It was the middle of September and the elk were in full rut. At that time I was dating and my girlfriend wanted to see what all the fuss was about, why it meant so much to me to hunt in the rut.
When I woke her up at 3:30 am she wasn’t so sure about it. We had packed all of our gear the night before so all we needed to do was get coffee and hit the road. She followed me in her car. After about 2 1/2 hours we arrived at our destination. A place in Central Idaho called Black Dome.
I had been telling my girlfriend Debbie how much fun this place was when the elk were rutting. We were parked high on a ridge where we could see down in to a large canyon. There were remains of an old lake bed in the bottom that had dried up years ago. It was full of tall green grass and was a favorite hangout for a lot of elk.
I grabbed my binoculars and stepped out of the truck to take a look. I hadn’t even got to the edge of the hill where I could see the old lake when I heard a loud crash. The sound that was unmistakable. It was the sound of 2 bulls fighting. I quickly ran to a vantage point and the up my bino’s for a look.
There in the middle of the old lake were the 2 bulls. I watched them for a second then ran back to grab Debbie so she could see what inspired me to hunt all the time. We watched for about 10 minutes then got ready to head down into the canyon. We had to walk through a large patch of huckleberry brush which was taller than we were.
As we were making our way through I stopped suddenly. Right in front of me, about 8 yards away, was a black bear. He never even knew we were there. I stepped to the side of the trail and pointed for Debbie to look. She grabbed my arm and stepped closer to me. We watched the bear pull down the huckleberry and eat the berries.
We stood very still and watched. All of the sudden he must have gotten our scent. He ran up the hill out of sight. We still had about 300-400 yards to go and we could still hear the crashing going on down in the dried lake bed. We made it to the rim of the clearing and we were only about70 yards away from the commotion. I wanted to crawl the rest of the way so I asked Debbie if she could wait by the tree.
If she faced the lake she could watch what was going on. The grass was about 3 feet tall so crawling the last 50 yards wouldn’t be too bad. I started the crawl and was going slow. I could hear the crashing and the cows chirping. When the bulls broke apart they were screaming at each other. At times I would just lay there and listen to everything that was going on around me.
One time I stopped and heard what sounded like a dog sniffing at me. I slowly sat up and peered over the tall grass. About 3 yards away was a rag horn that must have seen the grass moving and decided to come check it out.
When he saw me sit up he slowly walked towards the middle of the lake. I could see the 2 bulls with locked antlers about 50 yards away. I cautiously got back on my hands and knees to start crawling when I heard something behind me. I had been gone from Debbie for about 15-20 minutes and the sound was coming from the direction she was in.
I turned to see Debbie crawling up behind me with tears running down her face. She looked like she had just seen a ghost. She got up next to me and grabbed on the me with streams of tears running down her face. All I could do is hug her. We laid there until she calmed down then I asked her what had happened. She had been sitting by the tree and watching all the elk when something sounded like it was behind her.
She turned to see a big black object in the brush no more than 10 yards away. She tried not to yell and ruin my elk hunt. She just watched the black object, which she assumed was a black bear.
It kept getting closer and closer until it was about 5 yards away and it lifted its head above the brush. It was a moose. She said it was licking its lip like it wanted to eat her. That’s when she took off and followed my path. I tried not to laugh but I couldn’t stop. I buried my face in my arm so I wouldn’t spook the elk.
I hugged her and said stay with me. We went on crawling to the lake clearing. We got within 30 yards of the 2 big bulls but could never get them to stop fighting or stand still.
Just when I was thinking they were slowing down I head another bugle. This one had that growl that you knew was big. It came from the other side of the dried lake. Out of the trees came a monster of a bull. He was at 80 yards and closing fast. He started to jog and let out a loud bugle.
The 2 fighting bulls stopped for a second and then ran the opposite way of the monster. He quickly turned around and went back the way he came in. It was over. All the elk had filtered out of the old lake bed clearing.
They were gone. It was like an old man scolding children for playing in his front yard. We just sat there in the tall grass for about 30 minutes waiting for something to happen. Nothing did. We talked about the man eating moose and laughed a lot. We walked back to our vehicles and with a kiss Debbie headed home, leaving me alone for the next few days.
I stood on the edge of the canyon way after dark just listening to the elk bugle until I got so tired I was falling asleep. I went back to my tent I had set up and tried to sleep but the sound of the bugles down the canyon kept me awake for most of the night. I got up the next morning before daylight to fix breakfast.
I then got my pack ready for the days hunt. I hadn’t heard any bugles for a while but was hoping to catch the elk in the dry lake where we had seen them the day before. I stopped at the viewpoint and listened for a few minutes. It was still dark and I hadn’t head a thing for a while. I decided to walk in anyway.
When I reached the back of the dry lake I could hear cows talking and I heard a couple of squeals from small bulls. It was still dark so I sat down at the same tree Debbie had her encounter with the man eating moose. I could hear quite a few cows and it sounded like they were bedded in the dry lake. I laid back for the 2 hour wait for daylight. It seemed like the 2 hours turned into 4 with all the sounds of elk so close.
I heard sounds in those hours that I had never heard before. When daylight finally got there, I could see about 20 cows feeding along the banks of the dried lake. There were 3 bulls bedding in the middle. They were small 3 and 4 pointers, and the rag horn. I just sat and watched for about 25-30 minutes.
