Fires and extreme drought had taken a firm grip on Montana, and a blue moon with the early start to bow season made things even more challenging. I let the first few days slide by in camp with my wife and three-year-old daughter. We just took it easy, and I did a little scouting in the mornings. It was fun to have my wife and daughter in camp for the third year in a row. Nina, my little girl, was getting a good hang of her new toy bow and arrow. Watching her chase chipmunks around camp was as much fun as getting out hunting myself.
A few days later, my wife left camp and my buddy 'Big E' showed up for his first archery elk hunt. I know of a couple small springs that I hunted over the years. A friend of mine and I have done pretty well sitting near water when it's hot. The key to these spots, which are on different mountains about 12 miles apart, is that other hunters have to pressure the other side of the mountain in order to push elk into the secluded areas. Waiting for a good wind to go in and hunt is the real key to these spots. The elk have the advantage.
Big E and I worked a couple spots with no avail. A couple days later we had the proper wind for spring number one. We hiked in at 4pm and let things get quiet. About a hour into our sit, a couple cows came racing into water. I got Big E set up and we waited for a shot as the cows and one calf shifted around and drank. Before Big E could get a shot, the wind swirled and the cows bumped off the spring. Big E and I had an agreement if a smaller bull or a cow came in it was all his, but I had first crack at a mature bull. Almost on cue, a far-off bugle echoed down from the ridge. I cow called and a rapid descent was confirmed by his increasingly loud, rank battle-cries. About 150 yards out, the wind shifted again and the bull turned and retreated. We had no choice but to get desperate. Circling to regain the wind advantage, I challenged the weary bull with a bugle of my own. He answered, but had seen enough. A close call an action-packed evening, but Big E would walk away with an uncut tag.
I needed to back out and give the area a break, so I pointed the truck in a new direction. The following few days proved frustrating as I wouldn't see or hear a single elk. With high temperatures and perfect wind directions in the forecast, my mind raced back to bugling bull near the spring, now 400 miles away.
The race was on. After an eight hour drive and a quick shower, I was hiking hard for my lower spring. 45 minutes into my set, a few cows came blasting into the water, but bucked off and pulled the rest of the cows with her. Seconds later, the bull screamed and he was crashing in fast, wanting to keep an eye on his harem.
At 65 yards he offered a broadside shot, but I elected to let him come closer. He came into 30 yards, stopped perfect and looked directly into my soul. He'd detected my presence, but couldn't confirm it with his nose. Provoking a confrontation, he let out a raspy bugle. I cut him off mid-scream with a broadhead to the lungs. I knew my quest for a mature public land bull had ended the exact spot it started, 12 years prior, when I took my first bull from the same spring.
I thanked God for my life and the life of this elk that would feed my family. I cried as I approached the beast. The following morning I packed my out my elk accompanied by my buddies Hector and Wolfy. We watched one of the most glorious fall days unfold before our eyes.
I knew my quest for a mature public land bull had ended the exact spot it started, 12 years prior, when I took my first bull from the same spring. Things had really come full circle.