Thursday, October 17, 2013

Del's 2013 Bull

Del is one of the elk killinest dudes I know. He has killed elk in just about every way, except by utilizing patience. Del usually runs along side the elk until the elk gets tired, and then shoots them. No, but seriously, he's got a pair of legs on him, and he uses those legs!

The first time Del and I hunted together we found ourselves in the middle of elk mecca. Elk and Del were running all over the place. He passed up a small bull or two that day. I was laughing at the utter madness unfolding in front of my eyes. Del then told me what his plan was over the next two days. I smiled and said "Have fun!". He knows no physical limits. In a four day hunt Del survives on a couple of tortillas and less water than a camel. He is just one of those kinds of guys.

Del has let up on his trophy hunting ways over the past few years. It used to be that the small bulls were not worth his time. He usually lets them walk because he doesn't like ending his season so soon. This year, with a wedding to attend in Italy, he wasn't going to pass up anything. A wedding in September is NOT COOL for an elk hunter, regardless of whether or not it is in Italy.

So I asked Del to write me a story this year. Here it is, in his words:

The Short Season: By Del Jolly

2013 proved to be a very interesting Elk season for me and many of my Elk hunting friends. I think Tommy's earlier assessment hit the nail on the head...the opener had some of the best bugling I've ever heard.

This year I was very focused on the elk season. Three years ago, Tommy, Danny and I shot daily for months leading up to the season, it was no surprise that each of us were successful that year. I am a true believer that elk season starts well before August. But life gets very busy at times. Still, I believe in starting my preparation months before the season to increase my chances of being successful.

Last year I got so busy with “life” that elk season wasn't a priority. It was the first year in my life that I didn't even shoot at an elk. I believe that it had a lot to do with the fact that I didn't train and I didn't shoot, all I did to prepare was basically schedule my hunt. I vowed that this year would be different. I shot as much as I did three years ago (the year that the Clums and I all killed elk). I worked out, and dreamed of elk both day and night. I was very excited, but more importantly, prepared for the opener.

Usually I pack in with the llamas, but this year I didn't want to be held back by anything, I would go where the elk took me. I planned on hunting with Kelly on opening day. Our only plan was to hunt the first morning together and then see what the situation looked like. We would either stick together if that seemed right, or go our separate ways and see each other at the truck in five days. However, as bad luck for Kelly would have it, he got ill the day we were to leave. It was unfortunate for him, but didn't weigh too heavy on me when I left 5 minutes after the call.

When I got to the trailhead I had to wait for a rain storm to pass before I could start. I’m sure that is a reoccurring theme for many of us Coloradans this year. Once the storm broke I was late, but on my way nonetheless. About a mile into my journey the elk started bugling, completely ruining my "plans" on where I was to camp that night. I was bushwhacking and decided to sleep right where I was rather than risk spooking any elk. Bugles popped off throughout the valley as I set up my tent and crawled in for the night. I've always thought of these kinds of nights as Christmas Eve for adults.

I woke to a bugling bull, though he was fairly far away. I instantly packed my stuff and ran up the mountain. Each time I’d think I was closing in on the bull he would bugle further away, and as we all do, I continued to go after him. He dragged me all the way up some pretty rough country and into another drainage where we frequently see elk. He was going down the other drainage and getting further away by the minute. I decided to leave him be and see if I could strike up anything else.

This year I brought a Montana Decoy. I wanted to try something new for me...setting up and calling as opposed to running down the elk. So at the top of the drainage I set up the decoy and began cow calling. Immediately a cow answered, followed shortly by another bull. I caught sight of a small bull running through an open valley about 500 yards away. I could tell he was a young bull by his eagerness to come see me. I set up about 15 yards in front of my decoy on a steep slope then called and waited. Very soon I saw a cow coming up the hill about 60 yards away. A small 5X5 was right behind her. I always like when cows lead because it gives me an opportunity to see what the bull might do.

At one point I had a fairly straight down shot at the bull, but it appeared that the cow was going to bring him to a better shooting lane, so I waited. The bull was following the cow as she passed through my shooting lane. I knew right where I was going to draw, and was already preparing my mind because this bull was certainly going to run waaaay down hill before he died. But as his luck would have it, just before I drew, the bull stopped, got that nervous look in his eye and started backing up. In the corner of my eye I saw the decoy swaying back and forth in the breeze. The bull looked right at me and bolted.

