This year I was fortunate enough to be able to make a few trips during September to Archery Elk hunt in my home turf of Idaho. This was my first season archery hunting and the beginning of archery shooting for me in general. For years I was under the impression that I needed about a thousand dollars worth of Compound bow and respective gadgets to do these Archery hunts. While it would be more advantageous it isn’t necessarily the case. Generally speaking a $9 hickory board, some basic woodworking, and patience will result in a longbow adequate for ethically hunting with. I built a 45# longbow in the garage over the winter and that’s what I used for these hunts. By the time the season started I was comfortable taking a shot out to about 15 yards with it. This was some what limiting, but for sure doable, especially with the advantage of the rut.
I had numerous encounters with Elk over the course of the season and I opted to pass on the cows and spikes, but maybe next season when I’m out of Elk meat I’ll reconsider. It was just hard for me to conjure up the motivation to take a Spike or a cow when a Herd Bull was bugling back at me. Overall I had more opportunity to potentially harvest an Elk on these archery hunts than I usually have on Rifle hunts. The “Any Elk” status of the tag goes a long way in this sense.
The hunts where so busy that I didn’t have time to take many pictures. I was into Elk or on the move constantly. I will for sure be back at it again next year without hesitation unless I draw a better hunt with conflicting dates. The constant action, great weather, and simplicity of traditional archery is hard to beat. It was so nice to carry a sub 1 pound bow around rather than a 7 pound rifle for a change. The advantage of the Rut is huge and Elk hunting is at it’s best during this time of year.
The first hunt started on September 4th. I made the climb to a bench that I have spent time glassing from many times before and wrote about in previous entry’s. I stocked up on water at a seep about 2/3rds the way to camp. There was a fresh wallow here so I made mental note and prepared a makeshift blind for future use. This seep was in a deep gully, with almost no cover, and the wind was not right to sit there for the afternoon. I moved on and set up camp at the head of the bench. The days are still pretty long this time of year and so I headed up the mountain to the main ridge to hunt for the rest of the day. About 200 yards from camp I came across a fresh Elk trail and rake.
I continued to follow the main Elk trail up the mountain from the bench and came across 2 more fresh rakes along the way. The area was definitely holding Bulls.
Once on top I was able to bugle down into 2 basins. I let out a location bugle and got an answer almost immediately from the basin to my left. It was about 2:00PM and so these Elk were probably bedded. I exchanged a few Bugles with a few different bulls out of that basin for the next 15 minutes. There was a herd Bull and at least 2 satellites that were playing along. At this point I had wished I still had camp on my back. It would have possibly given me some extra flexibility. I hadn’t been up into that basin from the bottom in a few years and from what I remembered there were terrain issues. This would make getting out in the dark risky, especially with meat. If I didn’t find anything else on the other side of this ridge, I could hike in from the bottom tomorrow and figure it out.
I followed the ridge another 100 yards to a low saddle and bugled again. This time I got an answer from the right side of the ridge about 300 yards below me. This is the side my camp was on and I was overall more familiar with. The wind, both the thermals and the prevailing wind, were steady and in my favor so I started dropping down towards the Bull. I slowly made my way down through the timber and ran out of cover about halfway. I could now see that there was only one thin patch of timber to my left that went almost all the way down to the basin the Bull was in. There was no way I would be able to drop through that opening without being seen. With no other good options, I hiked back up and made my way over to the timber patch to sneak back down. When I got to the bottom and ran out of cover I sat and glassed the timber below me.
There was a cow straight below me on the bench and 2 spikes to my right. It was after 3 PM now and some of them were starting to get up and feed around a little. The cow fed over a rise and out of sight. The 2 spikes started feeding uphill about 100 yards to my right. I would have to cross an opening in the sun before I could get out of sight of the spikes. I waited until they were facing away from me and slowly crawled, only moving when both their heads were down feeding and facing straight away. This took some time, but I got away with it and hit the treeline. I then slowly made my way towards where the bull had bugled from, glassing as I went. It wasn’t long before I heard an Elk spook and looked ahead to see the cow trotting off. She must have came back over the rise while I wasn’t paying attention over there. Soon after she spooked the Bull did also and I got my first glimpse of him. I couldn’t make out much but he was defiantly a nice Bull.
