Elk Slayer - Master Hunter and Friend
I, Brian Call, as the author of this post, hereby declare the right and privilege to document facts as I recall them. It is my privilege to exaggerate details, distort events, bend the truth, and misinterpret evidence.
The conditions of this post are these:
All stories, pictures, connections, performances, associations, or expectations, that are not met and sealed in this post, are your problem, not mine. ;-)
Ben's First Bull Elk
I’m addicted to archery hunting. So is my cousin, Benjamin Christopher Morris. Ben bought his first bow the summer of 2004. When I was a kid my Dad was an avid bow hunter and he got me hooked on the sport. But after I turned sixteen, high school, a mission, girls, college, and a career prevented me from pursuing my passion for hunting. Ben likes to remind me that my priorities were just screwed up--and it’s about time I saw the light and reengaged my soul in this great work.
The summer of 2004 marked the 10th year since I had shot a bow. Ben told me 10 years was long enough to be away from the sport and that it was time to pony up the cash and buy myself a bow. So I did. And soon after, Ben had his own bow too.
We practiced, watched videos, asked questions, tested elk calls, attended elk calling seminars, and did our best to prepare for opening day elk season.
The ’04 season turned out to be an experience I’ll never forget-- a comedy of errors! We never tagged an animal, but we shot a few arrows. We had close encounters and close calls. We learned many things the hard way that year.
I’ll never forget Ben whacking himself in the eye when his release slipped off his string at half draw, his arrow skittered at the feet of two cow elk as they bolted away. Or the time I drove away in my Jeep with his bow sitting on my roof. His bow bounced on the ground a few times, but was like new with a little super glue. Mistakes were plenty, and I’m glad we made them.
Mistakes teach us lessons, and those lessons are what equipped us for success the following year.
From the beginning, our 2005 archery season was an exciting one. Opening week we called in a handful of elk, including a rag-horn 5x5 that Ben shot. The hunt was text book! And except for Ben’s errant shot and the pouring rain, the hunt would have been perfect.
We setup in an area to call some elk using Jim Horn’s early season tactics. It was a test run; we’d never done it before. I was elk calling from about 60 yards behind Ben. My buddy Chad was with me and we were doing our best to sound like a herd of elk with a hot cow in our midst. After about 45 minutes of calling, Ben turned and told us an elk was heading our way. We didn’t have our radios, so he was using hand signals. With his hands on top of his head like antlers he let us know it was a bull.
I could not believe it! Chad and I kept up the commotion and the bull trotted in. He slowed a couple times, looked around and then continued our way. Finally, the Bull stopped at 50 yards. Ben was anxious, and he was worried the bull was going to get wise to us at any moment and disappear in a cloud of dust!
Neither of us were experienced or prepared for bulls sauntering into our elk calling setups! And instead of waiting for the bull to come in to close range, Ben launched his arrow at 50 yards! It was a long shot and Ben hit his mark too low on the body. The arrow passed through leaving little blood. And making matters worse, a literal monsoon struck not ten minutes into our tracking job and washed everything away. Torrents of rain came down on us and washed away all hopes of tracking the animal. We searched for hours in the rain, but to no avail. There was nothing to go on.
Ben was terribly distraught over losing the bull__ the shot haunted him for weeks. And, at the same time, he celebrated the experience. We had called in a bull! It worked just like in the movies! Ben was hooked, the thrill of watching a bull come to him as he lay in ambush was awesome! And I asked Ben to retell the experience many times the days following. We called elk into our setup three more times in the subsequent days. But we never did get the shot we needed to come home with an animal.
That was opening week. We were able to make two more weekend hunting trips before the season ended. On the last weekend of the season, with only two days remaining, we loaded our gear into Ben’s pickup and headed to the mountains to do a wilderness backpack hunt. Little did we know, that weekend would prove to be an unforgettable experience.
We arrived in our favorite hunting unit on a Friday afternoon. We put our backpacks on and started hiking. We didn’t exactly have a destination in mind; we just wanted to get remote, away from all other hunters and civilization. After hiking about 4 miles through the world’s nastiest wilderness over fallen trees, blow downs, steep ravines,and swampy bogs, we finally settled on a place to setup camp.
