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3 years in the making: A bowhunt for bull elk

Getting ready for the archery season
My love of bowhunting started around the age of four when my father gave me my first bow. Every night, I would go outside and shoot with him. As a kid I dreamed of the hunt and when I would finally kill my first bull elk with a bow. By the age of six, my father started taking me elk hunting with him. I watched him hunt as he called in and killed multiple bulls in front of me. Then, finally it was here — the year that I had been waiting for so long had come: the year that I was old enough to hunt!

Wyatt O'Day on a 2013 elk hunt
At 12 years old, I had several encounters with bulls, but was never presented a clear shot. The second year, I had a total of six nocked arrow encounters with bulls, but still no shot. Finally, the third year rolled around and at 14 years old, I was more than ready for my first bull.

Day one of opening weekend

On the first morning, my dad and I went to a spot that he has hunted a lot over the years and had success killing several good bulls. My father let off the first bugle of the year and immediately a deep loud growl of a bugling bull fired back. The chase was on as we quickly stumbled down the steep mountainside to get in position and intercept the bull. 

My father quickly pointed to a tree and told me to set up there while he backed off about fifty yards to begin calling. I quickly nocked an arrow and got into position just as I hear the bull charging down the mountain towards me. By this time the bull is less than forty yards from me, but I cannot see him because of the thick brush. My knees quickly turned to jelly as the brush started to shake not 15 yards from me. 

Again, the bull let out another deep bugle. While I knew the bull was well within range, I could not see him because of a big limb and tall brush blocking my view. He stood there for a solid two minutes, sensing something was wrong before quickly hightailing it out of there. 

We started walking a long ridge back to the truck when we jumped a couple of small bulls and a few cows. I nocked an arrow and stood up on a small fallen log to try and get above the tall brush. My father began to coax the small bull in with soft calls and as the bull slowly started to come in, I drew back. He stopped, but, again, my nerves got the best of me and I began to shake. I tried my best to control it, but just could not do it. I settled my pin just behind the bull’s shoulder and squeezed. My heart dropped...I had missed. The bull took off up the hill and disappeared into the thick timber.

Wyatt O'Day with his first velvet archery buck
The day was not over... I managed to take my first ever velvet buck later this evening with my bow.

Day two

The second day was a little slower than the first. My dad and I walked the same route we did the day before because we knew there were elk in the area. About halfway through the basin, we spotted two small bulls: one spike and a little raghorn. We stopped and tried to call them in, but it was no use. 

Day three

The third day was a great day to hunt elk because it was a record cold day and we had a good hard frost. I almost did not want to leave the warmth of the truck, but I knew I could not kill a bull sipping coffee so we gathered up our gear and started down the mountain, bugling to see if we could get a bull to answer back. It was strangely quiet for such a good morning weather-wise.

Continued below.

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We reached the spot where I had encountered the good bull on the first morning. We stopped and bugled, but nothing answered. Continuing on, I heard movement not knowing if it was a squirrel running around collecting pine cones or the movement of an elk. I ignored it and told myself it was a squirrel, but not ten steps later I heard it again. This time I knew it was an elk. 

Arrow after a successful shot
I stopped my father and told him what I had heard and pointed directly to where I had heard it. At the end of my fingertip were antlers moving in the brush. We both got down on our knees, nocked arrows and stood up slowly. Before our eyes, the bull appeared. He took three steps and began to rub a small alder bush. I heard my father whisper, "Draw." We both drew and I settled my pin, taking a deep breath and then released my arrow. To my surprise I saw a hole open up on the side of the bull. I looked down and realized that I no longer had an arrow nocked. I looked over at my dad’s bow to see that he still had his arrow nocked. Then I heard my father say, “You smoked him!” Those were the words I had waited eight years to hear. It was a perfect 40 yard pass through. 

We started to look for the blood trail. My father said, “Here, you go left. I’ll go right.” 

Wyatt O'Day with his giant archery elk
I took a step to the left, looked down and there he was. I turned around looked at my dad. I smiled and hugged him. I finally had done it. I had killed my first bull and with a bow! He did not go 40 yards! 

Wyatt O'Day with his giant archery elk side view
I was astonished at the sheer mass of the bull and I counted his tines over and over again. He was a perfect 7x7. 

Wyatt O'Day with his giant Montana archery elk with his dad
I thanked my dad for all the close calls he had given me and for letting me shoot this bull. We started to take pictures and he congratulated me. When all that was finished, the real work had only just began! It took us six trips each to get him out, but it was well worth it, and I know that I would do it all over again if I could!

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