2012 Idaho Elk Hunt Part II
As I hiked back towards the ridge top, I began to bump elk and soon I realized I was in the middle of a large herd of elk. It seemed that I couldn’t move more than 50 yards in any direction without bumping a few elk, and with the wind blowing steadily uphill, I stood in a small clearing and contemplated my next move. Up the hill, I saw an elk cruising through the brush – a bull. I thought to myself, “he’ll catch my wind in about two seconds.”
Sure enough, just as soon as he disappeared behind a large pine tree, he whirled and ran. I cow called once, and I was encouraged when I was able to tell that he had slowed down. Then I noticed that he had simply stopped. I dropped off the small ridge I was on, crossed the creek and started up the other side. I knew I had a decent chance with this bull. Achieving the higher elevation, I recrossed the creek and moved into the timber above where I believed the bull to be. Slowly, I made my way into a small stand of dead timber. I kept my eyes peeled to the downhill side and in mid stride, I spotted a set of elk legs. I carefully set my foot down and tried to melt in with the trees. The elk’s entire body was behind brush, so I cow called and as the elk turned his head I saw it was the bull. I waited a few minutes and softly cow called again. This time the response was almost immediate. The bull began to wander up the hill towards me. At about 50 yards, he began to circle around to get my wind. I cursed my set up as I noticed as he was traveling that my window to shoot was going to be blocked by some overhanging branches unless I took a step to the downhill side. I drew as he passed behind a tree, and then I waited for him to get just beyond me to make my step downhill. The movement spooked the bull and he whirled down hill. I cow called and he turned perfectly broadside in my shooting lane. I let my arrow sing.
At that moment I knew I’d just hit him perfect. As he ran down the hill, I cow called and pretty soon I heard him coughing. I was reassured that I’d double lunged the bull. I waited the customary 30 minutes and made my way down to where the bull had stood when I shot. There layed my arrow – covered in dark blood from tip to fletching. Liver! My heart sank. I just couldn’t believe it. I began casting about for signs of a blood trail – it was spotty at best. I trailed the bull half by flecks of blood and half by hoof prints in the soft dirt. An hour after I’d shot him, I lost the trail and I stood dejected wondering what to do. Then I heard something through the thick timber and I caught a glimpse of him walking. It was 6:20 PM. Knowing now that I was certainly in the liver and not the lungs, I decided to leave the bull alone till morning, and I marked the spot on my GPS.
Arriving back at camp, Todd was already there. He had not seen a single animal all day and the discouragement I’d been fighting earlier in the day had gripped him. I showed him my bloody arrow. He showed excitement, but I quickly shot it down. “Liver,” I said disgustedly. “I’ve got to go in first thing tomorrow and find him.”
As you could imagine, I had a sleepless night. I couldn’t figure out what happened to my shot – a 35 yard shot is a chip shot. I wondered if I’d made the right call in leaving him for morning. I wondered if I’d be able to find him. I wondered if I did find him if I’d be able to salvage the meat. I wondered where to pack him to. I wondered…
Morning came and I was headed up the mountain with Todd. Todd was going to hunt that morning, but promised he would come over and help me look by mid-morning if he hadn’t heard from me. As we neared the summit to cross into the canyon I’d shot the bull in we agreed there was no way I’d be able to pack him back to our camp. It was a tough hike without a loaded pack – it took nearly 2 hours to reach the spot I’d shot from with an empty pack. It just wasn’t going to work to take three trips that way – I’d lose the meat for sure.
I began where I’d left the bull the night before and began zig zagging back and forth across the hill. I was surprisingly confident that I’d find him. I knew he’d been hurt bad. He’d only gone about 150 yards in that first hour after I’d shot him. I continued to criss cross the hill, but after an hour and a half the first feelings of discouragement began to set in. I was cruising through the last of the timber before the terrain became nasty and thick with brush – and there was my bull piled up in a small clearing. The time was 9:15 AM.
The relief and flood of emotions was like none other I’ve felt. I was ecstatic over having been successful for the fourth year in a row, I was relieved to have found him after not being sure, and I was thankful it was still early in the morning. I radioed Todd – “Todd, do you copy?”
“Yeah – loud and clear.”
“Bull. Is. Down.” I said emphatically, failing to contain my emotions.
When I shot my bow a few days later it became immediately clear what had happened to my 35 yard chip shot. My bow had not been in a case on the trip to camp, and my sight had been knocked off by 12 inches. I was lucky to have gotten the bull and I learned a valuable lesson to always check my bow after I’ve arrived at camp.
Unfortunately, I experienced about 40% meat loss after all was said and done and the meat I was able to salvage had to be specially cared for. All told, it was an exhausting hunt with some pain mingled in with the joy, but it’s the lessons we take from each hunt that make our future hunts better. And that’s a lesson I don’t want to forget.