ProStaffer Bill Custer Loves to Hunt Elk and Be Invisible to Them
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.
The best way to find the most-productive places to hunt elk is to go to the worldwide web and start your research there. For instance in Colorado where I primarily hunt, the Colorado state site gives the statistics for elk harvest and hunter success for each of the zones in the state, how many preference points you must have to get drawn and whether or not you can buy tags over the counter for that zone. Hunter success may be as low as 8% or as high as 60% for these units. I buy tags over the counter. I can walk in Walmart and purchase an elk tag. I know I can hunt every year in the same spot, if I choose a unit where I can buy an elk tag over the counter, as long as Colorado doesn’t make that unit a draw unit. One of the problems with buying a tag for an over-a-counter unit is that you don’t know if you’ll have 1,000 hunters in that unit or 4,000. In the area, I hunt the hunter success is about 6-8%. I’m guessing because most of the units’ bowhunting success is only 6-8%. Because I bowhunt only, I assume that’s about the success ratio in the unit I hunt.
On the first elk hunt I ever went on, I was wearing Mossy Oak Bottomland top and bottoms but no gloves or headnet. The guys I was hunting with were also rookie elk hunters. The advice we had received was to take the first legal elk we saw, since the chances of getting any elk with our bows would be extremely slim. Back then the GPS hadn’t been invented, and all I had to navigate with was a compass. So, I decided to get on top of a high ridge and start walking the top of the ridge to look for elk. I saw some movement out in front of me, and finally I could tell that there were five elk in this little group. These elk were the first live ones I’d ever seen in my life. I didn’t know what to do, so I just stood really still. Those elk walked right past me at 13 yards, and that’s when I knew I was invisible in my Mossy Oak Bottomland pattern. I had nothing to hide behind or lean against and no back cover.
I had met Pete Shepley, the founder of PSE Archery, 2-years before this hunt. So, I had bought a PSE bow. Back then, I didn’t know how to call an elk. I was just hunting them. People used their throats and vacuum cleaner hoses to try to bugle elk. I didn’t know how to do that. I had tried to call with my throat, but I couldn’t do it very well. Since the elk were already coming to me, I decided to keep my mouth shut and stand still. When the elk weren’t looking my way, I knelt down on one knee. The herd contained one spike, a really-big cow elk and some smaller cows. As I studied the herd, I said to myself, “That big cow is twice as big as the spike. So, I’m going to try and take the cow, since my permit allows me to take any elk – bulls or cows.”
I waited until the elk had walked past me to draw my bow. Once the cow elk turned, quartering-away from me, I aimed for the front part of the elk’s ribs and visualized my arrow passing through the elk and hitting her offside shoulder. Back then I was shooting instinctively. I knew if I shot true, my arrow would go right through her vitals. I was shooting a Rocky broadhead that was really popular in those years. When I released the arrow, I saw it hit where I had aimed. The feathers and the nock were still outside the animal. The elk took off running and sounded like a herd of horses the noise was so loud. I was in total shock – first of all that I’d seen an elk, next that I’d been presented with a shot to take an elk, and then I actually had arrowed an elk. I was so shook-up that I sat down and continued to remember what just had happened. Then after about 20 minutes, I got up and went to see if I could find my elk. The entire time I was walking toward the spot where I’d shot the elk, I kept saying to myself, “This is the first time I’ve ever hunted elk, the first time I’ve ever seen an elk in the wild, I got a shot with my bow, and I think I harvested that elk.” I kept telling myself, “Don’t mess this hunt up. Give the elk plenty of time to pile-up. Walk quietly so you don’t spook it. Wait a minute. Don’t go looking for the elk right now. Return to camp, and get your buddies. Then come back, and look for the elk, so you’ll have some help field-dressing it and carrying the meat out.”
I went back to camp, gathered-up my buddies and then the group came back to the spot where I had arrowed the elk. We had a really-good blood trail and discovered the cow elk about 50-yards from where I’d shot her. We field-dressed her and packed her out. To this day, I’m still amazed that on my first-ever elk hunt, I was able to take an elk with my bow and arrow on the first day of the hunt. I guess that one successful hunt is what got me so fired-up to spend the rest of my life hunting elk with my bow and wearing Mossy Oak camo.