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Nightmares & dreams: for a Roosevelt elk hunter, the gloom of defeat can spawn the brightest victory.

To spend a whole year being haunted by my encounter with archery's darkest stigma was truly the nightmare of my of my lifetime. Every scouting trip, every hunting story, and every outdoor show seemed to bring me back that moment. The huge bull was standing before me and I made seemingly the perfect shot. But instead of celebrating I spent the rest of the season trying to recover that bull--to no avail.

Given the shot placement, that elk could not possibly have survived. I found the back part of my arrow snapped off in a thicket, and the blood trail continued for several hundred yards before disappearing. Presumably, the elk had died, meat wasted. I was devastated.

Still, my dream of finding the bull carried me for weeks. Local game wardens gained me permission to search some private land, as well as a non-hunting corridor along the nearby Rogue River. I took days off work, and a band of good friends, including my life-long friend Allan Carroll, who is the best tracker, caper, and butcher I've ever seen, helped me grid the entire region.

To compound the heartache, excitement and interest among locals brought controversy. People had mixed feelings about the whole scenario, and with time the so-called Costello Bull became a nemesis to me. Not only was my dream lost, but also now people were doubting me. I had really let myself down. The month of September, during which the search and the controversy continued, was like an eternity. The nightmare of watching that elk bound away, never to be seen again, haunted me.

AT THE SAME TIME, the story took on another side. My good friend and hunting partner Dan Syfert, owner of Wapiti Archery and Wapiti Archery Outfitters, suggested that maybe the elk had survived. "Maybe the arrow hit a rib and wasn't lethal," Dan said. Coming from a man with his considerable bowhunting experience, it made me wonder.

Then I started hearing rumors that supported Dan's theory. As game wardens and Rogue River guides reported seeing a big bull, I suddenly was dreaming of redeeming myself and erasing the stigma of losing an animal.

The following summer, buoyed by that hope, I made countless scouting trips to search for signs of elk activity, especially rubs, wallows, and large tracks, and before long I began to pattern a small herd containing a few bulls. One in particular left a very large, deep track. Could it be...?

I never did see the herd, but I'd learned enough to hang a few treestands along the ridgeline the elk traveled frequently. Then I bailed out of the area to wait for the upcoming season.

Meanwhile, I kept busy scouting for blacktail deer. It proved to be time well spent, as I started to pattern a huge blacktail buck using a lone waterhole I had stumbled upon. Other hunters knew of this buck, so I hung two treestands. hoping to get a crack at the buck early in the season before hunting pressure forced him out of the area. With my elk and deer scouting accomplished, I could only wait anxiously for opening day.

Of course, the approaching season, which opened in late August, forced me to make another decision: In Oregon, the archery deer and elk seasons open on the same day. Should I try to beat other hunters to that beautiful blacktail buck? Or should I sneak into my elk spot and hope for another encounter with the phantom Costello Bull?

Unable to make a logical decision, I resorted to my Uncle Joe's advice. My Dad and my Uncle Joe were the ones who introduced me to hunting at a very young age, and they taught me many things I still rely on 40 years later. One of Uncle Joe's simple rules was, "If you can't decide which spot to hunt, just flip a darned coin." So I did.

THUS, AT 3:30 A.M. opening morning--even though I could not stop thinking about that bull--I was sitting in my stand over a waterhole, waiting for a thirsty buck. My trail timers had told me he normally came in around 10 a.m., but I wanted to be there early, just in case.

And it was a good thing, too, because at 7:15 a.m.. a huge 4x6 blacktail with bladed eyeguards came on the scene and presented me with a perfect 20-yard shot. Suddenly my mind forgot the bull and moved right where it was supposed to be on the vitals of that buck. My shot was dead on, and 45 minutes later, just two hours into opening day, the celebration began. My good friend Al and I had the deer boned and in the meat locker in a matter of hours.

Even at that, amid all of the joy and laughter, I could not get that bull elk out of my mind. How could I taint such a wonderful opening day by letting my experience with the elk continue to haunt me? The feeling was overwhelming. I hadn't been able to shake it all year long, and even after killing this fine buck, the elk remained foremost in my mind.

That night I did not sleep well, but my mind was set. Crawling out of bed at 2 a.m., I was climbing 30 feet high into my favorite elk stand by 4:30 am, where I anxiously waited for daybreak. This stand hung at the crossing of two main trails that led from a river bottom where the elk fed at night to a ridgeline where they frequently traveled during the day. It was a good spot.

