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AMBUSH 2 – Hunting Public Land Elk

elk hunt, archery, montana, wild, rmef, sitka, sub alpine, film, bowhunt, bowhunting

FINALLY!!!! To finally be able to release this film to the public is a relief. AMBUSH 2 was shot in 2013 during September and has been sitting in our archives since then. We didn’t know what to do with the film, but have come to the conclusion that it is best to release the film to view for FREE. This archery elk hunt captures my first successful archery elk hunt and it was truly a monumental moment for myself. To wait for days, just to get one opportunity…. The encounter is pretty remarkable. We sat watching this bull wallow for 15 minutes before he stood. Watch AMBUSH 2 below and please share if you enjoyed the film.

To read the original blog post click here > FOUR YEARS IN THE MAKING

 

Travis

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Buzzer Beater Bull

elk, hunt, montana, rmef, missoula, bozeman, great falls, livingston, malta, dillon

As fall of 2013 rolled around, I was headed to Montana to start my freshman year at the University Of Montana, and unknown to me at the time, a journey that would would take me on an unforgetable ride over the course of the next four years. Growing up in Wisconsin, western hunting was something completely new to me, and I couldn’t wait to jump in feet first. Instead of spending my mornings in a cold ground blind, come September I would set out into the mountains of western Montana in search of my first bull elk.

elk, hunting, montana, sunrise, bull, moon

Elk country.

After getting to know a few locals and doing as much research as I could, I was ready to head out into the field. To be completely honest, my only goal that first year was to find elk on public land, and go from there. If I got something, great, but I was as excited as could be to just get out and explore. After wandering around aimlessly for a few days, I went out with a friend who had hunted elk before, and got my first real elk hunting experience. Somewhere in the middle of a 4:30 AM hike in a snowstorm without the right gear, I found myself questioning what I had gotten myself into, but by the end of the day, I was hooked. This first season would go on to be a great learning experience, as I found myself “in elk” a handful of times, and learning something valuable with every encounter. Being that western hunting is about as opposite from hunting in Wisconsin as it get’s, I found myself hiking further, spending more time behind my glass, and realizing that if I was going to take this seriously the following year, I’d need to step my game up.

vortex, optics, razor, glassing, elk, montana, western, missoula

Locating the herd.

Over the course of the next two seasons, I found myself not only spending more time in the woods, but being much more strategic about how I would spend my time there. Learning how to elk call, paying more attention to detail while glassing, and hunting in a wide variety of locations lead to a mixed bag of success including mule deer, whitetail deer, cow elk, antelope, and black bear. Although despite the many stalks, calling set ups, and extremely close encounters, I had yet to wrap my tag around a bull’s antlers.

calvin, muledeer, buck, wester, mt, montana, 406

Heavy packs and good times.

Some of the biggest lessons learned throughout these seasons are as follows:

Time:  As with anything, the more time you spend doing something, the more likely you are to be successful. This means getting out whenever you can, and making your time in the field count by hunting as hard as you can. It doesn’t matter if the weather is crappy, or the animals aren’t being as active as you’d like them to be. Go as often as possible, and stay for as long as you can. The bottom line is, you can’t kill them from the couch.

 

Distance: One of the biggest keys to success in western hunting is getting away from other hunters, and finding animals that aren’t as pressured or educated from previous human encounters. This means lacing up your boots, throwing on your pack, and hitting the hills for a day full of hiking. If possible, I generally try to hunt in areas that are at least two to three miles from the nearest road. This will cut your competition in half, and greatly increase your chances of seeing larger numbers, and a better quality of game animals.

hunting snow, elk, hunt, western, montana

As I entered my fourth season of hunting in Montana, I had gained a ton of knowledge, had drawn a limited entry bull elk tag, and for the first time in my short elk hunting career, was feeling confident in my ability to fill my bull tag as the season approached. As archery season began, I found myself surrounded by elk, and calling in a bull pretty much every time I went out. My skills as a hunter were growing, and the lessons I had learned from previous experiences were giving me the advantage I needed. At this point it seemed like it would only be a matter of time before I would release an arrow, and on the morning of September 12th, I did. Unfortunately, the shot was followed by the unmistakeable sound of my arrow hitting the bull’s front shoulder blade. After hours of searching, and scratching my head as to how I could have possibly messed up an opportunity that I had worked so hard for, I went home without a bull. Luckily, I was able to locate the same bull a few days later, and was pleased to see him chasing cows around like nothing had ever happened.

phoneskope, razor, hd, vortex, optics, elk, digiscoping

Time to strategize a gameplan.

