One and a Half Elk and Hundreds of Antelope
By Jimmy Maestretti
WY, Antelope, Elk
My good friend, Martin Mccarville (better known as Firemarshall Bill), and I were looking into our 2017 calendars and strategizing our hunting possibilities. We naturally have constant conversations about hunting. We both already had committed to our annual Colorado mule deer hunt. It is such a fun hunt as our group of seven guys are simply all there for each other and will not be denied a great time. The property owners are the best. They treat us like gold and have become like family to us. We pay a trespass fee to hunt self-guided on their private property of easy, gently rolling hills, mostly open sage and we eat like kings and celebrate every night around a warm campfire, whether somebody harvested an animal or not.
With Bill being a fireman with rotating days off and me being a food caterer with not many vacation days available, we started planning in December, specifically looking for an elk hunt in Wyoming. I had always wanted to hunt elk with my bow, especially in the rut, but with my schedule, I had only been once. That hunt was slow, we did not hit the rut, and there were no shots.
Bill is new to bowhunting, but he has a lot of passion for hunting. He suffers from buck fever as much as anyone, which is so entertaining. He is ambitious and easy to talk into challenging or physical hunts. My goal was to call in some rut-crazed bulls, get him some action, and hopefully video the fun. He made the calls around to people he knew, consistently getting the same answer. Huntin' Fool also recommended the same, so we put in for the southeast area and found out in late February that we drew!
We talked with the local biologist, a very nice man and very helpful. We came up with a plan to set up a comfortable, near the truck tent camp and to hike out each day because every single person we talked with said the area was thick with elk and deer. We then applied for the second draw for deer and drew! I thought this would be a good opportunity for Bill to cut his archery teeth and have more options in case the elk were not cooperating. I honestly think we went into the hunt too confident. This is where we should have also called up some of the Huntin’ Fool members to get some specific advice and get their opinions just in case the elk were not in there.
I got the call from Wyoming telling me I had drawn the Super Hunt antelope tag, which meant I could hunt any open season for antelope in the state. However, our primary focus was to get to the mountains and the elk. With a lot of moving parts, this was getting crazy!
We left from northern California early on the morning of September 17th, drove to Evanston, and were greeted by standing antelope all around the "Welcome to Evanston" sign. We met our friends, Rick and Tom, for dinner and spent the night, got up, and headed east on Highway 80. As we headed east, we saw a lot of antelope. Most of the areas to the north of Highway 80 were open for rifle and to the south were for archery. Rick and Tom were heading north to hunt deer and kept texting us about how many antelope they were seeing. They stopped when they passed 400. They said a couple of them looked really good even at 70 miles per hour. We saw so many antelope. Bill drove most of the time, so I marked spots on the GPS for later.
We got to camp safely, glassed a little before dark, and introduced ourselves to the guy camped nearby named Rusty. He came over to our camp and celebrated a little, and we made a plan to go with him the next morning. He had seen a good bull, and we appreciated him showing us around. We hoped to help him call in the bull and help him pack it out as it was his last day. We set up a couple times and called, but there was no answer back. We then slowly hunted towards a creek. We saw some fresh bull tracks, and then Bill saw the back half of an elk heading quickly away. Midday was sunny and warm, around 70 degree., Bill napped, and a couple clouds drifted in. We could feel the humidity change, and pretty soon it was windy, cold, and raining. We took shelter until it passed, but instead it got colder and started snowing. I could tell that Rusty was even getting cold, but he was wearing tennis shoes. The locals are tougher in the cold than those of us from Nor-Cal. Back to camp we went.
Every day for the next four days we got up early, and everyday was windy. The country was beautiful, but very rocky. We felt confident that we would find them, but the elk were not answering. We saw fresh sign, mostly in the creeks and wallows, but no sightings.
Late on the afternoon day five, we went back to camp, hopped in the truck and drove a few miles in another storm, got a cellphone call into the biologist that gave us another suggestion of where the elk might be, we went there, tried calling in the rain, not having much confidence, not hearing any elk answer back. Then right before dark the rain stopped, and we heard a bull answer back a ways away, before we could call again a different bull called, then another, we knew where we wanted to be day 6.
We got up a ways into the mountain, set up at first light, called, and a bull answered right back. Finally we were in them. It was so exciting! It sounded like there were three bulls around, yelling at each other and us, but they would not come to us. With all of our archery elk experience, very little that is, we just figured they had their cows, so we would have to go after them. However, we never saw any. It seemed these elk just kept outsmarting us.
Around 4 p.m., the weather calmed. Bill had an ideal spot he wanted to sit, which sounded good. I felt the soft and steady north wind, so I figured we should head east and then north for awhile and then bird dog back towards Bill. My strong human scent might just bump something to him. I was walking about 15 minutes, arrow nocked, sneaking into the wind, when I came over some rocks and was shocked. A nice bull was standing below, broadside and still. There was a thick bush ahead of me, but I could just see well enough to make out part of his rack. I couldn't tell if he was sneaking a look at me or if he didn’t know I was there. I almost did not range him because I figured he would spook, but luckily I decided to range him. Staying behind the bush, I ranged his hindquarter at 55 yards. I could do this. I drew, stepped to the right around the bush, and released. It felt good, but it seemed like the arrow was in flight for 10 seconds. I focused on following through. The arrow was heading straight, but I remember coaching it to be the right height. Then I heard "Whack!" It sounded like a baseball bat hitting a tree. The bull turned his head towards me as the arrow buried deep, about two-thirds of the way in. He spun fast back to my right, and I could see the fletching right behind the shoulder. It was a good hit. The bull sprinted down the rocky hill about 40 yards and then cut hard to the left. I listened for a crash but heard nothing. Buck fever hit me now.
