Finally My Turn
By Carter Lea
This hunt started with me applying for everything I could, with my dad’s help. I was hoping for the best. Before I knew it, my dad was calling me from work telling me draws were out for Washington and I should check them. With my dad still on the phone, I ran to a computer so he could walk me through how to check the results. I logged in and immediately said, “There is green everywhere!” I had drawn four tags, one of which was a tag that had been on my mind ever since I was 6 years old when I first started elk hunting. This was the one tag I had put the most time and work into. It was the big one! I had hunted this unit every year, most years twice with archery and muzzleloader, but never with a bull tag in my pocket. I love being out and enjoying the outdoors, especially when bulls are bugling. I still remember every detail of my dad’s hunt two years ago in this unit when he shot a nice 342" bull. I was ready and pumped for the hunt. With high expectations and the information I had gathered over the years, I made the decision that I was going to hold out for a 320"+ bull, even though I knew this was not going to be easy.
This year was the first in three that I was not going to be archery hunting cow elk in the unit. Fortunately, a family friend had an archery cow tag in the same unit, so I jumped on the opportunity to scout and help him find some elk. On the first day, it became very obvious that the rut had already started because there were bugles everywhere. We were able to call multiple bulls within 20 yards, but the cows were sticking behind. This was fun but worrying because it was way too early for this to be the case and I knew this would mean the rut would be coming to an end when it was time for my muzzleloader season.
Opening day was on Saturday, which meant I would get to miss a day of school so I could get camp set up and do a little scouting before opening morning. When we arrived, I got ready as fast as I could and got on the quad and headed up the mountain. We hiked to several different spots and let out a locate bugle but with no response. Normally, we would have multiple responses, but there just wasn’t much activity. When we got to the top, we decided to sit and listen for bugles until dark. We sat but didn’t hear anything but a really annoying squirrel that had spotted us and decided it was going to do whatever it took to make us leave. By then, it had become very apparent that it wasn’t going to be an easy hunt the next morning.
Opening morning, we were going in blind, as my dad liked to say when we did not have an elk spotted or located with a bugle. We decided to head up to the top way before light and try to hear something. We hiked to where we did our locate bugle every year, and sure enough, we got a response. Just hearing that bull made my heart pump like crazy. We started to sneak in on this bull when my dad’s never failing bad timing hit. He had to go now! As I was standing there, I heard the bull screaming and crossing through a meadow where I was hoping to intersect him, going up into the woods. When my dad finally finished, I told him where I thought the bull had headed and we started that way. Luckily, there was an old overgrown road that I knew he was close to, so we crept through, listening and looking as best we could as light was not good yet. Just in front of us, I heard the bull’s antlers raking a tree. The wind was in our faces, so we knelt down, hoping it would get light enough for a shot if he stepped out in the open. We thought he was going to cross right in front of us. We realized he had taken a different trail and we didn’t know where he was. Then, out of nowhere, we heard him bark. We assumed something must have him spooked as the wind was still good and we hadn’t moved. All of a sudden, we heard him bust. I was bummed, realizing I might have just missed my best chance at a bull. We decided to head in the direction that the bull ran, following his tracks.
I heard a really faint bugle off in the distance and leaned over to my dad and said, “Did you hear that?”
He said, “No, what?”
I told him we should head towards the bugle I thought I had heard. My dad told me there were a bunch of meadows in that direction and we should take it slow and keep our eyes and ears alert. About a quarter of a mile later, we heard a bugle 200 yards or less to our left followed immediately by another bull in the same area. We kept the wind in our favor and closed the distance. As we were creeping in, I noticed the tips of the bull’s antlers and signaled for my dad to stop. My dad was about 10 yards behind me and couldn’t see it. The bull was only about 90 yards away, but there was a lot of brush in the way, so we took a knee and waited for him to move. The bull began to walk away from us with no shot. I quickly signaled for my dad to give a cow call. The bull immediately stopped and responded with a loud bugle and started raking a tree. He was still hung up with no shot. My dad gave one more subtle cow call, and he started coming our way. My heart was pounding, and I knew all my hard work was about to pay off. He was coming with his head tilting back, swinging side to side to get through the trees, heading right to a small, open area. As he stepped out between two trees at about 60 yards, I flipped my safety off. My dad stopped it with one more cow call, and I heard from behind me in a whisper, “It’s a shooter. Shoot!” I lined up the sights, placed it right behind the shoulder, and squeezed the trigger. It was followed by a “thud” and a cloud of smoke. The bull immediately fell. It was all so exciting! We were reloading my gun, trying to hold back all the excitement but still high fiving. We noticed one more shot was needed, so I shot one more time. It was done, and now we were screaming, hugging, and high fiving.
My dad and I finally calmed down from the adrenalin and excitement. We walked up to the massive animal and said a quick prayer before taking pictures. We got on the radio and asked the other guys if they would come and help pack out this massive elk. They jumped on the opportunity and came over because they hadn’t seen or heard anything. You really grow an appreciation for how big these animals are when you’re packing them out of the woods. It was about a two-mile pack back to the quad, mostly uphill, but I didn’t mind. My favorite part of hunting is cleaning and packing out the animal. It gives you an appreciation for hunting when you have to work for it.
We arrived home around noon the day after I had shot the elk, and one of the first things I wanted to do was score him. My goal and what I had told everyone was that I would shoot anything over 320" any day of the hunt, but my real goal was to shoot a bull 330" or over. We finished scoring, and the total was 331". I was so excited to achieve my elk hunting goals at the age of 15. It was amazing to have shared this experience with my dad and close friends. This was just everything I could have asked for. We topped off the season with some whitetail hunting in eastern Washington. I am deeply thankful to God for such amazing family and friends to make this all possible.