I setup the tent while Ben glassed the countryside. Elk were talking and we had about two hours before dark to put a hunt on some. Ben spotted a nice herd bull and about thirty cows about 500 yards away from us. We were stoked! I put a stalk on the herd trying to get in range to make a play on the bull. Ben was supposed to guide me on the radio, but he screwed it up. He could never locate me in the thick timber. All he could tell me was that the elk hadn’t moved. The problem was, I had no idea where I was in relation to the elk ( I’m easily lost in the woods). The elk weren't’ making any noise that I could hear. And Ben, try as he did, could not find me. I ended up about 150 yards above the herd with the wind blowing right at them. The elk spooked and crashed away.
This is the funny part, they ran right to Ben! It was so unexpected he wasn’t prepared for it. All he could do was watch as they came running up the hill toward him! Especially because his bow was about 80 yards behind him back at the tent.
Still, he was a huge bull. Much larger than anything we’d seen all year. And as we climbed into our tent that night we were elated by the day’s action.
The next day was incredible! We awoke to the sound of bugling elk! I poked my head out of the tent and about 80 yards from me a group of cows were hurrying by. One bugle was very close as well. About 500 yards from us a bull was screaming his guts out. He was on a ridge behind our camp and he was rutting mad!
We eagerly dressed, grabbed our gear and headed toward him. At the base of the mountain he was on I began bugling to him. He immediately responded! And so for about 30 minutes I bugled and bugled to get him to come to us.
After a while, Ben and I realized we had better try something else because the bull was not coming our way. Ben was going to sneak as close as he could to the bull so he could be in position to intercept him if the bull came to my calls. After Ben was in position, the plan was for me to call one last time from my location and then sprint to within 100 or 200 yards of the bull and call again. Our hope was to madden the bull and provoke a confrontation.
After sprinting to where the bull was, I began calling. There was no response. The bull went silent immediately. I tried a few more times and fearing I had frightened the bull, I ran back to my original spot and began calling again. Sure enough he responded immediately, with vigor! So I sprinted back to the bull’s living room and called again. And again, no response. The bull just clammed up I called and called... and heard only silence. So I sprinted back down the hill, across the open field and back to my original location and let off another bugle. Immediately, the bull bellowed in response! It was clear to Ben and I that this bull loved to sound big and bad as long as he thought we were a safe distance away. So we changed tactics. Obviously, Plan A and Plan B sucked. I must say that Plan B was especially lacking--it left me sweating like a pig.
Since Plan A and Plan B were no good, we implemented Plan C. Plan C was for me to keep the bull screaming and engaged while Ben put a stalk on him.
This actually worked out quite well. And if a couple of hunters had not blundered after the bull during Ben’s stalk, Ben may have actually had a chance at the big boy. But instead, the overzealous and interfering hunters pushed the herd into the next county.
Nevertheless, it was an exciting morning and we learned a couple of things. Next time, we vowed not to waste time trying to call the bull to us. Instead, we would go directly to Plan C and hunt the bull down.
By mid-morning the action was over and the season’s first snow began to fall. We ate a brief snack and then began hiking through the snow to cut some fresh tracks. After a short walk we found some large bull tracks. We trudged through the snow for hours tracking the bull. We knew the bull was very close by the fresh sign the bull was leaving behind. The bull’s tracks showed he was obviously unaware of us by his frequent grazing and easy walk. Knowing the bull was close, we walked at a painfully show pace in his footsteps.
We followed the tracks to the edge of a bluff. Then, to our shock a huge 6x6 bull leapt out of his bed twenty yards from us! The bull was bedded just over the edge of the bluff. He was as shocked as we were! In seconds the bull was half way down the mountain running from us. Ben was drawn, but it did no good. The bull was gone in the blink of an eye. The bull slowed at about 85 yards and gave us plenty of time to get a good look at him as he sauntered away. His wide, mature rack was truly stunning and Ben and i were happy to see another large bull in the area.
Of course, we kicked ourselves a bit, wish we’d seen the bull before he saw us. Success was a breadth away, and we failed to reach it! Oh well... we licked our wounds and searched for another one.
As evening approached we decided to head back to camp and have a hot meal. The entire day we were never more than 500 yards from camp. In fact, the bedded bull was less than 350 yards from our tent.
We made a short trip back to camp and I had just begun to boil water on the cook stove when we heard a magnificent bugle on the same ridge from the morning hunt. It was awesome! To this day, I swear it was the same bull from the morning. Ben is not so sure. The bull sounded exactly the same to me. He had a unique bugle, a guttural growl that made your adrenaline pump!
