45 Mile Bull
Back in April of 2009, I was informed that I had drawn a great trophy tag. I had a good friend that had been hunting that area for over 30 years. He said he would be glad to have me in his camp and to show me where to hunt. I went up one day to build some fence with him and learn the area. Learning the area was more fun than building the fence. He does a lot of work for local ranchers in order to gain the right to hunt on or pass through private property.
All summer long, my friend kept telling me that I need to pray for rain. If it was wet up there, there would be plenty of big bulls right by camp. If it was dry, it would be tough. All summer the reports he gave me were of no rain. So two weeks before the season, it was clear that it was going to be dry unless we would get some sudden downpours. He saw lots of good elk all summer but they were in tougher spots. Very little rain came and it was time to hunt.
The very first night of hunting was exciting. We hiked in several miles to a big draw. We set up and called. My son was there with me and got to hear his first bugle in the woods. The bull was coming in and I saw him at about 300 yards. He was a good 5x6 and would go about 330 or so. We got him to 80 yards and I could have shot but passed since it was the first night, there were lots of bigger bulls, and it was a far shot with not a perfect position. The next 11 days took us all over and we did 45 miles of hiking. We saw lots of bulls and I did get a perfect 60 yard shot a 350+ bull. Perfect except for a down hanging branch that I did not see when I released the shot.
That takes us right up to THE day. We came to some fields to see if there were any elk out grazing. There were two bulls bugling in the field and one looked huge at about 500 yards. So we went behind them where we thought they would go and set up and just waited. We decided to use no calling because they had been acting very call shy lately. After ½ hour they didn’t come so we figured they bedded right behind the field. We decided to stalk in. As we were stalking in, the bull bugled at about 200 yards. We set up and decided to challenge him with bugling and raking, the whole deal. Then we saw them going up the hill and away and thought the hunt was over. Then we looked and they were going parallel to the rim and we said, “They are stuck and can’t get out,” so we sprinted to the base of the hill. They were running back and forth against the rim and were literally stuck. They knew we were there and wanted to come down but wouldn’t. They were panicked and wanted an escape but couldn’t decide what to do. We set up at the base and waited 45 minutes. A small 6x6 came down first and he skirted around the rocks about 100 yards away from our position. Since there were only two days left for me to hunt I had decided I was going to shoot whatever the Lord brings my way. I had not yet shot an elk with the bow and so I was going to try to get that done on this hunt. I had realized we were in the ninth inning, bases were loaded, and it was time for a grand slam. He stayed at 100 yards and I am thankful now.
Then some cows came down and they used the same path so I was concerned about our position. The rest of the 30 or so elk were up top still against the rim and were afraid to come down. We could literally hear the bull panting from the heat, panic, and exhaustion. So we were trying to figure out what to do. We decided that my buddy Joe was going to go up the opposite side of the rim, quite a climb, and hopefully they would come down my side. As he went up the steep incline and got their attention, I snuck up on the rocks and hoped they would come the same way as the other elk that had already come down. The position I was originally in gave me more options than my current position if they would change their paths and come down different ways. The place I moved to would make that shot 40 yards on the trail of the elk that had already left dodge but it was a small window and I was really limited if they went elsewhere. I also wouldn’t be able to see them until they were really close to the shot. That concerned me because they might be moving fast and when I saw them last, the bull was behind 5 cows. Who knows what order they would be coming and who knows what path they would choose. The rim that they were up against was about 300 yards across and so they had a lot of space to work within. We somewhat limited that by placing my friend up one side of the rim.
I was second guessing my choice but was stuck now. As Joe climbed up the other side, they started to move but I couldn’t see them. Then all of a sudden I saw his antlers as he came over one spot about 100 yards away. He was working his way down and was coming along the same path that the others had taken. The best news was that he seemed to be alone. Then he cut left and I started to wonder if he was going away from me. Then I completely lost sight of him. He reappeared about 60 yards away from me and was going toward my left. In that direction I had one window to shoot in but there were branches and it would need to be precise. I was worried about it and all of this was happening so quickly. Then at 30 yards as he was going toward the left side he shifted his direction and turned back. Now he was below where the 40 yard shot was and where the other elk had gone. His turn had actually brought him in a direction that would have him stepping on me if he continued in that direction. My heart was pounding and I had no idea what would happen next. He just kept coming and now there was nothing between us at all. There were no trees, rocks, brush, nothing at all. He was coming right at me. I debated a frontal shot since he was now inside of 20 yards and walking right at me. I decided to wait and hoped that I would somehow get a shot. At 10 yards he turned slightly and I drew back my bow in plain sight of him. He stopped and I released the Darton bow. My Carbon Express Aramid KV arrow hit the mark right behind the shoulder. He was almost facing me so I was still concerned about whether I had enough angle to catch vitals. He spun around and took off in a heap of dust. My buddy Joe started cow calling from up on the hill. He stopped at 60 yards and I tried to reposition myself to get another shot in him but he took off. We called as he disappeared down a dirt road. I actually think he would have expired right there but when I moved to try to get another shot I spooked him.
We looked at the video as he ran away and saw lots of blood on the entrance side. We celebrated but were concerned it might be liver because of the angle so we sat down, calmed down, and waited 45 minutes. This was one of the longest waits I had ever experienced. He was a good bull and also my first with the bow. The intensity of the situation felt like I was lined up for a 10 foot putt to win the Masters. Then we started to stalk in. There was a lot of blood on the trail and Joe saw where he turned in off the dirt road from his position on the hill. We got to the edge of the oaks and stopped to glass under the oaks to see if we could see him. No sign of the elk and I was a bit concerned. We decided I would wait there again for a little while just to make sure. Then as we were waiting and looking, Joe said, “There he is and he is down.” He was only 30 yards in front of us. He was down and we just hadn’t seen him as he had expired in the middle of the scrub oak.
As we came upon him I was so thrilled. I have always liked the look of large 5x5 bull elk. He will score right around 310. Nice for a 5x5. I saw many bigger bulls over the 12 days and 45 miles and even got a shot on one 350+ bull but hit a branch I didn’t see. Many of the bulls were out at 300 yards and were not quick to come in to our calls. It was way too dry and loud to stalk in that terrain which greatly limited our hunting options. It was quite an experience and I will remember it forever. By the way, the arrow caught the back end of one lung and then tore everything up inside and stopped against the opposite femur bone. He had only gone about 160 yards or so.
The 45 mile bull will forever be engrained in my memory. The time hunting with Jody and Joe, the time with my son Tekoah in the field, and the challenge of hunting big mature elk will not ever be forgotten. The time and effort that we put into this hunt was well worth it. I am thrilled to have had the opportunity to hunt such a majestic animal in God’s great outdoors.
[Note from TheColoradoHunter.com --- The author resides in Colorado and has a great passion for all that is hunting. The fall of 2009 was a fall of hunting that had been like no other. He harvested a 200 inch mule deer, this great 5x5 bull elk, and a wonderful buffalo with his bow this fall. He also was able to harvest a 50 ½ inch moose and a 159 inch whitetail with the gun. If you would like to have Matt speak at a banquet or would just like to contact him you can do so at firstname.lastname@example.org.]