An accomplished hunter
and good friend of mine says he figures it takes about 12 close encounters
to actually kill an elk. Up until this trip, I’d only had one close encounter
with my bow. My plan was to see if I could get the other 11 encounters out of
the way in the first few days so that I could just shoot a big bull and then
follow my hunting buddies around with my camera and take naps for the rest of
the trip. This isn’t at all how it worked out. I have this image in my mind of how the hunt should
go, informed mostly by the Outdoor Channel, online videos,
and embellished stories I’ve heard from other people. Here’s how it goes: I set
up, start calling, have a smaller bull come in right away, I pass on him, of
course, because I am waiting for the big guy who is now walking along to present me with a 20-yard broadside shot, which I complete
shortly after I stop him. I haven’t been hunting elk for very long, but it seems
the image in my mind is skewed a bit.
My buddy Austin and I
headed out of town on Thursday evening for what would shape up to be the most
exciting 10 days of archery hunting I have experienced in my short career. My
truck was loaded down with gear, coolers, and food for four dudes. The weather
in Montana had been hot and was supposed to remain that way through the weekend
and into the middle of the following week. We hoped to get in on the rut, but
we really weren’t sure what to expect. We just had to get out there. My brother-in-law, Richard, and his buddy,
Scott, were headed our way from South Dakota and would be joining us Saturday. Austin and I got camp set up
under the bright moon later that evening. We’d expected to hear bulls bugling
that night, but everything was quiet. Friday morning would certainly answer
I wasn’t two minutes
into the start of my first day when I heard that sound I’d been dreaming of, bulls bugling in the distance. The legs kicked into high gear and I was off to
see what I could find. We’d timed the rut pretty well and getting to hear those
bulls was fuel for the fire. The only problem was the heat. As the day
progressed and I got in closer to these creatures, they became more and more
quiet. I spent the rest of that first day trying to get a lay of the land.
Where were they spending their afternoons? What were the prevailing winds? How
could I access these areas without bumping animals? If this trip was
going to pay off, we were going to have to work for it.
If I were to write the
whole story, it would take up a quarter of Bugle magazine and it
would end without any pictures of dead bulls. No one in the group shot an elk,
but we all had a ton of close encounters. There were a couple of misses and
fortunately no wounded elk. We had busted stalks and gaps that couldn’t be
closed. Some of us were winded and some of us set up in the wrong spots. There
were bulls that held up as the daylight ran out and some that just flat-out
disappeared without a trace. There were bootless stalks that left us with
cactus in our feet and smiles on our faces. Between everyone we had an entire Sitka retail store, so we
knew that if an elk busted us it wasn’t because he could see us! Collectively
we walked more miles than I can even tally up. We left early and came back
late, shared our stories, laughed, drank a few beers, ate some dinner followed
by butter cookies, and retired for the evening knowing that the next day was
going to be better than the last.
When we all packed up
to head out that last morning, it was still tough to think that over the course
of the last week, between four guys, our coolers were still empty. Yeah, it
isn’t really like they show on TV, but the image I have in my mind is slowly becoming
my own, and hopefully after a dozen encounters, I’ll know what it feels like to
take a bull with my bow. The fact remains that it is not about killing. It
is about the relationships we form and the experiences we have out there that
truly make it a hunt. Horns in the back of my truck won’t really make or break
me at the end of the day.
A special thanks to a
great hunting crew: Austin Rector, Richard Watkins, & Scott Dirkes.
More encounters at Promont Outdoors.