September/October 2013 EBJ (Issue 79) - The bull quietly and suddenly appeared at the wallow, totally unannounced – not a bugle, not a broken branch, not a single cow. As he raked the banks of the wallow, throwing mud and water high into the air, I struggled to control a heavy rush of adrenalin. The bull’s assumption that he had the place all to himself was dead wrong, because I was carefully hidden with an arrow nocked only 25 yards away. Keeping my eyes off of his towering rack, I told myself to stay patient and focus on getting a clear shot. My breaths shortened and my heart raced as the bull took out his aggression on the pool of water hidden in a dense stand of spruce.
A number of potential scenarios raced through my mind as I waited to see which way he would exit. If he slipped out in the direction he came from, there would be no shot. All I could do now was wait him out. I silently prayed for the gift of good luck.
With mud dripping from his antlers, he finally took several steps away from the wallow, allowing me to draw my bow as his head briefly disappeared behind a small jack pine. The bowstring stopped at the tip of my nose just like thousands of times during summer practice sessions. As my sight pin settled into the crease behind the bull’s front leg, a sixth sense caused him to stop in mid stride and stare in my direction.
The 2012 archery elk season had started off with unusually warm temperatures and a swarm of new bowhunters in the area we usually hunt. A solid week of hunting hard had resulted in very few elk encounters and plenty of frustration. My hunting companions and I contemplated taking a couple of days off in hopes that the crowds would thin out and the conditions would improve in the coming days. Feeling a little burned out, the idea of a soft recliner, a cold drink, and a college football game seemed like a great idea at the time.
Hunting public land with an over-the-counter tag can be frustrating at times, but I have always been an overthe- counter tag, public land only, DIY elk hunter, and I wouldn’t consider doing it any other way. I love it just as much as the next guy when the bulls are screaming, but years of experience have taught me that when bulls aren’t being vocal, it’s time to change your approach.
I made the decision to change my tactics and move on to a different area. My intent was to exercise more patience, cover less ground, and place myself in a secluded area where elk might try to find refuge from both the heat and the hunting pressure. It was a decision that would pay off in a big way.
Hunting elk in September has always been a magical experience for me, an annual ritual that I look forward to all year. The fragrant smell of subalpine fir coupled with high mountain peaks and cold, crisp mornings makes me feel alive and connected to the natural world.
Elk camp has always been a place shared with both family and good friends. Our main elk hunting camp consists of a canvas wall tent with a wood-burning stove, neatly tucked into a stand of towering, mature spruce trees. Within these canvas walls stories are told at the end of the day about game encounters, newly discovered areas, near misses, perfect shots, and sometimes just a quiet relaxing day in God’s country.
I have been fortunate to share our annual elk camp with a couple of very good elk hunters. Sid and Merrill are experienced bow hunters, skilled woodsmen, and skilled horsemen. They have consistently put some good bulls on the ground in an area that receives a tremendous amount of hunting pressure.
Over the years the three of us have learned a great deal about elk behavior, and what we have learned is not always in line with conventional thinking. One interesting phenomenon that we have observed in elk country has to do with what is called a "shirker” bull. Valerius Geist, a respected research biologist and authority on elk behavior, defined a shirker as a bull that for unknown reasons, shirks his biological duty by choosing not to fully participate in the rut.
For a full account of Doug's adventure, go to page 26 in the September/October 2013 issue of Eastmans' Bowhunting Journal.