I was shaking, so I calmed myself, marked the spot of the shot on the GPS, and called Bill on the radio, “Hey Bill, you copy?”
“Yeah, go ahead,” he said.
I asked, “Could you give me a hand hauling an elk down the hill?”
He replied, “Repeat! What? You what? Are you messing with me? Did you get one? Repeat!”
I told him I thought we had a bull down, at least a spike. Whatever he was, he looked like a big, beautiful animal. I went down and met up with Bill, and he was excited as me. The GPS took us to the spot of the shot. We found the spot where he was turned to my left, broadside. We saw no blood at first and not many tracks on the rocks, but Bill found a tiny bit of blood where the bull had turned. Then we saw more blood, and pretty soon it was sprayed on the rocks. There he was! It was so cool! He went maybe 150 yards. Bill was ready to drag him down the hill, but he was a nice, big, heavy bull. We boned him out, laid out the tasty meat to cool and glaze up as we went, and packed him down to the truck in two trips. It was our first archery bull, a dandy 6x6. We had either-sex tags, and at this point in the hunt, I would have been happy with a cow. I can still hardly believe the luck.
We almost crashed Bill’s truck on the slippery road back to camp, and we finally got there around 1:30 a.m. The next day, we slept in a little and broke camp just in time to beat the incoming storm. We drove down towards Colorado and called our friends who had invited us stay at their place. It felt pretty good to be dry and warm with a shower and a bed.
The next morning, we headed up to Wyoming. We had breakfast and then went to our favorite butchers and dropped off the meat. It was approximately 260 lbs.! I
asked the owner, Clint, "If you could hunt anywhere in Wyoming, where would you go?"
He told me to head up the main highway to the first dirt road. I thought, Really? But then where Clint? I asked him, and he said we would probably figure it out.
What we saw that afternoon was wild! There were over 200 antelope bucks, and we hardly got off the roads. I had not seen anything else like that, ever. The bucks were so into their does, chasing off lesser bucks that were trying to infringe, then they went back to chase the does, then another lesser buck, and on and on. There were some nice ones, but I was going to be picky and patient.
I grabbed the bow the next morning. How fun would it be to spot and stalk an antelope? That's just what we did. We spotted some and tried, but they were not having it. On the fourth stalk, I got a good crosswind. It took about 45 minutes and was very exciting. I crawled around the cactus and got to 60 yards. I drew, but I overcorrected for the crosswind and pulled the shot left of my spot. I heard the hit but couldn't see where it had hit. I tried to sneak in, but the buck and his two does walked off.
There was a guy about a half mile away with his truck pulled off the road who apparently saw the whole thing, I hiked over to him, and he started congratulating me and telling me how cool it was to watch the show. He told me I had hit the buck through the thickest part of the neck. It was a clean pass-through. The antelope was losing a lot of blood and should pass in about 15 minutes. I thanked him, and he drove away. He was rifle hunting the antelope bucks.
This is where Bill and I learned how tough antelope can be. The buck and his does went about 250 yards and bedded. He faced us, stretched out, and laid his chin down. I figured this was it. Nope. For more than two hours we watched that buck bed and repeatedly get up. His does eventually got up and started walking away, and he went with them. He seemed to get stronger, even chasing off a lesser buck. I tried to get close enough to get another arrow in him, but I never got closer than 120 yards. I was not going to let him get far away in that sage. I had been packing my rifle, too, and I felt bad that I had underestimated his strength. I decided to shoot him with the gun, and at 150 yards, he dropped. I walked up to him, and he looked like he was done. However, sprung up and took off. Bill and I wondered how he did. One final coup de grace and he was down. He was a very nice buck.
Bill and I celebrated that night with our Colorado friends and just shook our heads. Things had turned out differently than expected. We only saw one and a half elk and still got one, but there was so much action on the antelope hunt. We both learned a lot.
Our friends in Colorado fed us a great breakfast and took us to the airport. We flew home and worked hard for three weeks, especially Bill because of the horrible fires that hit our area. Some people in our area suffered tragic losses of life. Thousands of great people were displaced from their homes and so many lost everything.
We flew back to Colorado and met the rest of our friends for another great hunt. We had a great time together, and all seven of us tagged out with seven healthy mule deer and one cow elk. Rusty went back and got a big 7x7 bull with his rifle. Bill and I went back into those mountains for a couple of days for his elk but found none.
I got hooked on the outdoors and became a hunting fool as a very young boy with a BB gun on my grandma's dairy. Hunting has been very good to me, especially for giving me the opportunity to be closer to my many awesome friends and family, exploring new country, and meeting new friends whom I otherwise could never have met.
Hunting fixes me keeps me sane with the beauty of the outdoors, the humbling power of Mother Nature, and the respect for the wildlife that endure the elements. It’s that time to start looking ahead to the 2018 season.