Idaho Archery Bull
I began archery hunting in 2005 out of necessity more than because I wanted to. Oregon is a draw only state for rifle, so it didn’t take me long to see that if I wanted to hunt more than once every 4 years, I’d better learn a thing or two about archery hunting. But, after calling in a bull that first year that screamed his lungs out at me every 30 seconds, I became addicted to the way of the bow.
Fast forward to this season, now an Idaho resident with the choice to hunt bow or rifle, and despite having been humbled in the act of bowhunting, I’ve chosen archery as my preferred method of hunting – especially for elk. After four seasons, I still only had stories and memories to show for my efforts. As this season was approaching, my brother and I talked ourselves up big and vowed that this would be the year we got the monkey off our backs. We planned a 4 day hunt to kick off the season beginning on opening day.
The opener was wet – very unusual weather for Idaho’s archery opener. August is generally the hottest and driest month, but the rain was coming down as we found ourselves eying the end of the road for our first crack at the 2009 elk season. Lightning cracked seemingly all around us, but our anticipation could not be held back.
We set up on a huge flat bench that ran along a steep wall in a drainage we’d scouted earlier in the year. Our calls produced a couple lazy bugles, but nothing to get overly excited about. Eagerly, we eased to the next spot – near a big water hole that we knew elk frequent. Once we hit the ridge above the water, we could smell the elk. Fresh droppings, beds, tracks – the whole nine yards. We were in them. We set up and started off with some cow calls followed by a single bugle. Pretty soon, we’d located two herds below us as cows were mewing back and forth. Then a bugle came from one herd. Our hearts leaped – this was what we’d been waiting 11 months for! Another round of calling, and then from above us came the scream of a mature bull. I looked over at Todd and gave a fist pump. The wind was in our favor and I was on the uphill side from Todd meaning I would probably be getting a shot if this bull came in. And come in he did. His bugles began to come closer and anticipation began to build. When the elk appeared, he had circled a little bit, and his antlers tipped the ridge just 40 yards from Todd – and then the wind shifted. Todd, who got a better look at this magnificent bull, said he’d come in with his nose in the air and as soon as the wind shifted, he was gone. After such a build up, it was hard to believe it was over so soon.
During those four days, we called in three bulls, stalked to within 15 yards of one (Todd) and missed one at 40 yards (me). It was enough to leave us frustrated, but also optimistic that we were seeing bulls – and getting close. To us, it seemed it was just a matter of time.
The next weekend, Todd had previous engagements, so I went up the mountain by myself. I went to a new area – an area I’d shot three bulls from in previous years with my rifle. I knew the area, I liked it, and simply being there gave me a mental edge. I started up the ridge and was bumping deer every few steps it seemed. As I neared an old overgrown logging road, I bumped into a bull. As I started across a wide open flat, the bull spotted me and as he wheeled and ran, I thought I’d just missed a golden opportunity. Not willing to admit defeat, however, I got by the only tree nearby and started to call. I knew there was no way I could call that bull back across the wide open spot as he could surely see me – and he wouldn’t see any cows. After calling a few times, though, he answered back with a bugle, and off in the distance another bull answered him. You talk about a perfect morning, this was it. Being by myself, I was trying to utilize a camera mount on my bow given to me by Brian Piltz from Insane Archery rather than lugging my big camera around. The footage isn’t great because I was using a point and shoot picture camera, but I was glad to have the camera mount to capture some of the action.
The bull stood about 140 yards away and refused to come any closer across that wide open space. I quieted and allowed him to wander off into the brush, and then using the brush to conceal my movements I began working my way closer to him. Pretty soon I could hear his footsteps as he sampled the mountain’s menu. Losing patience, I moved toward the sound just as the bull stepped out and caught my movement. I came to full draw and chose my spot. As I released, the bull lunged forward and I watched in disappointment as my arrow went in too far back. There was no blood trail, no arrow, nothing. I began to question if I’d hit him at all. After giving him several hours, I followed his tracks as best I could, but pretty soon they mixed with so many other elk it was hard to tell what was what. Eventually I found myself on the next ridge over combing through the thick, viney brush that seems almost impenetrable. At this point many hours had passed since the shot, and worry was weighing heavy on me. I was picking my way through that thick brush when I spotted the tan body of an elk. The monkey has been evicted from my back.