Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Elk Update

Our action has started to pick up a bit, but it is still hit and miss. We are still running into groups of cows all by themselves.  I have typically found that somewhere between Sept 15th-20th the big bulls start to get real serious about finding all the straggling cows, and those days are magical when you hit them.

After those magic days, when the bulls have their cows, they don't want a thing to do with another bull. They'll bugle back until they lose their voice, but each bugle gets further and further away. Once that happens you'll need a jetpack to keep up with the herds. If you can get out now, get out now!

My brother has amazed me twice this season. I'll tell you how.

Danny, his girlfriend Ashley, and I snuck our way in front of a group of elk last week. We heard the bull bugling from an aspen ridge in front of us. We quickly hurried around them and got on the back side of the ridge, where we figured they would be going. We were right. The bull bugled a few more times allowing us to get set up in the perfect position. Danny and Ashley sat together, and I was 50-75 yards off to their right. Ashley only has a cow tag this season.

Danny and I each gave a few very soft cows calls, not to call the elk in necessarily, but hopefully just nudge them in our direction. It worked like a charm. Within a few minutes Danny and Ashley had cows milling all around them. The bull was rounding up the back, and he was a dandy. Ashley started to get out of Danny's way so he could take a shot at the bull. 

This is the first time Danny amazed me. He did it with his selflessness. That bull was a stud, as big as the one my Dad killed this year. A massive 6 point. We've hunted our entire lives, and we are finally good enough to play this situation exactly right and get a bull like that in shooting distance. When Danny saw Ashley getting out of his way he instructed her to stay put and take the first shot that presented itself. The bull and a cow both started walking into an opening 20 yards away. A shot at either or both was imminent, and Danny told Ashley go ahead and shoot at the cow. 

I was out of sight of all of this, so all I heard was the thundering of hooves. I waited a few minutes and made my way over to them. Ashley was visibly dejected, she missed. I got the whole story, and before Ashley could apologize again Danny cut her off and said, "Hey, it's just a stupid elk, don't worry about it". Amazing act of selflessness. 

And now for the second time that Danny amazed me this season.

The following day we had some rain and fog roll through. The perfect time to get out all day. Danny was hunting by himself and planned on hitting a few aspen ridges that the elk frequent. 

As he was sneaking his way through the forest he stepped on the smallest of branches. Movement from his right caught his eye, and as he looked he saw a huge rack swinging around. A big bull was bedded just 20 yards away, facing the opposite direction. Danny was pinned down, but thankfully a giant log was covering him from the bull's view. All Danny could see were two big antlers poking around both sides of the log. He was in a compromising position but he held still. Danny glanced at his watch, 5:05pm. He never really believed that shot would present itself. The wind never holds out, and the bull obviously heard him step on that small branch. But finally, after what seemed like an eternity, the big bull turned his head and looked the other direction. It was now 5:35pm. That bull did not move for a full 30 minutes.

Danny slowly brought his feet together and did a few small knee bends to get the blood flow moving again. He worked an arrow out of his quiver and took a step to his left in order to get a good view of the bull's body. He studied the bull for a few minutes. Initially, he didn't think that a shot was available. But after closely looking at the bulls position he saw where he could place an arrow. Ever so slowly Danny contorted his body in order to get his bow back.

I mention Danny's shoulder a lot in this blog. It's been 3 years since he has had a functioning shoulder. Twice, in his awkward position, he yanked on his bow string to try and get his light weight compound pulled back. Finally, on the third try, he painfully got the bow to full draw. 

Danny shot. The bull took a long time to get to his feet but once he did there wasn't a tree or stump big enough to slow him down. The bull ran through EVERYTHING to get out of there.

Danny glanced at his watch again. 6:10pm. It took him another 35 minutes to get an arrow out, take a step, study the bull, and get a shot off. Over an hour after he first saw the animal. 

A short bloodtrail later and Danny found his elk. The bull was too big to move with one arm, Danny made his way to an area with reception and called Dad and me to come give him a hand. We both left immediately. Three and a half hours after his phone call we hit the closest trailhead and started our long night of cutting and packing. 

Danny's selfless act, and his ability to slip in on a big bull in his bed, have added to his legend in my mind. My little brother always blows me away in the woods.

A big thanks to Aron Snyder and the guys at Kifaru for getting Danny and I set up with new packs this year. A hind quarter never felt so easy! I still love my Hornehunter, like what my Dad is using in the picture above. But I am a small guy and the Kifaru fits me properly. I never would have guessed what a difference it would make.

I drop my wife and kids off at the airport in a few hours, they are going to visit my in-laws in Wisconsin. Since my Dad and brother have both killed nice bulls this season, and my family is out of state, there ain't a force on earth that will keep me out of the woods for the remainder of the season. Good luck everybody! I sure hope to have one more good story this elk season.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Big Bulls on Opening Weekend

I'm going to share my version of the events of the opening weekend. I'll try to talk my Dad into sharing his version at some point. I want to know what was going through his head, what he thought and felt, and get his story in writing. I'll leave out the details of the shot and the moment of truth so that he has the chance to write it himself.

It took forever, but elk season finally arrived. Last winter my brother, Danny, made a comment that he was going to live on the mountain this summer trying to find the biggest herds of elk, and of course the biggest bulls. He wasn't lying. Danny had the elk pretty much pinned down throughout the summer. He got pictures of around 15 different BIG bulls, and countless smaller bulls.

Danny looking for elk at around 12,500 ft.

