By Mark Kayser
It’s cliché, but words can’t describe the feeling when you pour your entire existence into a single hunt, for a single shot, in a low-percentage/general unit and it comes together when a herd bull that you’ve been chasing all week walks up to you at 10 yards.
I was a week into my DIY, public-land elk hunt with a solo mindset when once again I had to make a decision. Would the herd go up the mountain left or right? Every morning I scrambled up a 1,000-foot, near-vertical, fallen-timber ascent in the dark with my GPS and Surefire guiding the way to watch a basin that rarely was without elk. It’s where I shot my 2016 bull and hope to shoot more there in the future.
Just before daybreak, the bull gave me his usual bugle serenade before clamming up the rest of the day. I picked the route to the right since 90 percent of the time they went that way. A half hour later after I had already made it around the top of the basin he squealed. Dang! (I actually had more creative curses than that.) They went left! I took off back the way I came in a rush and of course, dislodged a rock and slammed my thigh bone into another pointy rock during the landing. Fortunately, I didn’t break anything, and I hobbled on to the last clue with some blood spots showing through my Mossy Oak Mountain Country.
Finally, above where I thought the bugle came from, I tiptoed down into the dark timber and holy cow! Fifty yards in front of me was a 6-point raking his antlers. I’ve always dreamed of stalking a raking bull and went into action. Every time he raked on the pine I took a step or two. Bulls always close their eyes when they rake and I had the thermal in my face by then. In minutes, I was within 25 yards of the bull, but I had to sidestep into an opening to make the shot. With an arrow nocked, I made the move and when he was done he lifted his head. Apparently, the thin pines didn’t hide my somewhat bulkier form as he freaked out and crashed off toward the herd. Oh well, my elk hunting dream would have to wait. Realizing he hadn’t smelled me I followed along and five minutes later I heard the sounds of antlers clashing behind a small hill. I nocked an arrow again and tiptoed forward when the sounds of breaking branches caused me to pause.
A moment later the giant swaying head of the herd bull appeared as he rolled his head side to side in the graceful act of maneuvering through the maze of pines on a path right past me. I had watched this bull from afar (see image to the right) throughout the week as he played out the same head-rolling maneuvers and instantly recognized him as the “big guy!” At this point, only 10 yards separated us and while rolling his head my way the whites of his eyes screamed: “holy crap there’s a weird shape right beside me!” He bolted! Going on autopilot is one good characteristic I can boast about and I drew my bow and mewed with my mouth simultaneously as he charged straight away. Luckily, he had taken a little blue pill that morning and skidded to a halt broadside at approximately 27 yards. Before the pine needles settled, my arrow was off and zipped right through both lungs! As he took off into the thick pines I grabbed my binos, sunk to my knees to look under the boughs and before I could focus the binos, he wobbled and tipped over!
Big boys don’t cry, but sitting on my knees and looking down the hill at antler tips sticking out of the brush brought on a rush of emotions. I later told my kids it wasn’t as cool as watching them come into the world or being married to a great wife, but it makes the runner-up list.