September/October 2011 EBJ (Issue 67) - I started off the season with great expectations of arrowing a trophy mule deer. I had just graduated college, and for once, I had adequate time to seek out a bruiser mulie. Of course, in hunting, things rarely turn out as expected.
"A 6x7,” I thought to myself. My thoughts remained preoccupied with a big velvet buck I had missed the previous week in the Colorado high country. I love hunting mule deer with a bow, and as I trudged up the trail behind my older brother, Jeff, in the early morning light, my thoughts remained on that deer. It was the eighth and final day of our September backcountry elk hunt in New Mexico, and I wondered if I should have stayed in Colorado.
The bulls just weren’t doing their part, or maybe it was the cows’ fault - either way, there wasn’t much mingling. During the first half of the hunt, we scoured all the normal areas that held elk, but we couldn’t find a single mature bull. Glassing wasn’t effective in the dense timber, and the only realistic chance of getting a stalk was to find a bugling bull. To make matters worse, the bulls weren’t accompanying the cows, and it looked as though we were going to completely miss the rut.
Although the hunting was slow, I was thoroughly enjoying the company of my father, Grant, and my older brother. This was the first time in five years that I was able to come on the highly anticipated annual archery elk hunt, and I felt very fortunate to be with these two savvy hunters.
We would spend each night sitting around camp eating expired MREs, telling stories and shooting the breeze. Mostly, I remember laughing. There was a jovial aura that surrounded us as we enjoyed each other’s company, miles away from concerns of civilization. I still chuckle at some of the great jokes I heard on that trip.
It was just before dawn on the last morning of the hunt, and we continued up the trail farther into an unknown area in search of a vocal bull. Suddenly, a distant bellow rang out through the pines, then another in the opposite direction. "Which one do you want to go after,” I anxiously asked Jeff.
Jeff was coming down with a cold, but was trying hard to help me shoot my first elk. "The bigger one,” he whispered.
We walked up a gently sloping meadow, and then crested countless pinecovered swells, staying within earshot of the mobile bull. Every few minutes he would let out a very distinct raspy bugle. He had gone hoarse notifying the woods of his importance; surely testosterone was the only thing keeping him going. We were closing the distance, and he appeared to be slowing, then the calls ceased - he had bedded down.
We devised a plan, then separated, sneaking toward his last known location near the bottom of a wide canyon, but he busted us before we got within bow range. I did, however, get a fleeting look at him - he was a great bull with long swords that made his rack seem incredibly tall. I watched his immense headgear weave through the timber on the north slope of the canyon and quickly disappear.
"He’s a very huntable bull; you should go after him,” Jeff told me. "He only had one cow with him.” I headed out toward the gruff cry once again and Jeff headed toward a different canyon.
The bull stopped half a mile away on the north face of the ridge in some dark timber and was bugling infrequently. I circled around to get the wind in my favor, and then ascended the steep ridge. Once on the same elevation as the bull, I slowly crept toward his probable location, using my binoculars to penetrate the forest.
For a full account of Kyle's adventure, go to page 14 in the September/October 2011 issue of Eastmans' Bowhunting Journal.