Two Bulls Two Days! Day One:
My final week of the ’06 archery season turned out to be a thigh burning, heart pumping, bull bugling, mountain climbing, cow calling, elk rutting adventure I’ll never forget!
Two Bulls in Two Days!!!
In a sudden change of plans, both Anthony and Ben were able to elk hunt the final weekend of the archery season. I was shocked and elated when Ben said he could hunt the last two days of the season. I must say, his wife is a trooper sending Ben off to hunt with a 3-week old infant at home. Even though I didn’t have an elk tag I was eager to help Ben and Anthony fill their tags.
My eagerness came from my experience the previous year. In 2005, with two days to hunt, Ben and I hiked a few miles into a wilderness area with backpacks and camped in the backcountry. We were in bull rutting paradise the first day. And by sun-down on the second day Ben shot a nice, wide, heavy 6-point bull. We couldn’t believe our success. 2005 was only our second year archery hunting! And what made it even more exciting was the way the bull responded to our calls!
So, when Ben and Anthony told me they were game for another two-day backpack hunt in the last two days of the season, I was in. I didn’t think we could repeat 2005, but we were certainly going to try.
About 9:00 p.m. on Thursday night, two days prior to season end, we piled into Ben’s 350 Ford and headed off for the mountains. My brother and I slept while Ben and Anthony drove. Through bouts of fitful sleep, I occasionally heard bits and pieces of embellished hunting stories as they shared past adventures with one another (and to hear them talk, you’d think they were Pope & Young come back to life!). We arrived at our destination around 4:30 a.m.
We got our packs on and hit the trail minutes after arrival. Our plan was to hike 4 miles into the wilderness under the cover of darkness to our favorite lookout and camp spot. With luck, we hoped to locate a hot bull screaming in the early morning darkness that we could entice with our calling routine.
So, under cover of darkness we made our way through twisted tangles of fallen logs, creek crossings, rocks, trees and brush to reach our destination. The scene was picturesque, like some epic wilderness adventure movie. Everything was covered in a few inches of fresh snow. It was dark but not so dark we couldn’t see with our naked eyes. The snow seemed to light up the night and made it possible for us to see the area directly in front of us. There was an eerie silence in the air as the four of us made our way through the shadows and early morning mist.
We had hiked about 2 miles when we heard it... a shrill, blood chilling, dominant scream from an exceedingly close bull. The nearness and intensity of the bugle caught us completely off guard! He was enraged, and not more than 50 yards from us! The bull bugled a second time and the hairs on my neck pricked up.
We stood there--frozen. Not sure what to do, we just looked at each other with mixed expressions of glee and panic on our faces! The memory of it still makes me laugh.
It was too dark to see the bull, but he was right there in front of us, so close! We could hear him challenging us. And the smell of him was thick in our nostrils. Anthony, the veteran hunter, snapped us out of our stunned silence and the hunt was on. “Brian, drop back about fifty yards and start calling, Ben and I are going to stalk this bull. Start out with soft cow calls and work your way into bugles,” Anthony said.
My brother and I dropped back into some cover and began our calling. My heart was pounding madly as the bull, in full rut, bellowed his challenge in response to us. I was doing my best to sound like another heard of elk and the bull was responding aggressively. But after a few moments, to my dismay, I realized the bull wasn’t moving toward us. I could hear his deep, piercing bugle slowly moving in the opposite direction. I was desperate for him to stop and give Ben and Anthony more time to move in on him.
It was still dark when Ben and Anthony began stalking the bull. And the bull never stopped bugling. I was confident they hadn’t spooked the bull because he sounded quite calm; he was in his element, screaming and rutting the whole way. After about ten minutes I saw the bull for the first time. He was about 250 yards mid-way up the mountain. The early morning mist was burning off and the sun was just lighting things up. Only 10 minutes earlier we were shrouded in darkness.
The bulls ivory tips glistened in the morning light as he came into view. He was massive! His body was huge and his rack was high and wide. He stood out prominently from the rest of the herd as he walked with that massive bull swagger. His head swung side to side as he dogged his cows. Then he stopped, bugled, and turned his massive head toward me. He stared a moment, and seeing nothing, he bugled again and continued on. Over twenty-five cows in tow. I knew he was an incredible bull, and felt helpless to stop him.
I had no idea where Ben and Anthony were. They had left their radios in their backpacks sitting on the ground next to me. I didn’t know it, but in their mad rush after the bull they had left a number of items behind. Their binoculars, rangefinders, GPS, coats, and perhaps most importantly, their toilet paper (I’ll explain later)!
So Brent and I were left wondering how the two were doing. We continued calling for 45 minutes or so. I hoped the calls would keep the bull distracted and alow Ben and Anthony to locate the bull’s position.