As the season went on, I continued to hunt hard, getting out every day I could, but the majority of the elk in my unit had made their way onto private land. This meant that hunting far from the truck wasn’t going to increase my chances by a whole lot, and if I wanted to fill my tag, I was going to have to take a different approach. As I set out for the final week of Montana’s general season with a bull tag burning a hole in my pocket, I knew that if I wanted to be successful I would need to spend my time in areas surrounding the private land that was holding the majority of the animals. On November 25th, I headed into a spot that bordered a section of private that I knew frequently held elk. After watching the main herd of 40 + branch bulls feed past me a mere 100 yards on the wrong side of the fence, I glanced over to my left, and there stood a bull on my side of the fence. After a few chaotic seconds, I settled my crosshairs and my rifle roared, followed by the unmistakeable “whop!” we all hope to hear after pulling the trigger. After four years of learning, making mistakes, and hunting my hardest I was finally able to wrap my tag around an awesome first bull.

elk hair, hide, hunting, western, montana

Taking in the experience.

elk, hunt, first, bull, internship, montana, wild

Memories.

Over the course of the last four years, the journey to harvest a bull elk has been an unforgettable one, taking me to some of the most beautiful places montana has to offer, and allowing me to witness things in nature that I would have never imagined. Teaching yourself how to hunt elk on public land is no easy task, but with the right mindset, a willingness to learn from your mistakes, and a little bit of an obsession that keeps you coming back for more, it’s a journey that will eventually pay off in a big way.

 

Words by: Calvin Connor

Images by: Calvin Connor & Gus Conrad

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Grabbing Opportunity

black, bear, story, archery, bowhunting, bowhunt, montana, wild

Its not very often that my black bear tag makes it past the spring season. This year was different. I had limited days to spring bear hunt with my bow after preparing to move to Bozeman and had failed to get any decent opportunities to arrow a bruin. It was somewhat exciting to have a black bear tag for the fall season, and considering the locations I would be hunting elk and deer, the likelihood of seeing black bears was high. I was excited to see what opportunities would present themselves.

montana, wild, black, bear, hunt, brown, archery, sitka, gear

Chasing elk through prime bear country.

Fast forward to September. I had just finished a grueling 9 day out of state hunt. I failed to fill my tag and was now back in Montana to hopefully help call an elk in for Zack. After grinding through a couple days of work, we had just enough time to pack up the truck and head out for a 2.5 day backpack elk hunt. I must say it is nice feeling being able to enter the elk woods with a bear, wolf, and elk tag in your pocket.

bear, tag, black, montana, notched, tags, elk, hunt, night, hunting, headlamp

The hunt started with Zack taking the lead as we crossed creeks and finally entered a timbered stretch littered with elk sign. Zack ripped a few bugles along the way, hoping to locate a bull. With no responses, we slowly followed a game trail, still stalking the timber hoping to catch a glimpse of a bull. Magpies rang out their typical cry and Zack crept slowly in their direction. Suddenly Zack froze and waved me to creep up to his position. 130yds away was a stout black bear ripping at some sort of animal carcass.

elk, carcass, predator

Just what a bear is looking for to fatten up.

With no bear tag left for Zack I was the only option for a stalk. I picked my stalk line, made sure the wind was good and proceeded to ninja to 43yards. I got ready for a shot and waited for the black bear to turn broadside. The bear was moving around the carcass eating on various pieces and occasionally moving away and then wandering back. Finally he remained in a single position on the carcass. I drew, settled and released. The bear ran 15 yards, looked around and then proceeded to come back and feed. I must have misjudged my yardage or my broadhead dove as I missed low. I crept up to 37yards from the unaware bear. I drew, really took my time to pick a small spot and released. This time I saw my arrow hit its mark as the bear whirled and took off on a death march down the mountain and out of sight.

bloody, arrow, vanes, bohning, blazer, vane, easton, fmj

Good blood on an intact arrow.