I let out a scream so the bull would think that I was another bull harassing this cow. The wind was still in my favor so this could work. I positioned myself so I could just see over the rise and started a Bull harassing a cow sequence. The Bull didn’t seem to be falling for it and so I started doing some regathering cow sounds. This worked, but the problem was the cows and spikes were coming in first instead of the Bull. The Bull got concerned and finally came out about 60 yards away and screamed at me while throwing a small dead tree around with his antlers. The cows and spikes were pacing back and forth at 40 yards trying to decide what to do and wondering why they didn’t see an Elk making these Elk sounds. The Bull hung up for about a minute and then gave me a nervous grunt followed by a grunt with a scream. It was game over at this point as I didn’t know what to do. A nervous grunt is an Elk’s way of asking for a visual immediately. If they don’t see an Elk then they know something is up. I was pinned down, he was hung up, and the cows/spikes were getting really nervous. I gave him a grunt and a scream right back while raking, but within 30 seconds he had his herd back and was taking them away. This was a respectable herd Bull and I was sold on the Rut hunt after that first encounter. I will do a lot of things different next time though.
I started heading back to camp to maybe check out that wallow before dark. There was a well used trail that came off the bottom of the basin and went towards the bench I was camped on. When I got about halfway I bugled and surprisingly got an answer in front of me fairly close. The only problem now was that I was in a relatively open area of the timber. I was not expecting the Bull to be so close. I froze and looked around for movement and a thick spot to hide myself, but didn’t see either so I chanced it and moved down the trail to a tree. The Bull materialized as he spooked. I could just see his head and neck over a small rise right before he disappeared. I ducked, froze and gave out a cow call. This satellite Bull was a Raghorn and should be interested in a cow. If I didn’t spook him too bad it might work. I waited about 5 minutes and didn’t hear or see anything so I crept forward a little and scanned the horizon. There he was just over the rise on the other side of a clearing about 60 yards away. He saw me good this time and got out of there quick. That encounter was a valuable lesson in patience.
The next morning I made another setup in between where I busted that Raghorn and camp. This time I found a nice patch of stunted pines that would offer good cover. I did the Bull harassing a cow sequence as this had partly worked the previous day. This time I exercised more patience and waited for about 35 minutes. After not seeing or hearing anything, I gave up on it and decided to move on. This result wasn’t surprising to me after all of the education me and the Bulls of that area gave each other the prior day. When I got about 200 yards from my setup, I saw an Elk blast through the trees towards camp. He must have came in silent and hung up…….oh well another lesson learned. Time to try my tricks in another spot with fresh Bulls.
I hiked back out to the Truck to drop off my tripod and spotting scope. I hadn’t even touched either of them and didn’t see the need to continue carrying them around. This early Rut hunt is a game of calling and still hunting, not the typical spot and stalk I’m used too with rifle hunts. It was more like Coyote and Turkey hunting. Upon reaching the truck, I picked up a fresh apple and Elknut’s playbook. My lighter pack felt good as I headed down the trail again.
I planned on hiking into the basin I had got responses out of the day before. I hadn’t been in there in a few years and had forgot what the access was like. From what I remembered, there was major terrain issues that would make a packout difficult at best. But the more I thought about it, the more I was interested in conquering those terrain issues because it is almost always worth it. This mentality is a curse that lives in the grey area between stubborn and motivation. It gets me into some interesting predicaments at times and meat in my pack other times. So I followed the game trail as far as I could and then it got way to thick with brush to make any progress without pruning shears. I would have to put it on hold for now and come back with tools to break a trail in order to get meat out of there. There was still another good spot that I could hike to from that same location. It was one of my core areas where I had a trailcam still out that I needed to collect anyways.
