As the dog days of summer count down each year my excitement and anticipation for chasing screaming bulls during the month of September grows. The 2013 season was no exception except for the fact that I was going to have a chance to hunt with a great friend of mine that I hadn’t been able to hunt with for a couple of years. Lance and I have shared plenty of laughs on the mountain over the years and I knew this season would be no different.
Lance was up first. We were hunting a new area so the first couple of days were spent getting to know the area better and locating elk. Day 4 started off like the rest. Some light bugling action in the morning that ended quickly once the temperature started to rise. We made a game plan for the evening to go into a new area and look around while throwing out location bugles as we hiked around. As we worked up an old logging road we started to get into more elk sign which gave us hope of a successful hunt. We could tell the elk had been in there that morning but nothing was answering our bugles. We decided to sit down and do a little early season calling routine that had sparked some excitement in the past. After about 45 minutes of only hearing birds singing we decided to head back to the truck and call from different points along the way. Same result. A whole lot of nothing!
We were a couple hundred yards from the truck and I decided to let out one more bugle. Success! A bull answered right away with a pretty aggressive bugle. Both of us lit up like a little kid on Christmas morning. Lance decided he wanted to work our way up the trail and get close to the bull before setting up and calling again. We covered the ground in no time flat and set up. Lance let out a bugle and was cut off right away by a raspy bugle that raised the hair on the back of our necks. Lance nocked an arrow and moved out in front of me to the edge of the trees. We could hear the bull raking just on the other side of a small clear cut so I picked up a stick and started raking back. The bull let us know right away that he was not going to tolerate another bull in his area. We had found his hot button. I raked one more time and as soon as the bull started to bugle I cut him off with a challenge bugle of my own. That’s all it took. He was on his way. The bull stepped out of the tree line and ventured out into the clear cut before turning and heading our direction. At 22 yards he decided to stop and look around. Lance settled his pin and sent the Victory VAP on its way. The shot was true and the bull only traveled about 50 yards before falling over. After a brief celebration of high fives and hugs we knew we had to get to work as light was fading fast.
After a quick trip to the butcher it was my turn as the shooter. It’s amazing how filling one tag can really boost the moral in camp. Little did we know that Mother Nature was about to make things difficult on us. The next week consisted of one day of extreme heat followed by the next day being heavy rains. Hunting during weather patterns like this can make for extremely tough hunting with bulls shutting down and not being very vocal.
We continued to cover ground looking for bulls while enjoying some great looking country. One evening we took the bikes and decided to check out an old over grown trail that went almost to the top of the mountain. When we got to where the trail was too over grown to continue on the bikes, Lance let out a light bugle and we were shocked when a bull answered just over the edge within 60 yards. The wind was completely wrong so we backed away to try and get the bull to come check us out but it was too late. He had already winded us and was gone. We decided to look around since we were already up there and see what we could find. Working up the trail we found several rubs where a bull had torn apart trees while working his way to a spring. It was obvious that there were a few bulls in the area so we added scents to the existing rubs and left the area with the plan to return the next day.
The next morning was rainy so we decided to let the weather clear before going back in to the rub line. The rain finally stopped in the afternoon so it was time to head out. The plan was for me to sit at the corner where the bull had answered and Lance would work up towards the rubs and call from there. We wanted to make the bull think that the one leaving his scent from the night before was back. The wind was perfect and I had a good feeling that something was going to happen. Lance fired off the first bugle and two bulls answered back. What a perfect scenario. We had one bull below us, and one above us at the top of the ridge. We were working the bull below us when I heard the familiar sound of other hunters working their way up toward all the action with the wind at their back.
The bull below us went quiet and slipped out so we decided to focus on the bull above us which had increased his intensity and was working his way toward us. I met up with Lance so we could talk about how we wanted to set up. We would basically swap positions. Lance started calling as I worked my up into the brush to cut off the bull coming down the ridge towards us. I could hear him getting close and knew this was it. He decided to turn left and go into a small patch of trees and start raking. The bull was less than 20 yards from me and I couldn’t get a clear shot. I thought, why not try and sneak in a little bit to get a clear shot? He’s raking, so his eyes would be closed. Wouldn’t you know it. He stopped raking right as I was taking my first step. Busted! What an incredible experience none the less. The light had faded so we headed back to camp and get ready for another day.
When we woke up the following morning, Mother Nature met us with more rain but she added wind into the mix so we decided to go back into an area we had hunted a few days earlier that would be sheltered from the wind. As we bugled from up on the ridge we could hear bulls down at the bottom on the edge of private property. The decision was made to go after them but we were unable to catch them before they jumped the fence and into the safety of private property. I told Lance we should make our way back to camp since we needed to head to town and fill up the gas cans as we were starting to run low. I wanted to go back in after the bull from the evening before at the rub line.
As we were riding back to camp I came around a corner in the road and noticed fresh elk tracks. By the time Lance caught up to me I was already off my bike with my bow in one hand, my grunt tube in the other and a smile on my face. One bugle from me let us know right away we had two bulls below us. I told Lance to bugle from where he was standing to keep the bulls bugling as I dropped off the edge to work in for a shot. I followed the tracks down into the bottom of draw where the brush opened up which allowed me to move around quickly and quietly. I moved along as Lance and the bull continued their conversation back and forth when I heard brush popping to my left. I looked up to see a few cows had winded me and were heading over the mini ridge above me. I was so focused on the bull bugling ahead of me that I forgot to look around for other elk in the area as I moved towards him. Good thing they headed in the opposite direction.
I was just about to the edge of a little drop off when I spotted the familiar tan of an elk. It was the bull. He was pacing back and forth while bugling at Lance. I let out one aggressive bugle and moved up a little bit to a point that gave me good shooting lanes no matter which way the bull decided to head.
The bull stepped out on an old skid road and started walking from left to my right. I drew back when the bull was behind a tree but he saw a little bit of movement and stopped in his tracks. Lance bugled at the perfect time as if he could see what was going on from above. The bull turned and started to walk away. I was just about to cow call to stop him for a quartering away shot when he made a hard left turn and jumped the bank to get up on my level. As if on cue he stopped broadside 20 yards away to try and figure out what that movement was. I settled the pin behind the shoulder and released my arrow. The bull whirled around and disappeared into the brush where he had come from. A couple of seconds later I heard the bull coughing and knew that was it. I peeled off my pack and set it and my bow down where I had shot from so I could run back up the hill to tell Lance what had just happened.
When we got back to my pack I knew it was going to be easy to find this bull. I grabbed my pack, bow and arrow and started tracking. It was easy to see where the bull had left the old road so I decided to walk the edge of the road and look down to where I had last heard the bull. There he was. He had fallen right next to an old creek within 60 yards of the shot. We got to work and I have to say, it was one of the easiest pack outs I have ever had in my hunting career.
With the meat back in camp, we had a chance to reflect on everything that had taken place the past couple of weeks. We had managed to go into a new area in tough weather conditions and harvest two bulls. Over the years we have learned a few tricks to help us locate bulls. One of these, during the early part of the season, is to go out at night and bugle from elevated positions to locate bulls. This is a technique that has helped us time and time again locate elk in new areas and once again proved valuable for us this year. We have several bulls located for next year and have them marked on the GPS. With the excitement from this year along with the anticipation of next year I have just one burning question hounding me daily: Is It September Yet?