The next morning I woke to three bulls bugling back and forth. One was within a hundred yards of my tent, so I decided to leave the tent and go after the bull. This elk had a great bugle and I could see he had cows. As I tried to slip under him the wind changed and the entire herd busted out. It was disappointing to go from tons of action to none with one quick breeze.

This is the area I had the best action. There are big drainages to the left and right of the picture. You can see how easy it would be to have a straight down shot with how cliffy this area is.

Before I packed my tent and headed for further pastures I through a bugle down a drainage. I immediately got a response. I decided to quickly run back to my tent and pack my gear before chasing this elk. When I got back and called again I got no response. Usually I cover tons of ground until I slop into something, but this day I decided to implement a more technical approach. I sat, for the very first time in my nine year elk hunting career, and cow called and waited. I'd wait 5 minutes, cow call again, and wait longer.

When I had just about exhausted my patience (10 minutes later), I heard a pop behind me. I was sitting on my but with my heavy day pack. I could see elk legs coming my way. It took about all I had to get to my knees quietly with that heavy pack. It was fairly dense where I was. The elk was coming from my left, so I turned my head to the right and gave three soft mews. I wanted to create just a little bit more excitement since I knew that I wouldn't be able to call again (I was using an open reed cow call that required me to move my hand).

The small bull bit. He was below me and moving from left to right. I looked ahead of his path and there was only one small shooting lane. I knew that I needed to stop the bull there or it wouldn't happen. I came to full draw as the bull was walking through the lane. I mewed with my voice and the bull stopped right where I needed. him to. I let the arrow fly. It seemed to zip right through the elk. He turned and bolted down the hill. I called to stop him, it was too dense to see him so I listened intently. A few minutes later I heard a crash. And then it sounded like he got up and ran further.

My bow tip is pointing to the exact spot the elk was standing when I shot him. I had a very narrow gap between those two trees, but with all the shooting and preparation I did this year I was 100% confident in my ability to make the shot.

I waited for an hour. When I started to track him I found good blood right away. My arrow was about ten yards from where I had shot him. I followed the blood trail for about 100 yards and reached a point where I could see no more. I stood there trying to figure out what to do. Should I wait longer or continue to sneak along the faint trail? As I stood there contemplating my next move I looked to the right and saw the bull piled up.

The majority of the blood trail looked like this. Lots of blood on both sides of the trail.

This is exactly what I saw when I was trying to figure out my next move. Did you see the bull right away?

It was very exciting to finally bring it all together. Even though it was only the second morning, it had seemed like I had been elk hunting for months. This was the first time I killed an elk when I wasn't camping with anybody. That meant I’d be packing it out by myself. It took me two days and three trips.

I used a Spirit Longbow, 48@28. My draw length is 31". I used Carbon Express Heritage arrows with a 175gr VPA Terminator broadhead. My arrow passed completely through the bull, and he left a 100 yard long, heavy bloodtrail. 

The Clum's taught me how to butcher my own meat, so I spent an evening with my wife and kids butchering the elk ourselves. 

It was tough to be content in town since my season ended so early and I trained so long. I went back up a couple weeks later with a cow tag in my pocket just to sit under a tarp in brutal rain for three days. But sitting under a tarp in the Rocky Mountains with a punched bull tag isn't that bad.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

2013 Ontario Moose Hunt

The Silver Fox (Dad) had to show us how it was done in Ontario this year. Good thing he spent a lot of time practicing his 50+ yard shots at the range this year. It really paid off...more later.

Running this archery store with my Dad and brother is really fantastic. The people that I get to interact with everyday, the conversations I get to have, the non-stop hunting stories. I don't have a complaint in life. I really have it too good. The only bummer is that the three of us do not get to hunt together very often. In the past ten years we have taken only a small handful of trips, all together. Somebody usually needs to man the fort. 

