Editor’s Note: Cliff Hockett from Grand Junction, Colorado, started elk hunting when he was 12, and has been chasing those brown buglers for more than 15 years. Hockett has been a Mossy Oak pro for the last 3 years. His two favorite patterns for elk hunting are Mossy Oak Brush and Mossy Oak Treestand. Hockett explains, “My very favorite pattern is the Mossy Oak Duck Blind. However, since the Duck Blind pattern was created for waterfowl hunters, finding that pattern in lightweight clothing that I can wear for archery hunting is often difficult. The reason I like this pattern is regardless of where you hunt there's always going to be dry grass, and Mossy Oak Duck Blind looks just like dry grass. Colorado’s archery season for elk starts the last weekend in August and ends the last weekend in September. During this time of the year, our average temperatures are in the 80s, especially in the first 2 weeks of the season.”
I hunt both New Mexico and Colorado for elk. Ninety-five percent of the land I hunt on is public lands. Often, I’ll use some private land to get to the public land I want to hunt. When I was a little kid hunting with a rifle, I usually would be able to take game the first few days of the season. Then, my hunting season was over. I started archery hunting, so I could hunt longer, see more animals and have a better chance of taking a bigger bull. I discovered that I like to hunt more than just one day.
The number-one secret for taking elk on public lands is to look for places where no one else tries to go or to find thick cover no one else can crawl into to hunt an elk. As you look for areas to hunt, learn to think like other hunters. Say to yourself, “If I were another hunter, why would I not go into that spot to hunt.” Once you’ve identified some of those rough, bad, gnarly places, figure out a way to hunt there, because the biggest and best bulls have to live there to survive to be the biggest and best bulls on public lands. Some of the spots that no one wants to hunt include dark timber, north-facing slopes and to be far away from any trail or road. I took the biggest bull I've ever tagged with my bow and arrow in one such region - about 4-1/2 miles from the closest road. This big, deep canyon with a bottom in it didn’t look as though anything ever could live there. But after I got down in that canyon, I saw more than 100 elk.
My dad, Dale, and my little brother, Darren, were hunting with me. As we were walking in, we started calling and heard a bull behind us. We froze and waited to see what would happen. While we were still and quiet, the bull walked up about 10 yards behind me and started bugling for about 15 minutes. Sitting there listening to that bull bugle 10 yards behind me was the most nerve-racking experience I'd ever had since I'd started elk hunting. When I heard the bull turning around, I turned around and saw the bull getting a drink of water from the little stream that ran through the deep bottom. Just as I drew my bow back, I snapped a twig. The bull ran out from behind me and got in front of me to try and pick up my scent. He was so close I had to take the shot, and I shot right over his back.
A week later my dad, Darren and I went back to the same canyon where I’d missed the big bull. Dad took a small 5x5 raghorn satellite bull, because he wanted a meat bull. We decided to leave the meat bull and return to get him the next day. Dale and I put on clean camo and hunted to the spot where Dad’s bull was down. We looked for my big bull for about 2-1/2 hours. We were in the process of cutting up and loading our frame packs with Dad’s bull when we heard an elk bugle. We immediately stopped, went down the hill from where Dad had killed his bull and set-up to call in this other bull.
When I've got some help like having my dad and Darren with me, we have a technique that we call party calling. We all three call. Each of us uses several different cow calls and rake trees with limbs to give the impression that we’re a herd of elk moving through the trees on the side of the mountain. My dad and Darren were behind me. They did most of the calling, but I also called until the bull got close. Then, I shut up and let my dad and Darren call the bull. We hoped to get him to walk past me, so I could get a shot. Remember, I told you we were hunting in a deep, dark, nasty thick place in the canyon. This bull had big wide antlers. When I first saw him, his chin was almost touching the ground, so he could get through that thick cover. He was bugling as he came. When he was within bow range, I gave a soft cow call, he stopped to look at me, and I was already at full draw. Immediately, I released the arrow.
I did make a mistake. I’d ranged the area around where I’d set-up to shoot from, and I had ranged out to 30 yards, because that was as far as I could see. But when the bull came in, he was only 10 yards from me when I stopped him and took the shot. Later, when we found the bull, I saw that I had hit him high in the lungs. I think I put my 20-yard pin on the spot I wanted to hit, instead of my 10-yard pin. I should have been aiming a little lower. When the bull took the arrow, he jumped and started walking fast toward my dad and Darren. Finally, when he was 15 yards from Darren and my dad, the bull went down.
Now, we had two elk to carry 4-1/2 miles back to the truck. So, while I field dressed, skinned and quartered my elk, my dad and Darren started carrying his elk out. By the time they had returned for the next trip, I had skinned, caped, gutted and started cutting up the bull I had shot. We never use horses, because the places we hunt are usually too steep for the horses. We always plan to pack-out the elk we take. Only about 3/4-mile was straight uphill. The rest of the hike back to the truck was still on an incline, but we had benches that we could walk between the steep grades.
The bull that I took scored 340 Pope & Young (P&Y) points. We had had a great week of elk hunting. Darren had taken an elk at the first of the week, and I had helped him pack it out. Then, my dad took an elk the day before I took my big buck. So, we had had a great week of family elk hunting, and we had three bull elk to go in our freezers.
To learn more about hunting, check out John E. Phillips’ new eBook, “Bowhunting Deer: Mossy Oaks Pros Know Bucks and Bows.” You also can download a free Kindle app that enables you to read the book on your iPad, computer or SmartPhone.
For information on making jerky from your elk and other big game animals to provide a protein-rich snack, you can download a free book.
Tomorrow: To Take Big Bulls on Public Lands You Must Be Committed with Clifford Hockett