“I don’t know if they’re still here,” I whispered as we knelt together on the grassy forest floor. It was too quiet. Only a light breeze shifting branches made any sound. Much different than the previous afternoon when we had four bulls screaming relentlessly back and forth, all within 100 yards of this very spot.
Yesterday was Rachel’s first experience being surrounded by a real bugle fest. Another hunter and some miscommunication got in our way of pulling the herd bull in. Today, we sneaked back into the same hole with hopes the elk were still hot. The open timber, patchy meadows, and scattered benches screamed elk country.
Alas, nothing had responded to our bugles today. I wasn't going to give up on it too quickly, especially after our long hike in. I quit bugling and began raking trees; then, a few soft chuckles. We moved about 50 yards and waited.
We did this sequence a few times, working our way deeper into the timber. We sat in the coolness and waited. A flash of tan caught the corner of my eye. Scanning, where was it? There! Working through the timber above us, a spike bull nosed around curiously. They were still here! We let the young bull work around us until he was out of our way and then we pushed in the direction from where he came.
Another round of raking and chuckles yielded a bugle from within 200 yards. I hurriedly ordered Rachel to move down onto a knob with sufficient shooting lanes in three directions. I stayed 50 yards back to slowly work the bull in.
I continued raking and chuckling. The bull began responding every few seconds. I ramped up, adding in bull-calling-cows bugles and a low-level challenge. The bull was on the move, his bugle was closing in quickly now. My heart jumped as I saw antlers coming in on a trot. He had taken the bait and was going to run right past Rachel on a bee-line for me. Perfect!
I suddenly realized Rachel was facing the wrong direction. The bull was closing, only 30-yards from Rachel now. I began to ready myself for a shot. Quickly, Rachel turned and began her draw. The bull froze, stared, spun, and disappeared. As quick as it had begun, it was over.
Rachel walked back visibly shaking with excitement and asked, “How do you hold it together!?”
We didn’t get it done, but the memory is one of my favorites from this past season. I got to share with my wife the whole reason why I archery elk hunt. She got the full experience just short of releasing an arrow. We had worked hard and were rewarded with an amazing experience most people never enjoy. She did well for her first close encounter and lessons were learned for next time—and I can’t wait for next time.
Welcome to elk hunting my sweet.
- Jess Patrick