This year was different. We have some excellent people helping us in the store right now, so we grabbed our wives, girlfriends, kids, bows and arrows and fishing poles and headed to Ontario. Some families take cruise vacations, we go on hunting/fishing trips.

We headed back to Wine Lake to hunt with Herb Pugmire. His operation is set up perfect for families. It is a first class camp that is completely affordable for average folks with some planning. Two years ago my brother killed a great moose here at Wine Lake, I wrote a story about it here. Following are some pictures of our trip, some of the fish we caught, the wildlife we saw, and a moose hunting story.

My son, John, telling me about moose hunting.

Bald eagles are plentiful in Ontario. This guy sat with his catch as we cruised by.

I caught this little frog as Danny and I were working our way into a calling position. We sat for twenty minutes, calling intermittently. As I was taking pictures of this little frog a bull moose starting tearing up the forest right behind us. I forgot about that frog real quick, and though that bull was within 50 yards I never did see him through the thick woods. I'm not sure how a bull moose vanishes in the forest without being seen or heard. Apparently he wanted to let us know he was there, but that was it.

My Mom loves the outdoors, she had a great time and hammered the fish.

John isn't quite old enough to reel in the fish by himself, but he sure loves being there.

Dad with a 25" walleye.

The past two times I have been to Wine Lake I have had a goal of catching a 40" pike. I got close in the past, but this year I finally got one. He was 40" on the nose, not 1/8" over. Mission accomplished!

The sunrises and sunsets on the lake were truly something to behold.

Alright, let's get to the good stuff! The moose hunting this year was a bit slower than past years. I would assume that it had something to do with the fact that the lows were in the upper 50's and the moon was full right in the middle of our hunt. We also experienced super high winds, which made hearing anything all the tougher. We changed our tactics to accommodate the conditions. Instead of sitting in once place and doing a lot of calling we moved a lot more and tried to spot something.

The forest is all but impenetrable. Walking around is really not an option. Our strategy was to locate a moose from the boat, either with our eyes or our ears, and then get on the shore and try to call the moose to us. 

This cow was out feeding at 2pm. 

This bull and cow fed in place for a long time. We positioned ourselves on shore a couple hundred yards away and worked towards them as quietly as we could. We made it to within shooting range but a shot never presented itself. Calling to this bull proved ineffective.

Herb built a small platform near a moose crossing shown in the picture above. Bulls pass through this crossing every couple of days as they are on the prowl. You can see why, it's a perfect funnel for traveling bulls. Herb insisted that we split up our time and keep a guy on this stand. It's really not much of a stand, the platform only sits about 10 feet off the ground, barely above eye level with these long legged moose.

On Dad's second sit a young bull moose showed some interest in his calling. Dad called only loud enough so that the bull could hear him. And only often enough to keep the bull's interest. Bull moose can take their time coming to a cow call. At one point the little bull lost interest and starting walking away. Dad turned around and called facing away from the moose, to try and sound further away. The small bull turned on a dime, and finally committed to checking out this cow he was hearing.

The moose was coming strong, grunting with every step. When he was twenty yards away the moose had two options, walk around a willow bush and offer my Dad a 20 yard shot, or come straight to him. As luck had it, the bull walked straight to him. 

When the bull was a measly five steps away, and practically eye level, my Dad slowly drew back his bow. As the moose walked by his tree, not even three yards away, Dad let go of the string. He could have jumped on the moose's back just as easily. Dad thought that the shot placement was perfect, and was 100% confident that the moose would be no further than 100 yards away. What he didn't know at the time was that his arrow glanced off of the moose's rib, angled down and back, and only caught one lung and part of the liver. 

Danny and I were hunting in another location, and Dad was a couple mile boat ride from camp with no boat. So when Danny and I came to pick him up, several hours later, we were surprised to see him sitting on the shore reading a book. We figured that he was just enjoying his vacation and glanced at each other with that look that said, "Come on Dad, stay on the freakin' stand!". 

As we pulled the boat up I saw that grin that people make when they are trying to hide a smile (crudely referred to as a $#!& eater). I got pretty excited, knowing what that face meant.

What was supposed to be a real short blood trail got a little longer than we were comfortable with. We backed out and went fishing for a few hours before continuing the search, just to play it safe. We grabbed Herb to help retrieve the bull. 