It was midday and really hot, the hike to the next spot took me probably twice as long as it usually does, but I toughed it out and made the elevation. I typically camp in a certain spot on this ridge when I’m scouting. From camp I hike towards the meadow to get water and/or hunt. This time I decided to go in closer to the meadow to save time in the morning and be closer to water.
I got about to where on the ridge I wanted to drop camp about 4 PM and Bugled just to test the waters. I got an answer about 200 yards to my right. These Elk where just slightly lower in elevation than me at the head of the canyon to the right of the ridge I was on. This is where I feel I made my first mistake. I opted to go ahead and set up camp “real quick” and then go after the Bull. That way if I got him down at last light, I would already have a camp to come back to late that night. I was being as quiet as possible and kneeling down while unloading my pack and setting up my tent. I still managed to clank my tent poles a few times though and even got a picture of camp.
Suddenly I caught a glimpse of movement. A cow came in to 40 yards and I just froze. Then I heard some faint raking about 30 yards past her. The wind stayed in my favor somehow, but the cow got nervous and walked off. My movement getting to my bow and getting it ready was more than she could handle. My big green tent sitting there probably didn’t help either. I tried to salvage the situation with a lip bawl type scream as she trotted off. I still hadn’t seen the Bull and he probably hadn’t seen me either.
I slowly headed in the direction the cow headed and found a suitable location to make a set up. The plan was to do another Bull harassing a cow scenario. This was mistake number two as raking and stomping would probably have been the better way to go, obviously that’s what the Elk where interested in at that time. Needless to say , I didn’t hear or see anything with that setup and eventually stalked my way into the meadow to collect my trail cameras and make a set up for the evening.
I had both of my trail cameras on video mode so I was not able to check the footage while in the field, but there was a lot of files on both of them. After collecting the cameras I made a setup around that meadow for the evening. I sat tight for a little over an hour and then headed back towards camp. My plan was to try a regathering call where they had spooked from.
As I was heading along the ridge, all of a sudden I heard an Elk bust to my left. I saw movement through the trees at about 70 yards. I froze and as I was scanning the area down there, I caught movement right in front of me out of the corner of my eye. There was a rag horned 6×5 at less then 20 yards behind a tree. This guy was in my comfort zone. I slowly brought my bow up and went to full draw. As soon as he stepped out from behind the tree, I would have about 10 feet of clear for a shot. He trotted out from behind that tree and I couldn’t think fast enough to give him a nervous grunt to get him stopped in the clear. When I grunted he stopped but it was behind another tree now. He had covered that ten feet in about two steps. I stopped him again when he trotted off with another nervous grunt and this time in the clear. He was now close to 30 yards away and that was just to far for my skill with that homemade 45 pound longbow at the time, so I let him go.
I was making the nervous grunts with my mouth and boy do they work good at stopping an Elk for the shot, I was impressed! This all happened about 100 yards from my camp and it sure would have been nice to drop that Bull right there at camp. I have a Trail Cam Video of him from a few days prior to the hunt.
I slowly still hunted my way through camp and got to where I had heard the raking while setting up camp. The other Elk I had just jumped headed this way also and maybe I still had a chance. About when I got to a good set up location where it was somewhat thicker I heard and saw a Bull blast through the trees at about 80 yards. He was moving like he got a good look at me, but I gave him a scream anyways. I caught a glimpse of him and I could see he had a big body and a lot more antler than the Raghorn I just drew on. Later, after checking the trail cams at home, I would find out that this was most likely the herd Bull of the area. A nice big 6 point pushing 300″ that had been in the area since July.
The next day was the end of my first hunt and for the first time I got no action that morning on the way out. I did come across the fresh smell of Elk at the end of the ridge and made a set but nothing happened. Despite the rookie mistakes, I was extremely satisfied with the hunt and already planning the next one. It was early in September and I still had some time left in the season for another hunt or two.