The third morning of the season had extremely warm temperatures. I knew I was only going to have a couple hours at best before any elk in the area would be bedded down. I set up and called at my first stand, but after about 40 minutes of nothing showing I moved off to another ridge where I would make my second stand of the morning.Upon reaching the area I knew this would be my last opportunity for the morning. I was calling for about 20 minutes when I detected movement up the ridge above me. A cow and spike came trotting down the hill towards me. When they got within 50 yards of me they stopped to look for their friends, since I didn’t want to alert them to my presence I went silent. After about 30 minutes they wondered off. I started back for the truck knowing that I wouldn’t be back from Alaska until around the 11th of September.
On the 12th of September I returned back to elk camp and was anxious for some serious hunting to get started. The temperatures were still a little warmer than I was hoping for, so I was hoping this wasn’t going to affect the elk rut. I hiked over to one of my ground blinds to see if there had been any activity around the water seep and discovered that bulls had been wallowing in their usual spot which was 25 yards in front of my blind.
This was where I would make my evening hunts since the area couldn’t be accessed in the mornings if elk were in and around the meadows.
The following morning, I went to one of my favorite ridges to try calling a bull in. As I set up I noticed the wind was behaving erratic in the area. Any opportunity at a bull, if one came in, was going to be dependent on the wind’s direction, but that’s elk hunting, always watching the wind. So after settling in against a tree I gave off my first cow chirp, to which a bull immediately fired back at me. I couldn’t believe my fortune, a bull responding to my cow/calf talks on the first stand. I responded back to the bull with some calf mews to which he fired back again, actually sounding a little closer already. I had good visibility for about 100 yards through the trees and knew this bull was likely to hang up if he came in that far. So for the next cow chirps I turned around in the opposite direction calling to give the bull the illusion that his potential girlfriends were actually a little further away. I cow chirped and waited about a minute or so. I then heard branches break out in front of me and here he came at a brisk walk.I estimated him to be a 3-year-old based on his antler development.As he approached he was clucking his tongue against his pallet which is a sign of a bull fully in the rut and looking for cows. My strategy of projecting my cow sounds further away than they were was going to cause the bull to overshoot me. As he was passing me at a distance of about 20 yards I drew my bow expecting him to see the movement and stop, but he was so fixated on a spot behind me that he kept right on moving.
I then whistled knowing he was about to step into my scent path, but it was too late. The bull caught my scent and whirled away just as he was about to step into another open lane. The only thing left was the dust drifting in the air from his hasty departure.
Trudging down the ridge about another ½ mile I set up again. As I gave off a calf call a bull down in a canyon answered me. I worked that bull for about 10 minutes before I could tell he was coming up the mountain to my location. The problem was the wind had turned and was blowing right down a trail towards the bull. I thought he was going to come up that trail so I moved about 20 yards out in front of me to hopefully put my scent out of the bull’s path. What I had neglected to do was take my Oregon Pack with me. As I was looking back towards my pack lying on the ground I suddenly saw the bull quietly walking through some trees right to my pack. The bull stopped about 5 yards from my pack looking all around. I had outsmarted myself thinking the bull would come up the trail from below. For some reason he had come out on the ridge where I had just walked from and followed in my footsteps right to where I had dropped my pack. The bull was quartering to me and in some trees without affording me any opportunity for a shot. In the next few seconds he suddenly whirled probably catching the scent of my pack he was standing beside. I had clearly made the mistake of not taking my pack with me when I moved to a new spot. By this time the morning was starting to warm up and even though I had only gone less than a ½ mile from my vehicle, calling in two bulls in two stands had me fired up for the hunt.
For the next several days I hunted without much luck. I talked with other hunters and they too indicated the elk had moved out of the area. It was time to hunt a different mountain and its drainages.
However, I was still sitting in my ground blind during the evenings hoping something would eventually show itself. I know from past experiences that when you hunt from a treestand or a ground blind, it’s patience that will pay off in the long run.
On the 6th morning I was working my way up a ridge when I heard ravens out to the front of me. Ravens concentrated in an area usually indicate something dead. As I headed in the direction of their cawing I saw 2 coyotes trot off through the grass, that’s when I got a whiff of something dead. Up ahead about 100 yards I came upon on a bull elk that had been dead about 2 days.
