jo͞obəˈlāSHən: a feeling of great happiness and triumph.
Finally, the story reaches the point of success. After reading this, even I think this story sounds a little crazy. You might be tempted to think that I embellished some of the facts for the entertainment value of the story, but I assure you that isn’t the case. As it turns out, we were just really fortunate to not only kill an elk, but do it in such a memorable manner. I hope you enjoy…
We wake up early – eager to make the 1-hour climb up to Sheepsfoot, and hopefully hear those bulls again.
“I’m bringing my trekking poles today,” Jerud says. “We’re going to need them for the packout.” I like his confidence.
We arrive at Sheepsfoot much earlier than yesterday, and all is quiet. I get my phone out while we wait on the bulls, and am relieved to receive a text from my wife letting me know that the kids are feeling better. I also text my parents, saying…
“Back on top. Crazy, action-filled, exhausting day yesterday. We’re killing a bull today…”
My dad responds, “Is that a faith statement?”
“No,” I type. “That is a fact.”
We hear the first bugle at 8:15. It’s a bull in the same stand of timber as yesterday, but further to the north. Jerud and I stay put and stay patient – wanting to see, or should say I say, “hear” where the elk are headed.
I quickly scan through dozens of emails on my phone and see two messages from Sole Adventure readers – both of which are stories of successful elk hunts that have happened during my hunt. It is extremely encouraging to read of their success, and I am eager to have a similar story to share.
The bugles are still ringing-out every so often, but now it sounds like they are coming from a stationary position. We cross the meadow, drop through the marsh, and enter the timber. It’s beginning to feel like deja vu.
We reach the spot where the bulls were yesterday, but realize that they are now further to the southeast and a higher in elevation. We begin to climb, and after gaining a couple-hundred feet of elevation, decide to let out a cow call. A bull responds almost immediately; he’s only about 150 yards away. I drop back to call, leaving Jerud up as the shooter.
The bull is slightly above us, and the wind is dropping. Perfect. I start calling and get a couple of initial responses, but then the bull goes quiet. I can’t see what’s going on, but I hope that the elk is still working towards the calls, and passing by Jerud along the way. After a while I get “the signal” from Jerud (three succinct cow calls) that the gig is up.
I hike back up to Jerud and get the story. The bull had shut up after working within 100 yards. He continued to slowly and cautiously make an approach, getting as close as 60 yards before the winds shifted and the bull busted us.
There are at least two other bulls that are still bulging further up the mountain. Jerud and I decide to work towards them, gaining as much elevation as possible while the winds are primarily dropping. Once we get closer to the bull’s elevation we will assess the conditions and either make a move, or stop for a snack and wait the winds out.
I look at my GPS as we’re hiking and notice a prominent saddle on top of the ridge that we’re scaling. Jerud and I agree that our stopping point will be the high point on the near-side of the saddle – it’s a knob that will provide a perfect vantage point to make an approach from.
We climb another 400-500 feet and arrive on the knob. The most talkative bull is still bugling, but he’s several hundred yards away and the wind isn’t right to make a move. We drop our packs, start to get a snack, and… BUGLE! It’s a close one – just below us, towards the left edge of the saddle.
Jerud and I both check the wind, and although we’re only sitting 7-feet apart, we get very different results; it is a swirling mess. We want to be patient and avoid blowing the bulls out of the area this early in the day, but at the same time, I feel like this bull is ready to play. Jerud and I talk it over and agree to drop lower into the saddle and see what the wind is doing down there. If the wind is bad, we’ll head back up and wait it out.
Now in the saddle, the wind is crossing enough that I think we can give it a go. But who knows what the wind is doing 20 yards away from where we stand?
Jerud moves to the left end of the saddle, and I drop to the far right. We’re probably 60-70 yards apart. I begin to call and get an immediate response from the bull that was close to Jerud’s side. The bull and I have a little back-and-forth, then he goes quiet.
I stand in silence, debating whether to keep cow calling, try to get him fired up with a bugle of my own, or just shut up altogether. As I’m thinking through my options, I think I hear something behind me.
I’m standing on the edge of the saddle and at my back is a steep drop-off that’s littered with timber. I think I hear something coming, but I can’t see below me. I hear several sticks break, then I see branches moving. Then, I see tines begin to rise from below.
I’ve got another bull coming in from where I least expected!
As the bull climbs the steep hillside below me, I see more tines – then, finally, a full 5×5 rack. He takes another step and I see his forehead, then his eyes, now his entire head. He’s coming directly at me!
His head goes behind a tree and I take the opportunity to drop to my knees. He continues his climb, and is now standing about 10 yards away, facing me head-on. There’s a tree between us, and I’m praying he goes to my right – where I have a shooting lane.
“Turn, turn, turn!” I scream in silence. He’s frozen – looking for the cow that lured him up the mountain.
He looks both ways, like an elementary kid getting ready to cross the street, then he takes a step to my right. I begin to draw my bow as his head goes past a tree. His front leg enters my shooting lane. Two more steps and he will be standing at 7 yards, and I’ll have a clear shot to his vitals.
