Four years in the making
I traced the edge of the pond, which was now littered with a handful of wallow bomb holes. The smell of elk piss and pine was in the air. This swampy pond had been desolate of any elk sign only a month ago, but now resembled something close to a war zone. We had scouted this area this summer with a game camera and it revealed a total of zero elk. Yes that’s right, zero elk photos. A good feeling came over me as I studied the area. With the endless heat we had been having and the beginning of September hitting, the bulls were now hitting wallows, which was one of the only wet zones in the area. The rut must be getting close and the bulls were enjoying their hot and stinky mud bath. Earlier in the summer we had built two brush ground blinds, assuming the area was hot, but until recently, we thought the area might be a dud. The remainder of the day we found multiple areas with elk sign, but nothing fresh. The 4 mile hike through the dark thick timber of Western Montana only revealed multiple rubs and a friendly sow with three cubs.
Our scouting before season was paying off, as we marked rubs, fresh sign, and wallows on our Hunting GPS Maps iPhone app. We also picked up one of our game cameras which revealed a couple good bulls in the area and the photos showed the bulls were already bugling at the wee hours of sunrise. The next morning we scouted another new area and found plenty of fresh rubs and beds, where large bulls had pissed and marked their home. The area was looking good and we headed back into town to hang out with our family and gather supplies for opening day.
While at home our Dad convinced us to take him out archery elk hunting for his very first time. We told him we would be sitting a wallow all day and would require a lot of patience. He didn’t care, he just wanted experience the hunt and the plans were made. We checked the weather one last time before heading back into the mountains. The forecast was looking iffy. Opening day looked as if we might get scattered showers, continuing through Sunday night. Zack and I unloaded the truck, flung some last minute arrows, and prepared ourselves for the following days sit.
The next morning my alarm sounded off and almost instantly I saw headlights pull up behind my truck. An older man walked up, asked my Dad where he was hunting and proceeded to say “I’m sitting that same spot”. It was kinda a bummer being there all night and to have some guy just charge out in front of you to go sit where we had originally planned to sit our father for opening day. We made the best of the situation and decided to have our Dad sit the wallow Zack and I had planned to hunt. We bushwacked into our location, hoping for a wind from the west. We snuck into the area, Zack and myself setting up in a small ground blind we had built this summer, which was only big enough for two people. With no choice we set our Dad on the north end in a small area of trees.
The wind blew out of the south most of the day, which was not the wind we were looking for. The only thing we saw all day from 6am-745pm was two hunters. Opening Day was a wrap. We sat and had beers in the dark, listening to bugles in the distance. My Dad was more than satisfied, and headed home that evening.
The next morning we pulled the same routine, same location. This time the guy didn’t waste his time hiking back in through our campsite. As we finished loading the truck with our gear, we started to hear the sound of rain drops. The weather had showed up, and it was not going to be pretty. Zack and I hustled into our raingear and made the hike into our ground blinds. The wind was once again coming out of the south. With no choice we sat on the north end of the wallows, taking cover under some large trees. It was time to wait, and the wall of rain thickened. About a half hour into the sit and we heard our first daylight bugle. Faint bugles could be heard throughout the morning, and I assumed the bulls would swing by the wallow. Soon enough I could tell the elk were working farther away, and I decided to bugle. I was getting consistent response, but decided to hold our position and not risk totally frying our camera gear chasing bulls in the rain. The bugles slowly faded as late morning hit. No dice. Zack and I held out until 1230pm, before making the decision to head back to camp and try to judge the weather for the afternoon hunt.
The rain had calmed around 4pm, and we headed into the general area where we heard those bulls move earlier that morning. I set up at various locations, calling with no bugles in response. Once again the rain had picked back up and it looked like thunderstorms rolling over the mountain. We decided to hike back through some old timber and hopefully call a bull in from cover. We found plenty of great sign, but we failed to encounter a bull.
The next morning we again ventured into an area where we felt we had a good chance of calling a bull in. This part of Montana is nasty. The brush is thick and seeing an elk doesn’t happen on a daily basis. This morning was particularly nasty because we needed to be silent in the area we would be calling, so we hiked raingear free. The brush was still dripping wet from the weather from the day before. Once again we had a downright miserable hike, soaking wet. We heard one small bugle, and took a handful of spills on the slick downfall. Beaten we headed back to the truck midday.
The afternoon was slightly more pleasant, the sun peaked his head out and dried up some of the water. I decided to head down another ridge within a mile of our wallow. The area was littered with monster rubs, some fresh, some old, but the elk still didn’t vocalize that evening. It seemed the rut was still a week away.