Having examined and performed countless necropsies on wildlife over 30 years I was hoping this wasn’t a bull another hunter had shot and lost. But right away in looking at the bull I noticed the antlers were at an odd angle. I saw that the skull plate on this bull was broken and partially protruding through the scalp. I then looked at the nearby ground and saw where this bull had been fighting with another bull. Apparently he took on a bull a little more than his match for this bull had his skull plate shattered by the other bull. While I have looked at deer/elk that have been killed from antler wounds while fighting with others, this is the first one I had seen where the skull was shattered from the shear brutality of the fight.
The following morning, I returned to the same area where I found the dead bull the previous day. It had shown promise by the evidence of elk rubs and elk tracks in the area.
It’s always rewarding to find elk rubs that appear fresh and wallows that are still muddy from use. At first light I was working my way along a riparian area and decided to call near some wallows I had found the previous day. As I was looking over a spot to call from I heard a bull bugle about ¾ mile in the distance. Then another bull out in front of me about ½ mile answered his challenge. I knew I had elk around me so figured I better not push into the area any closer without calling. I sat my rogue configured Oregon Pack on the ground and grabbed myself a tree to blend into. I had a skid road coming by me and thought that might be a good path for an elk to come in on, but then again elk are known to come from whatever path they decide. As I started calling the bull out in front of me answered. I continued working this bull for about 10 minutes and it appeared he might come up the skid road in front of me. But the problem was the wind appeared to be drifting in the direction the bull may come from. While I was contemplating moving, I heard an ever so subtle sound off to my left in some reprod fir trees. But then the bull bugled to my front again and I lost focus on this slight sound I heard. With the wind drifting out to my front I decided to shift to my left about 20 yards, but I would take my pack with me this time. But again I got too impatient trying to second guess things, because as I made this shift there was another bull coming in silently off to my left. As I was re-positioning I had bumped him, causing him to move back into the trees a short distance off.The noise I had heard were the branches brushing off his side. So again I had made the mistake of moving to another spot in anticipation of the wind currents. Feeling frustrated I turned my attention back to the bull to my front who was still frequently bugling, even though it appeared he wasn’t getting any closer. I continued working this bull with cow/calf sounds and after about another 10 minutes I heard a branch break over my left shoulder. There standing about 70 yards away was the bull I had spooked earlier, he was looking around trying to decide if he wanted to come back in closer or not. He also kept looking back over his shoulder. This was indicative that he may have buddies with him. So as he faded back into the fir trees I gave a cow in estrous call, thinkingthat might bring him a little closer. When I gave that call I was not prepared for what happened next. The forest blew up with the sound of thundering hooves and branches exploding. In that same instant two bulls burst out of the trees running right at me from about 20 yards away, they blew past me so fast I didn’t even get a look at their antlers. One bull had appeared to be a 2-year-old though, but I wasn’t certain about the other. The one thing for sure, they were looking for that seductive cow. Both bulls stopped behind me about 10 feet away and were milling around, breathing hard. I knew there wasn’t a thing I could do at this point and waited for the wind currents to take care of my dilemma. I didn’t have long to wait when they exploded out of there making as much noise in their exit as they had made on their entrance.