Zack and I looked for my arrow and found it completely intact and covered in blood. I felt good about the shot and with light fading fast I followed the direction the bear had sprinted. The blood trail was minimal, so I made the decision to just go look for the bear. Zack and I spread out and started searching. After about two hundred yards later I heard Zack holler.

black, bear, dark, brown, arrowed, archery, bow, montana, wild

Cautiously approaching.

I crept his way arrow nocked, only to see the motionless mound of fur that lay ahead. He was done, a quick clean kill. The beautiful dark brown boar was a sight to behold as he lay in a patch of timber littered with elk rubs. The trees in the area were perfectly displaced and made for some unique photos.

bear, paw, paws, mtns, black, brown, claws, montana

Good sized paws, but extremely stinky from the elk carcass.

This was my first time having a fall black bear tag and also my first bear with a bow. A memory that will live with me forever and an adrenaline filled stalk that I won’t soon forget.

montana, archery, black, bear, spot, and, stalk

bloody, arrow, quartering, black, bear, brown, easton, fmj

-Travis

Elk Camp – A Family Tradition

colorado, elk, rifle, hunting, sitka, gear

Hunting is best done with family and friends, the memories made with them will far out reach the antlers that grace the walls.

wall tents, hunting, elk hunting, hsm ammo, elk, bull, sitka gear

For me hunting has always been something that is meant to be shared with loved ones. From hunting with my dad while growing up in Tennessee to our annul Elk Camp in Colorado. The time spent with caring people that are as excited as you when you fill your tag is something I’ll always cherish.

wall tents, hunting, elk hunting, hsm ammo, elk, bull, sitka gear

This year in Elk Camp was no exception. Its where smiles and laughter is the norm, warm coffee and good times are sure to be found, and where everyone helps out. From cleaning the dishes to skinning fresh elk hide. There’s always someone there ready to give you a hand.

wall tents, hunting, elk hunting, hsm ammo, elk, bull, sitka gear

Introducing new people to elk hunting is a big reason we have elk camp as a tradition. I remember the first time I was invited, I had the time of my life. As a fourteen year old boy I was hooked from the moment I set foot in camp, and the fact that I filled my tag, was just icing on the cake. Ever since then they can’t seem to get rid of me. I learned so much, from how to skin an elk to life lessons that I’ll have forever.

wall tents, hunting, elk hunting, hsm ammo, elk, bull, sitka gear

My buddy Nick was able to come out this year for the first time to try and bag a bull and gain the elk hunting experience. Opening morning came and after a six mile hike we were back in a remote basin as light began to flood the sky. We watched several cows filter down to a watering hole three hundred yards below us. About an hour after sunrise a group of elk worked their way up the ravine to the pond, there was a bull in the back. Nick was ready and when the bull stopped he executed the shot. Excitement was, strewn across his face.

wall tents, hunting, elk hunting, hsm ammo, elk, bull, sitka gear

wall tents, hunting, elk hunting, hsm ammo, elk, bull, sitka gear

In that week I watched several other friends fill their tags as well as my dad. He shot his biggest bull and I was happy to be there to help him skin it out. I was able to fill my cow tag and have already enjoyed grilling some tasty steaks.

wall tents, hunting, elk hunting, hsm ammo, elk, bull, sitka gear

wall tents, hunting, elk hunting, hsm ammo, elk, bull, sitka gear

It was an amazing week spent hunting and hiking the mountains with my dad, girlfriend, and good friends. Elk Camp is a special place and it will always be my home away from home. Until next year, I’ll be patiently waiting.

wall tents, hunting, elk hunting, hsm ammo, elk, bull, sitka gear

– Jay Siske

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Mosquito City, MT

[Well September is a busy busy month.  Archery season is only so many days long and throw in time spent filming and getting some work done and it always seems like time is too short and the personal days you get to hunt too few.  This fall has been a whirlwind and we’ve been very blessed so far.  I just wanted to give a quick update on the elk hunting and some recent success I had before we head back out the door to chase mule deer.  Enjoy!]

