As I walk past the Euro mount of my Montana bull elk, the sweet smell of pine sap brings back pleasant memories of my 2017 public land hunt. The harvesting of this bull elk, a nice 7×7, marked two new experiences for me as a hunter. First, it was my first ever elk harvest, making this bull hard to top (although I am admittedly not overly concerned with “topping” it), and second, it was my first ever archery harvest. To combine two such firsts certainly made for an awe-inspiring experience in the wilds of Montana!
Going into the hunt, I wondered if “buck fever” – as it is commonly known – would strike at the moment of truth.
Thankfully, my hunting buddy, James Leach, called in a nice 6×6 bull to about 75 yards the night before, but there were just too many blowdowns for him to come any closer. It would have been a great rifle shot, but definitely not a great ethical archery shot. Still, having had that awesome (in the true sense of the word) encounter the night before helped calm my nerves when my 7×7 came in the next evening to 30 yards.
The day was September 11, 2017, and we hit the trail from camp at 4:30 a.m. Less than an hour into our hike, we had a bull bugling at us from less than 100 yards away. The three of us paused and listened, occasionally cow calling just to see what direction the bull was headed. Unfortunately, the sun was still well below the horizon, so the bull winded us long before shooting light. Still, in the calm of the early morning, this was a spectacular start to our hunting adventure. We bounced at least one more bull by early afternoon without getting a good look at him, but then we had two cows come in to a cow call and closed the distance to 40 yards. While this was a fun addition to the day, we were hunting in a branch-antlered bull district only, so they were perfectly safe.
After a brief nap and some food, we hit the ground again in pursuit of bulls.
We heard bugling back and forth down in a drainage that was shaped like an amphitheater. As we entered the amphitheater on one side, James let out a bugle. At least three, possibly four, different bulls responded. After setting up in hopes of ambushing a responding bull, we finally determined that they weren’t overly interested in coming down the mountain to get us. After that, James (more experienced at elk hunting than I am) opted to “rush” one of the bulls. Once we were within 100 yards of the bull I positioned myself between two trails coming down the mountain. James started bugling. Then came that thrilling sound – the bugling and the thumping of hooves! Faster than seemingly possible, my 7×7 bull cleared the brush 30 yards in front of me and stood broadside. One arrow, two lungs, and he ran only about 100 yards before piling up. What a thrill!
It was around midnight by the time we packed him out and returned to camp.
It was a thrill of a day, and fully exhausting. As a semi-amusing end to the day, I accidentally managed to shoot myself in the right hip with bear spray. This followed a discussion between me and my buddies earlier in the day about whether bear spray expires or not; just to note, it is still very potent after two years! At first, I thought I’d managed to stab myself with my hunting knife since I sprayed the same hip that I carry the knife on. Luckily it was only bear spray, but I have to admit it still made for a rather long, painful ride home that evening. Piece of advice from experience: hot water makes it sting worse!
This adventure ignited a passion for archery hunting within me. While I still consider myself to be a novice in the sport, I have enjoyed further success with my bow. In the 2018 season, I harvested a young cow elk. That was admittedly more out of mercy as the cow (really a yearling) had broken its neck and was suffering. However, I also harvested a nice whitetail doe and pronghorn buck that year as well. If you’ve never attempted to archery hunt pronghorn, you’re missing out on an awesome and extremely challenging experience! With luck and perseverance, perhaps the 2019 season will be equally rewarding. Happy hunting!