Elk hunting is a matter of learning and growth. None of us are born great elk hunters. It’s something we grow into over the years, learning a new tip or tactic here and there along the way.
A couple of weeks ago, I offered some tips for big game hunters in this column – just another piece of the learning process. Last week I received an e-mail from Lane Mathis of Helena which illustrated that process perfectly. After reading it, I called Mathis and asked him if I could reprint his elk hunting story. He agreed and here it is – a good story with a happy ending:
I just had to drop you a line about the elk hunting success we had today. I just started hunting again after 15 years, when my son became old enough and expressed interest in the sport. The area we hunted today we have studied for the last three years with frustrating success. My hunting party included my son and my 81-year-old “Iron Man” father. Besides studying the area with maps, I have read over and over “Elk Talk,” “Elk Tactics,” and “The Elk Hunter” by Don Laubach and Mark Henckel. These books, along with trial and error of past hunting trips, attributed to our success today.
My father dropped us off at the top entrance to a three-mile stretch of timber surrounded by roads and varied terrain that few hunters walk or think elk are in. We see elk here all the time, but find the usual challenges all hunters have – only seeing the bulls hind quarters running through the trees and wondering what we did wrong. Today however was different.
We discussed our strategy and my father would be waiting in the park at the end for the exit. My son took the lower part of the timber and I took the top by the ridge. I had only been walking for about a half hour after shooting time and could hear vehicles road hunting all around the perimeter of the area, but I knew the elk felt safe in this area. I walked extremely slowly, carefully planning each step and stopping to scan the area every so often. Each time the terrain changed to an open wooded area or small jungle of short pines, I would blow the “cow talk” call two times and wait a few minutes.
After the second round of this, one-half hour into my walk, I heard branches breaking and sticks snapping very methodically. I sensed this was a big animal walking through the woods and began to scan the area ahead and moved very slowly. I was coming out of a dense patch of short pines, where I was hidden and rising up into open wooded tall lodgepole pine area. I blew the cow call one more time and heard more aggressive snapping and cracking in the timber above me and proceeded very slowly, walking on moss and soft grass. As I crested over the hill, I saw a bull elk coming straight for me about 50 yards away and he was looking around almost feverishly, with his head turning from side to side. He did not see me at all and was looking for what I guess was feeding. He turned broadside to me and I cautiously clicked my 30-06 safety off, then slowly raised my gun and caught about a foot-wide view of the kill zone through the lodgepole pines. I squeezed the trigger and he dropped like a rock to the ground.
The excitement of all the reading, planning and failures finally came bursting out of me with a few Tarzan-type yells, which my son eventually heard. He came to help me dress the animal out. I sent my son back to get the truck while my dad and I sat in amazement and awe of this magnificent animal.
Today, every step, piece of gear and word I listened to and read over the years, played like a chapter from the Don Laubach and Mark Henckel elk hunting books. We studied and stayed in the same areas we knew the elk were in, even when failures left us frustrated to the max. This time when I blew the cow call I waited and heard the bull coming to me and didn’t rush into my usual overanxious movements. You just can’t hunt slow enough or take in all the environment around you too much, is the lesson I am learning.
Mathis’ lesson to us all is to learn all you can, put in your time in the field, then put the pieces of hunting lessons together. You’ll eventually find success as an elk hunter and have the chance to be thankful and appreciate the hunting trophy at your feet.
Have a happy Thanksgiving!