Two days prior to opening day Zack and myself wandered the hills, searching for bugling bulls. Our ears were instead filled with the buzz of little pests.  The mosquitoes were like the plague.  The heavy rainfall that this area had received at the end of August rejuvenated the mosquitoes in the area to biblical proportions. We quickly made a detour to the closest town to buy mass quantities of bug spray and cross our fingers that our Thermacell would deter a small portion of the hungry critters.
mosquitoes, sitka solids
Zack was up first, while I had the camera in tow. The elk hunting was difficult, between hunting pressure and avoiding the mosquito swarms. Stalks on bedded elk usually ended in a blood buffet for the mosquitoes. Staying still for more than five minutes was a chore and  spending time behind the glass was rather frustrating.

hunting mosquitoes, sitka shooter glove, vortex summit

Zack still managed a bunch of great encounters and passed on multiple bulls, hoping to lure the herd bull in close. Before we knew it another heavy rain storm was upon us.  The gumbo mud appeared in full force and our boots instantly turned into ten pound weights.  Living out of the truck became quite the task.
Gumbo, mud, montana, bad, nasty
After battling the elements, the sun regained its strength, but not without a price.  The mosquitoes had flourished in the new rainfall and we were now on the brink of insanity. Zack was frustrated and gave myself the opportunity to hunt the last four days of our trip. I made the best of my time, finding multiple bulls, and breaking the 100yd mark on numerous occasions.

elk, bull, wapiti

Our final morning we found a large herd we had been following. Our wind was swirling all morning and half the herd split for cover. A lone bull stole 6 cows and wandered elsewhere.  We pursued, seeing opportunity in the landscape they were headed. Removing my boots and going into ‘full ninja’, I crept in to 35 yards, cow calling the bull to his feet before deploying an arrow.

Ninja socks, hunting, stalking, socks

The shot looked good, but the penetration was not as expected.  Lung blood littered the ground, but slowly dissipated into a timbered coulee.  After an hour of searching we relocated the bull, who was bedding and standing every hour in the thick brush.  With no opportunity for a stalk, we waited the bull out for 6 hours, before he finally bedded in a position where I thought a shot might be possible. I got back into my ninja socks and crept in to within bow range.  The bull was about to stand to re-bed once again, I came to full draw, fighting the heavy crosswind before putting pressure on the trigger.  The bull stood stunned as I put two more arrows in his chest before taking his final breath.

Metcalf 2, mystery ranch, sitka gear, core, merino, elk ridge, snapback, knife

After examining my first shot, I found out my arrow placement was too low given the downhill angle.  My arrow had pierced one lung and struck the sternum. I thanked the good Lord above that I was able to recover this animal and felt relieved to know that the animal would not go to waste. This elk season has brought about so many challenges, yet this season has been my best elk season to date. Once again I have been overwhelmed with the knowledge you gain elk hunting year after year. The confidence is high going into the remainder of the season.  Elk meat is in the freezer!

elk, hunting, bowhunting, missouri breaks, bull, montana, wild

mystery ranch, hunting, metcalf, 2, II

-Travis

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A Lot of Work and a Little Luck

Elk hunting.  It’s my passion and if I had to pick one hunt it would be a bowhunt for elk, in the mountains, during the rut.  Again this year I was blessed enough to do just that.  I won’t bore you with all the details but let’s just say I had my chance at my dream bull.  Bad luck or a poor decision, you can chalk it up however you see fit when you see the footage next fall, but as quickly as he came to my bugle, he left equally as fast.  As I searched the mountains for bugling bulls I had the opportunity to see some of the deepest, darkest, and most beautiful timbered slopes a man could ask for.  To say my archery season was a failure would simply deny the fact that something positive always comes from time in the mountains.

elk, hunting, photos, timber, gps, bull, elk, montana, wild, stock

I explored new areas and hoped I could once again lure a mature bull into bow range.  I did one other time but busted the bull as I moved to get in position for a shot.  As I continued my search it seemed the odds were stacked against us.  September and early October saw lots of heavy rain and snow, variables that make filming a hunt quite difficult.  We pushed on despite the difficulties and seemed to always be on the heels of the big bulls that called these woods home.

elk, hunting, montana, photograph, stock, rub, sitka gear, bowhunting

Eventually time ran out and my #1 goal for the season was unmet.  I chalked it up as a loss and turned my focus to deer.  Again the weather put a dampener on our ambition and kept us holed up in a tent during our first five days in the mountains.

camping, montana, hunting, mountains, deer, elk, wild, outdoors, snow

The mountains won that battle and Travis and I turned our attention to lower elevations.  We decided to continue the tradition of heading east to hunt mule deer in the flatlands during November.  We both bagged nice bucks and you can read our stories by clicking either of the following links (All In Character) / (The Bumpy Road – Part 1).