As it turned out, they were hot on the trail of the bull from the beginning. Anthony was in the midst of the herd traveling with the group--Stalking from cover to cover trying to get in position to take a shot at the bull. Once or twice he had to stop because the cows lagging behind the bull were only 25 to 30 yards away from him. The cows were a menace and Anthony struggled to get close to the bull with so many cows present. Anthony had an opportunity a couple of times to take a 60+ yard shot at the monster bull. That’s a long shot by any standards and Anthony ruled it out immediately, especially without his rangefinder. His only hope was to keep stalking the bull, hope he wasn’t detected and wait for an open shot.
The herd reached a wide, open clearing and Anthony had no cover to cross with the herd. He had to sit tight and wait for the herd to cross and then catch up to them.
In the meantime, Anthony could see Ben high above the herd on the mountain. He watched as the elk moved across the opening. When the coast was clear he took off after the elk. He was dismayed as he reached the other side of the clearing and realized the wind had changed and was blowing straight up the hill toward the herd. Knowing Ben was in a better position to kill the bull; Anthony backed off and gave up pursuit.
Anthony returned and told us what happened. Brent and I eagerly listened to Anthony’s story as he explained how good the bull was close up. Even from my distant view of the bull I could see that the bull’s antlers, neck and head were almost orange in color as Anthony described. He was truly a unique trophy bull!
We waited a short time for Ben and then picked up our gear and made our way to camp. After setting up camp we glassed throughout the afternoon. Anthony, like usual, glassed a few elk, but nothing worth pursuing. Finally, around 12:30 in the afternoon, Ben came stumbling into camp. He looked dog tired and ready to collapse. The moment I saw his face I knew he had arrowed that bull! Anthony, not knowing Ben as well as me, waiting for Ben to say something. “I killed him,” Ben said tiredly. Anthony said, “No, no way, you didn’t!”
But I knew the bull was dead. Ben is extremely calm after success, almost embarrassed. A tell tale sign of his success, is how he plays down his excitement. He had that familiar grin on his face. The grin that says, “I’m a monster elk slayer and you’re not!” I recognize the grin and started whooping and hollering my congratulations at him.
It took a moment for Anthony to take it in--Ben had killed the massive bull.
And with high spirits we listened to Ben’s recount of the experience. He explained how he stalked the herd for a couple of hours--doggedly shadowing them from above the mountainside. The elk slowly fed their way along the hillside and Ben, after studying the terrain, thought he could intercept the bull if he moved down the mountain into position. He crept into his spot and waited. His only cover was a tiny, spindly fir tree no taller then he was. And just as he’d anticipated, the bull fed right to him. A moment later, the bull stepped through a small opening between two dead trees and Ben arrowed the bull through both lungs at 33 yards. The shot was not an easy one, but he aced it. And he did it without his rangefinder.
After the shot, not knowing if he had killed the bull, Ben felt a tremendous urge to unload his bowels! He had been holding it all morning and couldn’t wait a moment longer. He’d stalked the bull, shot him, and it was time to relax! But wait, NO TOILET PAPER! He had the urge and no tools to handle it! Needless to say, like the resourceful outdoorsman that he is, he found a way to git-r-done (although, I thought I smelled something funny when he came into camp).
The deed accomplished, he searched for his bull. Sure enough, not 50 yards from where he’d shot him, the bull lay dead.
We worked through the afternoon and into the night to pack the behemoth out. We reached the truck in the middle of the night around one ‘o’ clock in the morning. Dead and bedraggled we slept the night away in the truck--the feeling of triumph thick in the air. Little did we know, our good fortune had just begun and by evening the next day, we would experience another thrilling hunt.
We slept quite well considering all our gear was in the wilderness three miles away at camp. We kept warm using the truck’s heater throughout the night. My brother, Brent, was amazing, sleeping through the cold snoring like a logger! He worked hard and I was proud of him.
TWO BULLS IN TWO DAYS! DAY TWO:
The next day, Anthony hit the trail at first light and began hunting his way to camp while the rest of us cared for the meat from Ben’s bull.
Of the four of us, none had hunted harder throughout the year than Anthony. And as Anthony left the truck, he was haunted by the realization that this was the last day of the archery season. It was a tough year; he’d given his all, and the thought of going home empty-handed unsettled him. “I’ve got to get a bull. I’m going to get a bull today,” were his parting words as he left the truck.
Resolute determination radiated from him as he departed.
We all knew that if anyone could pull-it-off, in the last minutes of the last day of the season, Anthony was our man. We all felt he deserved it and we were determined to make it happen.
After setting the meat out to cool, washing up, and locking things down, we hit the trail. We were eager to reach Anthony and to find another raging bull. After hiking one mile into the wilderness, Ben and I began bugling at regular intervals as we hiked through the timber. It was about 10:30 a.m., bright and sunny. We didn’t really expect any bulls to return our calls so late in the morning on such a hot day. But on our second mile in, we heard a faint bugle in the distance. We bugled again, and again we heard a faint bugle. Then a moment later, we heard another bugle from somewhere else. We kept calling as we made our way to camp and continued to hear far-off bugles. The hills were alive with rutting elk and our blood was pumping with excitement! We quickened our pace and hurried to camp.
