Through the darkness, I see the silhouette of my daughter with her bow resting on her shoulder. We edge forward, quickly and silently, placing our feet precisely on the well-traveled trail. We hear the squelch of a bull’s bugle. He’s right where he’s supposed to be.
Maybe he read this morning’s script?
We’ve been out, in pursuit of a bull elk, many mornings and evenings during this year’s archery season. However, if you’ve ever archery hunted elk, you know that there is no “script.” Tons of things can change or stray from your plan. However, planning during the hunt is essential.
The Plan – This year Lea will place her tag an archery bull
We’ve been out time and again. Some days the elk are there, and some days they are not. We have to work around Lea’s school schedule and the elk’s. That entails hunting weekends and the mornings and evenings that don’t interfere with her getting to class. Many times their schedules do not coincide.
We’ve had evenings when the elk must’ve received the memo. They showed up, bugling and snorting, only to be a bit slow at getting within archery range before the sun tells us that the show is over. We’ve also had moments when spikes (immature bulls who aren’t of legal size to shoot) get in the way and spoil the hunt. Of course, anyone who’s hunted long enough knows there are always cows (female elk) to foil the mission too.
With all of these obstacles, how can anyone think that hunting is easy? It’s not, and that’s precisely what makes it so rewarding. The harder you work for something, the more it is appreciated. This challenge is what makes hunters so passionate about the pursuit.
This morning we plan to play the wind and the sun as we advance from above. The breeze on my cheek is perfect. It’s blowing our scent away from the herd of elk. We get in position on the rise. There are trees all around that will act as cover when the sun announces the opening scene.
Crouching down in the dawning light, I prepare my Montana decoy. Lea listens to the mewing of the cows and bugles from the bulls. Up the valley, we hear more bugles and learn that there are more elk than we’d anticipated. More bulls may sound like a good thing, but this makes the task of calling in the lead bull more challenging.
This season we’ve called in multiple bulls, and spikes as mentioned earlier, only to have them bust Lea before we could get her in range of the lead bull. Sunrise arrives, and the hunt is on. With bulls bugling up the valley, the herd of cows and lead bull move that direction. We assess the situation, and due to the wind determine, we must head up the valley as well.
As we move, the lead bull turns off in a perpendicular direction, away from us. “ARG! How will we get across the meadow and past the herd cows?”
Lea motions toward the ones further up the valley, “Let’s go after those.” It’s her hunt, and she’s the boss-lady, so we move into position to work the up-valley bulls. Cow calling and decoying, we soon have several (Yes, you read that correctly, several) bulls and a couple of spikes headed our way.
Lea sneaks to a tree at the edge of the meadow, closest to the elk. I too move closer but stay about 50 yards behind Lea and place my decoy in front of me. We’re ready.
One bull moves up-valley away from us. We think, “That guy’s not falling for our persuasion” and focus on some of the others.
Lea eyes three bulls that are coming from her left. They’re not quite in range — yet. I motion to her, signaling, “Keep an eye out up valley. That guy didn’t leave. He’s circling.” She looks at me, confused. She has three bulls that are tempting her but not yet close enough for a shot with a bow.
I watch the up-valley bull cross over to our side of the meadow. He’s now headed back our way. I look at Lea, and she’s turned, waiting on the three. I cow call, hoping she’ll look at me. He’s getting nearer.
Lea’s looking for the three; then something catches her eye. It’s the up-valley bull who’d circled back around. She detects his movement out of the corner of her eye. She freezes. From this angle, she has no cover, and he’ll see her movement. She waits. She watches him from the corner of her eye. He has his eye on my Montana Decoy and is moving my way.
This lady archer has been hunting a long time, and she’s experienced enough to know that even though she’s exposed, she still has a chance. She’s not going to give up that easy.
Patience is an important virtue to remember during the hunt.
Lea pauses and watches. She’s chosen a small cedar tree at 10-yards. When he passes behind it, she’ll be out of sight. That’s when she’ll rotate her position and draw her bow. She waits.
As if the bull had read the script, he passes behind the small cedar tree. In one swoop, Lea re-positions, drawing her bow. At full-draw, she waits for him to take another step toward the cow-elk decoy and from behind the cedar.
I stand, in awe, behind my decoy as I watch this scene play out. From my position, I don’t know that the small tree provides a moment of cover for Lea. I watch, in awe, as I realize what’s about to happen.
And then, “CRACK!”
I hear branches snap, and the bull bolts in the direction from which he’d come, ducking to the right, behind the trees, then out of sight.
Lea had let the arrow fly!
Wide eyed, curious, and hopeful I look at her. From my position, I couldn’t see the arrow hit the bull. I wonder “Did you hit him? Is it a good hit?”
She eagerly looks back at me, and the look says, “Yes! I hit him! Dear God, I hope he’s down.”
We wait several moments in silence. As much as you feel the need to validate that your shot was good, you need to wait. You need to give the animal time to die. You don’t want to spook it or cause any adrenaline.
The other elk are still in the meadow grazing. They don’t have a clue about what’s happened.
Lea is sweating and looks at me with a hopeful glance. I decide to sneak down to her. I ask her about her shot. She says, “It’s good. He was quartering away, and I hit him just right.” This script ends with a very large blood-trail and a beautiful bull elk. We round the quest out with a big hug and a high-five, followed by some rewarding fieldwork!