Never, ever give up!
On most of my hunts this fall I walked miles and miles up and down mountains. There were times when I was hunting alone, discouraged and ready to call it quits. There were other times where I was exhausted with only 30 minutes of hunting light left. I could have easily gone back to the truck to rest. Fortunately, perseverance pays off. Each time I wanted to quit was when I experienced the most success. The following are a few examples.
After hunting for several days alone and covering many miles and drainages, I was ready to turn back. I stood up to walk back to the trailhead when a mature bull jumped up from his bed under my feet. I bugled to stop him and another bull bugled back. I chased that bugle and found three bulls. I called in the largest bull to 35 yards and stalked in to 45 yards on the other two.
On another hunt, my father and I walked over 20 miles in one day and had 30 minutes left until dark. We stood near camp and looked down at a swamp that promised elk. We decided to hike down to hunt despite our exhaustion. In the last ten minutes of light, we called in a 370-inch herd bull. Dad arrowed the monarch at 20 yards.
Finally, during rifle season, I hunted hard for three days with a buddy. We covered miles and glassed to no avail. We got up early our last morning with only a few hours to hunt before having to return to normal life. With one hour to go, I stalked deep into a canyon where I was able to still-hunt within 30 yards of a herd. I filled my tag. Never, ever give up!
Stop calling when alone!
If you are hunting alone, you can’t keep calling as you move in on a tentative bull. At some point you have to go quiet, sneak forward a few more yards, and set up. Let the bull come in. A bull that is not charging in, but is tentative, will come in slowly. He will try and come in above you and find a spot where he can safely see who is making the noise. This leaves little opportunity for a shot if you are still calling. When you stop calling, hustle forward and setup up with a shot where the bull will hang up.
This year, I chased a bugle across a canyon. I found the bull in thick timber. I got on the same elevation and worked towards him while side hilling with the right wind. Up to this point, I did everything correctly. I went wrong as I kept calling my way in. I heard the bull bugle maybe 60 yards away and I set up. I waited and did not hear anything further. I leaned over to rake a tree and as I looked to my left, there stood a nice 6-point bull staring at me. He turned and trotted off and I never got the shot. I had not heard him sneak in the last 25 yards where he hung up to look for the cow that had been calling.
Always range and do it twice.
I missed a bull this year. It was clean. The arrow sailed right over the bull’s back and buried in soft dirt. I couldn’t believe it. How did I miss that bad? I had ranged the bull before the shot. It was 60 yards. I practice at that range consistently. Now the bull was gone so I ranged again in frustration. My range finder now said 45 yards. How could this be? I still do not know. Did the range finder give me a bad read? In my excitement did I misread it? Lesson relearned: always range twice.
On another occasion, I called in a bull and he came fast! I decided I did not have time to range at all. The bull popped into an opening below me. I was full draw and the shot was frontal. The downward angle through dark timber deceived me. I was unsure on the range and did not want to take a frontal shot much over 20 yards. I was not sure if this bull was closer to 30 yards. The bull was coming in on a string anyway so I just let him come. The bull stopped broadside at 12 yards with a tree perfectly covering the vitals. I never got a shot. I ranged where the bull stood when I had the frontal opportunity, the shot would have been 22 yards. I did well not taking a shot I was not confident in. However, I could have killed that bull by being more proficient at judging ranges or setting up sooner so that I had time to range.
Want the big one? Bump his cows.
I have had a few successful call-ins now with mature herd bulls. They have been the most rewarding hunting experiences. The most successful technique with a herded up giant has been to bump his cows and make him think they are running because another bull is trying to steal them. When the cows spook, I continue forward while screaming a bull-calling-cows bugle or a lip bawl bugle. When the herd bull responds, I cut him off with a challenge bugle. With some distressed cow sounds thrown in, the herd bull is hooked. He will become enraged that an intruder is trying to take his harem and will come back to fight you off. This technique is primarily best used in thick cover so that the bull never sees what bumped his cows.