Herb has been there, done that. He had a strong hunch on where the bull may have gone, and sure enough, he drove the boat right to it. The bull went to water to lay down, and died there right next to the shore. We drove right past him at least three times and never even thought of looking for him there. The four of us dragged him on shore, snapped a few pictures, and then got to work.

Dad killed this moose with a Hummingbird recurve - 53@28, 62" He used a Carbon Express Heritage arrow and 200gr VPA Terminator broadhead.

This Randall knife was a conditional gift to my Dad from a good customer. The condition: it had to be used.

Since the moose died right in the water and we could drive the boat to him I went back to camp to get the girls and the kids. I knew my son, John, would really love to see the moose. Plus, the girls wanted to see how we cut up this giant animal.

I love this picture, my wife and Danny's girlfriend grimaced a few times. Personally, I would gut fifteen moose over changing one dirty diaper. My wife on the other hand, she'll take the diaper.

My Dad, my boy, and me (below). When it comes to important things in life hunting is pretty far down on the list. There are a lot of areas in life that are more important than trying to kill animals. However, there are not many things that bond fathers and sons like spending time in the woods together. What other activities make young men excited to spend time with their dads, from the time they are a kid, through being a teenager, and then as adults? Long car rides to hunting destinations provide many hours of one-on-one conversations. Sitting on a mountain, or in a boat, or even on a cabin porch, while witnessing The Creation first hand, implants memories and discussions quite deep. And if nothing else, hunting provides an excellent excuse to be with one another. My Dad used hunting with my brother and me to create strong bonds, good memories, and provide the opportunity for meaningful and important conversations. I plan on doing the same thing with my sons. This is hunting memory #1 with my son. Many, many more to follow.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Chad's 2013 Bull

Traditional archery has been a big part of my family, long before my Dad started this business. I have fond memories of my cousins Chad and Tyler coming to our house for an entire day of arrow making. Chad was 5 years older than me and he often drove to our house to pick up my brother and I in order to go fishing, hunting, or pretty much anything. Even though he moved to Nebraska, Chad has done a pretty danged good job of killing the elk over the past few years (for 8 years in a row he shot at or killed an elk on opening day, this year it took him five days), so I asked him to write me a story about his season. Here is Chad's story, in his own words...followed up by good friend Devlin's account of his first experience chasing elk.

2013 Elk Hunt - Chad Graham

This year's preparation for elk season started in February when my hunting partner, Blake, and I began planning a hunt in an entirely new area. A big part about elk hunting that I love is exploring new Wilderness Areas. In fact, in the past ten years, I have not hunted the same place twice. This year's focus was in southern Colorado. We had a good selection between the San Juans, Weminuche and the Sangre De Cristos.  Sometime in early spring we decided to invite a friend, Devlin, after his wife revealed to me that going elk hunting has been his lifelong dream.   

Group of bulls through spotting scope 4 miles away

After hours of looking at maps, studying harvest statistics, and conversations with the local forest departments, we settled on a destination. It was toss up in the end as all three areas appear to be phenomenal.  We took a scouting trip two weeks before elk season and were surprised to find 20 bulls during the course of a 2 day trip. It was exciting to see a good number of elk in the area we planned to hunt. The only thing we didn't know was if the elk would be there during the last week of the season, which is when we planned our hunt. We also discovered that these mountains are steep, very steep. In fact this area turned out to be the steepest and most brutal mountain range I have ever hunted. It is no wonder why the number of hunters is lower than most areas.

Once we were back to Nebraska, and fully aware that the terrain was more than we anticipated, we began to train hard.  I am sure the unit is a place where many people only hunt once due to the difficulty (might be that way for me!). If there is a flat spot we did not find it. On the last Friday of muzzleloader season we drove out to Colorado Springs and met up with another friend Matt. That night we packed into the area we scouted weeks earlier.

