Editor’s Note: Mossy Oak Pro Lisa Thompson of Littleton, Colorado, who’s married to her hunter husband Keith and has twin daughters, is one of the most-knowledgeable and physical elk hunters you'll ever meet. She’s also a mom, a business woman, a basketball player and an expert woodswoman. A member of Cabela’s and Nock On, that produces lighted nocks for arrows, pro staffs, Thompson’s successful at taking big bulls on public lands. If you'll apply the tips and tactics she suggests this week, you’ll have a much-greater chance of filling your elk tag on public lands this fall instead of returning home with an elk tag in your pocket.
I hunt with a bow, a muzzleloader and a modern rifle. I use whatever sporting arm is required to take a bull. One time I was hunting with Donnelle Johnson, my hunting partner and co-owner of HuntData (http://www.huntdata.com/) with me. I had a muzzleloader elk tag for Colorado, and I was hunting in Unit 76, a special unit that I’d waited 8 years to draw. Donnelle was hunting the first part of my hunt with me. My husband, Keith, was planning to do the second part of the hunt with me.
The first two days Donnelle and I spotted several nice bulls, but we couldn’t get in close enough for me to take a shot. We had hunted so hard days one and two that we decided to sleep in on day three and only hunt during the afternoon. Our plan was to go up a really-steep chute to get on top of a mountain and then call both sides of the mountain as we hunted.
We left camp at 10:00 am, climbed up the chute and arrived at the top of the mountain at 1:00 pm. We thought the elk already would be bedded down, and we’d have plenty of time to hunt. When we finally reached the top of the mountain, we both did some cow calling. We didn’t expect to hear a bull bugle, because they should have all been bedded down. Immediately though we had three different bulls bugle - something elk weren’t supposed to do that in the middle of the day. I looked at Donnelle and said, “Oh my gosh, game on!” All three bulls were bugling aggressively. Initially, we thought we could call the bulls into the spot where we were hunting. We each did another what we called a hyper-hot cow call. They all three bugled again, but none of them had moved from where we’d heard them bugle the first time. So, we decided to go after those bulls. We only had gone 150 yards before I looked to my left and saw a spike bull with a cow. Then, we realized that we had walked right into the middle of a herd of elk. We were hunting in dark timber. In a very short time, we called in four satellite bulls. Although every one of the satellite bulls was in bow range, we never saw the herd bull. The herd bull kept bugling and bugling and bugling.
Now I've been in front of a herd of elk and been off to the side of a herd of elk before, and I've been behind a herd of elk too. But this was the first time in my life I’d ever been right in the middle of a herd of elk. Every now and then the wind would shift and spook a few of the elk. Occasionally, one or two elk would see us and spook. However, there was so much elk activity all around us that the spooked elk didn’t really spook the entire herd.
I had hunted this area before. So, as the elk began to move, Donnelle and I moved with them. I could tell by the direction the herd was traveling that they were going toward a big bowl where there was a small park. We reached the park ahead of the herd, and a few cows came out into the park. The herd bull had been screaming ever since we first had made contact with him. I know he bugled more than 50 times. As I watched, between 12 and 15 cows came out into the park. Donnelle stayed about 80 yards behind me. When I got to the edge of the park, she would give a hyper-hot elk cow call. I watched several satellite bulls - two 5 pointers, a 4 point and another small bull - come to the edge of the meadow and watch the cows. I was so excited. I started praying, “Please, God, let that herd bull come into the park to gather up his cows like he should.” Before I’d finished my prayer, I saw and heard the herd bull coming out of the dark forest, screaming a bugle.
I was hunting with my Thompson/Center .50 caliber blackpowder rifle and had a bipod on the front of the rifle. I estimated that the bull was about 100-yards away. I pushed my safety off, aimed and squeezed the trigger. When the bullet hit the elk, he took one step and went down. As I gathered my composure, I began to pace off the distance from where I had taken the shot to the spot where the bull expired. When I shot, this nice 6x6 bull was actually 139 yards from me, but the bullet still hit right in the kill zone. The cows left the park, and went up and over the top of the mountain.
This hunt was one of the few textbook type hunts that I'd ever been fortunate enough to be on, since the cows came out in the meadow like they should. The satellite bulls stayed on the edge of the meadow, and then, the herd bull finally appeared to gather up his harem. The bull scored about 320 Boone & Crockett points. I was shooting a 395-grain bullet, with 100 grains of loose powder pushing the bullet and took the bull with open sights. .Colorado doesn’t permit the use of riflescopes for blackpowder hunters.
To get John and Denise Phillips’ free cookbook, “Miz Denise’s Outdoor Cooking: More than 35 Recipes for Elk and Mule Deer,” go to http://johninthewild.com/free-books. You also can learn about John’s other available elk books at http://johninthewild.com/books.