I poured a hot cup of coffee and stepped out on the porch to listen. Once again, I hadn’t even shut the lodge door and the first bugles could be heard. It sounded like two or three different bulls in a valley only about a half mile away. The prevailing wind direction, leftover from the passing storm, caused us to jump in the Land Rover and drive five minutes around the flats. Right from the truck, we could see bulls.
There were several young bulls in the open and they were sparring with each other. They were more tickling antlers than anything. As we took some video and glassed for something sizeable, a throaty bugle rang out right above us. We moved ahead just a bit for a look up a long lane. Chris and I were just able to get glass on this bull as he bolted up the hill. “He’s got nice tops,” Chris stated as we watched him jog out of sight.
We tried to call him back down and he was gracious enough to answer a handful of times. But he was not going to be that naive. He’d seen us and he already had cows. He wasn’t going to come back to fight and he obviously thought he had enough girls already.
As it was not even sunrise, we kept heading West, into the next long grassy basin. I threw out a light bugle and we got a response immediately and close. Wind was perfect and we wasted no time climbing altitude getting level with our prey. As we side-hilled our way through the spotty pines, the bull continued to ring out through the mountains. It’s just such an awesome sound.
We spotted cows first and had to look around a bit to actually find the bull. Can you believe when we picked him out we were disappointed. It was the same exact little 6x6 we had already passed on twice. Seriously, what in the world happened to all the elk after the snow fall? Please don’t misunderstand … It was great to see so many racks that morning and it never gets old watching a bull rake the trees, tilt back and scream. It is just frustrating to put in so much effort and know the quality of bulls that live in the area, but be unable to turn over the right rock to find them.
The week before Chris and Frank arrived, I wrapped up a TV shoot with David Bloch of Outdoor Edge Knives, for his show Love of the Hunt. We had saw so many different bulls and David downed a nice elk of his own. Where were all these elk now?
Since the bull we saw first thing in the morning was the only really good bull we’d seen in a couple days, we decided to set up in his general area. We sat and listened for quite awhile, but all was silent. I hated to break my own rule of “patience, patience, patience,” but it was time to get the party started. I ripped one long, loud bugle which echoed around every peak in four directions. Bingo… we got an answer. But was this the same bull we saw jogging up the hill at first light?
At this point, we still had an hour of light. We wanted to do this right. We moved into a good setting. Frank stationed 60 yards ahead of me, with great shooting lanes. Chris was behind a few yards with the camera. I took the time to set up the Montana Decoy and pulled out the fighting cow call, a diaphragm mouth call and the bugle. The stage was set and we were about to put on a show.
I started my medley of calls and two bulls lit up on the ridge in front of us. One was weaker in effort, but other was a bonafide growler. I mewed and whined and occasionally threw in a spike squeal. I wanted these bulls to think there was a herd of cows being held by a small raghorn or spike. They were coming to us and calling all the way, with each call bouncing off the hillsides. We only had one problem; Light was now fading faster than they were closing the distance.
Bowhunting for elk most closely resembles playing poker. The entire event is a big game of calling and bluffs. The most important lesson in both games is knowing when to fold. We most likely wouldn’t get a shot before nightfall and at this point, we hadn’t educated any elk. Best bet was to quickly pack up and back out. We knew exactly where to start in the morning!