IT WAS MEANT TO BE: GIVEN THE CIRCUMSTANCES, IT WOULD HAVE BEEN WEIRD HAD HE NOT EXPERIENCED SUCCESS ON THAT DAY.
After months of planning, we ended up in southwest Colorado, excited to hit elk country. This trip tested our patience and perseverance, but after many fruitless days and many, many miles, we were finally able to close the deal with Scott harvesting his first bull, a true Pope and Young-caliber trophy on public land. That success together cemented our shared passion for hunting elk DIY, and we were determined to share many more elk hunts together. Eventually our focus moved from Colorado to Montana, and our hunting prospects appeared to look up once my father bought a piece of ground in that state. From our "home base" in that state we were able to get into elk on both public and private lands, but ironically our own land didn't prove to hold the elk we had hoped for, which left us guessing about the potential of our property. But that was about to change on a special hunt with my father.
As it turns out, this time Dad and I would be hunting in Montana alone. Scott had planned a mountain goat hunt in Alaska later in September, which left him unable to accompany me on this trip. He was also dealing with a terminally ill father when I left.
Scott's situation was heavy on my heart when I climbed the mountain that first morning. As I crested the top and stopped to take in the dawn of the morning, I received a text message from Scott that his father had passed away. Within seconds of reading his text, I heard a bugle echo out of one of the draws on our property. This was the first bugle I'd heard on our land. I stood in awe of that moment, thinking about Scott and his family and remembering our first DIY elk-hunting success together. And I just had a feeling that this was going to be a special hunt, one that I needed to share with my father.
The remainder of that day proved to be uneventful, as that bugling bull seemed to disappear into thin air. It left me wondering if I had truly heard a bugle, or if I was just caught up in an emotional moment.
The next day dawned cold and clear as my dad and I hiked up to the top of our property. As we entered the agriculture fields that spanned the upper reaches of our land, we split up with the intentions of covering more ground to find elk. I skirted the edge of the field as daylight was breaking, intent on getting to a point where I could watch a large timbered draw that funneled into the fields.
Making my way out to the point, I spotted several cows across the draw on the edge of the field. Behind the cows was the unmistakable silhouette of a big bull. Raising my binos, I confirmed that he was indeed a seriously good bull. The elk were feeding contently, so I used the opportunity of low light to back out and get my dad.
I told Dad that there was a great bull with some cows across the draw, and that we needed to make a move quickly before they headed down into the timber. Cautiously, we sneaked back out to the point to get another visual of the bull and come up with a game plan together. We glassed the bull for several minutes, and I kept muttering that the bull was easily 350 inches, which only further amped-up my adrenaline.
The bull's long, massive swords and sweeping thirds kept me mesmerized, but I had to get back to the task at hand. There were at least 15 cows in the herd, so I knew this would be tricky. Checking the wind, I told Dad that I would circle downwind and out of eyesight, using an open field that broke across the top, and then I'd drop over the edge into the timber to cut the elk off. I knew this would be risky, especially if any of the cows broke the horizon into the field, because there was no cover available. But this option outweighed just dropping into the timber, because the thermals would eventually carry my wind up to the herd.
With our plan in place, and Dad staying on the point to keep an eye on the elk, I set out across the field and dropped down over the backside of the ridge. I knew I'd have to move quickly, as the sun was cresting the horizon and the elk would soon start moving into the timber.
I kept an eye on the horizon at the top of the ridge for any elk that came over into the field. When I decided I was almost directly across the field from where the elk were, I threw up my binos for a quick glance before heading to the top. With no elk evident, I decided to make a break across the field to the top of the ridge.
I moved at a fast pace, watching for any movement coming over the ridge and hoping that I'd made the right decision. Approaching the top of the ridge, I eased into the junipers and sage on the edge of the field and scanned the draw below me for elk. Not seeing anything, I anxiously glassed the point where my dad was in hopes of getting a hand signal from him indicating where the elk had gone. But I couldn't pick my dad out, so I slowly moved down into the junipers.
The sun was now over the horizon and warming the air quickly. Just as I was thinking that this was another busted hunt, and that I'd made the wrong decision, I looked directly below me and spotted three cows staring at me. Stopping in my tracks, I anxiously scanned the timber. There were two more cows, then several more, and then what appeared to be the herd moving down from the top. Where had the bull gone? I wondered.
