I Shoot Mathews

My best elk ever ! Image
Location: Saratoga, WYAlbum: Elk, Caribou, Moose & BearAnimal Harvested or Shoot Type: Elk

My best elk ever !

October 3, 2011 by Steve Best

They were really close and shaking the quakies’ leaves with every pulse quickening scream. I ramped up the aggression in my bugles, and one bull in particular was really getting charged up. He sounded like he was on top of me, but the dense vegetation prevented me from seeing him. I was about to have a very close encounter and was ready to shoot; my heart felt like it was going to come out of my chest. Then, without warning, I was not able to get a single note out of the new bugle and worse, if I made a sound, it was not good.
In 2010, I was blessed with a limited quota tag in WY just north of Rawlins, but I was starting to question whether or not I was going to be able to take advantage of my good fortune.
I moved to Saratoga, Wyoming in 2007 to work for the US Forest Service. I had been in northern Arizona for three years prior to moving to WY. Being an avid bowhunter, I had been very frustrated with my lack of being drawn to hunt in AZ. In three years, I had only managed to get a cow elk tag (my first elk with a bow) and two javalina tags. It was tough seeing 300+ class elk (some days in my neighborhood) and not being able to go after them during bow season.
In WY, you can still purchase over the counter tags as a resident, and elk archery season is the entire month of September. Once I obtained my residency (one full year in WY), I was good to go. I tend to enjoy hunting alone and after that first year was successful in harvesting an elk with my Matthews LX bow every season. My wife and I really enjoy wild game, which usually makes up the majority of our red meat consumption, so I am very happy with any elk taken with my bow and consider them all “trophies”.
One of my employees told me about an elk unit that was a limited quota hunt just north of Rawlins. He said that it offered a pretty good opportunity for a 300 class bull. I remember him telling me “do not shoot the first 6X6 bull you see”. This comment intrigued me, and I started putting in for the tag in 2008. In 2010, I was successful in getting drawn. I was only able to take one scouting trip before the September season, but I saw at least one nice bull so I felt pretty good about the location. The area that I focused on was a small mountain range with lodgepole pine and juniper dominating the north facing slopes. Some portions of the area were pretty steep and had a lot of dead fall, making “easing around” very difficult. Even though conditions were tough, the elk were in there, so that was where I was going to go.
My first morning out, the air was cool, the sky clear, and the wind was calm. After a hard uphill hike, I managed to slowly work my way in between several screaming bulls. A bull located below me was very responsive to my calls. The diurnal winds were still moving upslope so I focus my attention on him. He was in a very dense stand of timber. By alternating between soft and aggressive cow calling, I got him to come within 40-50 yards of my position, but he “hung up” and would not come any closer. He would bugle at my calls, and I could catch glimpses of him as he walked back and forth below me, but he would not come in. I finally picked up a dry branch and starting raking and breaking limbs in a nearby dead pine trying to sound like a jealous bull. That did the trick … he came charging in to within 12 yards, giving me a perfect broadside shot. He was a nice but young 5X6 bull. As I was looking at him through my sights on my bow, I thought of my friend’s words “do not shoot the first one you see”, so I just sat there and watched him. He finally picked me out and took off crashing down the mountain. I was stoked! It is amazing how the adrenaline can affect you after you have a close encounter with such a large animal!
I played cat and mouse with a couple of bulls the rest of the morning but never got very close. The bugling really slowed down as the day progressed. I was feeling good about having such a great opportunity on a nice elk and having let him go. There had been many bulls bugling that morning, so I was sure that I would have more opportunities. Unfortunately, the next few days started me to worry about my decision to pass on that shot because I did not hear a single elk bugle. I was not sure what happened. I knew they were still in the area, but they were not talking. I decided to head home to shower and resupply my food and water.
I had blown out the reed on my bugle and did not have a replacement, so I was forced to buy a new bugle that was different from my usual one. I practiced with it on the way back in to the hunt area but was not real confident in my ability. I felt that I would be okay since I normally depended on my cow call and not a bugle.