On the south end of the lake I saw a large bull moving towards all the cows. He let out a bugle and the whole place erupted. There were at least 5 bulls screaming. The big bull, a 6×6, was chasing all the cows. When he got close he would let out a loud bugle. A threat to any other bulls in the area.
Every time he would bugle, the other bulls would bugle back. The 6×6 went from cow to cow. Sniffing them he was jogging now and getting all worked up about something. Out of the shadows on the far side of the lake walked in the monarch. I couldn’t believe my eyes. A huge 6×7 with very long tines and great mass.
The bull of every hunter’s dreams. His ears were laid back and he was walking stiff legged, head down low, swaying his rack from side to side. What a sight! I almost forgot I was hunting. The 6×6 stopped his jogging and went in to the same stiff legged walk. They walked about 20 yards apart, paralleling each other.
Staring each other down and not saying a word. They walked this way for about 80 yards and then they stopped at the same time. the 6×6 arched his head back and let out a loud bugle. Before he could finish the 6×7 cut him off with a deep raspy growl and a chuckle. Instantly they faced each other and charged.
When the antlers crashed together it was very loud. Now I know why I could hear them almost a mile away. At this point I’m in the tall grass about 85 yards away. There were no trees, just grass. The bulls would push each other away, tearing up the ground with their hooves and antlers when they hit. It was quite a sight.
Grass and dirt flying. All the other elk weren’t even paying attention to the battle. I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was like being in the middle of a National Geographic film. With all the commotion going on I decided to try to get closer. I put my head down and stated slowly crawling.
Every now and then I would peer over the grass and see where I was. I could hear the bulls fighting so I knew I was headed the right direction. When I got close to the bottom of the lake the grass was starting to thin out. I decided to stop there. I sat up and got my range finder out.
I took a reading and found out I was only 40 yards from the bulls. They were still locked together and pushing. By this time it was getting more violent and tearing up more ground. One would push for about 20 yards and then the other would catch footing and for back for 20 yards or more. I tried to get a shot but they would never stop.
They were spinning and pushing when I realized they were coming in my direction, fast. I didn’t have anywhere to go but I was on my knees ready to take off running. With dirt and fur flying, they were on a path to run me over. I didn’t know where to go or what to do. Before I could move they flew by me at about 3 yards, fully locked up and tearing up grass and dirt while they passed.
They ended up about 60 yards in the direction I had just crawled, in fact, it was by the man eating moose tree. At this point all I could do was to watch and pray they would stop moving so I could get a shot. They pushed their way over the rim of the dry lake bed and out of sight.
I could still hear them but I wasn’t positive where they would come back. The fighting went on for about 35-40 minutes. I was wondering if they would ever stop. Suddenly, as fast as it started, the sound stopped. I heard the raspy sound of the 6×7 bugle. I knew he had won the battle and would be coming back.
I was ready, arrow on the rest, yardage already lazed, and my nerves were even settled. I was watching in the direction of the man eating moose tree and I could see antlers coming through the brush. Yes, it was the big boy. The 6×7 was walking towards the cows which would put him at 80 yards. That was too far. I wanted him less than 40.
My heart was sinking fast as he walked out of range, down in to the lake bed, and started chasing cows. All I could do is hope he would walk closer so I could get a shot. He chased cows and mated a couple and was still running around trying to find another receptive cow. By this time all the cows were spread and some were within my range. It seemed like hours had passed and all I could do is sit and watch.
A few cows had wondered my way and were standing 30-40 yards. One of the cows started whining with a high pitch. It was like a regular cow call but all drawn out. This got the attention of the big boy and he started jogging my way. I was ready and he was finally going to be in range.
I ranged the whining cow at 35 yards. That was perfect. He came at her like he was on a string. He sniffed her back and did his business. He got off and was standing broadside at 35 yards. It doesn’t get any better than that. I drew, put my 30 yard pin high on his chest, and released. Just as I released, another bull ran down the hill and the monster bolted towards him.
I heard the unmistakable sound of a direct hit but, on what? I couldn’t believe it when the 6×7 bolted forward and the arrow missed. There was a cow on the other side of him and it hit here in the neck, dropping her in her tracks. I couldn’t believe I had just shot at the largest bull of my life and harvested a cow.
The cow was thrashing and the bulls stopped to look at her. The 6×7 turned back to check her out. He was sniffing, she was thrashing and kicked him in the nose. He jumped back and walked towards the other bull. I knew I had an either sex tag but this is not what I wanted. I didn’t see her behind him.
How could this happen? I watched the other 2 bulls for another 20 minutes until I couldn’t stand it anymore. I stood up and started walking towards my cow. The bulls were about 30 yards away. They stopped and just looked at me. I told them to get out of here and they ran up the hill.
All the other bulls and cows scattered like roaches in the light. When I got to my cow she was dead. The arrow had hit her about 10 inches behind her ear and broke her neck. She never felt a thing. I tagged her and dressed her out and started packing. Maybe this isn’t what I hoped for.
A miss caused by the bull I never saw.
One thing was for sure, my freezer would be full. I would have to give it another shot next year.
Tony – Hunter’s Best – Helping Make Memories.