Fast forward to late August. I came up for an early season hunt with my dad and we went up into this area that was full of ponds, wallows, and lush grass. I’d seen elk sign there before and had set up my trail cams in the area. We checked the cams and had cow elk and deer hitting both spots, one even showed a visitation from that morning! So I set my dad up on the pond where my camera had been hoping the elk would come back, and I started my timber stalk. Every now and then I would hit my cow call hoping to get something’s attention, and to hopefully make them think I was a cow elk lumbering through the woods. After about two hours, I get an answer. Another cow elk lets out a mew in response to my call. I see her slinking through the tree line across this meadow I had set up on. We talk back and forth for a moment, and I noticed that she continued to come through the tree line. I guesstimate whereabouts she may cross in front of me and range it out at 20 yards. Couldn’t ask for a more perfect shot. As she goes behind some trees and I draw my bow and wait, and low and behold, she crossed where I thought…well, almost where I thought. She was further back. I couldn’t range again because I was at full draw and I didn’t want to spook her, so I made a quick guess and put my 40-yard pin on her. I let loose and woosh! My arrow sails right over her back. I guessed wrong. She leaves barking up a storm letting everything else area know I’m there. After A LOT of searching (combined two hours over the course of three days) I found my arrow lodged in a tree. I’ve kicked myself in the ass ever since missing that shot because everything was set up perfect. Ah well, live and learn.
In one outing, I went scouting down these canyons and had to crawl back up a mountain. By the time I got to the top, it was about 2 pm and I was dead-dog tired. I found an old road and started walking down that because I figured it would take me back to the vehicle. At one point I look up and lock eyes with a spike elk with a messed-up antler. As soon as we see each other he took off. I don’t know if I even had my bow in timber-stalk mode (arrow nocked, and release hooked) if I would have been able to get a shot off. But, I saw an elk and a bull at that.
During rest of my trek, the only thing I learned, is that all the fresh sign is closer to each of my usual spots and not up in the shit where you would expect it to be. However, one the way back, I spook an elk up from its bed, and when I get back to the place where I’ve seen elk in the trees before, I go back into timber stalking mode, and I hunt, moving very slowly down the mountain. If I had been hunting doe, I could have had a shot at two of them. Anyway, I get to the point where I’m almost back to camp and I put my arrow away and stop my stalk. You see, I’d never seen any sign or anything on that last stretch of trail. Lo and behold, that’s when they came out. I hadn’t traveled 100 yards before six elk come bounding from the timber, three cow and three calves. The lead cow even stops in the trail in front of me for a couple seconds, not 10 yards away. Had I been in timber stalk mode with my bow loaded up and ready to go, I could have made the shot. Just goes to show you, never let your guard down no matter how close to camp you are. It would have been an awesome pack out. Live and learn.
I’m fairly new to elk hunting, as I’ve only been at it for about seven years or so and it’s all self-taught. Lots of Googling, listening to podcasts, talking to other hunters, and reading books. In all this time, I’ve only killed one elk, and that was the second year out. However, I’ve seen more elk this time around than I have all the other trips combined. I was able to get my first shot off with the bow on one, although it was a miss. Sometimes I feel like I have no clue what I’m doing and that I’m doing it all wrong. Other times, things work out just how they should (not counting actually harvesting the elk). I don’t know. I’m sure, like all other hunters out there, the desire for a successful harvest stems from a place of just wanting to show that you are capable of coming out into the wilderness, and out-smarting the timber ghosts. Every year that goes by unsuccessful, that desire grows, as does the frustration. However, it spurs me on to work harder than the year before. Plus, it always comes down to my differing levels of success. The first level is just getting out there. The second level of success is actually seeing the animal you’re after. The third level is getting a shot at it. The final level, of course, is harvesting the animal and filling the freezer with meat. This year, as far as archery elk goes, I hit the third level. We’ll see how my upcoming hunts for pronghorn, deer, and coming back at the elk for rifle go. In the meantime, get out there and do what you love!