By the middle of September, we already had 2 bulls down. I was thinking my archery elk season was done and was looking forward to helping some friends and family fill their tags during rifle season. My brother, Elliot, changed that when he texted that Monday saying he could get out the next Sunday to try and get an elk with is bow.
We made plans for a local area I’ve had success at, and we dropped in Sunday morning. This area is a half mile walk down an old logging road and then drop about 700 vertical feet in the next half mile and wrap around a point to the boundary of private ranch. We hadn’t heard any bugles, but we stopped at the last high point before we’d have to drop another 500’ to set up and drop a layer of clothes.
I let out a location bugle as I dropped my pack. We immediately got an answer from below. We quickly finished delayering and re-shouldered our packs. We dropped down and worked our way towards the bull silently. We got to a point in the road where the elk were within 200 yards, and we had some good cover to bring a bull down the road for an easy shot. We set up and I let out a challenge bugle. It was answered by 4 bulls. The most vocal was about 100 yards away from where I was set up calling, but on the other side of some thick cover. We spent the next 2 hours trading bugles and raking, daring the other to walk down the road and make that fatal corner.
But tried and true, pressured elk won’t commit unless they see another elk, and that cover kept him on the other side. The next time he bugled, I could tell he was moving away towards the bedding area on the ridge above us that is private. We pushed around the corner and found a tree absolutely demolished 44 yards from where I should have set Elliot up as the shooter. The bull was winding down and the other three had also gone silent. We decided to wait 15 minutes and then go to the boundary and see if I couldn’t annoy him enough in his bed to come back out and play.
We start working our way down the road when Elliot spots a bull ahead of us, grazing just off the edge of the road. The wind is perfect, and we can move silently on the road, so we move in. Elliot is nocked and ready to rock and I have the range finder behind him. Things were looking good. At one point, the bull was broadside and at 50 yards. The tall grass on the edge of the road obscured the bull’s vitals enough that Elliot wasn’t confident in that shot. Which is a good call. If you aren’t comfortable, don’t take the shot. We move in closer and get to 23 yards. Elliot draws his bow, and the bull picks his head up. Something didn’t feel right to him, and he barks and whirls out away from us. I let loose a bugle. We are standing in the middle of an access road with no cover but the wind was still in our favor. The bull stops, broadside at 60 yards. I range him and give Elliot the distance. He settles his pin and the shot breaks. The bull whirls and I stop him again at 65. Elliot draws again to try and get a second shot off, but the bull starts walking away before he can.
We take off down the roadside hilling him trying to find an angle when he stops to get a shot off. The bull finally stops at about 40 yards and starts acting strange. He’s stumbling and hopping around. We watch as the bull side steps 4 times and tips over on his side with all 4 feet pointing straight out. Shock and disbelief hit our faces as this is Elliot’s second day archery elk hunting and we were both certain we just watched his bull tip over in front of us. We walk back up the road to gather some of the items we had scattered in our mad dash after the bull and make some phone calls to have some help start making their way to us to help pack out.
We wait about 5 minutes and go to find his arrow. We get to where the bull was standing at the shot. No hair or blood. We look at the second spot he stopped, no hair or blood. We follow his tracks and find the arrow buried about 8” deep, roughly 30 yards from where the bull was standing at the shot. It’s completely clean. We look up to where the bull had fallen over. No bull. In utter disbelief we find the spot where the bull tipped over. Under the layer of pine needles, an old barb wired fence had been exposed and the twisted wires mingled with his tracks. The bull tripped on the barbed wire. Had we kept watching for another 30 seconds, we would have had a 30-40 yard shot on the bull as he stood up, but we thought he was already expired. The things you experience while elk hunting can truly be once in a lifetime.
Ethan and his wife live in Missoula, Montana where he works as a construction manager and is co-owner of Red Patch Outdoors. He is passionate about big game hunting and brining new hunters into the sport. With the demands on his time, Ethan lives the weekend warrior lifestyle during season to provide meat for his family and friends.