“Shhhhhhhh, there’s a bull not 250 yards behind me,” were Anthony’s greeting words as we strolled into camp. “I heard another bull screaming at maybe 500 yards from the top of that ridge,” he said pointing at the mountain top behind him. Anthony told us the elk had bugled 2-3 times and then went silent.
It was hot, we were tired and the elk had gone silent. Anthony decided that the best course of action was to sit tight, be patient, and wait until just before dark to hunt the bulls. And with luck the bulls would be screaming without our encouragement.
To pass the time, we slept in our warm tents on soft, luxurious, sleeping pads for the first time since our hunt began. We ate dinner, glassed, had apple strudel for dessert and packed up camp for the hike out. Despite the evening barreling down on us, the mood was optimistic, and we orchestrated an attack on the hopes a bull would be located.
At 6:00 p.m., we decided we had better get things rolling or the hunt would fade into the night without the proper ending. We each tried a few bugles with no response.
Ben and I, relatively new to elk calling, were keen to learn Anthony’s technique for bugling. Anthony’s bugles are distinctive and sound impressive. So, we asked Anthony to teach us how it’s done. Ben and I tried to imitate his calls using a diaphragm. And although the sounds we emitted were distinctive, they were definitely not like Anthony’s!
Every now and then, while practicing, one of us would sound-off a bugle from our Primos Terminator bugle as well. This “practice session” continued for about thirty minutes when we heard a ripping bugle from the ridge behind camp, about 500 yards away!
The hunt was on! Light was fading fast and we knew we only had minutes to close on the bull before darkness fell. Anthony, with a grin on his face, took off running after the bull. Ben and I were going to do our best to get the bull fired up and bring him in. It didn’t take much either! From the bull’s first bugle he was coming in strong. Ben was glassing the ridge desperately to find the bull and to let Anthony know where he was via radio. Brent and I were breaking limbs, cow calling, bugling, and doing our best to sound like a hotbed of elk activity. The bull bellowed at us as he came headlong toward the elk sounds.
Things happened so fast, one moment, the bull was bugling from the top of the ridge, the next he was 100 yards closer and moving our way. At first, I thought it was a different bull!
The beast screamed at every call and sometimes he doubled bugled! He was coming in on a string!
And, all of a sudden, there was silence. No response. The bull was gone... We had no idea where Anthony was or if he’d ever seen the bull. I continued calling, softening the sounds in case the bull was close and coming in quietly. I crouched there, calling hoping that Anthony had closed the deal on the bull. What seemed like forever later, a crackle pierced through the radio, and in a whisper I heard, “I shot him...”
I could not believe it! Anthony had done it! He arrowed the bull in the last few moments of shooting light, on the last day of the season! He had done it! We had done it!
Later Anthony described the following details: “Brian was the key to my success (alright, maybe he didn’t use those exact words, but you get the idea).”
He continued, “I took off running to cover the 400 yards of flatland before I started to climb the mountain the bull was on. As I neared the base of the mountain, I could tell the bull was fired up and I had cut the distance between us in half.” “The bull screamed at every call my friends made and was double bugling. I glassed up the hill and saw him literally charging towards me. He stopped twice to thrash some innocent pine trees. I barely had time to nock an arrow and kneel behind a dead tree when he burst into an opening at 15 yards. I called to stop him, he froze, and I released my arrow. My arrow passed through him and the bull bolted. I stopped him again with a cow call at 70 yards. The bull, in a rutting frenzy, searched frantically for the cows he’d heard. And, after a long moment, he bedded down. To my dismay, I thought my shot was a little too far back for a quick kill.”
“I found my arrow and could see it was covered in dark red blood. I decided to stalk in a little closer just in case he got up. As I closed the gap to 60 yards the bull stood up. I shot and missed just over his back. He started to bolt, but stopped again when I cow called! He immediately laid back down. I crept up to him again and was able to get within 15 yards of him. Facing straight away from me, the bull stood up. I drew my bow--held my draw as long as I could, but finally, had to let down. Then the bull moved to the side and I shot him quartering away at 15 yards. The arrow looked to be perfect.
The bull ran off again, but circled back around as I called to him. He bedded down a third time. I watched him until it was almost too dark to see through my binos. Just as I thought I would lose sight of him, he stood up on all fours and then tipped over with a crash!”
Anthony was totally pumped! Two great bulls in two days!
That night we celebrated as we packed out our camp, the bull’s cape and antlers. We got to the truck at 2:00 a.m. We slept in the truck again and went back at 6:00am for the meat.
What a great hunt! Anthony kept telling himself that his only satisfaction of the year might have to be that he hunted until the last possible moment of daylight of the last day of the archery season.
Ben and Anthony, you are a tough act to follow. You’re welcome at my campfire anytime.