During the previous two months I'd found a lot of fresh bull sign along these trails, and some of the rubs and tracks were huge. If that bull still lived, this could be the place. Right before dawn, I started a series of calls I had learned from my good friend Jim Horn at one of his elk-calling seminars two years before. After a short series of cow calls at five-minute intervals, I finished with a long, sweet, hyper-hot sequence and then waited patiently for results. This approach had worked for me the year before, so I was confident it would work now.

Some 15 minutes later, I heard two bulls rattling antlers behind me. Their commotion--they sounded like someone building a house--filled the morning air with excitement, and knowing my calling had riled them up, I began shaking like a little kid. Peeking around my tree, I caught glimpses of them but couldn't tell their size. I was about to start a new series of calls to pull the bulls doser when I spotted two cows approaching slowly from my right. They were curious, so I had to stay perfectly still and quiet.

While watching the cows closely, I suddenly heard antlers rubbing aggressively on a tree right behind me. Ever so slowly I peeked around my tree and discovered a monster bull, just 20 yards away--and bigger than the one last year! After attacking a young fir tree, he stared at the cows and then attacked the tree again and again. I was so spooked I couldn't even count points.

Slowly he started moving to my left and briefly presented a shot. Drawing and aiming, I realized this was the exact shot angle I'd had on the big bull last year. I hesitated for a moment, and before I could release the string, the bull moved behind a tree, covering his vitals. Letting down my bow, I broke into a cold sweat and began shaking so hard the tip of my arrow was hopping.

When he moved, I drew again. He stood in a window through the limbs, but a few branches in the way made me uncertain, and I held at full draw seemingly forever. During this time, I suddenly settled down. After countless hours of practice throughout the year, I knew my bow and sight were dialed in perfectly. Everything was okay now.

Then the bull took the magical two steps needed to give me a clear shot. As I talked myself through a perfect release, the shot was on target--it seemed. The elk bolted about 20 yards, stopped abruptly, and looked back at the cows as if to say, "What was that?"

As he stood motionless, I second-guessed my shot placement and desperately started to nock another arrow. But before the arrow was on the string, he took three steps and fell over, right before my eyes! I was one excited 50-year-old bowhunter.

Climbing from my treestand, I immediately investigated to see if it was the same bull I'd hit the year before. I could see no obvious scars on the hide, and after admiring the magnificent rack and field-dressing the bull, I could find no signs to confirm that it was the same animal.

However, when my good friend Paul Johnson butchered the elk for me, he found a large growth in the prime rib area, and when he cut through the growth he found four inches of the tip of my arrow from the previous season. Just as Dan Syfert had theorized, the broadhead had center-punched a rib high up and at an angle, and only a portion of the arrow passed through the bone and into a lung. The bull had healed and gone on to live a healthy existence. The so-called Costello Bull truly had become the Costello Bull, once and for all.

Two trophy animals in two days! How could I ask for more? My joy was overwhelming. Still, the greatest joy came from turning a haunting nightmare into a dream fulfilled.

AUTHOR'S NOTES:

Based on the SCI scoring system, the massive 7x7 antlers of my Roosevelt bull measure 369 3/8, making him the largest Roosevelt elk ever recorded by a bowhunter under the SCI system. Based on the Pope and Young scoring system, my bull measures 353 7/8, making him the number two P&Y Roosevelt elk.

As an added bonus to my great fortune, on October 22 of that same year I bagged a Rio Grande turkey with a beard measuring 11.9375 inches, the longest recorded by a bowhunter in Oregon. During that magical fall, I had shot three arrows and taken three fantastic trophies.

Many people have helped me achieve success. In particular I want to thank my beautiful fiancee, Lisa Coates, as well as my three wonderful children, who have understood my love for the outdoors. Equally important, Dan and Al's bowmanship, expertise, and support--along with God's help--have kept me on target. Finally, I think it is fair to say to all, never give up. Even in the midst of haunting nightmares, you may find rewarding dreams. I am living proof of that.

For these hunts I used a Mathews Ovation bow, Trophy Ridge Mantis pendulum sight, Gold Tip arrows, Muzzy broadheads, Tru-Fire H.O.T. release, Doinker stabilizer, Predator camouflage, Line-X coated North Starr treestands, and a Badlands pack.

The author is an avid bowhunter who makes his home in Grants Pass, Oregon.
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Title Annotation:MAGNUM BULLS
Author:Costello, Johnny
Publication:Bowhunter
Date:Aug 1, 2006
Words:1853
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