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Bill Custer Passes Up an Elk and Later Takes Him


Editor’s Note: Bill Custer of Clovis, California, is a member of the Mossy Oak and PSE Pro Staffs 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.

This elk hunt took place in 2011 when I was wearing Mossy Oak Obsession, even though I was hunting in a tree stand. I liked the way the Obsession blended-in with the tree where I was hunting. I’d set-up a trail camera on one of my favorite wallows for hunting elk, a practice I’d started 6-years ago. I usually check my trail camera pictures about every 2-3 days during elk season. I camouflage my trail cameras and my tree stands carefully with branches and limbs to make them difficult to see when I set them up. I attach my trail camera with a cable. I put brackets with pop rivets on the backs of my cameras and then run a cable through those brackets. The cables are black, and I hide them with sticks and brush. One day I was slipping into a region to take down my tree stand when I found a guy sitting 5-feet from my tree stand. We started talking, and I mentioned I had a tree stand and a trail camera right there. The other hunter said he never knew the camera or the tree stand were there. I really believe that trail cameras can be very effective for successful elk hunting. 

A 6X5 bull elk had come in to that wallow the night before this hunt. I got pictures of him with my trail camera. I’d learned that most of the elk in this section of land came to wallows between 2:00 pm and 9:00 pm. So, I didn’t go to a tree stand over a wallow in the mornings to hunt. I arrived at my tree stand about 3:00 pm. On this particular hunt when I got to my tree stand, I became fidgety. I’m not a tree stand hunter. I’m a spot-and-stalk hunter primarily. But since I’d seen this big bull at the wallow, I knew that the tree stand would provide the best opportunity to try and take this bull. I couldn’t have been in my stand more than 45 minutes, before I started looking around, trying to decide whether or not I should move my tree stand. I only was 15-yards from the wallow and thought about moving my tree stand back further away. 

Custer4_llBy 6:15 pm, I was really, really bored. I had decided that I would take my pull-up rope and throw it over some dead limbs in the tree where I was sitting to break those limbs off to create a better shooting lane. I’d already decided to take this tree stand down and move it further back. I stood up and adjusted my safety harness to turn and throw the rope. Then I turned to my right and was just about to throw the rope over the limbs to break them off when I caught movement behind me. I immediately froze and spotted a bull elk coming toward me, about 45-yards away in very-thick cover. When I could see his rack, I determined he was a small 6X6 – but not the bull I had planned to take. Once the bull stepped into an opening at 45 yards, I decided to pass him up. I’m not really comfortable taking a shot with my PSE bow at 45 yards. The 6X5 bull I was hoping to hunt would have scored well over 300 points on Pope & Young. 

As I watched the 6X6, he came out on the same trail where I had come in, and I felt certain he would pick up my scent and bolt. However, he didn’t. He walked right up under my tree stand. I only was up about 24-feet-high in the tree stand, and I was looking straight down on him from on-high. He was concentrating on the wallow, but he wasn’t going to it. I started thinking, “If I go ahead and take this bull, then I can help my buddies in camp get their bulls.” I decided that if I could get a shot, I would take him. At last the bull turned around and walked back the way he had come and then stopped. I couldn’t get the strap on my safety harness in the right position to allow me to draw my bow. I quietly stood up and began to draw the bow anyway, but couldn’t get the bowstring and my peep sight to my eye. I reverted back to shooting instinctively and aimed over the elk’s left hip to drive my broadhead to the elk’s right shoulder. Then the arrow would travel forward and get into his vital area. The elk was only a few feet away from the tree when I took the almost-straight-down shot. 

Any time I’m elk hunting, I have a diaphragm elk call in my mouth. As soon my arrow hits an elk, I immediately give a cow call to settle the animal down. This elk ran about 25 yards, stopped, looked back and fell over. This elk would have scored about 250 on P&Y, points, which of course is a really-nice bull anyone would choose. But knowing that the bigger bull might come in, I had passed on this smaller bull earlier, until he got right up under my stand. That’s when I decided, “This is a nice bull. I want him, and I’m going to take him.”

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