Man vs. Elk. It’s a battle that consumes the minds of thousands of hunters each year. To me elk hunting has become a passion and a lifestyle. I love the challenge and the places that it takes me. I don’t have a long history with elk, it’s only my third year chasing the wild beast, but it’s something that has become a part of me. This year, I once again drew a Missouri Breaks tag. After failing to arrow a bull there last year I made it a goal to return and get redemption. After 5 grueling days, I was without an elk once again. At that point the decision was made to swap the open country for the dark timber of Northwest Montana. I already had a location picked out as I had done some scouting there this summer. Trail cameras had shown that some mature bulls inhabited the area and we loaded our packs and headed north.
We arrived at the trailhead at 5:30AM and set off. For an hour we sliced our way through the darkness and up the mountain. As we unpacked our backpacks we hoped that soon a bugle would shatter the silence. We set off just as the sun was cresting the horizon and illuminating the tops of the timber.
The first day and a half of our three-day trip would be spent filming my brother. He was in search of his first elk with a bow. That morning we were able to sneak in close to a bull that had bugled twice. Unfortunately the thick brush ended any hopes of a stalk, and the bull wasn’t willing to come closer to the call.
The next morning Travis cow called a mature 6x6 to 20 yards, only to have no shot and only a glimpse of the bull’s ivory tipped rack. The brush in this area was so thick that you have to call a bull to within 20 yards to even think of getting a shot. The tough thing about the area is that if the elk aren’t responding to calls then you might never see an elk. You're often lucky to see over a hundred yards and hiking through the brush makes so much noise that you’d think two rhinos had just been set loose. That afternoon we made the decision to switch locations and try a new area. I now had the bow in hand, and we set off into new territory hoping to find a deadly area to call.
That night we didn’t see nor hear any elk. We simply bushwacked. In timber this thick you just have to explore to find the best areas. All the knowledge of reading maps and looking at satellite images will only get you so far. We set up camp on the edge of some serious bear country and fired up the grill, hoping tomorrow would bring us an encounter.
The next morning found us hiking through a thin frost. We hoped the temperatures would fire the elk up. The game plan was the same. Hike as quietly as possible and call in the better areas. After a couple empties the frustration once again began mounting. The elk were silent and the brush was beating us. The downfall was thick and the trees tight. The only sanity for us in some areas were the quality rubs that would crop up in only the nastiest of spots.
Again we would setup and call. Our wind was good, our concealment beyond effective, and our patience was persistent.
We would wait 20-30 minutes on each stand, and after about 5 of these it was time to return to the truck for lunch. A sense of failure began to mount. After two trips to the Breaks and now two and a half days in the mountains it was depressing that neither of us had been able to seal the deal. Don’t get me wrong, the experiences and time spent hunting was something that I’d never trade back, but the end goal had yet to be achieved. Soon we began to talk about water sources for the area. In two years of hunting this spot we had yet to come across a creek, seep, or wallow. The closest source we knew of was a small pond near the logging road. We knew the elk needed to drink and began exploring the edges of the pond. Right off the bat it was apparent that this was a source of water for multiple elk, as two wallows lay just off the edge of the pond. Further inspection showed tracks leading to the water in multiple places. None of the sign was extremely fresh, but a good feeling about the area began to creep its way into the back of my head. As I cruised the tree line I soon noticed a small hole in the edge of the thick timber. Another hunter had previously broken off some branches to clear a small shooting lane that viewed out into the meadow. I knew must be a good reason for this and wandered out into the meadow. A wallow etched three feet into the soil was only thirty yards away.
No elk had used the wallow recently, but it did have multiple sets of fresh bear tracks in it. I still had my bear tag and this only made this area seem more appealing for an evening hunt. We decided to quickly explore a new area and think more about it. After a couple hours of hiking logging roads, we decided that the best plan for the night would be to return to the natural blind just thirty yards off the wallow. We settled in and hoped that tonight would be the night that an elk decided to return to the pond and freshen up with a nice coat of mud.
An hour into the sit and Travis heard twigs breaking to our left. After a long couple of minutes a set of old chocolate horns could be seen swaying between the trees. He was headed our way and as soon as he stepped behind the last stand of timber I slowly drew. He walked out at 8 yards and stopped. I only could see his thick neck and head. Travis was just behind me with the camera rolling and could see him in his entirety. A few seconds later a squirrel sounded off behind us; the bull’s head snapped in that direction. At this point he was looking almost at us and soon his head turned directly our way. We stared at each other for about 10 seconds before the bull decided that we weren’t humans. He turned towards the wallow and began slowly walking, leaving me only a face full of Texas Heart Shot. I leaned out waiting for a quality shot to present itself. At this point I’d been holding my bow at full draw for over a minute. Between my adrenaline and screaming muscles, I was shaky to say the least and on the verge of letting down. I knew there was only going to be one chance with this old bull and used my last bit of energy to hold strong. Finally he turned broadside as he stepped up to the edge of the wallow. By the time I steadied my shaky pins behind his massive shoulder I had been at full draw for almost two minutes. His right leg stepped forward, and I released my arrow. It hammered him behind his right shoulder, and immediately I saw blood flowing from his side. He dashed into the timber, ruthlessly taking out anything in his path. About thirty seconds later I heard him crash to his final resting place. My emotions surged, as I knew that I’d be shortly laying my hands on an amazing bull.
We gave him thirty minutes before grabbing our packs and slowly walking into the meadow. We could see his tracks exploding from the edge of the wallow. A few short feet later the blood trail started.
As we walked up on the bull it was apparent that he was one unique bull. His antlers carried exceptional mass throughout and were degenerated on his right side. It was apparent that he’d spent some serious time calling this area home. His left side was thick all the way through and slightly palmated up top.
His body was truly massive. He was the largest bodied bull that I’d seen. I was beyond happy with him, and it felt good to finally pull out my 2012 elk tag and put those special two nocks into the waxy paper.
Travis and I couldn’t believe that it finally had all come together. It was an awesome experience to share with my brother, and he made it twice as special by beautifully capturing the whole event on film.
God truly blessed me that evening. To even be able to hunt is such a special thing and to top it off by being with my brother and arrowing a bull was truly icing on the cake. To top it off the bull had died only 30 feet off the road. We were saved the agony of packing him out of the thick forest. My dad brought up a towrope and we were able to pull him to the side of the road and quarter him.
When I returned home I had a biologist age my bull. She estimated him at 9 or 10 years old. He truly was a monarch, a king of his domain, avoiding predators, surviving harsh winters, and staying just far enough away from local hunters. It was surreal to be able to kill him using such a simple tactic. I couldn’t be happier and now the preparation for next season begins. It’s going to be hard to top him, but I’m up for the challenge.
To follow along with the rest of Montana Wild's season, check out their blog at http://www.montana-wild.com.