This is the story of my 2012 Oregon Archery Elk. This hunt was 100% DIY, on an over the counter tag, on public land, during general season archery. The hunt for this bull started in 2011, and finally ended on September 11th of 2012.
September rolled around quickly during 2011, and I found myself unable to get out and hunt for the first two weeks of our four week season here in Oregon. Finally by midway through the third week I was headed out the door early in the morning, and I was loaded up with better than a weeks worth of backcountry supplies and I was headed into a brand new area. The first night was slow, but I rolled out my bivy sack and hit it hard first thing again in the morning, remaining optimistic for the week ahead.
The next morning I found myself working around a rocky ridge above a great basin, in some wet and nasty weather. Creeping through the rocks, I called intermittently and glassed heavily. As I rounded a corner in the rock, I heard hooves moving in a patch of timber just above me. I dropped down and sipped and arrow on the string and back against my face. As I waited I could see elk-colored bodies coming my way through my sight. The herd bull slipped out into the open first at a mere 25 yards. He froze up with his shoulder behind a massive pine tree, and locked in on the spot where they had heard me working along the ridge. After a long stare down, he wheeled around and took off in an instant leaving me no shot. I watched as they blew out of the basin and downhill several thousand feet into heavier timber. The bull was a heavy, dark horned bull, but i figured my chances were slim in getting back on him, and being in a new area I wanted to keep getting a feel for some other pockets that might hold elk herds.
The next two days I played with another herd with a very solid 330+ inch bull, which I called well within bow range twice all while he managed to elude my shooting lanes. I spent the rest of the week working this herd of elk, but in the end they gave me the slip and I never notched a tag.
Septmeber 2012 came around in good timing, with weather that was hot and dry. However, this time I was headed out on opening day for a week long hunt. Opening morning I found myself working into a drainage 12 miles deep from the truck in hopes of locating some big bucks. I managed to find a decent 5×6 bull the first night which I called in after what ended up being a 2-hour, full-blown, screaming match. The next day I found myself working a nice basin, but at around 11 am, the entire drainage I was in filled with smoke from a close wildfire. I ended up moving out back to the truck to play it safe, and I relocated to the spot which I had hunted for a week in 2011.
Once again my first day was slow, well at least in terms of the elk. A couple of great bucks turned up well above the tree line, but in a spot with poor approaches on all sides. Walking away from these two was tough, but it seemed like the best call at the time. By now it was mid week and things were getting closer to the homebound end of the trip. I returned to the basin which I had hunted for most of my time in 2011, and sure enough, like clockwork the same old bull showed himself. Just as if he never missed a day in the year long absence, he pushed his cows out of their usual bedding spot and headed into the high country benches for feed.
That night was one of the most exciting nights of elk bowhunting I have had to date. Having so much history with this bull, I circled above the herd and dropped into place. The elk did their part and before I knew it there were cows well under 20 yards on both sides of me in the patches of alpine fir. The next 45 minutes or so I was held up in my one spot, waiting for an opportunity, however the bull hung up just far enough back that he never caught up to me enough before dark settled in.
The next day I reluctantly packed up and headed home. I wanted to give the elk some time after bumping them the night before while trying to get out of the middle of the herd as dark set in. I knew I would be back in just over a week, so I let them have some space, knowing few people if anyone knew where this bull was deep within the wilderness.
10 days later I was back at my trailhead, I was loaded up, this time with enough supplies for 12 days. I started my several hour trek that would put me most of the way into elk country before dark, allowing me to close the rest of the distance before light the next morning. About 2.5 hours into my hike at around 5:30 PM, something changed my plans.
Moving up the mouth of the drainage, I heard a small, squeaky bugle. At first I thought, “Hunter.” I was sure at first that it wasn’t really an elk, but I thought I would throw out a short locator bugle to make sure. The ensuing response had me ducking for cover, as a bellowing, heavily grunted bugle echoed out the timber not more than 300 yards below me. I immediately ducked back and started to glass. Cows started to emerge along the edges of the timber, but I could not see the bull. Meanwhile the satellite bull that had squeakily bugled to get this whole thing started piped off again.
I thought this might be the same bull that I laid eyes on my first morning of my 2011 hunt at a mere 25 yards. I backtracked and worked my way to a strip of timber that dropped into the larger piece the elk were working. Moving along the edge of the timber, I slowly worked my way down along the creek flowing in the bottom. Things were starting to get heated between me and the bull, but I still hadn’t seen him. Finally, I caught the back half of the bull on the other side of the creek slightly upstream from me. He was pushing away so I knew I needed to do something to turn him.
I found a spot out in front of where I had last seen him that look as if the elk had used to cross the creek in the past. Getting directly across from the bull, I let him have it. Everything I could muster up from grunts to chuckles and whatever else were present, as I attempted to call him every nasty name in the elk-language book. It worked.
No response elicited itself, but almost immediately I could hear him come crashing across the creek, closing the 75 or so yards of brush that had been between us. I hit my rangefinder on two or three spots, eased back my bow to my sweet spot, and waited. Another 15 seconds or so and I could see tines emerging from below me. As he came out into the open, I knew immediately which bull he was, and I knew he was the same bull that had eluded me a year earlier when I stepped into this area for the first time.
The bull put his head down and pulled some grass into his mouth as he paused behind a small sapling I had ranged at 37 yards. I started to get jumpy for a second as he stood covered by the last tree for thirty yards, but then I caught myself. I pulled my focus back in on my peep and sight guard, settled the 40 yard pin into the pocket and waited for that last step. Then I squeezed.
The arrow cut through fast enough that I never did find it, but as he turned to run blood was already hitting the ground before his back legs could even push off. I backed out and let him sit for 35 minutes. On the return to the location of the shot however, I spotted the bull not 40 yards from where he had been hit. He was out cold. The change in angle was just enough as I approached that I could see the bull laying on the ground where I could not see him as I backed out.
I spent until 11:30 that night breaking him down, and then climbed into my bivy. I was too exhausted to eat dinner so I saved that for the morning. The next two days were long, as any elk packout would be if you were doing it solo. Thursday evening found me exhausted, but with all smiles after the marathon of just over 48 hours of work. In the end I was headed home with a great bull, and I had settled the score with a bull that previously bested me.