I’m focused. Fully in the moment. Completely unaware of anything but my arrow and the bull’s vitals.
Then, CRASH! THUD! SNAP!
All of a sudden chaos erupts – spooking my bull and sending him airborne as he leaps back down the steep hillside.
What in the world just happened? I didn’t make that noise. The bull didn’t make that noise. So where did that chaos come from?
“Jerud! That had to have been Jerud. I bet he just shot a bull,” I think to myself.
I begin to cow call and Jerud responds with chirps of his own. I’m no longer concerned with being stealthy, so I quickly make my way in his direction. Finally, I see him, sitting with his knees up to his head and his face in his hands.
I quickly drop down in front of him and shake him, “Jerud, did you just shoot a bull!? Did you just shoot a bull!?”
His face rises from his hands and his head begins to bob up and down.
He’s visibly shaken, and from what I can tell, is experiencing a mix of shock, disbelief, and excitement. He recounts the story…
“Shortly after you started calling I heard a twig snap about 70 yards away. Moments later I hear a twig snap about 40 yards away – just below where I pictured the bull coming through the saddle.
Finally, I see him coming up the saddle towards my shooting lane. He steps into the shooting lane and I can’t make a sound with my diaphragm call. He keeps walking and passes right through the opening. Then he turns up the slope and is walking right towards me.
“Oh crap, if he comes over that deadfall he’s going to end up stepping on me,” I thought.
Just then he turns to my right and is slightly quartered to me. I’m holding full-draw – waiting for him to take a step so that I have a clear shot on his vitals.
He takes the step and I release the arrow. I see the impact – it looks a little back, but maybe okay. He does an about-face and runs off in the direction he came in.”
I drop a few yards below Jerud and ask where the bull was standing. He has me take a few more steps, then tells me that I am in the exact spot the bull was standing upon impact. I pull my rangefinder from my pocket and lay the beam on Jerud – 9 yards.
Turning around, I see Jerud’s arrow, driven into a log and covered in bright red blood. At this point Jerud seems a bit worried about the shot placement, so I reassure him that he got a complete pass-through and there’s plenty of bright blood. I get him to come down and check his arrow out. He bends over, assesses the blood then turns towards me.
You can clearly see the relief and excitement on Jerud’s face. He stands, jumps into my arms and we begins jumping up and down like a little school girl, excitedly exclaiming,
“There’s bubbles! There’s bubbles!”
I can’t help but smile, laugh, and feel incredibly fortunate to share this moment – this journey – with him.
We talk it over and decide to wait at least an hour before attempting to recover the bull, so we head back up to the knob to eat. We arrive back at our packs, sit down, and… BUGLE! Then another – this one even closer.
You’ve got to be kidding me.
The bulls keep at it as we discuss what to do. I know that we shouldn’t pursue another bull, but it’s hard to sit here and do nothing when I’ve got a tag in my pocket! It wouldn’t be smart to put another bull down when we haven’t even recovered the first one. Plus, even if we did recover them both without problems, could the two of us handle processing and packing two bulls at the same time? I don’t think so.
Maybe, possibly, potentially – we could do it. But I respect these animals too much to risk losing one, or letting meat spoil.
We try to eat our snack, but the bull activity only increases, so we decide that we have to at least go down and see if we can call one close. To prevent any temptation that might overrule reason, I leave my bow up on the knob and we drop back into the saddle.
We setup and let out a few cow calls, which get an immediate response. Jerud offers to drop back and see how close he can call one in to me, but I convince him to stay put. We end up calling a bull into 55 yards. I’m confident we could have brought him all the way in if Jerud would have dropped back. As much as I want to kill an elk, I know I am making the right decision by letting this opportunity pass.
We were already two seconds, and two steps from arrowing bulls at the same time. If that were meant to be, then it would have happened.
We let the hour pass, accompanied by bugles the entire time, and decide to begin tracking Jerud’s bull. The blood trail is great at first, but then becomes spotty. Without much searching we pick up more blood, then make it another 10 yards before finding a massive puddle. From there we pass by a wallow and through a small opening, then re-enter a thick stand of timber. Shortly thereafter I hear Jerud say, “There he is!” The bull had only made it 70-80 yards after impact.
Standing here, looking at the bull, I have a dozen emotions. Joy. Satisfaction. Sadness. Respect. Gratefulness. And more.
“You did it!,” I say to Jerud. “Congratulations!”
“No,” he responds. “We did it.”
He’s right. We worked together to make this happen. We were there to encourage each other during struggles; when one of us was down, the other would pick them up. This entire adventure, and this specific accomplishment, wasn’t about ego, pride, or the individual. Sharing this moment with someone that’s truly like-minded only makes it that much sweeter. In the end, it doesn’t matter who released an arrow. This was an accomplishment that neither of us could have done alone.
“Well, we better get to work,” Jerud says.
And work we did. It would be another 30 hours before we had this bull back to the truck. But that’s another story for another day…