Editor’s Note: Bill Custer of Clovis, California, is a member of the Mossy Oak and PSE ProStaffs and has bowhunted most of his life. He’s hunted elk in Oregon, New Mexico and Utah, but 90-percent of his hunting is in Colorado on public lands where he can buy a tag over the counter. The 2013-2014 season will be his 33rd hunting elk on public lands, and he’s taken 27 elk with his bow.
On this particular hunt, we hadn’t seen many elk. The locals had said to take a deer early in the season on this unit and take an elk late. This unit was only a 12-square-mile national forest where I was hunting. I saw lots of deer but not many elk. I knew the locals were right about taking a deer early in your hunt and an elk later. I was about 7 days into this hunt when I talked to the game warden who suggested I go to a particular reservoir and look for elk high on the ridge above the reservoir. I went in early in the afternoon and got to a pond I had found earlier in the week. I caught movement on the trail in front of me and spotted a nice 6X6 bull. I judged the bull to be a little bit more than 300 Pope & Young points. But I was looking for a very-big bull elk. This bull and I walked the same trail for about 15 minutes – him in front, and me behind. The elk never realized I was behind him, until I tried to get closer to him by taking two steps to his one. He looked back, saw me and spooked.
After the 300-point bull ran on, I continued on up the trail. I heard a cow elk that I called to, and I spotted a bull that would score 325- 335 points P & Y about 80-yards away. The bull looked at me and attempted to figure out what I was, but he couldn’t because I was wearing full Mossy Oak camouflage. The bull walked back in the brush, and then I called him out of the brush. He wouldn’t come further, although he looked for me (the cow). When he couldn’t see me, he moved back into the brush. So I decided to back-out and return the next morning, get in closer and try to call this bull. However, on the way back down the trail, I spotted a big bull behind a pine tree, just off the trail. I only could see bits and pieces of the bull, but I knew he was a big one. He was standing right beside a cattle fence, only about 50-yards from me. I circled around, trying to get the wind right, and when I finally could see the bull, I knew he was a monster that would score about 380 P & Y. The huge bull kept staring at me, but I was wearing Mossy Oak Break-Up, and he never could seem to decide what I was. Then he took-off at a gallop, but because he was so big, he didn’t jump the fence. He just seemed to step over it.
Once I arrived at camp, I told my two hunting buddies, Ray and Billy Green, that I had found some bulls and planned to return the next morning to take one of them. I went the next day, went all the way up the trail and never saw an elk. I had built a small ground blind next to a water hole earlier. I thought I’d go there and set up to wait on a bull. But before I reached the water hole, I spotted movement down by the water hole and thought it was the huge 380-class bull elk I’d seen the previous evening. This bull was tearing an aspen tree all to pieces with his horns. I got my Bushnell range finder and checked the distance I was from the bull. He was 59-yards from me. I couldn’t get any closer, since if I tried to get above him, he would see me. If I attempted to go below him, there were too-many trees and foliage for me to get a clean shot. I told myself, “You’ve been shooting accurately at 60 yards with your bow at camp. You can make this shot.”
I drew my PSE bow, released the arrow and center-punched the bull. I gave a couple of cow calls, once again to calm down the bull. He stopped running. I waited 30 minutes, walked to the small ground blind I had set-up and sat there for another 30-40 minutes. Then I looked for the blood trail. I only walked 20-yards from the blind when I saw my bull on the ground, dead but facing me. Apparently he had heard my cow calling, and because he didn’t realize he was hit, he was coming back to check me out before he died. The real heartbreak of this hunt was when I looked at the bull, I saw he wasn’t the big 380-point bull but instead was the 6X6 bull I had followed the afternoon before and could have taken at any time he scored just under 320 on Pope and Young. He had very-short brow tines, and that was why I had turned him down the previous afternoon. But the rest of his rack was heavy.
Two days later, Ray Green, my friend and one of my longtime hunting buddies, died in camp. We had 50 mph winds that night, and trees fell all around our camp. I got up early and started clearing limbs away from camp. Ray wasn’t healthy, but he still loved to go to elk camp, although he didn’t hunt anymore. Only 65-years old, Ray had had heart surgery the previous year. He wanted to go with Billy and me because he said, “I want to go on one more elk hunt, even if I don’t hunt.” Ray woke up and came out to help move the trees by driving his quad. I heard Billy holler, “Watch him, Bill, Ray’s about to pass out.” I looked over at Ray and saw him standing up on his quad, with his hands on his handlebars. I asked, “Ray, are you alright?” His head rolled back, and I grabbed him as we both went to the ground. Although we did CPR, Ray was dead when he hit the ground. Ray’s passing and the long shot I made on the 6X6 bull made this hunt the most-memorable elk hunt ever.