My First Archery Bull Elk
By Rich Howard
The Idaho archery elk hunt in September is one of the most fun hunts I’ve been able to do. My good friend, Phillip Peine, and I have done this hunt together for the past three seasons. We sort of have a routine now on the first morning of our hunt where we glass from a great vantage point. We have yet to sit this point without seeing multiple bulls. It gives us a great chance to see where the elk are and to judge the tempo of the rut. Some days, the bulls are screaming with wild abandon, and other days, they are tight lipped. Our first season, I was able to shoot my first archery elk ever, a cow at 10 yards. The next day, we had four bulls come in to our calling within 50 yards, but my son couldn’t quite get a shot. That same day, Phillip closed in on a really nice bull in the 360” range. He got 12 yards from the bull’s cows, but the bull had vanished.
Last season, Phillip spotted a bull from our glassing point that was shot later during the rifle hunt, scoring 375”. It was about three miles away when we spotted it, and we hiked all day to close the distance. It was a grueling journey through snowy brambles that depleted our energy. On the way there, we found a bull bedded with his cows that would respond to our bugles, but he wouldn’t get out of bed. Phillip kept him busy with bugles, and I snuck in. He was in a super thick spot, and at 30 yards, I got busted by his cows before I could get a shot. That evening, we came out on the ridge the big bull was on when we spotted him earlier that morning, but he had moved with his cows to the next ridge. We watched him at 239 yards with no good way to slip in. Wrong wind and cover combination. We tried a few calls, but he rounded up his cows and pushed them into thick cover. We backed out without spooking him. The next day, I missed a nice 6x6 that came in to our calls because my arrow hit a small branch, ruining a good broadside 40-yard shot.
This season, I was super excited to start the hunt opening day in August. Last year, we found a great waterhole/wallow about two miles up a canyon. I could tell it was well used by elk, so for my first time ever, I employed trail cameras and put them at the water. My schedule only allowed me to place the cameras a week before the hunt. I was unable to check them until opening morning. I hiked in well before light with a heavy climber tree stand strapped to my back. I planned on checking the cameras and only staying if I saw good things on the camera cards. I was pleasantly surprised to find six different bulls hitting the water at all hours of the day - three good 6x6 bulls and three 5x5 or 5x6 bulls. With that information, I decided to climb and wait all day.
I was in the tree at first light. It was uncomfortable and sometimes a little painful to sit there all day. I only saw a few beef cows and two moose, a cow and a decent bull. No elk. The cow moose fed directly underneath my stand for a few minutes before wandering off. At about 4:30 in the afternoon, I heard a weak bugle to the west over a rise. Some hunters to the east of me replied with bugles, and then they kept bugling over and over again with no other response. They continued bugling until dark. I think the elk in this area are a bit call shy, probably due to overuse of calls like that.
Thirteen hours (and many cramps) after climbing into the tree, I heard brush break and saw a bull coming over the ridge from the west, 250 yards away. He was on a rope headed straight for the water. He was thirsty. I recognized him as one that I had pictures of on the trail camera. I had plenty of time to think about the shot and prepare. He disappeared behind some pines, and I was at full draw before he came into view again. I took time to level my sight and carefully place my 30-yard pin in his left pocket behind the shoulder. Having several hours to stare at the waterhole, I knew the yardage before he came in. I took even more time to make sure I was looking through my peep sight (I’ve made that mistake before) and to level my bow. I waited until he turned broadside. When that happened, I released. The satisfaction of watching that arrow go exactly where aimed is incredible! As good as the shot was, the bull was tough.
Since the shot was right before dark, I waited until the next morning to trail him. I expected him to be a few yards into the trees, but he ended up being a challenge to find, wandering 360 yards up and over the ridge. Due to the angle of the shot and the bull going uphill, there was little to no blood to follow. My relief was complete when I found him. My first archery bull elk! Some of my children were there for part of the hunt, adding immensely to the fun. My daughter, Larisa, hiked all the way in and helped me find him. Phillip was able to connect with a bull a couple weeks later with my tree stand strapped to his back. It's a great story, but I will let him tell it.