The group getting ready to pack in

While the guys were setting up camp I hiked up the hill south of camp and set up the spotting scope. I was watching a herd of 15 bighorn sheep to the north but no elk. I decided to climb up onto a shoulder high rock outcropping behind me and glass to the south. As I got to the top I saw movement 15 yards ahead and immediately thought it was a coyote. I was wrong! A mountain lion was crouched down and staring directly at me. With my bow on the ground below the rock outcropping I thought he had me. Once we made eye contact the lion turned and slinked off. I told myself that he was not stalking me, that our encounter was random. That story makes me feel better anyway.

Bear claw marks on tree. The area was full of bear and lion sign.

The next day we covered some serious miles and did not find fresh elk sign of any kind. It was a brutal hike, totally demoralizing, and after just one day we were all physically wiped out. The combination of shale rock, oak brush and extremely steep hills make this place very difficult to hunt. We made the decision to pack out Sunday morning and try plan B, a new area further north.

When we got to the new location Sunday afternoon we set up camp and set out, again. The rain began immediately. I absolutely love hunting elk in the rain so Matt and I continued on while Devlin and Blake elected to wait out the rain in the truck. Not far up the hill we heard a bull bugling and the chase was on. It was very hard to keep up as the elk were on a nearly vertical hillside - full of loose rock and deadfall. I decided to switchback well south of the elk and then, hopefully at the elevation of the elk, switchback again to the north. Matt stayed behind to call. As I started north I saw antlers just 25 yards ahead. A nice 5X5 stepped onto the trail but presented no shot. I slid out from under some branches to get a shot just as another, and much larger 5X5, stepped onto the trail. He was quartered away at too steep of an angle. They fed up the hill and never offered a shot. I followed behind but could not keep up. The wind turned uphill, towards the elk, so we backed off for the night.

Tree burned in recent fire.

Monday morning all four of us headed back to the same spot. We spent the morning trailing the herd and stopped a couple of times to call. Blake and Matt called in a small bull to 50 yards before the wind switched and the bull blew out.

Area we called at, Devlin and Matt are ahead in the tree line

With the full moon the elk were bedding very early in the morning and coming out very late in the evening leaving a bunch of time till kill mid day.

Blake and I killing time mid day. He nearly smiled for this picture, it would be the first time in years.

That afternoon we split up, Matt and I headed east while Blake and Devlin went west. Immediately Matt and I found the herd bedded down. There were 2 bulls and 10 cows. One bull was a respectable 6X6 and the other was the smaller 5X5 I nearly shot the day before. Matt backed off to call and I set up for a shot. Matt did some soft cow calls with no response from the elk. We trailed the elk to a small park where we put them to bed.

Matt stopping for a rest.

The bulls just before dark. The cows came out shortly later.

Tuesday morning we woke up at 4am. Matt and I hustled up the hill to get between the park where we last saw the elk, and their bedding area. It was a cold, windy morning and we never saw an elk. At 11:00am I thought I heard a bull raking a tree just 100 yards above us, but the wind made it difficult to know for certain.

That night we set up ground blinds on the downwind side of the small park the elk were feeding in the night before. At 4:30pm a bull bugled within 100 yards of me. "Game on" I thought, and I began to get nervous. It was a long, cold and windy wait until dark...the elk never appeared.

We went back to camp dejected, again. Blake and Devlin came back shortly after and said the bulls were bugling in the park we just left. 

View from my blind

On Wednesday morning we decided it was time to quit playing it safe and make a move on the elk. The wind was blowing hard with 30 to 40 mile gusts, and from prior experience in the never ending Nebraska wind, we knew that it would be a perfect day to stalk the elk in their beds. Our movement, scent  and sound would be covered by the wind. Matt stayed in the tent with sore feet while Blake, Devlin and I headed up the hill. We still-hunted up through the park, and into the area we thought the elk were bedding in. We were within 100 yards of where I set up the morning before when I saw the same 5X5 working his way down the hill, right to us. He would bed down, then stand up and move a little, and then bed again. He was searching for the perfect spot to spend the day.

We were going to make a stalk when Blake stopped me. The bull was up again and moved out of sight. From our experience the last couple of days we figured that the bull could not be called with cow calls so we decided to bugle at him. Blake went 20 yards right, Devlin went 20 yards left and I crawled over a deadfall that was blocking any chance I had at a shot, so I thought.