That night we checked the forecast, which was calling for sunny weather with a high of 75F. I knew the elk hadn’t hit the wallow recently, and with the wet weather transitioning back to hot, I felt like the wallow could be a great option for day 4. That was the plan, back to the wallow in the am!
Zack and I chose to hike into the wallow from a different direction that morning. Hoping to maybe locate a bull on the way in. The route proved longer and we didn’t hear a single bugle. Once again the wind was coming out of the south! Sitting in the trees and not being able to sit either of the blinds we had built was a little frustrating. All morning was silent, other than the hundreds of squirrels chirping and chucking pine cones around our location. I motioned for my bow multiple times, thinking an elk was coming. Nope, just pine cones flying out of the trees hitting logs and branches.
We caught up on some reading, soaking in the hot weather and drying out our gear. We rotated taking small naps as the afternoon progressed. Around 5pm I thought I heard a very light bugle coming from the timber to the southwest. “Zack did you hear that bugle?” I whispered. “No,” he replied. I checked the wind, which was now coming out of the north. “Zack the wind switched, lets move the decoy and sit the blind on the south end”.
I grabbed the decoy, moved it to the east side of the wallow and we got comfortable in our best blind at that location. I had to plan on setting up for a bull coming from the southwest, and I hoped I wasn’t just imagining I heard a bugle. We sat and waited. About 30 minutes later I heard that distinct rumble of brush. “Zack somethings coming,” as I sat upright and grabbed my bow. Silence was all I heard for the next couple minutes, until I finally saw long browtines poke through the brush to our left. My adrenaline hit, this was awesome!! The bull worked slowly into the water, raking his horns in the muddy water a mere 70 yards from our blind. Zack followed the bull with the camera as he wallowed and eventually laid down in the water at 65yards. I shifted to my right in the blind, giving me a clear view of the bull. The bull stayed there, enjoying his muddy bed for a good 6 minutes. I ranged the nearest clump of grass as a marking point, 63yards. The bull stood, and I drew back. He faced away from me instantly, giving me just a view of his butt. I held full draw for 1minute 15seconds, almost letting down once. The bull turned perfectly broadside, dragging his horns in the mud. I held my sixty pin, settled for 7 seconds, felt 99.9% sure of the shot and squeezed off. I heard the smack as the bull took off towards our blind! I quickly mouthed two cow calls and nocked another arrow. The bull slowed to a walk only 35 yards away as blood flowed from the exit wound. The bull wobbled and tipped over only 30 yards from us. It was over! Finally I had arrowed my first bull! I sat there in disbelief, still having an arrow ready in case something happened. The bull quickly expired and I still sat there, wondering if it was all real.
I approached my bull completely in awe of its amazing characteristics. He was a true dark timber bull.
My #1 archery goal had finally been achieved, four years in the making. I studied the bulls muddy horns, which had great mass and unique tines. After looking the bull over I searched for my arrow and to my amazement it was floating in the wallow! As I fished the arrow out of the water, I noticed large wolf tracks in the mud from the night before.
Zack and I snapped photos as we transitioned to the real work, cutting up the bull. We used the gutless method to butcher the elk, hanging the two front quarters in a tree to avoid losing meat to the large number of bears and mountain lions in the area.
Zack and I loaded our MR Long Bows with the de-boned hind quarters, backstraps, and tenderloins. Our packs rang well over 75lbs with our gear and meat. The journey in the dark began, as we crossed downfall and brush, using our GPS for direction. Soon we were heading the wrong direction as the satellite was putting us in the wrong location. S*#%! We hit walls of brush, impassable with our heavy loads, backtracking and cussing as we crossed nastly 3.5ft tall snags and downfall. I finally busted out my iPhone, pulled up the Hunting GPS app and used the “my location” GPS function. The iPhone instantly showed our location on the satellite imagery. Back on track, we eventually made our way through the timber, safely making it back to the truck at 1:15am. That app saved us some serious time after getting turned around. I don’t know why the Garmin GPS satellite was misrepresenting our location, but I’m glad we had a backup source for direction. Definitely should check out the app HUNT by onX. We used it everyday of our hunt and the satellite imagery is a game changer for the avid hunter.
After a short 4 hours of sleep, we busted back into the kill location, hearing bugles echoing around us. Zack and I loaded our packs once again and ventured back into the thick brush with the final load. I battled every tree, branch, and log that morning. The rack did not find its way smoothly through that environment. I have no idea how those bulls travel through the brush so silently, but they are truly masters of their domain.
We let out some final war cries as the last load made it to the truck. To be able to notch my elk tag by the fourth day was unreal. That morning it really resonated with me how amazing the elk hunting experience is. To be able to enjoy it with your best friend and brother is pretty special. Zack now gets to hunt the elk rut, I think he’s pretty jacked about that.