Timing is Everything

By Roger Sanford
Washington, 2009, DIY, Public Land
Timing is EverythingMar/Apr 2011 EBJ (Issue 64) - The still of the night was broken by the bugle of an elk not far away. I couldn’t tell how big he was by his bugle, but I knew that opening morning of the Washington State archery elk season started in ten hours. It was hard to sleep that night, as the constant bugling and rushes of adrenaline awakened my senses.

It had been a long eight years waiting to draw the coveted branch-antlered bull tag and 20 years worth of hunting in waiting for a chance at a true trophy bull. I had filled my freezer with cows and calves over the years while waiting for this special season.

After learning I had drawn the tag, the summer of 2009 became full of hope, physical training, and scouting. I had hunted this area for 20 years and knew it well. The bull tag changed my thinking and I wanted to rule out any other areas in this unit, so I started scouting areas I had never hunted before. My best friend, Jon, and I both lost 20 pounds getting fit for the hunt - the last thing we wanted was not being physically fit enough to have a successful hunt.

We showed up two days prior to the season to verify where the elk were. In one day of scouting we saw six different six-point bulls, including a whopper seven-point we figured would score in the upper 300s or low 400s. His magnificent rack reached way back toward his hindquarters. This really started the adrenaline flowing and made my confidence rise.

During our planning we had decided to bivy in the area in order to save time and strength. It was three miles to our bivy shelter and over 1,200 vertical feet of climbing. Our bivy was comprised of two tarps, sleeping bags, and enough water and food for two to three days. It wasn’t home, but it was comfortable enough.

The bugle and the early morning light were the signs my season had begun. The bull was not far away and we were anxious to see what he looked like. We quickly dressed and headed out, with frost on the ground and the wind in our face - perfect for hunting majestic elk.

We were only a quarter-mile from our camp when the bugle got louder. We decide to set up and try calling him to our position. Jon set up 100 yards behind me and went through a cow-calling sequence. The bull went wild and answered every call, but wouldn’t commit. He then tried to bugle at the bull to see if that would coax him closer to our position. I could see the bull’s harem at the edge of the timber and they were holding their position. Our first setup had failed and we still didn’t know what the bull looked like.

We decided to cut the distance and try again. We circled downwind and around to a position we thought would be close enough to make him respond to calling. On our last 100 yards we ran into several head of cattle. They were almost as wild as the elk we were pursuing and crashed through the timber in front of us. I thought our hunt for this bull was all over, given all the commotion the cattle made. Even with our optimism fading, we decided to set up once again.

Roger Sanford

For a full account of Roger's adventure, go to page 32 in the March/April 2011 issue of Eastmans' Bowhunting Journal.