He bugled more than once and we exchanged incredulous looks. Ben’s face wore an expression of disbelief and utter joy! We knew the score from the morning hunt and skipped directly to Plan C.
It was less than an hour before darkness enveloped the countryside--we had little time.
Ben shed all of his excess gear and sprinted across the flatland dividing us from the bull. The area between us was an old burn and standing dead trees and fallen logs littered the landscape. The bull was on the mountain top on the far side of the old burn. As Ben dashed away I began calling the bull.
The instant I began calling the old bull returned the challenge. It was exciting to hear the bull in a rutting frenzy! He was completely wound up! The bull was moving toward me as he bugled. I was shocked! During the morning hunt the bull just sat on the mountain and bellowed down at me. This time, the bull was actually making his way closer to me.
Then, surprisingly the bull went silent. I kept calling but received no response for about five minutes. About then I was sure it was over. “Ben blew it,” I told myself. “The old bull gave Ben the slip before Ben even knew the game had begun.”
Then I heard the familiar sound of stampeding elk crashing through the woods. “Yep, Ben definitely blew it,” I said aloud. Vainly, I kept calling anyway--a small part of me hoping I was wrong.
Ben had sprinted through the maze of fallen trees to the base of the mountain the bull was on. All arrows still in his quiver, head and hands bare, winded and sweaty; Ben took a moment to compose himself. He calmed his breathing, pulled gloves from his pockets, adorned his head net, nocked and arrow and looked up. He was standing on a game trail that wound its way up the mountain to where the elk had been that morning and his throat caught...
It was like a jolt of electricity shot through him! Angling down the hill, coming right at him, was the biggest, toughest looking bull he’d ever been in position to take. Ben did his best to suppress the rush pulsing through him and calmly assessed the situation. The bull was coming toward him at a steady pace. He searched desperately for a way to draw his bow without being discovered. The bull was getting closer and the pitiful hillside was almost entirely barren of cover. At the last possible moment the bull made a left turn and crossed in front of Ben at 20 yards!
Ben glimpsed his opportunity! A huge, blackened tree--the only tree sufficient to conceal his movement stood just ahead of the bull! The bull was moving quickly and Ben knew he had only moments to get the bow back and settled on the bull before he passed out from behind the tree. He yanked back his bow and settled his twenty yard pin on the bull. He had a diaphragm call in his mouth but was hesitant to use it (more often than not the wrong sound came out of it). Just then, the bull stopped!
Ben didn’t even have time to think, he just let go. The shot was beautiful! Although, Ben didn’t know it at the time. The arrow pierced both lungs right behind the shoulder, hit the shoulder on the opposite side and bounced back half-way out the entry hole.
The bull crashed off on a death run that lasted 100 yards. I thought for sure the death run was a fleeing herd of elk Ben unwittingly spooked. But I knew something was amiss when the sound of crashing elk stopped almost immediately after it began. Elk, when spooked like that, do not stop running until they’ve left you miles behind them.
Seconds later, Ben’s voice crackled over the radio, “Brian, I shot him!” “He’s a big branched bull.” “I think the shot was good.” “I know I hit him because I saw the arrow sticking out of him as he ran away.”
Darkness fell moments later and Ben could hear the bull in the night. He wasn’t sure how good his shot was and decided to back out of the area and come back in the morning.
It was a restless night. Ben rehashed the story for me over and over again. I wanted all the details! We stayed up for hours talking in the tent in the darkness. Ben’s excitement was palpable, it hung thick in the air as he relived the experience through storytelling.
Anxiously, we awoke in the pre-dawn light and prepared to find Ben’s bull. The snow had come down through the night and everything was blanketed in white. The morning was beautiful and silent--just two hunters alone in the wilderness with God’s creations. The feeling was surreal as we made our way through the snow covered landscape toward the base of the mountain.
I could not believe my eyes when I saw the bull for the first time. The bull was majestic, covered in a layer of snow. He had expired in the night and he looked magnificent in the dawning light. Ben kept staring at the bull in wonderment, a look of admiration and disbelief showed on his face. A feeling of pride washed over me--pride in my cousin, pride in his accomplishment, pride in our friendship.
Well done, cousin. :)