mule, deer, horns, antler, montana, wild, eastern, 4 point

After that I again began to think about those wily wapiti.  I had never truly hunted for elk with a rifle and would definitely consider myself extremely unknowledgeable about elk movements and habits during this time of year.  I had a few spots in mind that I knew elk lived in and afforded us the opportunity to use the binos and spotting scope to our advantage.  As we turned off the highway I was excited to begin the hike up the mountain.  As we continued down the road we soon had already passed three trucks that had hunters pouring out of them in the inky black.  As we pulled up to our spot my stomach began to turn.  Six other trucks were already parked there.  As we sat there wondering what to do another rig pulled up next to us.  The sun was beginning to lighten the sky and I knew it was too late to go somewhere else.  I figured we would hike as far back as we could and hope someone spooked some elk to us.  We threw our headlamps on and clamored up the mountain.  As we crested onto the final logging road we saw another hunter ahead of us.  He was a older gentlemen in his mid 60s and I was surprised he was back here.  He must have been hiking for about an hour and a half in the dark.  I was impressed to say the least.  We quickly passed him as he split up the hill.  A light snow covered the hillside and with temperatures in the single digits it was a crunchy mess.  We quickly made it to a good lookout and built a fire.  No sooner had we finally got the fire roaring a group of 3 bulls appeared from the timber 700 yards below us.  A rocky deep valley lay below us and I knew we wouldn’t be able to close the distance without completely losing sight of the bulls.  We scrambled to get the cameras on the elk and I got positioned on my pack.  My adrenaline was raging and I struggled to get the elk in my 20 power scope.  By the time I located the biggest bull he was already moving to the right and I was way to shaky to think about taking a shot.  They disappeared into the timber and we grabbed our packs and began to slowly slip down the ridge.  We proceeded to move about 300 yards down the mountain to an area where we could see across the creek bottom.  No elk were in sight, but I could hear the faint noise of rocks crashing.  I knew they were somewhere in the bottom.  A few minutes later Travis spotted them directly to our right on a grassy, timbered ridge.  I quickly laid down and began to look the bulls over.  They were feeding slowly and I knew I had a moment to pick a bull and get settled in.  After a few minutes I had found the biggest of the group and I lined up my reticle right behind his shoulder.  As he stepped forward a slightly quartering away shot presented itself and I sent a 168 grain Berger right through his boiler room.  He moved up the hill about 15 yards before toppling over and quickly expiring.  I jumped up and yelled like a wild man.  I honestly had planned on going for a nice hike, and had no plans of shooting a bull that would eclipse the 300 inch mark.  Travis and I celebrated before finally grabbing our gear and crossing the small valley to go inspect my first rifle killed elk.

elk, bull, 300, inch, montana, wild, rifle, hunting, photo

The bull was a great 6×6.  He was on the tall and narrow side and very symmetrical.  I couldn’t have asked for more and spent the next hour admiring the beautiful bull.  I felt so blessed to have the opportunity to take such an amazing animal and with my brother at my side.  Travis has been there for all of my elk kills with the camera rolling and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.  Travis and I both were blessed with great bulls this year and we quickly snapped photos of the fallen warrior.

montana, bull, elk, 300, inch, wild, mountains, rifle, season, photo, western

The temperature was perfect for the task ahead of us.  As we worked the sun kept us warm, while the shade allowed the meat to cool as we worked for the next two hours to get everything in order for the pack out.  Soon all the quarters were in game bags and it was time to load some meat and begin the pack out.  We were three miles from the truck and luckily enough it was mostly downhill.  As I headed up the mountain the weight of the elk bore down on my shoulders, reminding me of the immense  responsibility we take into our hands when we hunt these great creatures.  It was sad to take a life, but it felt good that I’d be filling my freezer with some of the healthiest, organic meat a man can put in his body.  This day was a blessing from God and even though my tag was punched I couldn’t help but think about the next time I’d get to chase the ever elusive elk.

montana, wild, elk, hunting, rifle, packing, out, 2013, photo

-Zack

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Four years in the making

Our scouting  before season was paying off, as we marked rubs, fresh sign, and wallows on our GPS. The next morning we scouted another new area and found plenty of fresh rubs and beds, where large bulls had pissed and marked their home.  The area was looking good and we headed back into town to hang out with our family and gather supplies for opening day.

