November 04, 2010
By Jason Cook
When passion for hunting burns deep in your heart, you'll go to any lengths to take your first bull elk.
By Jason Cook
When I was a young boy, my dad took me hunting often, and I was always at his side. I loved going with him so much, I would never miss a hunt.
This view from my treestand shows the lower pond I created. Shot distance is 25 yards. I cut a trench to drain water from a natural spring down into this pond.
Then, at age 12, I became very ill the night before Dad and I were to leave for a deer hunt. I could not let my mom know because she would not let me go. Refusing to admit defeat, I sneaked quietly into the bathroom several times during the night and vomited.
Mom could not know.
The next morning, she found me passed out on the bathroom floor. Immediately she took me to the doctor, and the doctor rushed me to the hospital for an emergency appendectomy. My appendix was in the process of rupturing. I was very angry. This was the first hunt I had ever missed. That was a terrible blow.
The determination I had as a young boy has not faded. In fact, it may only have grown as I have entered my adult life. I am very passionate about hunting and the outdoors. Time in the woods with my bow stirs feelings and energy that cannot be duplicated anywhere else. As an adult, I still refuse to miss a hunt. My determination has only grown.
Perhaps that's what influenced my approach to elk hunting. For many years I harbored the goal of taking a bull elk with my bow. However, I wanted to do it my way. I did not want to call-in a bull with noisy calls. Rather, I wanted to be quiet and stealthy. I wanted the elk to be unaware of my presence. I wanted to be invisible. I wanted to be close.
That goal gave birth to my pursuit of finding the perfect ambush point, and I hiked the wildest places in my home state of Utah to find such a spot. Finally, four years ago, a friend and I were out hiking when we stumbled across a natural spring on a steep hillside.
It was far from any roads, and only someone as crazy and determined as me would commit to such a spot. But in analyzing the situation, I decided this was perfect. The area held elk, and the spot was remote. Now I just had to set it up to get a close shot.
To enhance the spring, my friend and I dug a small reservoir where the water was coming out of the sidehill. This would hold a small amount of water and regulate the flow. Then we walked down to a flat spot about 40 yards below the reservoir and dug a large hole.
This would become the primary wallow. We finished the project by digging a shallow trench from the upper reservoir to the wallow hole to create a pond.
A couple of days later I hiked back in to check on the project. The pond was already full, but to improve it I dammed the downhill side with mud and branches. The reservoir by the spring was actually holding more water than I had anticipated, so water was plentiful.
These elk are only a few of several I caught on my trail camera at the pond.
I felt confident that elk would begin using both waterholes.
The last step was to locate the perfect tree and hang my stand. After clearing some branches, I hung my treestand in a large pine. From there I would have a 25-yard shot to either pond.
The first year I didn't see many animals. However, over the next couple of years, more elk started frequenting my ponds. To get a better idea, I hung two trail cameras and was amazed. Some pretty nice bulls were coming in at various times of the day and night.
In 2007, I was sitting in my stand when a giant six-point bull came in. He never came right to the wallow but fed around it, where I ranged him at 65 yards. As badly as I wanted to take my first bull elk, I had to pass because the range was just too far for a guaranteed clean kill. And, besides, part of my goal was to take a bull up close.
Reluctantly I watched him walk away, and I did not get another chance that year.
With renewed hope in the summer of 2008, I made the trek to my pond. Each summer I had to dig it out because snow runoff in the spring filled it with mud. As I cleaned out the pond and looked at my little piece of heaven, my excitement grew for the coming hunt.
The Utah archery season opens in mid-August, and I had planned to start hunting early in the season. However, my two sons wanted to go hunting, and I knew they couldn't make the brutal hike to the ponds. So I took them out camping in the trailer to an area they could hunt for deer. We spent a fun-filled week together. We didn't get a deer, but we did walk away with fond memories and a ton of smiles.
Soon after that I hiked to the ponds with my bow and treestand and hung the stand as quietly as possible. I was excited to be there, but as I looked down on the ponds, I wondered if I had waited too long. The ponds are in a transition area where elk spend their summers. Then they migrate to a different area for the rut. As the hours ticked by, I felt sure my chance had slipped away again. Before starting the long hike out, I debated whether to take down the treestand. I finally decided to leave it, but all the way back to the trailhead I wondered if that was a mistake.
Not until the Friday before Labor Day was I able to return. Arriving at the trailhead in the dark, I began the hour-and-a-half climb and was encouraged at bumping an elk in the dark. At least some elk remained in the area.
Approaching the ponds right at daylight, in my haste to get into the stand I spooked a cow and calf from the lower pond. As they crashed off through the timber, I sighed in disappointment. I'd probably just scared away every elk in the area.
My dream of taking a bull elk with my bow began when I was a young boy. Back then I would do anything to go hunting, and nothing has changed. For fou
r years, I worked hard to take this unique 6x1 bull.
Still, I'd made the long hike and was excited to be in elk country, so I settled into the stand to spend a few hours. Sitting there quietly, I absorbed the beauty of my little spot as birds chirped around me and a breeze fanned my face. The fragrance of the pine that held my stand and the peaceful feeling in the air made me remember why, as a young boy, I would literally get sick at the thought of missing a hunt -- and why I still do today.
After only 15 minutes, I heard a combination of a short bugle and whine. Unsure of what I'd heard, I passed it off. Then, hearing it again, I wondered if the cow and calf were coming back.
Suddenly a downed log snapped, and I knew something big was coming and grabbed my bow off the hanger and got ready. I had already decided to take the first bull that came in because this would be exactly how I'd always wanted to do it. And when elk antlers appeared, moving through the branches, I thought, This is it!
With the bull coming into view up the hill, my heart was pounding like a bass drum in my ears. As he walked behind a cluster of pines beyond the pond, I drew my bow -- and he stopped. He was broadside but I had no shot. I've blown it! I thought.
Then he took two steps forward and put his head down to drink. I placed the sight pin on his vitals, and when I released, he lunged through the pond, stopped on the other side for a moment, and then ran in a circle and crashed directly behind my treestand.
I spent all day butchering and hanging the meat off my elk and then three more days and five round trips packing it to the trailhead.
Overwhelmed with emotion, I began to shake uncontrollably and was afraid to try climbing down for fear of falling. I had to sit there for a full half-hour before the shaking subsided enough for me to climb down safely.
The bull had fallen with his head under his body, and as I approached I could see only a single large tine sticking up from the far side. After struggling for several minutes, I managed to pull his head free and was amazed to discover he had a heavy six-point antler on one side and a giant spike on the other. I was elated. Finally, I had reached my goal.
I spent the whole day butchering and hanging meat, followed by three days and five trips to pack out the entire elk. Finally I had accomplished something I had worked so hard for and wanted so badly. I said many prayers of thanks for the experience and for the meat that would feed my family all winter. As a young boy, I had loved hunting so much that I would literally pass out to be in the woods. Not one thing has changed.
The author lives in Sandy, Utah, with his wife, Connie, and their four children. Jason owns and operates a structural steel drafting company.