January/February 2013 EBJ (Issue 75) - Two flat trailer tires had my friend Darin Warke and I running late as we approached our pre-arranged camping spot, but to our surprise, our friend Todd George was waiting for us. Todd had been guiding a client and wasn’t supposed to be there for another couple of days. His client had filled early and he had a few more days before he had to be back at his "real job” as a captain in the Flagstaff Fire Department. Todd had guided in our area numerous times. Being lucky enough to have a friend with his experience was a huge advantage for me. Camp was set and we headed out for the last couple of hours of light.
I had drawn an archery deer tag in this unit a few years back. Todd had helped me on that hunt also. Although I didn’t harvest a deer that year, I did learn a little about the unit. There were two prominent glassing positions that allowed a good view of the mountain. The problem was we would be looking two to three miles into the wilderness where the elk lived. The three of us scrambled up the hill on the wilderness boundary and immediately started seeing elk. My hope was to find a bull that would score over 370 inches. We were seeing some good bulls, but they appeared to be just a tad too small.
Just as we were talking about calling it a night, Todd said he had a big bull spotted. He gave us directions to where the elk was and soon all three of us had our spotting scopes trained on the bull. All we could make out in the fading light was a VERY big frame. As the last light left us, we agreed we needed to get a better look at him.
The next morning I started my three-mile walk toward the mountain as Darin and Todd went back to their glassing spots. My day was pretty uneventful. There were some elk spotted and some bugles heard, but no shooters. As I walked out, I was hoping that my friends had spotted the big bull from the night before. When I met them they informed me that they had glimpsed a good bull in the mahoganies a couple miles south of where I had been. They thought it deserved a closer look.
Our next morning’s hunt was set. I would hike in and hunt my way to the mountain and then work the tree line south toward where they had seen the big bull.
I started up the mountain in the dark wondering what this day might bring. I could here some bugling, and as the sky brightened, I started seeing elk. I continued slowly to the tree line. Once there, I started across the mountain with a constant breeze in my face.
By midday, I had seen several good bulls, but none that met my self-imposed standards. I came across a spring flowing out of some aspens about a half-mile from where I thought I needed to be for the evening hunt. I figured I would sit and watch it for a few hours. As I sat watching the spring I could hear a bugle every now and then. It sounded like a couple of bulls just sounding off while lying in their beds.
Soon the intensity of the bugling on the mountain increased. I took some flagging tape and put it on my pack, hoping Todd and Darin could see me. To give them a better chance of picking me up in their glass, I moved down out of the trees and crossed a wide opening that was shielded from the upper basin by a large aspen grove. The closer I got to the basin the more excited I became as the bulls really started ripping.
There was a small ridge that shielded my approach to the elk, allowing me to get very close to three bugling bulls. I slowly worked my way over the ridge and picked up the ears of a cow elk only 50 yards away. I knelt down and waited.
Soon six cows were feeding toward me, and they were quickly less than 10 yards away, looking curiously in my direction. Just when I thought they were going to spook, a beautiful 360-class bull came out of the draw below them. He quickly rounded up the cows and headed out of sight before I could take a shot. Soon, he was bugling below me and another bull answered slightly down the draw. I turned my attention toward the second bull and soon glassed him standing in the brush about 150 yards away. He was huge! Just then, the first bull ran up out of the draw and stood bugling broadside only 20 yards from me.
The bigger bull slowly turned and walked down the draw. The 360 bull walked back to his cows and I backed out, slipping down the backside of the ridge. I soon heard the big bull bugle and slowly worked my way through the mahoganies. I was stooped over, looking under the branches when I caught some movement across the small draw. I moved slightly to my left and could see the bull feeding and facing away from me. I had to move a few yards to get a shooting lane and was soon kneeling with a clear 70-yard shot…if only he would turn. I was unbelievably calm and actually whispered my pre-shot ritual to myself.
Just then, he turned and gave me a quartering away shot. I drew my Bowtech Insanity, came to my anchor, double-checked my level, and squeezed off the shot. The arrow looked perfect as it left the bow, and then he took a step. I couldn’t believe it. I had hit him back—too far back. The bull stumbled and took off running. I marked the spot I shot from and backed out. I started off the mountain, cussing myself the entire four-mile hike out.
When I met up with Todd and Darin they told me they had seen the bull running through an opening and could see a lot of blood, even from their distant vantage point. They had glassed the bull heading into a group of trees and had not seen him come out.
We made out way to where the bull was standing when I had shot. I was shocked at the amount of blood. The blood trail was easy to follow for the first 100 yards to where the bull had bedded, but the trail dried up from there. It took us almost and hour to find the next drop of blood. The trail was very hard to follow for the next 50 yards with just a drop of blood here and there, but as we continued there was soon more and more blood. After another 100 yards, we rounded a tree to find my bull of a lifetime. The T-3 broadhead had done its job, even with a far from perfect shot.
There was no ground shrinkage with this elk; he was much bigger then we had thought. It took us all day to pack him off the mountain. The first trip, we took the head and two loads of meat. The local rancher allowed us to drive to the back of his property, saving us a halfmile hike. He also allowed us to hang the meat in his barn.
When we returned, the rancher was not there, but he had left us a note saying he had scored the bull at 419 points. We were sure he had made a mistake. Back at camp we ate dinner and decided to put a tape on it ourselves. I am an official SCI scorer and Todd has measured many bulls in his years of guiding. We taped him very conservatively. When we added it up, we were over 412 inches. We measured it again to find we were spot on; I had somehow harvested a true 400- inch elk. When I returned home, I had another official scorer measure my bull. He officially scored 416-1/8 inches.