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Bull Elk Hunt
April 2020
Gerhard Schroeder

It has been almost two decades since my last bull elk hunt. Ok, there were cow hunts, and cow hunts in limited opportunity units. It’s been years since elk meat rested in my freezer. But for 2019 Steve, Ron and I also got bull elk tags.

Jetlagged from my Germany visit, I arrived in elk camp about a half hour before shooting light. Ron and Steve had come up the day before. So all I had to do is say hello, grab my equipment and head out while it was still dark. My goal is to be away from camp when it’s light enough to see things through the scope. The plan for the day was to first sneak along a long-deserted and partially overgrown forest road, then wait out the day in a ground blind fashioned back in May by leaning branches against two close-together trees. That location was not random. Tracks indicated that elk might (and hopefully would again and often) frequent this area.

It had rained hard the days before the hunt. Somewhere along the old road, crossing elk tracks had stirred hope. Both sides of that road had thick vegetation. With no wind and absolute silence, following them was out of the question. By the end of opening day none of us had seen any elk, but we had seen plenty of other hunters in vehicles.

For Saturday my plan was to get to the old road where the tracks were, and somehow set up a provisional blind there. I did not make it in time.

About a hundred yards before reaching said tracks, there stood an elk already on the old road, about fifty steps from me. I froze, then carefully lifted my binoculars. Of course ‘she’ had made me. Long minutes of standoff passed. But wait – such cows seldom appear alone. I replaced Kahles with Tikka, ready in case a bull should show up. Again I would not be choosy, would take the first legal bull.

Eventually she resumed feeding, and slowly moved out of sight. A second elk emerged from the left – cow. And another – cow. Excitement and arm fatigue from holding the rifle so long did battle within me. Another elk – cow. And so it went for at least fifteen minutes. In all, eight elk came into good shooting distance, none with head jewelry.

I did trim out some brush and waited in ambush where all the tracks and now these elk had crossed, in hopes that a lone bull might follow the ladies later. But that did not occur. Right after dark, back in camp, rain began to drum on Steve’s kitchen tent. It would stay with us, off and on, and there would be no sun on Sunday.

But having just had plenty of rain practice in Germany, I went out in the dark anyway. Taking a different road led me higher up the mountain. At one point an opposite hillside looked open enough to check out with binos. Sure enough, there were elk over there, a good five hundred yards away. But before I could check them all out, clouds moved in and disguised them entirely. I moved a little closer on my ridge. Once those clouds lifted some, I could not find the elk again. Nothing happened for Ron and Steve, either.

Monday awoke with open skies, all the stars to see, and dead silence. I carefully made it to my deserted road blind to set my chair into the sun to dry. Despite all the rain, the road was too loud to follow. So, plan B, return to my May ground blind.

After waiting there the first boring hour, suddenly movement behind me. What? Another hunter. Oh, it was Ron. I signaled, he came over. We chatted for several minutes, trying to make sense out of the tracks we’d seen in the mud, tracks which must have been made early that morning, or during the night.

Eventually Ron decided to go east. Not two minutes later I left that blind, intending to follow the tracks to learn what terrain those elk were headed for. I only made it five steps, then froze. Because there was movement ahead – elk, heading right towards me. Darrnn – why did I not remain in my hiding spot??

Now here I was, totally in the open. Of course the rifle came off the shoulder, slowly. There was even time to wipe the scope lens with my Kleenex (which I should have done way earlier when I noticed some condensation while still in the blind). The first two elk were ladies, still steadily approaching. But now my pulse hastened, because #3 had obvious spikes. I would take him! Except he milled behind trees and bushes, almost out of sight. Now the ladies had made it to within about 30 yards, and there they stopped to check me out.

My excitement climbed … may that spike hurry up and get in the open, please! He did approach, but so perfectly behind a tree that only the tips of his antlers showed on both sides. And when he cleared that he was smack behind those cows. Two more steps, please, please. Right then those front two decided that they did not like what I may be, and gently fled left, and of course the bull did likewise.

But I had him in my scope. Except at 6X I could stay with him but not keep track of the trees. I will forever remember that I was quite concerned to nail a tree as I squeezed the trigger. And immediately and decisively ran the bolt.

No need! The cows got faster, and in the background a whole herd of at least a dozen elk also thundered away. But my bull stopped, got wobbly quickly, and went down. 200 grains of Nosler Partion from my suppressed .308 Win went low through both shoulders, just missing leg bone but hitting ribs and apparently had significant effect. Again I thanked God for his creation and provisions, for this elk.

I yelled: “Ron, elk are coming your way”, then walked up to my bull, about fifty steps away. Ron had heard my shot as well, and returned. He also did not see any further antlers on the other elk.

On an elk, doing the red work with two guys makes it a lot easier. That done, I looked around for a suitable tree. There was, some thirty steps away. And it looked easy to drive to that juniper from the nearest forest road. Ron helped me drag the bull closer to that tree, then guarded my animal and stuff while I hurried to camp to get the 4Runner. Once the elk was hanging, Ron went on hunting. Skinning and cutting apart that bull was routine but so much more effort than on a whitetail.

By around 2PM the whole ‘operation’ had moved to camp. There I hung the individual elk parts for better cooling, and began the deboning, until dark. Butchering resumed Tuesday morning. Amazing that an elk will easily fit into a 100 qt ice chest, including several frozen water jugs.

We all stayed until dark on Thursday, the last day of the hunt. Steve never had the luck of encountering an elk. Ron saw elk several times, also that last afternoon after all of camp had been packed away. Unfortunately, he never verified antlers.

No telling when we may get drawn again for bull elk. But we want to!

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