Elk Hunting – Rembembering the 2009 archery elk season

My reward for the year in wildlife management is the archery elk season.  I love all aspects of hunting, but there are few activities that are as challenging and exciting as pursuing elk with a bow and arrow.  I average about 30 days a year hunting or guiding archery elk hunts. I feel that from the amount of time I spend calling and hunting elk and the areas I am able to guide and hunt in has given me not only some incredible memories and experiences but also a great education in how to hunt elk.  It is this education and some fun stories I want to share with you here from time to time.

I feel that when archery hunting elk, first and foremost, is you need to simply be able to enjoy the experience. For me just having a close encounter with a rut crazed bull is as rewarding as harvesting that big herd bull.  My first bit of advice is to just enjoy the moment, enjoy the hunt and the people you are with. If you base your success on just the harvest, I feel you miss out on so much of what archery hunting for elk is all about.

The bull pictured below is a great example of a close call.  When calling to elk, or any game for that matter, I try to create an illusion of a scenario where that bull would naturally come to.  Calling is more than just making elk noises, it is knowing how to “communicate” with a particular animal. This bull was a classic example of this.  There were four or five bulls bugling in the canyon below where my hunter and I were listening from.  I guessed there were 40 to 50 elk in the herd, the wind was not perfect but workable, my hunter was capable of getting into position so we made a play. Now here was the challenge, how do I make my set up more attractive and enticing than 40 to 50 real elk, all talking their fool heads off? A cross wind that is far from perfect and a fairly new archery elk hunter that is still needing some coaching on how to set up, when to move, when to sit, etc.  1st thing we did, before ever making a call was to find a spot close to the elk, but were I could call out of sight of the elk but in sight of my hunter. We found a great “break” in the hill that would accomplish this beautifully, as long as the wind holds… well it was looking like a good set up.

Now for the calling, how do I get a bull to leave 40 to 50 cows? First I gave a lost cow call, then a minute or so later one more. Even though I didn’t get a response to either call, I knew that the bulls could definitely hear me.  Then I gave one more lost cow call with a squeelly little bugle right after… that did it, now I had one talking back! Ok, so now how do I keep the attention of this bull and get him to come upwind of my hunter? Can I get the bull committed or will I loose him to the mass of elk below? I hit the bull right back with an excited cow call, trying to say “hey big boy, get this little guy away from me…” but right as he bugles back to the cow call, I cut him off with another little squeelly bugle. Oh, that is just flat out rude was the bulls reply to me cutting him off!! But I can see now that I am getting under his skin, I have his full attention, and he is coming closer… perfect!  Now I would have liked to have set up closer to the herd, but with an inexperienced hunter, questionable wind, and a great spot to set up a little over 150 yards away from the herd….. well I made the most of the set up. The bull being an elk like he was started to circle down wind of my hunter and I, so I changed my location to keep the bull coming on a line that would bring him upwind and close to my hunter. All the time continuing my conversation and illusion of a small bull running off with a hot cow. Well, now I hear the bull has “hung up” I was anticipating this as we had to set up further away than what I find is typically successful distance to be. The bull would continue to respond to both the cow calls and the bugle, but was not wanting to leave the 40 to 50 cows in the canyon below. From experience, I could guess that this was as much as the calling would do, so I shut up. By going silent on the bull, I was giving my hunter and I the opportunity to move in closer of need be, or see if the bull’s curiosity would get the better of him. When the bull kept bugling at me after I quit calling I felt his curiosity might get the best of him, then after a few more bugles at me without a response, the next bugle was closer, a lot closer. Then I could see his tan hide moving thru the brush but he was going to be down wind of my hunter before a shot could be had, so quickly I made a soft cow call, it worked, he turned back on the “line” I had planned out for him. But now, I was so close he could tell right where the call came from. Good thing I picked a good set up spot as I had the break of the hill to my advantage, the bull now was 25 to 30 yards from my hunter and about 50 yards from me so I he could see where there should be a cow elk standing. Here is where a Montana decoy is a killer!! I had the decoy popped up but laying on the ground next to me, I slowly held the decoy up, saw I had the bulls attention and slowly dropped it back out of sight. That did it! Here he comes! When the bull was 10 yards from my hunter I stopped him with a loud and quick cow call in the best shooting lane my hunter had. Everything was perfect, the elk 10 yards away from the hunter, his full attention on my location, but he quartered his shoulder towards the hunter. So close but no shot at all. He stood here for a what seemed like a life time and finially detected that something was just not quite right and turned and walked away without ever offering an ethical shot.  I was able to snap a quick picture of him here right before he walked into the shooting lane.

For me, working the bull, getting him close to my hunter, and having that experience is what I live for.  I hope by me sharing my story, I am keeping the fire in you for next September and maybe you learned a little too.

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