A hunt to remember
It’s important to remember, especially the important stuff. Like remembering you have a trailer hooked to your truck before you take a corner too sharp and swipe your neighbor’s car. Or remembering your client has a hearing you need to attend over a dispute of $1.5 million. Or that September 27 is your wife’s birthday and you better be there to celebrate with her instead of hunting elk.
One of the things none of us fail to remember is that September is the best time of the year – hunting season. Tags are in pockets, gear lists have been checked and rechecked, travel plans are finalized and hopes are high. goHUNT INSIDER has given you excellent information not only to get your tag but, also, to facilitate your research. That research has hopefully given you insight into habits, preferred vegetation and in-depth information about your preselected spots. Ideally, you have also spent some time in the field. In the illustrious words of Dr. Seuss: “You will succeed 98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed.”
Except when you don’t because sometimes you won’t. Guarantees in hunting are few and far between, which means taking advantage of opportunities whenever and wherever they come. Often, those opportunities arise as part of lessons learned in previous seasons. Remembering can make or break a hunt.
Remembering came full circle for me this past season. In 2017, I assisted my father on a Wyoming elk hunt. You can check that article out here. While trying to locate the elk on that trip, we found one of their feeding/bedding areas on an east-facing bench just off the top of the ridge we were exploring. They were not there at the time, but it was prime elk habitat. I distinctly remember thinking, “It would be perfect to get an elk in this area.” I took some time to identify the trails into that area, some nearby wallows and possible ways to approach the bench. I knew from my INSIDER research that I would likely get my out-of-state tag the next season so I marked waypoints on my GPS and proceeded with my dad’s hunt.
When I pulled my tag last year I was excited to capitalize on that area. Opening morning found me 5.5 miles up the trail just as dawn was arriving. Almost immediately I heard numerous cows and calves talking on the ridge above me. I made my way towards them keeping the wind in my favor. Suddenly, to my left, I heard my first bugle of the morning. It sounded like a decent bull and I had a good idea he was moving from a wallow up the ridge towards the cows. As I continued up the ridge through some aspen groves I topped out on a ledge where I could see the 5x5 bull 450 yards away. He was further away than I had expected, but, as I watched him, I heard a deeper and richer bugle coming from the top of the ridge; the herd bull. There was no question in my mind that he was on the feeding/bedding bench I had previously found and he was probably protecting his harem. I remembered a path through the aspens that led to that bench and it was still early enough that the prevailing winds were coming downhill.
I’m no Corey Jacobson, so I elected to quietly stalk the herd. After following the trail quietly, but decisively, for about 10 minutes, I looked ahead of me through the golden aspens and 80 yards away was an elk rump followed by the twist of antlers as he maneuvered through the trees. Five seconds later he ripped off a full lip bawl bugle. I don’t care how many times I have heard that it still jumps my heart rate up to about 170 every single time. It’s like you can actually feel the bugle in your bones.
He was lost in the trees after that, but I was only 100 yards from the bench and, if I walked the tree line of the aspens to the north to the very top of the ridge, I knew I would have a clear view of the feeding/bedding area. However, just as I reached that spot, I came face-to-face with a cow looking right at me 30 yards away. Not ideal. We looked at each other for a long time. I often wonder what they think when they see us. Maybe a mixture of curiosity and the instinctual realization that this guy could spell trouble.
I ultimately won the staring contest because she finally went back to eating. At that same moment, the bull bugled again, moving in and out of the trees towards me. Cow elk makes bull elk lose their minds and bugling bulls make hunters lose their minds. I lost mine because when I heard him bugling and moving towards me I completely forgot about the cow that had seen me earlier and started walking to get in position for a shot. You can guess what happened next. She saw me, of course, and gave a predictable bark. As exhilarating as a bull’s bugle is, a cow’s bark is equally depressing. The herd immediately began running away from me. At that point, I had nothing to lose, so I ran after them as fast as I could. I only had 25 yards until I cleared a small knoll and could see them. Fortunately, they had paused momentarily to see what the warning was all about. They were at the edge of the bench I had remembered and it dropped into a pine-choked hell hole. If I didn’t get him now I would never see him again. As I pulled up, I found him in my crosshairs and squeezed as I settled just behind his front shoulder.
They scattered in earnest. I felt good about the shot, but couldn’t see the bull and couldn’t find a single drop of blood while canvassing the bench. I hate those moments. Suddenly, when I looked at the far south end of the bench, I saw him in a quiet spot 50 yards from the exact spot I previously thought, “This would be a perfect place to get an elk.” Success was sweet as I ate my almond joy to remember my grandpa who had passed earlier that year.
Remember where you have been and the things you have learned when you head out this hunting season. Remember to keep calm and collected to capitalize on all your practice and research in the off-season. Remember you are stronger than you think and more resilient than you realize. Above all, remember why you hunt and how fortunate we are to share all of this incredible public land.