The mountain below is one of our favorite scouting perches. This summer we saw a lot of big bulls where I was standing when I snapped this picture.

Thursday evening my cousin, Chad, our buddy Blake, and I drove up the mountain so that we could be in position to do a little scouting on Friday morning, the day before the season started. We were not let down, we saw around 90 elk between two of the mountains that we were planning on hunting.

One group of 30 elk was on the mountain that my Dad planned on backpacking into with my Mom. Blake had his eye on a close by spike with super long tines that he wanted to fill his tag on, but Chad and I couldn't take our eyes off of the herd bull across the valley. He was impressive. All morning he would run around the cows with his head tilted back. Of course we were too far to hear him bugle, but we watched him stretch out his neck and cut loose every few minutes. 

Chad, Blake and I hurried off the mountain so we could catch up with my Dad before he packed in. We got out our topo maps and showed him where the elk were. The cows all bedded down in the wide open, but at 9am that herd bull got them on their feet and pushed them through a saddle. Since we have hunted this area quite a few times in the past we knew that on certain years the elk get in a pattern where they pass through that saddle twice a day. My Dad knew exactly where to be the next morning. We all wished each other luck and headed out to our separate camp sites for the following morning's hunt.

Opening morning came, Danny and I headed to the drainage where we saw the majority of the big bulls throughout the summer. Chad, Blake, and two other hunting buddies headed to another drainage where we saw 60 elk the day before.

Danny and I crept through this beautiful area with that morning's elk sign all around. We must have barely missed them because we didn't see a thing and nothing bugled near us.

We all carry Garmin Rino GPS/Radios with us these days. It is fun to be able to check in with each other, or get coordinates to another's position with the push of a button. We all agreed that we would check in on the hour if it was convenient, but that we would make a real effort to check in at noon.

With the morning hunt mostly over Danny and I found a beautiful spot to take a break and eat a few snacks. 11am rolled around and I turned on my GPS to see if anybody else had theirs on. I was just about to turn my unit off when I got a half a second of static. I called back, anybody out there? A garbled message came back, something about a "bull behind the shoulder". I looked at my GPS, it was Dad! 

"Come again Dad, what did you say?"

"I hit a bull right behind the shoulder. I thought it was a heart shot but I don't see any blood. I'M FREAKING OUT!".

My Dad asked how far away we were, and we told him it didn't matter.

I asked back, "Was it the big bull, and do you need any help?"

"Yes the big bull, and yes I need help."

Danny and I gave each other a big high five, we were PUMPED! Dad is color blind and cannot see red hardly at all, so him not finding blood didn't concern me. We gathered our things and started walking. We had a long, long, looooong way to go. 

A half hour into our walk and we could finally see the mountain that dad was on. 

Here's a zoomed in shot of the picture above. You can see the small saddle that the herd went through.

Five hours of straight walking, 1,000 ft down, and 2,000 ft up later, we walked up to my Mom and Dad taking a nap. My Dad just shook his head and said, "You guys are studs". I told him I didn't feel like a stud, and as I set my bow down I lurched to the side so I could yak in the bushes.

My Dad apologized for making us walk that far. He couldn't find any blood and spent the previous 5 hours zigzagging through the trees looking for tracks, blood, elk, anything. He said it was the biggest disappointment in his hunting career, and that he was flabbergasted. He thought that the shot was perfect, he saw the bull run away with only a small bit of his arrow sticking out in the crease of the front leg. 

Even though Dad was bummed out I knew that we were going to find him. My brother is special, he has a sense, he has uncanny woodsmanship, and he's a total bloodhound on the trail.  I said, "Don't worry about it Dad, you got Danny here now, we'll find him". 

My Dad told us the entire story and showed us the last drop of blood, if you could call it a drop. 

Danny found a scuff mark a little ways down the hill from the blood. "Here you go Dad", he says. My Dad didn't think it was from his bull and told us that the herd ran the other way. Danny insisted on following the track. He reasoned the next few steps and walked through some bushes. "Here's another speck of blood!" Danny called out. Unreal, he doubled back?

Danny finds another speck of blood and then turns the corner around some trees, and there he was. My parents were napping within 50 yards of the elk. The bull didn't even make it 75 yards from where my Dad shot him.

Talk about going through some highs and lows in the span of a few hours. My Dad went from the excitement of knowing that he killed the bull of a lifetime, to confused at the sign, then utterly disappointed, and then back to elation. 

My Mom was 3ft behind my Dad when he shot the bull. I'm so glad she was with him.

The bull as he lay.

My Dad did shoot this bull right through the heart. You can see the entrance in the picture below, and the exit in the next. In the entire 75 yard long track we found a total of 6 droplets of blood. He just didn't bleed through the legs like he obviously would have if the arrow went through his ribs.

The tip of the VPA Terminator was just barely poking through when we rolled him over.

This guy has some great mass.

Me, Danny, Mom and Dad

Danny was within 50 yards of the biggest elk he's ever seen, twice. The season has just begun and the best stuff is all ahead of us. Good luck everybody. More stories to come!

My Mom is TOUGH. It took us 4 hours and 45 minutes to walk back to the truck that night, mostly in the dark (we walked out to call for help for the packout). We kept having these nasty little storms come over the mountain and hammer us with sideways rain and hail. She had a hard time walking through all the rock fields and busting through the stunted pine. Not one time did she ever make a comment about how difficult it was. I was miserable, so I know that she must have been too. 

Here's a parting shot of a sweet 7X7. I hope we can find him again!