hunting, gps, maps, onX, hunt, iphone, app, hunting, satellite, imagery

While at home our Dad convinced us to take him out archery elk hunting for his very first time.  We told him we would be sitting a wallow all day and would require a lot of patience.  He didn’t care, he just wanted experience the hunt and the plans were made.  We checked the weather one last time before heading back into the mountains.  The forecast was looking iffy.  Opening day looked as if we might get scattered showers, continuing through Sunday night.  Zack and I unloaded the truck, flung some last minute arrows, and prepared ourselves for the following days sit.

Ultimate Steel

The next morning my alarm sounded off and almost instantly I saw headlights pull up behind my truck.  An older man walked up, asked my Dad where he was hunting and proceeded to say “I’m sitting that same spot”.  It was kinda a bummer being there all night and to have some guy just charge out in front of you to go sit where we had originally planned to sit our father for opening day.  We made the best of the situation and decided to have our Dad sit the wallow Zack and I had planned to hunt.  We bushwacked into our location, hoping for a wind from the west.  We snuck into the area, Zack and myself setting up in a small ground blind we had built this summer, which was only big enough for two people.  With no choice we set our Dad on the north end in a small area of trees.

wind, checker, dark, timber

The wind blew out of the south most of the day, which was not the wind we were looking for.  The only thing we saw all day from 6am-745pm was two hunters.  Opening Day was a wrap. My Dad was more than satisfied, and headed home that evening.

stars

The next morning we pulled the same routine, same location.  This time the guy didn’t waste his time hiking back in through our campsite.  As we finished loading the truck with our gear, we started to hear the sound of rain drops.  The weather had showed up, and it was not going to be pretty.  Zack and I hustled into our raingear and made the hike into our ground blinds.  The wind was once again coming out of the south.  With no choice we sat on the north end of the wallows, taking cover under some large trees.  It was time to wait, and the wall of rain thickened.  About a half hour into the sit and we heard our first daylight bugle.  Faint bugles could be heard throughout the morning, and I assumed the bulls would swing by the wallow.  Soon enough I could tell the elk were working farther away, and I decided to bugle.  I was getting consistent response, but decided to hold our position and not risk totally frying our camera gear chasing bulls in the rain.  The bugles slowly faded as late morning hit.  No dice.  Zack and I held out until 1230pm, before making the decision to head back to camp and try to judge the weather for the afternoon hunt.

sitka, gear, stormfront, bear, archery, motive, 6

The rain had calmed around 4pm, and we headed into the general area where we heard those bulls move earlier that morning.  I set up at various locations, calling with no bugles in response.  Once again the rain had picked back up and it looked like thunderstorms rolling over the mountain.  We decided to hike back through some old timber and hopefully call a bull in from cover.  We found plenty of great sign, but we failed to encounter a bull.

Rain, sitka

The next morning we again ventured into an area where we felt we had a good chance of calling a bull in.  This part of Montana is nasty.  The brush is thick and seeing an elk doesn’t happen on a daily basis.  This morning was particularly nasty because we needed to be silent in the area we would be calling, so we hiked raingear free.  The brush was still dripping wet from the weather from the day before.  Once again we had a downright miserable hike, soaking wet.  We heard one small bugle, and took a handful of spills on the slick downfall.  Beaten we headed back to the truck midday.

The afternoon was slightly more pleasant, the sun peaked his head out and dried up some of the water.  I decided to head down another ridge within a mile of our wallow.  The area was littered with monster rubs, some fresh, some old, but the elk still didn’t vocalize that evening.  It seemed the rut was still a week away.

sitka, gear, elk, rub, bear, archery, motive, metcalf, mystery ranch, longbow

That night we checked the forecast, which was calling for sunny weather with a high of 75F.  I knew the elk hadn’t hit the wallow recently, and with the wet weather transitioning back to hot, I felt like the wallow could be a great option for day 4. That was the plan, back to the wallow in the am!

