November 04, 2010
By David Mitchell
Persistence, a computer, and plenty of good friends can lead to miraculous bowhunting results.
By David Mitchell
This view west of camp shows the vastness of my Utah hunting unit. Computer research helped me identify specific locations that held elk -- and ones that did not.
AS I SHOULDERED my pack and grabbed my bow, a bull bugled in the burn above us, and then another sounded off farther up the mountain. My friend Jace started hiking quickly toward the burn, and as I fell in behind him I looked up and saw a shooting star streak across the sky. Silently, I made a wish that today would be the day for my success.
Halfway up the mountain, we took a breather to wait for daybreak before going farther. Then, right at first shooting light we called, and a bull answered from above. As he moved higher, away from us, we hiked up the edge of the burn after him.
Suddenly another bull bugled below -- close! Quickly Jace set up to call, and I sneaked out a firebreak toward a good shooting position. Halfway to my intended spot, I heard cows mewing and hid by a root clump. At that instant, 30 elk came into view, headed right toward me. Maybe my wish was finally coming true.
THIS MOMENT HAD BEEN a long time in the making. For seven years I had applied for a nonresident elk tag in central Utah. Immediately upon drawing, I started my research by calling the local wildlife biologist and forest service personnel for general insight into my unit.
Then I went to the Utah Division of Wildlife's website for a list of successful hunters from the previous year. By entering their names into a search engine designed to find phone numbers, I located more than half of them. I also posted a request for information on Bowsite.com and MonsterMuleys.com.
After buying topographic and public land maps for the area, as well as the Utah DeLorme 3D topo quad program for my computer, I started some serious long-distance scouting. First I called the hunters who had hunted the previous year and was pleasantly surprised with the information they gave me. They not only told me about areas that held elk but, just as importantly, areas that did not. This helped me to focus attention on a few main areas. I also received impressive responses to my Internet posts.
I talked to more than 20 people, but two were extremely helpful, and we became friends. One was Dave, who had hunted the unit successfully the year before; the other was Rick, who res-ponded to my post on MonsterMuleys.com. Dave invited me out on a summer scouting trip, and Rick volunteered to join me on weekends during my hunt to help out however he could.
IN JULY I TRAVELED from my home in Fogelsville, Pennsy-lvania, to Utah for a weekend of scouting. Dave graciously picked me up at the airport, and as we drove south, I reviewed my notes for areas to check on the ground. With my computer topo program, I can put the curser on a spot on a map and download those coordinates into my GPS, and with this tool I identified and recorded several springs and wallows. This worked very well, as we found every one of those spots. After three long, hot, dusty days with Dave, I knew the road system in the unit and had a good idea of where to start hunting.
On August 21, I packed my truck and headed west. Because this was such a prime hunt, I had taken the entire three-week season off work. My dad, Ed Mitchell, came along to cook and help around camp, and my friend Bob, who lived in Utah, was going to camp with us and loan us his quads.
During the hunt, I passed up opportunities at many small bulls, like this one at a wallow.
We arrived and set up camp in the hunting area on Tuesday. During the three days before the season, I shot my bow, scouted some more, and set treestands over wallows. The sight of several good bulls around camp only raised my anticipation for opening day.
DURING THE FIRST TWO WEEKS of the season, I had several close calls with great bulls. A beautiful 6x6 came to a wallow, and I blew the pointblank shot. Another day, we called in a big 6x6, but I moved to get a better shooting lane, and the bull walked right by my first position. On one occasion, I was stalking a big bull raking a tree, but he walked off before I could get a shot. Daily, we called in and passed up small bulls. Getting a big bull seemed only a matter of time.
At the start of the last week, Rick pulled his trailer to camp with plans of hunting with me for the rest of the season, and his son Jace came along for the weekend. That night Rick saw some big bulls on a mountain behind camp, and Jace and I decided to try for them in the morning.
THAT'S WHAT LED ME into hiding by that root clump, and as those 30 elk came directly toward me, a half-dozen cows broke from the herd and began drinking at a spring, 35 yards from me. The huge herd bull screamed 67 yards away and pushed the rest of his cows up the mountain away from me. I thought he would come back for the cows at the spring, but he just bugled and continued uphill. The cows finished drinking and hurried to catch up.
Right then, another bull bugled below us, but Jace and I decided to keep after the big herd bull. Climbing a few hundred yards to the crest of the ridge, we set up near a grassy park. As Jace called, the herd bull answered above us. My heart sank. We can't outrun that bull! I thought.
Suddenly, another bull bugled in a draw below us. We might still have a chance! As Jace called, I saw another 6x6 pushing some cows up the draw at the bottom of the park. I ranged a cow and knew if the bull stopped in that spot, I would shoot.
He did exactly that, and as he stood broadside, I reached full draw and locked my sight pin on his chest. Instantly the arrow was in flight and the fletching disappeared through his ribs. The bull bolted to the far side of the draw, where he stopped, began to wobble, lay down, and tumbled down the mountain. I checked my watch. It read 7:35 a.m.
Relief flowed through me. Eighteen days of hard hunting had taken its toll, and I had begun to wonder how my hunt would end. As Jace and I sat there reliving the hunt, we saw Rick driving a distant forest road. We got on our radios. "Rick, we need packframes and strong backs!"
Jace and I took pictures and were field-dressing the bull when we saw the other five guys in our party coming up the hill. I can think of no better sight than a bull elk on the ground and five friends coming to help pack. By noon we had the bagg
ed quarters hanging in the shade at camp.
All of my computer research, scouting, and generous friends made the hunt a success, but they did not make it easy. It took me 18 days of hard hunting to kill this beautiful 6-point bull. What a reward!
THIS WAS MY MOST amazing hunt ever, and not just because I had enjoyed a great experience and killed an elk. Through this hunt I had learned the goodness of other hunters and had made many new friends.
I also had proved the value of the computer in hunting: On-line I had applied for a tag, learned of my drawing success, done extensive research, met many helpful people, and pinpointed specific locations for elk. No, the computer didn't pack any meat, but it sure helped make my silent wish come true.
Author's Note: My five-year-old 6x6 had an official Pope and Young score of 2857„8. On this hunt I used a Mathews LX at 67 pounds, Gold Tip 75/95 Pro Hunter arrows, 100-grain Magnus Stinger Buzz-cut broadheads, Spot-Hogg sight, Muzzy Zero Effect rest, Sims Enhancer 2000 stabilizer, Scott release, Leica 10x32 binocular, Bushnell Scout rangefinder, Day One ASAT Camouflage, and Scent-Lok Savanna clothing.
The author is an avid bowhunter from Fogelsville, Pennsylvania.