The cows below me were getting nervous, when suddenly I picked up movement near the top of the draw in the timber. Antlers! I knew I had to get this bull up the hill on my side of the draw, because I couldn't move down into the cows and expect them to remain calm.
I had a favorite diaphragm call from Rocky Mountain Hunting Calls in my mouth, and I used it to make a few soft mews to settle the cows. Much to my surprise, when I did this the bull that had been silent up to that point let out a loud bugle. Though I lost sight of him in the timber, he sounded off again, this time more intensely.
Recognizing that the bull thought one of his cows was moving away from the herd, I hit him again with a longer mew. He responded right away, and I could tell he was committed.
Stepping beside a row of junipers, I set up for a shot below me. The bull was less than 80 yards away when I saw him again. He started glunking as he approached, and then he bugled with the intent of calling me to him.
I threw another soft mew up the hill behind me, pulled an arrow from my quiver, and nocked it. To my left it was wide open out to 30 yards, and below me there was a small shooting lane out to 40 yards, but the bull would have to move perfectly for that to work.
The bull broke out of the trees at 35 yards, but a juniper stood perfectly between us. He stopped in that spot and scanned his surroundings, looking for his cow and glunking.
My heart raced as I struggled to find a way to make a shot happen. I knew I had to do something before the bull got wise to the situation, so I turned and gave a subtle mew over my shoulder and up the hill, hoping that I could turn the bull to the left and into the wide-open shooting lane.
Time went into slow motion as the bull took the bait and turned up the hill. I can't believe that worked! I thought to myself, and I came to full draw as the bull passed through the junipers. His shoulder cleared the trees and he stopped perfectly broadside, looking for his cow.
At 15 yards, the bull's chest looked massive! I settled my pin and pulled through the shot. My pink fletching disappeared behind his shoulder crease, and he did a 180 before heading down the hill. Quickly, I gave a few cow calls, and the bull stopped at 50 yards to look back at me. Then his knees got weak--the effects of my well-placed arrow overtaking him.
Suddenly, the bull went down, and I stood there in disbelief at what had just played out before me. My best bull ever was on the ground!
My first thought was to find my dad. I wanted him to join me as I walked up to this enormous bull for the first time. I was able to reach Dad on the phone, and I told him to meet me in the field. It was then that my knees started shaking.
I met my dad halfway from where I'd started the stalk and we shared a big hug and congratulations and I gave him an excited play by play of the events as they'd unfolded several minutes earlier. From Dad's vantage point, I had assumed that he could see everything play out. However, he couldn't see any of it, but he did hear my arrow hit the bull and knew I'd connected.
As we walked up to the bull, there was no ground shrinkage. He was every bit as big as I thought he was! I was overcome with excitement as I ran my hands along the bull's palmated swords. He was everything that I'd ever wanted in a big bull--long swords, dark tines with ivory tips, wide beams, and lots of mass.
After taking many photos, it was time for the work to begin as the warm sun was now heating up the hillside. I knew we had to get the bull broken down, but I had to take the time to make a phone call to Scott. As I recapped the hunt to him, we couldn't believe how the events of the last two days had played out. From the lowest of lows to the highest of highs, all the forces of nature had come together to make this hunt special for all of us. Although Scott was over a thousand miles away, he knew that this hunt was meant to be.
The author is director of sales and marketing for Lancaster Archery Supply.
My equipment on this hunt included a Hoyt carbon bow, Carbon Express Maxima Hunter arrows, SlickTrick Viper Trick broadheads, QAD rest, Stan Shootoff release, and calls from Rocky Mountain Hunting Calls. I rough-scored my bull at over 350 P&Y-style points.
Caption: On our first DIY elk hunt some years back, my hunting partner Scott Reeder took this publicland bull from a Colorado OTC unit.
Caption: This was my view as I began stalking in on the herd of elk (indicated by the white arrow).
Caption: I was very appreciative that my father, Gary Weaver, was able to share this hunting experience with me, even the pack out!
Caption: Shortly after my bull was down, the sun started heating up the mountain, so we had to hustle to get the bull broken down and back to camp.
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|Date:||Jul 1, 2019|
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