While scouting, I had looked at a second location just to the west of my first spot and decided to try that area. That next morning before daylight, I awoke to a raghorn bull bugling in my camp. I took that as a good omen. I had an exciting close encounter with a nice bull, but he was with cows and finally got tired of messing with me and moved away. I followed in the general direction they had wandered off to and came to an open area which had groups of aspen scattered around with open sagebrush between the groups. I decided to have lunch since the elk had stopped bugling. I had only been there a few minutes when three or four elk started to fire up. I quickly packed up my pack and sprinted across the open country to try to get closer to the bulls.
Turns out they would only respond to the bugle. This brings me back to the beginning of my story. I lost confidence with the new bugle so I switched to the cow call, but the bull lost interest and just slipped away. I would hear him every few minutes but he was moving away from me. I was beating myself up for not having replacement reeds for my old bugle. After several minutes, I tried the new bugle again, and this time it worked. The bulls begin to fire up and it sounded like a “war zone”. I could tell there were several bulls and they were all around me. I was thankful for my “Scent-Lok” suit and “Dead Down Wind” scent control, not once did a elk appear to catch my scent. I cow-called and a small 5X5 stepped out from some trees to my right at eight yards. We were looking eyeball to eyeball for a few seconds when he spooked and took four or five noisy hops, stopped, and looked back at me. The noise of this elk fired up the original bull and he came in. For the first time I got a look at him, and he was a huge 6X6. I drew my bow expecting to have a shot at about 30 yards, but he slowly angled away and out of range. With trembling hands, I cow-called but he really was not interested. I was afraid to try the bugle since he was so close. All I could do was to stand there and watch him raking and thrashing trees with his antlers and slowly move away from me. I moved up after a while to the location where he had been and would mew and chirp, but he would not come back. I could glimpse him and some cows milling around above me. Another small 5X5 came in at 20 yards and slowly moved off to my right. I finally calmed down enough to try the bugle again; however, I could not consistently make it work. I noticed a bull bugling behind me, answering my cow calls and thought it was probably the first small 5X5 coming back in. I was standing up looking back when I saw antlers rocking back and forth coming in toward me. I could tell it was a big bull and at least a 6X6. I only had time to draw my bow when his head was behind a large pine tree. As he stepped out, he threw on the brakes and sort of crouched down, staring right at me. He was less than 30 yards away and angling slightly toward me. I was thinking that he was about to blow out of there. I shot and hit the elk more forward that I was aiming and he took off. I thought that I had hit him in the brisket area. I really cannot describe the horrible feeling that I had and was not happy with my shot placement. I replayed the shot over and over in my head and was convinced that I would not find this elk. I nocked another arrow and moved slowly up to see if there was any blood. I did not expect to find any. As I was thinking about the shot, I realized that I did not hear the elk crash off when he left out. I slowly crept up about 15 yards following his tracks, looked up and was shocked to see him standing about 30 yards away looking back at me. A sudden flush of hope poured over me! He would move off and I would track him and locate him but he would move off again. I kept this up for about four hours. At one point, I lost his trail, but by moving slowly, carefully, and using my best tracking skills (with a lot of prayer), I finally found his trail and was able relocate him and finish him.
I have never been so relieved and thankful in my life and was totally wiped out by the experience. As I was field dressing him before dark I found a broadhead and about six inches of arrow shaft in his chest cavity from a wound he probably got the year before. It was totally healed up and tissue had completely covered the broadhead in a mass about the size of a golf ball. The shot must have been too high to hit lungs but it was still amazing that he recovered from it and did not show any outward signs of injury. The bull was a beautiful, heavy 6X7. Even though he only had a 38” inside spread and fairly short tines, he scored 311 net. He was probably one of the best elk that I have ever seen while hunting and will be a memory I will cherish forever.

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