calm myself, I struggled to estimate the distance. Fortunately, as I was trying to figure out the yardage, Andy had set up a Montana Decoy cow elk decoy, a move that got the bull's attention and brought him a little closer to me.

As the bull watched Andy move the decoy from side to side, I settled my 50-yard pin on the bull's chest and touched off the shot. The arrow hit in the spine with a loud thud, instantly dropping the bull. A quick follow-up shot finished him within seconds.

Once I knew the bull was down for good, I yelled at the top of my lungs, "Andy, I got him! And I can shoot straight!" As we all gathered around the bull, I said my customary hunter's prayer and thought abou

t that horseshoe. In an elk paradise like this, all I needed was a little luck, and the result was my first Pope and Young-class bull.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

High Country Colorado Turkey Hunt

High Country Colorado Turkey Hunt

Danny Farris and Doyle Worbington of J&D Outfitters are hunting turkeys in Colorado.

Canyon Ranch Roundup Part 2

Canyon Ranch Roundup Part 2

Bowhunter TV's Derek Mleynek and Equipment Editor Tony J. Peterson head to Texas for a late-season mixed bag hunt in a truly target-rich environment.

Turkey Decoy Beatdown

Turkey Decoy Beatdown

Bowhunter contributor Matt Palmquist witnesses a hen trying to destroy one of his decoys while hunting turkeys in Kansas.

New for 2021: Elite Archery Bows, Slick Trick Broadheads and CBE Sight

New for 2021: Elite Archery Bows, Slick Trick Broadheads and CBE Sight

Learn more about two new Elite Archery bows, the Enkore and Remedy, two new broadhead from Slick Trick and a new site from Custom Bow Equipment (CBE).

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

Most of these saddle options are offered in kit form with lineman and tree tether ropes plus carabiners, some with MOLLE-attached storage pouches for ropes, aider, drink and accessories.Best New Saddles for Tree Saddle Hunting Treestands & Blinds

Best New Saddles for Tree Saddle Hunting

Bowhunter Staff - January 02, 2021

Most of these saddle options are offered in kit form with lineman and tree tether ropes plus...

The array of ultra-strong, easy-to-use, light and quiet aftermarket stick attachment options has never been more creative and compelling.Best New Climbing Stick Attachment Options Treestands & Blinds

Best New Climbing Stick Attachment Options

Bowhunter Staff - January 05, 2021

The array of ultra-strong, easy-to-use, light and quiet aftermarket stick attachment options...

Sometimes, it's a mistake to give deer too much credit for thinking.Can Whitetails Reason? Whitetail

Can Whitetails Reason?

Gene Wensel

Sometimes, it's a mistake to give deer too much credit for thinking.

This venison kebabs recipe marinates for a full day to take the already flavorful Asian bulgogi sauce to the next level.Grilled Korean Bulgogi Venison Kebabs Recipe Recipes

Grilled Korean Bulgogi Venison Kebabs Recipe

Jenny Nguyen-Wheatley

This venison kebabs recipe marinates for a full day to take the already flavorful Asian...

See More Trending Articles

More Stories

Bowhunting with friends can be a fun experience, but taking on the wilderness alone is something special.To Be Alone: Hunting As Social Distancing Stories

To Be Alone: Hunting As Social Distancing

Dwight Schuh

Bowhunting with friends can be a fun experience, but taking on the wilderness alone is...

If your vacation plans take you to the American Midwest, be sure to visit the St. Charles Museum of Bowhunting, a place where the Beanfield Buck still stands guardMel Johnson's Buck Still Stands Guard at Pope and Young Club Museum Stories

Mel Johnson's Buck Still Stands Guard at Pope and Young Club Museum

Lynn Burkhead - June 15, 2018

If your vacation plans take you to the American Midwest, be sure to visit the St. Charles...

Suddenly quiet, the bright-orange, one-time Danish Coast Guard boat drifted with the current, waterA Greenland Hunting Adventure to Remember Stories

A Greenland Hunting Adventure to Remember

Jeff Waring - January 02, 2018

Suddenly quiet, the bright-orange, one-time Danish Coast Guard boat drifted with the current,...

Hunters hating hunters is an old, ugly facet of our sport. Vitriol from residents to nonresidents is a part of that, and seems to be getting worse.Nonresident Bowhunter Hate Stories

Nonresident Bowhunter Hate

Tony J. Peterson - June 21, 2018

Hunters hating hunters is an old, ugly facet of our sport. Vitriol from residents to...

See More Stories

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE Arrow

Buy Digital Single Issues

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Bowhunter App

Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Bowhunter subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now