Zack and I chose to hike into the wallow from a different direction that morning.  Hoping to maybe locate a bull on the way in.  The route proved longer and we didn’t hear a single bugle.  Once again the  wind was coming out of the south!  Sitting in the trees and not being able to sit either of the blinds we had built was a little frustrating.  All morning was silent, other than the hundreds of squirrels chirping and chucking pine cones around our location.  I motioned for my bow multiple times, thinking an elk was coming.  Nope, just pine cones flying out of the trees hitting logs and branches.

camo, optifade, open, country, sitka

We caught up on some reading, soaking in the hot weather and drying out our gear.  We rotated taking small naps as the afternoon progressed.  Around 5pm I thought I heard a very light bugle coming from the timber to the southwest.  “Zack did you hear that bugle?” I whispered.    “No,” he replied.  I checked the wind, which was now coming out of the north.  “Zack the wind switched, lets move the decoy and sit the blind on the south end”.

I grabbed the decoy, moved it to the east side of the wallow and we got comfortable in our best blind at that location.  I had to plan on setting up for a bull coming from the southwest, and I hoped I wasn’t just imagining I heard a bugle.  We sat and waited.  About 30 minutes later I heard that distinct rumble of brush.  “Zack somethings coming,” as I sat upright and grabbed my bow.  Silence was all I heard for the next couple minutes, until I finally saw long browtines poke through the brush to our left.  My adrenaline hit, this was awesome!!  The bull worked slowly into the water, raking his horns in the muddy water a mere 70 yards from our blind.  Zack followed the bull with the camera as he wallowed and eventually laid down in the water at 65yards.  I shifted to my right in the blind, giving me a clear view of the bull.  The bull stayed there, enjoying his muddy bed for a good 6 minutes.  I ranged the nearest clump of grass as a marking point, 63yards. The bull stood, and I drew back.  He faced away from me instantly, giving me just a view of his butt.  I held full draw for 1minute 15seconds, almost letting down once.  The bull turned perfectly broadside, dragging his horns in the mud.  I held my sixty pin, settled for 7 seconds, felt 99.9% sure of the shot and squeezed off.  I heard the smack as the bull took off towards our blind!  I quickly mouthed two cow calls and nocked another arrow.  The bull slowed to a walk only 35 yards away as blood flowed from the exit wound.  The bull wobbled and tipped over only 30 yards from us.  It was over! Finally I had arrowed my first bull!  I sat there in disbelief, still having an arrow ready in case something happened.  The bull quickly expired and I still sat there, wondering if it was all real.

Bull Down

I approached my bull completely in awe of its amazing characteristics.  He was a true dark timber bull.

elk, horns, blood, kicker, dark

My #1 archery goal had finally been achieved, four years in the making.   I studied the bulls muddy horns, which had great mass and unique tines.  After looking the bull over I  searched for my arrow and to my amazement it was floating in the wallow!  As I fished the arrow out of the water, I noticed large wolf tracks in the mud from the night before.

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Zack and I snapped photos as we transitioned to the real work, cutting up the bull.  We used the gutless method to butcher the elk, hanging the two front quarters in a tree to avoid losing meat to the large number of bears and mountain lions in the area.

sitka, gear, lone, wolf, knives, archery, elk

Zack and I loaded our packs with the de-boned hind quarters, backstraps, and tenderloins.  Our packs rang well over 75lbs with our gear and meat.  The journey in the dark began, as we crossed downfall and brush, using our GPS for direction.  Soon we were heading the wrong direction as the satellite was putting us in the wrong location.  S*#%!  We hit walls of brush, impassable with our heavy loads, backtracking and cussing as we crossed nastly 3.5ft tall snags and downfall.  I finally busted out my iPhone and used the “my location” GPS function.  The iPhone instantly showed our location on the satellite imagery.  Back on track, we eventually made our way through the timber, safely making it back to the truck at 1:15am. I don’t know why the Garmin GPS satellite was misrepresenting our location, but I’m glad we had a backup source for direction.

After a short 4 hours of sleep, we busted back into the kill location, hearing bugles echoing around us.  Zack and I  loaded our packs once again and ventured back into the thick brush with the final load.  I battled every tree, branch, and log that morning.  The rack did not find its way smoothly through that environment.  I have no idea how those bulls travel through the brush so silently, but they are truly masters of their domain.

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We let out some final war cries as the last load made it to the truck.  To be able to notch my elk tag by the fourth day was unreal.  That morning it really resonated with me how amazing the elk hunting experience is.  To be able to enjoy it with your best friend and brother is pretty special.

-Travis