It was early September and my wife and daughter wanted to listen to me bugle some elk. I, on the other hand, was dying to sling an arrow. At the time, I was working a job that required most of my days and every other weekend. I couldn’t hardly stand waiting for the weekend. It seemed like the week was in slow motion. I worked as hard as I could all week and when Friday came around the anticipation was eating me up. Friday I got off work a little early and called my wife and had her and my daughter get ready for a quick run up the mountain. We were almost to the place I wanted to bugle when I spotted a black spot on the hillside about 1000 yards away. We stopped and pulled out the spotting scope to take a look. Sure enough it was a bear, and a nice one at that. While we were looking at the bear we heard the faint bugle of a bull way off in the distance in a place there was not enough time left in the day to even attempt to go after. After a few minutes I decided to drive to the other side of the canyon where the bear was at and put a stalk on it. When we arrived where I needed to get out and stalk the bear I only had about an hour of light left. I grabbed my pack and bow and got ready for a quick hike. We decided that my wife and daughter would stay in the truck because of the time issue. We were parked on an old road that had been closed for years. It was brushed in with downfall every 10 feet. I was trying to hurry as fast as I could so I could at least get a chance to stalk the bear. I came into a large opening where I knew I could speed things up. I started to jog and was making good time when I came to a small patch of trees. I wasn’t trying to be quiet and wasn’t paying attention to what was around me because I had a long way to go before I got to the hillside where I hoped the bear still was. My time was getting short and I was worried I wouldn’t get the chance to put a stalk on the bear. My mind is racing with how to get in front of the bear and get close enough for a shot. I got where the base of the draw was, where we had seen the bear and stopped to get prepared for the stalk up the hill. I took my pack off and got my no-scent spray out and sprayed my clothes and pack down. Now I am ready to go. I checked the wind and started to head up the draw. There was two big bulls locked together and they were heading down in my direction. I immediately went from bear hunting mode to full elk mode. I moved to my right and got in front of some small trees. The bulls were still locked together and headed in my direction fast. I got an arrow out and knocked it and started picking my yardages. At about 30 yards away they unlocked antlers and backed away from each other. They were staring each other down with their ears laid back. All I could do is watch with unbelief. One bull was a 5×5 with long tines. The other a 6×6 with what looked to be extremely large mass. I checked my yardage and decided to take the 5×5. As I raised my bow a large crash of brush behind me made me turn my head in the direction I just came from. Out of the small grove of trees I had just walked through came a huge bull at full run. He past me at about 10 yards and ran up the hill and chased the two bulls away. He was screaming about every 50 feet and all three disappeared over the ridge. With sunlight almost gone and me trying to recover from the shock of what had just happened I decided to head back to the truck and come back in the morning.
I couldn’t sleep that night. I tossed and turned all night. I couldn’t get my mind off of those three bulls. I kept thinking, which one would I take? Which one was the biggest? Then my thoughts came back down out of the clouds. I decided to take the first one that presented a good shot. After all, they were all big bulls and my goal is to fill my freezer. I rolled over to look at the clock and it was 4 am. If I got up now, I could get ready and drive up the hill where I encountered the bulls and it would be perfect daylight. I threw off the covers and in record time I got ready, ate breakfast, and was on the road. I got to my destination and pulled down the old abandoned road. Good, no one was there. It still wasn’t legal shoot light so I got out of the truck to put on my hunting clothes. I was straining to hear any bugles but there was nothing. Not hearing anything got my mind wondering. Where had they gone? Were they here only in the evenings? Should I drive around and locate them with bugles? Stop! My heart says they are still close. I finished getting ready and headed up the old road. I walked to where I had encountered them the night before but there was nothing. I continued until I reached the end of the old road then I headed up hill to get on the top to see if I could hear them bugle. When I finally got to the top of the ridge it was about 8:30. I found a great place to listen and sat down. I had been listening for about an hour when I faintly heard what I thought was a bugle. It sounded like it was miles away. My heart sank. I guess they must have moved out. I got up and decided to check out the next draw. I walked for about a half mile to the head end of a very small draw. This was an area I had only been to a few times in my 20 years of hunting these mountains. As soon as I cleared the edge of the draw and started down into the thick timber I got hit in the face by the sound of a screaming bull. My first thought was, there you are! Have you been here all morning screaming where I couldn’t hear you? Then two more bulls started screaming. The draw wasn’t over 200 yards wide at the head end and the bull was loud enough to hurt my ears. The sound was so loud that I couldn’t tell that there was at least three bulls and I could hear one rubbing his antlers on a tree so they had to be close. I quickly checked the wind. It was coming up the draw. I started working slowly towards where I thought they were. I got about 40 yards from the top when I saw a tree swaying back and forth. I couldn’t see the elk so I continued one step at a time while trying not to make a sound. I made it through some small trees and then I could see him. A nice 5×5 raking his antlers on a tree about 35 yards in front of me. Then, I saw another bull about 10 yards past the raking bull and he was in a wallow. The screaming was so loud I was having a hard time focusing on staying quiet. Two bulls were in front of me but where was the third? Then I saw the third bull walking back and forth to my right. It seemed like he was guarding something. Maybe cows but I couldn’t see them. I continued to get into a position for a shot window. At 30 yards I could see his whole body with his head behind a tree. Perfect! I lifted my bow to take the shot. I slowly pulled the bow back and at that very moment something else caught my eye to my left. I turned my head and there walking towards me was a big 6×6. He was 25 yards and closing fast. I lost all thoughts of the other bull and swung my bow to the left. The bull was walking so fast he passed me at 20 yards and kept walking. All I could do is watch. He walked towards the 5×5 and jumped a log and all I could hear was a big splash. He landed in a wallow and started throwing mud with his antlers. I watched for what seemed to be about an hour but was probably only a few seconds. He was perfect broadside. I was already drawn so I looked through the peep, set my pin right behind the shoulder, and released. It sounded like it hit him but all he did is lift his head. Then he turned around. What the heck? Did I miss? He presented me with another broadside shot. I placed another on the string and drew back, put the pin right behind the should, and released. This time I saw the arrow disappear where I was aiming. He didn’t even flinch. He started walking out of the wallow up the hill. My mind was racing! Did I just miss twice? Why isn’t he running like most I have shot do? Then something strange happened. His front feet lifted off the ground. It was like he was walking on air. He took about 4 steps uphill and landed with his antlers stuck in the ground. The only thing keeping him from falling back in to the wallow was his antlers. Now all I could do is stand there with big eyes and an open mouth. I did it! I shot the big 6×6! At that time I was so focused on the shot I couldn’t hear the other bulls who didn’t know what was going on. They were still raking and screaming. The excitement of just shooting a big bull was so great I forgot about all the ruckus. When my excitement finally calmed down enough I could see the 5×5 was still raking and the bull in the back guarding something were still there. I sat down, got my cow call out, and had some fun getting the boys all mad. I played with the bulls for 40 minutes or so trying to get them to move on but they wouldn’t leave. I couldn’t stand it any longer so I stood up and started walking over to look at my bull. The 5×5 just lifted his head and watched me walk over to where the bull was laying. All three of the bulls stayed around and were entertained while I was prepping my bull for the pack out. I worked until dark and then walked out. The next morning I came back in with 5 buddies for the final pack out. When we walked back in to the draw all 3 bulls were still there screaming. We all sat down and had a great time listening to the bulls. What a way to end the season!
~Tony Martin – Co-Owner of Hunter’s Best