The end was now upon us. Like any good movie or a book you just can't put down, the end was inevitable. Early mornings and late nights were the norm. So many bulls screaming at one another in the fading light each morning and evening and some days, all daylong.
The first day, us Battle Creek guides, Mike, Max, Chip, Travis and myself, were seemingly simultaneously learning client's needs and likes while learning to play and understand the elk behavior and patterns.
Years ago, a friend--Dick the Barber--had a barber shop in downtown Bend. The only place in his shop not covered with large mirrors was a large collage of many fabulous bulls he took as an archer and solo-hunter. He would tell great stories as a persevering solo-hunter and details on how he would take the bulls temperature, getting them "tippy", he called it, until finally, "tipping him over", he would say, getting the bull to commit for a shot.
My first morning was learning where bulls were and how a threesome, two hunters and one guide, would hunt them. By the first evening I was with Mike, one-on-one, while Dave was in a tree stand. Mike and I had located three bulls in a playground that surrounded a bedding area. Mike and I crept in to bugling bulls, slowly cow- calling as we crept in.
The "Bedding-Area Bull" reacted quickly and moved toward us, pinning-down Mike. I continued shifting 50 yards behind a nearly impenetrable wall of small trees. Mike was an invisible hunter clad in camouflage while I, attempted to pull three separate bulls, from three differing directions in toward my client. Fading light fell so slowly that we were out of light with an arrow still nocked. We got the herd bull into 30 yards with the other two satellites staying just out of sight, but no arrow was loosed.
Darkness had moved the nocked-arrow to the quiver for the headlamp lit hike back to the truck.
Calling, moving, stopping--not sure of where the clients are in the thick timber, can be tough. The sneaky satellite bulls or a curious cows busted many of our set-ups.
Knowing where the bulls are by their constant bugling is the easy part. As a guide, I don't want to be caught moving or get winded and blow our approach. My clients, just gauge my calling and the approaching bull, to determine their pace--this seemed to work best.
When set-ups get busted, we backed out and moved into the wind for the next attempt.
The second morning--three of us again--located numerous bulls bugling right where we left off the evening before. With two clients in camouflage and myself trying to keep track of the elk and the hunters all while moving through the forest toward elk, and elk moving toward us, it was a challenge for me as a guide to not spook elk. It is tough enough for clients to not get winded, approaching elk catching movement when they can't find cows or that bull that's ready for a fight, and there's nothing. We located a pair of screaming bulls that Mike and I had heard the last night during the nightly exit by headlamp to the vehicles, and both were south of us. We attempted to get between two herd bulls and make our set-up.
We found a pair keeping their distance and allowing us to sneak in between the two and sound like a cow that was conflicted as to whom to follow. Not two minutes into the set up, I glassed from 500 yards a good bull on his way to our set up, bugling and screaming his location the whole time. In a matter of minutes I have backed away toward the north, toward the bull behind us angering him and the screaming bull approaching from the south.
I hear a flurry of cow calls and I know again our set up is over--I beat-feet and moved in the known direction of the clients and both have an arrow missing off their quivers when I arrive. Mike shot first at 30 yards, Dave gave a second-arrow, loosed trying to help with a follow-up shot from 40 yards.
The tracking job began before I arrived at the place of the two shots. with tracks and a small amount of blood present in the early morning dusting of snow, I feel the bull hadn't gone far.
The three of us combed the area in progressively larger circles until Dave spotted the bull in a tough-to-spot location tucked into some reprod, but just off a road.
I call for the "meat-wagon" and begin a gutting job.
We all had few late night tracking adventures by headlamp, under the wide open skies with Orion and the the Big Dipper beaming brightly. Many times I'd looked up after minutes of head-down wandering, looking for tracks or blood trail, and the North Star provided guidance when all I seemed to do was go in circles.
All of us had looked for blood trails and tracks in near-impossibly hard ground and grazed grass. It is rarely an easy job, especially after a long day, up before day light and to bed late.
Some tracks just disappear when an animal would slow from the initial run after a hit, and if no blood is found from a non-pass through, then a tough tracking job is at hand.
Dave went home empty-handed, but did loose an arrow on Saturday night. He and I had nearly a dozen encounters all amazing. He had taken two bulls both in the weeks leading up to our hunt.
A few of our clients bulls...
Of the 22 archery hunters in three weeks, our worst year in ten years we were still 88% on kills, with three animals lost, and one not choosing to shoot a 20 yard shot.
The memories are now all we have of the 2017, archery season. We will grow, have great memories and learn from the many differing dynamic encounters. The awesome experience we call archery hunting.
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