Montana, 2009, DIY, Public Land
The first few days of my 2009 fall archery season had been quite a challenge. Not only was I searching for nocturnal elk due to unusually hot September temperatures, but hunting pressure in the area had already tied the tongues of the bulls. To top it all off, the herds were spending almost all day in the dark timber.
Long hours of glassing rewarded me with a few decent bulls located. The problem I was having was that the elk were always too far away to intercept them before they entered their bedding areas. With anywhere from three to 30 cows in a harem, I knew stalking in on a bedded herd stacked the odds against me. I tried sitting on waterholes several times, but it never produced, other than a good sweat.
However, on the fifth morning, I finally had some luck - or so I thought. I had located a nice shooter bull in the 330 class with half a dozen cows. He was bugling enough that I was able to locate him in the timber. I played cat and mouse with them for over 30 minutes while they headed to their bedding area, and he finally wandered to a sagebrush flat to feed.
Surprising even myself, I was able to stalk within bow range. I advanced toward him while his eyes were hidden in the sage. When he lifted his head, I became a statue. He finally turned, quartering away, and I drew my bow. Thinking I was ending the hunt, I was shocked when my arrow missed its mark. I couldn’t believe I had let myself down after working so hard for this moment. Mistakes lead to lessons, and I learned to slow down at the moment of truth.
As my week of vacation passed the halfway mark, I told myself it was time to get serious about filling my tag. Although I hadn’t spotted any more definite shooters, I knew there were still good bulls in the area. They were hard to hunt, but they were there. I made a game plan for an early hike out to a good glassing spot in the morning.
After a speedy jaunt to the mountaintop, I patiently waited for daybreak. I began scanning with my binoculars at first light and ironically, I soon found a bull by sound instead of sight. The bugle came from a long way off - maybe a mile or so. With no visual confirmation, I decided to hoof it over in his direction, hoping to find a spot that would put me a lot closer for a stalk.
I threw my pack together, raced down to a lower vantage point, and waited 15 minutes before hearing another bugle. I was definitely heading the right direction and getting closer, but I had to sprint a quarter-mile loop around the bull to keep the wind in my favor.
As I crested what I figured to be the last ridge between us, I slowly raised from my knees to glass in front of me. I spotted a few cows feeding 200 yards away out in the wide open. They were at the top of a small draw and kept looking back in the trees. The bull finally exposed himself, and I watched his antlers closely as he walked through the timber. With long beams, good mass, and a typical 7x7 frame, I knew he was a mature bull. He was about 100 yards below his harem, raking trees and chuckling as he approached. I knew I had to get behind him to keep the wind in my face.
I dropped my pack and threw my padded “sneaky feet” over my boots to help close the distance. I lay flat on my belly and began sliding down the open hillside, pushing my bow in front of me. There was just enough sage to cover my movement if I kept low. A few cows lifted their heads and looked my direction, but I just froze and waited for them to resume feeding.
After 20 minutes, I had reached the wall of trees that covered the draw the bull was still hiding in. This draw was much smaller than I had thought, probably only 40 yards across and 30 yards to the bottom.
I inched my way toward the herd, knowing the bull was somewhere in these trees between me and his cows. I then heard crashing right in front of me and nocked an arrow. I thought my stalk was over, but then this nice bull went running out of the trees to his harem. He hadn’t seen or smelled me; he was just rushing over to work his ladies back toward the top of the draw.
For a full account of Jason's adventure, go to page 22 in the November/December 2010 issue of Eastmans' Bowhunting Journal.