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Mark Hanson’s Biggest Bull Elk with a Bow

provided by John E. Phillips

Mossy Oak Pro Mark Hanson from Mesa, Arizona, has a severe case of elk addiction. Mark took his first bull in 1984 with a bow - a spike with brow tines (a legal bull) - that really hooked him on elk hunting. Since then, he’s taken 10 bulls with his bow and two in Colorado with a rifle. However, he’s called in bulls for many friends and family members - about 100 bulls. When Hanson isn’t hunting bull elk to take for himself, he hunts with friends and relatives every year to help record their hunts, find bulls for them, call bull elk and carry out meat.

bull elk

I took a bull elk in 1999 that grossed 368 inches, but he only netted 160 inches. On this hunt, I took my son, Paul, with me. We had our bows, and we planned to scout for elk. However, because deer season was in, if we saw a nice mule deer or a white-tailed buck, we could take him with our bows. We had gotten into camp fairly late, so we slept in and didn’t get up until just before daylight. Then we heard an elk bugling in a meadow a little ways up above our camp. 

Not too far from where we set up our camp, there was an older gentleman and his wife cutting firewood from the dead trees in the forest. So, while still dark, we hiked up to the meadow and spotted a giant bull there with his harem of cows. From earlier hunts, I knew elk would feed in the meadows at night and return to the wilderness area just at sunup. We got up on top of a ridge that was above the trail the elk were using to go back and forth from the meadow to their bedding site in the wilderness area. 

Using our binoculars, we saw a cow on the trail first. Next we heard a ruckus, looked about 60 yards down the trail and spotted a giant bull raking a tree with his antlers. We continued to watch him as he went to war with this tree. I counted his antlers and knew that he was a 6x7. As I studied the bull’s antlers, I thought he would score about 350 inches. I believed that if I got any closer to him, I’d run the risk of spooking him out of this area. 

Then I determined which trail the elk were using when we left the meadow. I thought if I got ahead of them on Saturday, I might be able to get to a place and set-up close enough to the trail to get a shot at the herd bull. I knew on this first day, that I had not only found a bull I wanted to take, but I’d also patterned him so well and not spooked him that I should be able to find a place that he couldn’t see or smell me. I planned to take him on Saturday morning. 

Elk season for archery would open on Friday of the following week. I was hunting by myself Friday morning, but one of my other sons was coming up to camp on Friday night to hunt with me. I got up early and went to the trail that I knew this bull and his cows were travelling. But because he had a fairly large harem of cows, I never could get him to come to cow calling. Every time he passed me on that trail, I’d make a big circle around him, try to get in front of the herd and call him to me. Finally, the herd moved off into a deep canyon and were far enough away from me that I couldn’t hear them.

I decided to back out of that area, return to camp and come back to the trail late on Friday afternoon when the elk would be moving from their bedding area and out into the meadow to feed. I started cow calling a little before dark, and a monster bull showed up. Right at dark, this bull stepped out and presented a shot. I thought the bull was at about 45 yards on the opposite side of the canyon from me, but the light was getting so dim that I misjudged the distance. 

By this time, I was already at full draw, and I released the arrow. I saw the bull spook and run off. When I went over to the spot where I’d taken the shot and found my arrow, my arrow had no blood on it. However, one elk hair was stuck on the blade of my broadhead. I had misjudged the distance and shot over his back. The bull had come in so quickly that I knew if I hadn’t taken the shot, I wouldn’t have had a shot. I didn’t have time to range him. So, I returned to camp. But I didn't give up on that elk.

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