Elk Hunt to the Max – By Dason Lasater
I summon all the air I am able to for one last high pitched piercing bugle. As we have done so many times this season, Jeff and I hold absolutely still, hardly breathing, hoping to hear a response. Our silence is rewarded with a faint barely audible two tone squeal. It is only sufficient to get a general direction. We head off with quick strides. After a mile or more of scrambling we slow our pace. A quick squeal from my bugle sends the mountainside above us into chaos. It seems elk have surrounded us. There is one bull straight ahead over the small rise bellowing insults at anyone willing to listen. There are two more bulls beyond the first, just over the rim of the ridge. Again we race to the summit. As we near the top, Jeff goes to the left across a small wash and I go to the right. Now I start with the soft cow sounds. The response is immediate. The whole hill seems to echo and reverberate with the sounds of lovesick bulls. There are throaty grunts and deafening screams all around us. I smile, after weeks of unrewarded effort, this is almost too easy.
A few more pleading cow calls, and again the mountain erupts with the squeals and grunts of the rut. Then the telltale sound of galloping elk followed by a few tense moments of no sound at all. Now the waiting game starts. All kinds of thoughts race through my mind. Could he have smelled us? Did they spook? I scan the brush around my hiding place and to my relief the base of an antler appears as if by magic. This majestic animal has come to steal away cows he has heard. The bull is dressed in a most impressive coat; tan on top running into dark stockings, topped with a thick chocolate mane. The lower third of his body is coated with wet sticky mud. As he steps out into my shooting lane, the aroma of a rut crazed bull washes over me. After battling with my will to focus on one tuft of cream colored hair, my body acts instinctively. I sense my arrow leave the bow more than an actual conscious shot being taken. I see the arrow make contact and then completely disappear. The bull whirls at the arrows impact. Satisfaction slowly replaces tension as I realize he will not go far. On wobbly legs, he only manages to cover 20 yards before expiring in a small peaceful clearing.
After pictures are taken and butchering is done we fill our packs with all the boned meat we can carry. The rest we hang in game bags out of the reach of bears and other scavengers. Jeff is unable to get an acceptable shot, so we decide to hunt the next morning before heading back to pack out the remainder of my elk. At first light we have one bull that seems interested, but every time we try to entice him closer, his interests fades. This goes on most of the morning until finally exasperated we head back to the vehicle.
As we leave the truck, pack frames in tow, I mention to Jeff that he should take his bow “just in case”. I give a short non aggressive call on my bugle as we approach the bowl where the remainder of my bull hangs. A shrill squeal followed by gravely grunts shatter the afternoon silence. The bull sounds very close and extremely agitated. The rut is definitely in full swing. Jeff quickly slithers forward eighty yards and sets up his ambush. I start making what I believe are sweet cow sounds. The bull confirms my belief by charging the location from which the sounds emanate. A few snapping twigs is all the warning I have before a beautiful bull materializes twelve yards from Jeff’s location. At the twang of the string the bull whirls, but it is too late! After the shot all that remains is tracking, celebrating, picture taking and lots of packing. It seems almost too easy, right?
As I kneel by the second magnificent animal we have taken in two days, I ask myself why this hunt was successful. Our hunt actually started on 30 August 2010, which is traditionally opening day in Idaho for archery season. I glance at my watch and to my amazement it is the 28th of September. We have hunted 22 out of the last 29 days. This hunt came down to the wire with the season closing in two days. With eleven months of planning and thinking, I try to understand what made this hunt successful. After some thought, I contribute our success to three main reasons; maintaining our motivation levels, a sound physical fitness base and finally, not forgetting the intended purpose for our journey. We stayed mentally focused and motivated which allowed our bodies to carry us through to our goal. And it was worth every minute! To read more about the 3 things that made this hunt successful, read the next article in this series.