My morning ritual continued, with a cup of coffee and a jaunt onto the deck. I think I cracked a smile when I heard the bulls calling in the darkness. The bulls were right where we’d left them and the growler was really getting after it. We got to the edge of the valley and found the bull quickly. It was just light enough to make out his rack and he was our shooter. Right behind him on the same hillside was also a mega muley buck. Chris wanted to forget elk for one hunt and fill his Muley tag. Only one problem … we now had two shooters in our sights and right at first light, but they were off the property.
How many obstacles does one actually need to hurdle to get an elk? I had convinced Frank to come hunting as he was in a similar predicament as Pat Lefimine. Frank had shot a couple of bulls with his bow, but in fifteen trips, he hadn’t really taken what he considered a trophy bull. The pressure was really starting to mount up. I dedicated my hunting to bow only when I was 20 years old and since had been fortunate to take thirteen bulls. I know these animals cold and I consider myself to be an elk hunter. At this point though, I wasn’t tasting backstrap but more so a huge cup of humility soup!
Private ground hunting has so many advantages, including game management, lack of pressure and ease of access. The big pitfall is all private land has boundaries and just like a kid with crayons, you can only color within the lines. Most days we’re blessed with the best feeding, bedding and breeding areas. Following this early winter storm, it’s like we’re cursed. Oh well, Mother Nature has delt us some tough hands before we’re up for the challenge. If it was that easy, the trophy wouldn’t mean half as much.
We didn’t see any other elk or hear any bugles what-so-ever. We didn’t see any more Muley bucks either. We spent forty-five minutes atop a big clearing calling infrequently and hoping to drag something into our ambush. Aa we sat on the hillside, a group of turkey hens eased by us at about 10 yards. We were not happy with our hunting results so far, but we were still in great spirits laughing at ourselves and enjoying the time outdoors.
I looked at Frank with a smirk and threw in my mouth call. I’d been cow calling with it for days, but this time I jokingly threw out a myriad of turkey clucks. The hens didn’t just answer, but they turned around and came right back. I called and they called back and we could hardly stop laughing. Frank said, “Well Drew, at least we know you can call something.” That broke the ice from our otherwise frustrating morning. On the way back to the lodge, we grabbed the trailcam and sure enough, we’d captured a great picture of our junior 6x6 bull.
The plan doesn’t take much imagination to figure out on this one. We were headed back to the side of the ranch where we’d seen the biggest bull and the biggest muley for the whole week. It was also the best weather we’d seen; yet it was still cool. We got out of the Rover and hiked a short ways into the pines. The big boy gave us shout right off. “Nice,” I thought as it was like he’d read the script.
Two other bulls called as well, but all the elk were still about a quarter mile off the Northern boundary. I periodically cow called, rather loudly, hoping to draw them slowly in our direction. They continued to call regularly, but didn’t seem to be getting much closer. I didn’t want to over do it, but I certainly wanted to make these bulls think there were eager cows nearby.
We were sitting casually, not sitting at the ready. Afterall, we could hear all these elk and the closest one was just inside a half mile. I know better than to call and assume you’ll hear every elk that heads your way. “Frank, knock an arrow,” I said in very much the affirmative. Chris got a quick look of terror as he knelt down and I reached for my rangefinder.
“Forty-six yards Frank, right in front of us,” I whispered as tines grew into view. I couldn’t believe we were so complacent. We were so focused on the one bull, we had totally discounted any other elk. This bull saw us and turned. I cow called feverishly for a few seconds and then saw a second elk to my right. The second was a spike who moved directly down wind of us. He threw his nose in the air and then spun and retreated, bounding through the forest.
Chris heard branches breaking and I chalked it up to the dozens of squirrels. We had been totally caught with our pants down. We advanced to where the branch-antlered bull was standing and shook our heads. I picked up my bugle to try and see if anything was left in the vicinity. I had no more than finished and capped my call when Chris and I both caught movement to our left.
There was a bull moving towards us at about a hundred yards. A spike could be seen in the pines as well, then another. We were still not in the best position and yet another bull could be seen in the dark timber. Four, five, no six or was there really seven different elk coming through the trees? It was truly unbelievable and we tried desperately to pick out the best bull. It was mostly spikes and raghorns in an odd bachelor group, but there was one bull with tops like a red stag and another absolutely whale-tale five point bull.
I crawled backward to throw up the decoy and give the final convincing, sexy elk calls. The spike that had winded us and the first bull that seen movement were still super wary. It was an awesome sight to see that much tine all wound together in the view of the binoculars. As much as we wanted to finish it out with an arrow in the air, it still wasn’t in the cards. As we headed home all we could say was, “pants around the ankles.”