Since my last post I went back out hunting two more times; both with my neighbor, Jeff. He took me to a place he knew about much closer to town than where I had been going. On the first day out, we located two cows and followed them around for most of the morning. At one point I was as close as 113 yards, but couldn't manage to get any closer. That evening we went back to Missoula so Jeff could use his Neil Young tickets.
A couple days later, we went back out to the same area in search of the large herd(s) we knew were in the vicinity. This time we were with another of Jeff's friends, Roland. The three of us hunted hard all morning and were unable to locate any elk. At 10am we decided to split up and walk through a section of forest and planned to meet two hours later. At 10:30, I thought I heard a couple distant bugles, but I wasn't sure and I couldn't tell where they were coming from.
After covering closer to a mile about an hour later, I once again heard bugles. This time, I could pinpoint a pretty precise direction. I quickly covered ground in that direction with the wind in my favor, periodically hearing bugles along the way. Eventually I saw a bull elk standing on the edge of a meadow about 100 yards away. It seemed he saw movement in my direction before I saw it and froze, so all I could do at that point was sit still and wait for him to go back to feeding. While I was doing this, I noticed several cows and at least one more bull in the woods behind it. Shortly after, I noticed Jeff in the woods near me, pursuing the same herd.
When I watched Jeff eventually make a move around the right side of the meadow to try and get closer, I backed out and made a move left around the meadow. I was hoping that we would either push elk toward each other, or perhaps have an opportunity at an elk that happened to stray from the herd. Sneaking in on the main group in that flat terrain with large stretches of open areas just didn't seem possible.
As I moved around to the left, out of view of the herd, I planned to get even with them and hang close until an opportunity presented itself. Sooner than I expected, a tremendous opportunity came my way in the form of a 5-point bull. I heard and saw him at the same time. He was trotting across my field of vision, coming directly from where I last saw the herd. He was also getting closer as he came in and crossed in front of me in the moderately spaced aspen trees.
I already had an arrow nocked, so I pulled out my range finder. In a matter of seconds I realized that this encounter was going to be close enough and fast enough that I wouldn't have time to use it. In fact, I barely had time to put it back down. Unable to find a place to quickly set it down with minimal movement (the bull was now within 50 yards), I stuck the range finder between my legs and drew my bow as soon as the bull's head passed behind a cluster of aspens.
At full draw, I rotated with the bull keeping my 30-yard pin near his vitals. After trotting through a couple of shooting lanes, it seemed my rotating motion got his attention. He stopped, looked at me, and I released instinctively. I couldn't tell if or where my arrow hit him and he immediately ran off, but not far. I saw him run about 15 yards and stop to rest behind a thicket of thick, brushy trees. I could make out his silhouette through the thick tangle of branches. I thought that if I made a good shot and guessed the distance right, I might watch him fall and die right there in the next few minutes. Just in case, I nocked another arrow.
Instead, about one minute later, a car drove by on a seldom-used gravel road. When the car was within about 20 yards of the bull, he bolted and ran back in the direction he came from. As he passed through a shooting lane at a high rate of speed, I made the best cow elk sound I could with my mouth. He immediately stopped to investigate the sound and was met with a second arrow as he did so. This time I could see the fletching of my arrow sticking out of its side as it sprinted off. It was high, but at the time looked like it still might have been in the lung region.
I decided to wait 30 minutes before searching for blood and tracking the bull. A minute after my second shot, Roland came walking out of the woods to my left, the direction the bull was heading. He said he saw the bull but had no idea I had shot it. He also said that he had been cow calling as he walked in my direction just for good measure, having not heard the bugles and having no idea there was a herd nearby. While I never heard his cow calling, there is a good chance the bull did and was heading toward Roland to investigate.
I relayed my story to Roland and we did an initial search for blood where the bull had stood before being spooked by the car. We didn't find a lot, but we found enough to confirm that my first arrow had hit the bull. After a half hour, we followed blood for about 20 yards before we lost the blood trail. I decided to go ahead in the direction the bull had run and hopefully find a dead elk on the ground. After traveling in about 150 yards in that direction, I stopped to get my bearings. In looking around, I noticed a bull elk standing in the field to my left, about 120 yards off. He looked bigger than the one I shot, and I quickly tried to get Roland's attention as I set up my tripod and video camera. By the time I got my camera set up, the bull had bedded down in the meadow. I told Roland how I would go after this bull, and he was soon off on a stalk to get within range.
As he stalked, I stayed by the video camera and watched the bull. He was bedded and occasionally looking around. At one point, he seemed to wallow around in the dry grass and dirt. I soon saw him lay his head on the ground, which was my first indication that this bull was wounded and may very well have been the bull I had shot. My view of the bull was mostly obscured by grass at this point, but I could barely make out its belly moving up and down as it breathed. A few minutes later, the movement stopped. Now I was sure this was my bull and that I had just observed and filmed the last 10 minutes of his life. I walked out into the field, flagged down Roland who was about half way to closing the distance on the now dead bull, and we walked up to it together.
The experience of walking up to this massive, majestic, and beautiful animal after watching it expire was too much for me to comprehend at the moment. I thought about the previous 13 days I had spent pursuing elk in Montana, the previous five years I'd spent honing my sills to help make such an opportunity possible, the mentoring I'd received from Jake to help me believe that shooting a bull elk with an arrow was even possible, the missed shot I had at a cow earlier in the season, and the luck required for this encounter to have happened. The understanding of the process of shooting, dying, butchering, and eating was particularly intense with this animal, mostly because the dying part typically happens out of sight.
When these feelings were combined with the elation I felt at not only filling my elk tag, but harvesting a bull that would pretty much fill up the rest of our freezer space, I wasn't sure how to handle myself. Although a modest 5 x 5 bull, I've decided to name my first bull "Superbull VxV".
After taking several pictures, Roland and I went to work skinning and quartering the bull. Our forensic analysis revealed that my first shot was a little far back and likely a single lung, pass through shot (with the same arrow I shot the deer and pine tree with earlier this year, which I sadly wasn't able to find). My second shot hit higher than I thought, striking the bottom of the spine above the lungs. Given the rushed nature of both shots, I feel good about the shot placement. However, I know that better shot placement would have resulted in a quicker death and I now have a better idea of what to work on to become an even better shot.
When Roland and I were about half way done, Jeff walked over to us from where he had continued to pursue the herd after I shot. Jeff had no idea I had shot or that I had even found the herd, so it was completely random that he happened by us on his way back to our meeting location. He had managed to call a bull to within 50 yards but never had a shot through the trees. Jeff helped finish cutting up the elk and we all worked hard to get the meat and antlers back in camp just as it got dark. It's hard to imagine a more intense, powerful, emotional, and rewarding experience.