The 2011 Colorado Archery elk season started off very slow, the rut was late and the bulls didn’t show up in any numbers until the last week of the season. I had three days to hunt this last week and all I can say is “WOW” the elk were going crazy, the rut was in full swing. The problem was there were so many elk, so many elk calling at each other we had to get in close, very close for the elk to engage my calling. As amazing as it was to be surrounded by upwards of 100 elk at a time, it was a difficult challenge to get in close to that many eyes, ears and noses. Especially the noses!
The tactic Trevon and I employed on this hunt was what I like to call “herd shadowing“. This is one of my favorite ways to hunt elk, what I like to do is locate the herd from a distance, wait and observe the elk, the wind conditions and try to anticipate where the elk are headed, and what the winds will do. Once I have a good idea of both, I maneuver into the herd at an angle that will keep the winds favorable and get me in front or parallel with the movement of the herd. Just like with fly fishing where you read the currents of the river, I have learned over the years how to read the wind currents of the mountains. Believe me when I say that the locations that elk choose to bed are not by accident, they choose areas that are not only cool, but have swirling winds. This is where I have learned just how close to push the herd and where to sit on them without letting my wind drift into the elks location. Knowing the wind and the location of the elk are key to being able to successful is this type of hunting strategy.
The particular herd that Trevon and I moved in on was very vocal, both bugling and cow talk. We could never see the elk herd as the vegetation they we in was very thick, but we could hear where they were and where they were headed. We kept a safe distance from the herd, about half a mile to a quarter mile, just close enough to listen to the herd and keep track of their movements. While waiting for the thermals to stabilize and the prevailing wind to set up, we had some exciting encounters with some very nice satellite bulls. Once the winds were favorable, Trevon and I made a big loop to get even with the elk and get the winds favorable. We worked in close to the herd, stalking up on a few more satellite bulls and keeping our calling to a minimum, calling just occasionally to get the herd bull to bugle. I knew he wouldn’t commit to coming into the call until we were in his “red zone” as there was too many other bulls in the area for him to want to leave his cows. We followed the herd without seeing them for almost an hour.
Finally the aspen grove we were set up in had a thick understory of Chokecherry, visibility was less than 10 feet in most of the area, and in some areas the Chokecherry would thin out and we could see upwards of 20 yards. (There is nothing more exciting than hearing an elk bugle less than 20 yards away just waiting for it to step into the clear.) We again shadowed the movement of this herd for almost 2 hours. The elk finally bedded down in an area where the aspen stand turned into a mature stand of gamble oak. This oak grove was very open and shaded. This is where the bull wanted his cows to bed as he could see other bulls encroaching on his harem. Of course just like normal this was a key strategic location complete with swirling winds.
This is where we first started catching glimpses of the herd bull, a very nice 6×6. We set up close to the herd but still keeping our wind favorable, and started calling. We were literally overrun by elk. Cows, calves and small satellite bulls. We were actually surrounded by elk but the herd bull kept just out of my clear shooting lanes. We were still not quite in his “Red Zone” and we just couldn’t grab his attention with our calls as he was busy herding a hot cow or chasing off a smaller bull. We had to get closer!
Once the elk herd that surrounded us settled down and went back to the bedding area we slowly stalked in closer. We set up in the area the herd bull was most active in but we couldn’t move closer due to the swirling winds. We were as close to the herd bull and his cows as we dared go. After 15 mins of sitting and doing some soft, cow calls, we saw the herd bull pushing a cow back into the bedding area. The cow went through a shooting lane and the bull was in hot pursuit. The big bull entered the shooting lane at a run and I tried to stop him with a loud cow call, but he didn’t even break stride. No shot.
Finally though we were in his “Red Zone” and we engaged him with the call. He got that cow back into the bedding area and circled back to herd me into the bedding area. This time he came into us at a slow walk, I drew my bow while the bull was behind some oaks, when he entered the shooting lane I settled the 30 yard pin tight behind his shoulder and let her fly. I knew my shot was on the mark and made some quick and excited cow calls to calm the bull down. He only ran about 20 yards, stopped and offered me a chance to put a second arrow in him. My second arrow hit inches away from my first. Two double lung hits, I knew the bull was mortally wounded as he crashed down the slope. Trevon and I waited a few minutes to let the bull expire and heard his last cough and a crash about half way through our wait. The blood trail was thick and short. The bull a beautiful 6×6 was down and better yet, a short downhill pack out.
My 2011 archery elk season was over, a tough one in the beginning but one with an incredible ending. I can’t wait until next year to do it again.
Adam Wells – Outback Outdoors