But I still had an opportunity so I shouldered my pack and took off after the bull that was bugling in front of me. By this time, he had started up a side canyon and I thought if I could get out in front of him I might have a chance of calling him in. But then there was a chance he might have cows which made calling him in even more challenging. As I climbed midway up the ridge I was able to monitor his location as he would answer the challenge of other bulls bugling off in the distance. I quickly moved to a point that I thought put me out in front, but by this time he had gone silent. Thinking I had to be close I set up and started cow calling. The bull answered from directly below me about 300 yards. The wind was blowing parallel to the ridge so I thought if I could pull him up the hill and the wind would be in my favor. I worked this bull for about 30 minutes during which time he had pulled out in front of me and climbed on top of the ridge I was on. Another 10 minutes went by of cow calling before this bull started back down the ridge towards me. My problem was going to be I had set up anticipating him coming up from the bottom, not from the ridge top behind me, which was open ground. Not wanting to risk any moves across thin cover I waited to see how it would play out. It wasn’t long when I could hear the bull coming down through the trees. He trotted down out of the trees and was going to pass on my left getting in behind me. He appeared to be about a 4-year-old. As he passed behind a couple trees I drew and waited for him to walk into the next opening. As I was swinging my bow pacing his walk, I felt the wind suddenly shift on my neck and blow right up the hill. The bull was about 25 yards away. He suddenly stopped and as I centered my 20 yd. pin behind his shoulder, I began squeezing the release. In the instant that my release tripped, he whirled. The arrow left my bow in that same instant and passed through thin air sticking in the hillside where he had just been standing. While initially feeling frustrated I realized I had worked this bull for over 45 minutes and still managed to bring him into shooting range.I had also just previously called in 3 bulls before this stand so I didn’t have any complaints about how the morning had gone. I felt it was just a matter of time and luck would favor me, plus It appeared bulls still hadn’t gathered cows, which meant they were still susceptible to calling.
On the 8th day the morning hunt didn’t prove productive, but again in the afternoon I was committed to going back to my ground blind. I had noticed recent activity in the wallow the evening before so knew at least one bull was frequenting the area, little did I know what I was about to encounter. At 4:30 p.m. I approached the blind and was immediately met with a chorus of bulls bugling about 3-400 yards away. I have known bulls to come to wallows at all times of day so I didn’t know if they were on their way into the wallow already or not. I got into that blind in record time and was able to determine at least 4 different bulls were spread out in the timber. They would alternate between high pitched screams down to throaty rumbles. Every now and then one would choke and sounded as if he was being strangled. After a short while I realized these bulls must be bedded down as their locations weren’t changing. After about 1 ½ hrs. one bull sounded a little closer. This bull kept bugling and each time he sounded a little closer. When he was less than 100 yards away it was apparent he was headed to another wallow down below me. I hoped when he was done in that wallow he would come up to where I was, but after a period of silence, he was heard bugling as he walked off in the opposite direction. In the meantime, the other 3 bulls were still screaming non-stop. At about 6:00 p.m. I noticed the bugles were starting to come from different positions. They were up and moving. A few minutes more I could tell they were working their way my direction. At about 6:30 p.m. the first bull described at the start of this article had stepped out of the trees.
When he stopped at 22 yards in front of my blind I was settling my 20-yard pin behind his shoulder. As the arrow left my bow I felt the shot was good. Upon hearing the arrow hit, the bull whirled and ran up into the trees out of sight. Now I needed to give the bull some time before I started checking. As I settled in to wait I could hear the other two bulls still bugling, and still coming my way. After about 10 minutes I stepped out of the blind to stretch and check the area with my binoculars. As I was standing there scanning the area, I heard a bull bugle across the meadow from me. Another large bull like the one I just shot walked out and looked in my direction. He was a large 5x6. He looked across the meadow and headed right towards me. As the bull walked up to within 20 yards of me he noticed me standing there. He stared at me then turned and walked back across the meadow to a tree and started thrashing it.
He was 50 yards’ distance. While he was taking it out on the tree another bull bugled at the edge of the meadow and out walked the king of the bulls. This bull had longer main beams and was a perfect 7x7. To my amazement this bull walked through the meadow and like the other bull walked up to within 20 yards of me and stood there. He looked around and then walked off towards where the other bull was standing. The other bull trotted off a short distance as the big bull approached him.
While I was watching the two bulls I felt the wind switch directions and blow in their direction. It wasn’t long before they smelled my presence and trotted back in the direction they came from. By this point about 25 minutes had elapsed and I was going to be short on time before darkness so needed to check for my arrow. I found it 5 feet beyond where the bull had been standing. It was a complete pass through and the arrow showed signs of a lung hit. I walked up to where I had last seen the bull run into the trees and 50 yards beyond this I could see him lying dead.
I realized that what I had experienced for the last 2 ½ hours was a once in a lifetime encounter. I had been at the right place at the right time and after 10 days of hunting it all came together.
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