Elk are often unpredictable but follow a routine and pattern. They are not as predictable as deer, but you can at least be on the same ridge. Elk need food, water, bedding, and company. They are very social and communicate a lot.
On one elk hunt, I arrived late to camp. My buddies had not seen any elk in 3 days but said that they were moving at night. Later that evening, the dark forest was alive with calling elk. A full moon was out and you could navigate the black forests without a light.
I was too excited to sleep, with the sounds of screaming bulls in my ears. Oh well, it was time to figure out what was going on. I grabbed a shotgun, loaded with slugs for bear protection. I also carried my 357 magnum sidearm. Another buddy tagged along.
We checked the wind and began sneaking into the elk herds. We discovered that there were 3 different groups on different parts of the mountain. They marched down to the creeks and a small lake to drink. Once they were watered up, they began feeding heavily. Some were on the edge of the forest, but the cows and yearlings were in the wide open.
After a few hours of feeding, the herd grouped up and went up the mountain. Each elk needed around 40 lbs. of forage a day. They also travel 3-5 miles a day. Once we witnessed the pattern, we were able to guess where the elk were bedding.
Once we were back at camp, we geared up and headed high. I figured the elk were just off the ridge top, where they could face into the wind and watch for any danger. We went up and over the ridge to get into position. The moon had gone down so we used red headlamps to move through the darker forest. The shotgun was back at camp, so we were more bear aware. To be truthful, I have never been surprised or close to a bear at night. Only during the day.
At sunrise, the cows were chirping but no bulls were making a sound. We closed, quietly to around 100 yards. I placed my buddy in front of a huge tree. Next, I staged a cow decoy just to his left about 20 yards. The cow decoy had a head on it, so I folded it out of sight, so that just the butt was observable. I then backed off about 40 yards and got ready to call.
I used a Rocky Mountain Game Call Co. diaphragm call. The dome call fits comfortably on the roof of the mouth I moistened it for the perfect sound. Next, I readied my Bugling Bull amplifying tube. Finally, I grabbed a big dry pine branch.
When legal shooting time arrived, we were set up and ready to call in a bull. I started with a few squeals. First, I used my cupped hand, then I used the tube. When I was amplifying my calls, I moved the tube left and right, to mimic movement. We next heard a chuckle and breaking branches. The bull knew where we were and was raking a tree. I grabbed my branch and did the same. The cows were calling more quickly and loudly.
A few moments later I watched the 5×5 bull walking toward the cow decoy. When he was close to my buddy, I cow called. The bull stopped and looked at me as my buddy released his arrow. Everything was perfect. Almost.
Now I could make up a story but as an Eagle Scout and ethical hunter, I am obligated to tell the truth.
When a bull elk is closer than 20 yards, broadside, and standing still, it’s time to shoot. My buddy was so excited that he had not yet drawn his arrow. His heart was racing, he was super excited, and had bull fever! He had never had a bull so close.
Finally, he started to draw… you know how the story ends.