Once we were set, I bugled. The bull immediately popped up and came crashing down the hill. He stopped behind a tree 10 yards away. If he went to my right I would have no shot, but Blake would get him. If he walked to my left either Devlin or I would have him.

He decided to go left and stopped just 8 yards away from me, too short for Devlin to get a crack, so I did what I had to do. Everything felt like slow motion as I drew back and released the arrow. It was a good shot, a clean pass through. The bull ran 15 steps, spun in a circle then reared up and fell over backwards, not 20 yards from Devlin.

When my lips quit tingling and the dizziness stopped I thanked God for a successful hunt and the chance to share it with good friends. The guys ran up and we hugged and high fived. It was awesome to see that my friends were just as happy for me as they would have been if they had shot the elk. I was shooting a Basset Bad Medicine Recurve, 61# @ 28, Carbon express arrows, with 200 grain STOS broadheads. The arrow continues to be my lucky one, I have killed 6 deer, a turkey and now an elk with this same arrow.

Perfect view to end the trip

And now here is Devlin's account of his first elk hunt.

First Archery Elk Hunt from a Nebraska Flatlander 2013 - Devlin Reece

Before I get into detail, I would like extend a huge thank you to the boys at Rocky Mountain Specialty Gear, Chad Graham, Blake Bethel and Matt Lutgen for making my first, and definitely not my last, archery elk hunt, one of the most memorable experiences of my life.

It all started when I was blessed to be invited by Chad and Blake to go hunting with them.  I can’t remember when it was, just that I was floored to get invited, and the excitement for the upcoming hunt grew tremendously.  I had heard that Chad and Blake were building recurve bows and really didn’t give it much thought until I saw the riser that they had made for Tommy.  From that point on, I knew that I wanted to be shooting a recurve.  It had been years since I last shot a recurve bow, but with time, I hoped that I could get in enough practice to be proficient enough to harvest an animal.  Chad and Blake built my beautiful bow and the boys at RMSGear hooked me up with everything I needed to start flinging arrows.  Also, the boys at RMSGear were able to equip me with my Horne Hunter full curl pack, custom arrows and endless other “goodies” I needed for the 2013 elk hunt.  The fellas at RMSGear treated me more like family than they did like a customer.

Beings that I had never done anything like this in my life, I relied on the experience and know-how of the boys at RMSGear, Chad and Blake.  They all supplied me with a list of items that I needed and the whole time relating some of their past experiences in elk country and what I should expect.
After hours of practice, lessons from Chad and Blake, and continuing to hear great experiences of elk hunting, I was ready, so I thought, to go on our scouting trip.  WOW, I really wasn't as ready as I thought.  The two days that we spent in the mountains proved to me that I had a lot work ahead of me and a short amount of time to do it.  With that first experience behind me and a drive to get into better shape, I started.  I threw on my loaded pack, called Chad and we started walking and running hills in a local park.  Countless hours at the gym in the weight room and on cardio equipment, I was slowly preparing myself for whatever I was to get into.

Finally, the day came.  With great anticipation and knots in my stomach, we turned the truck west and headed for the mountains.  I feel extremely blessed to able to experience what God has given me and the fact that I was heading to the mountains with great friends and with echoes of elk looming in my dreams, was such a feeling of exhilaration.  Breathing in the mountain air, losing yourself in the pines and aspen groves, relaxing from the hustle and bustle of everyday life is what hunting is to me.  Harvesting an animal is icing on the cake, it’s a bonus. 

The hunt was better than I had imagined.  We were five days into the hunt before I saw my first elk and as luck would have it, that was the elk that Chad killed.  It’s impossible to put into words what that experience was like.  It was surreal, almost as if it were an out-of-body experience.  I couldn't believe I was there and what I was able to be a part of.  Even though it was tough, sore muscles, sore feet, cold, hot, windy, I would do it all over again, and hopefully will. 

Again, thanks to Chad, Blake, Matt, Tom, Tommy, Danny and the RMSG fellas for all that they have done to make my first elk hunt a reality.  It was such an experience that I can hardly wait to see how the next, of many, will unfold.

Thanks so much and God Bless,

Devlin Reece