Why Using a Crossbow is Perfect for Hunting Bull Elk
July 08, 2015
As a dedicated member of the archery and hunting fraternity — with poor archery skills — I thought the crossbow might provide the advantage I needed for an upcoming elk. I enjoy archery-elk adventures more than any other hunting I have ever participated in. Hunting elk with the bow ensures close encounters. The difficulty is extreme and the reward unbelievable. At the end of a successful elk hunt I may not have an elk on the ground, but with archery there is still a level of success I attribute to the great experiences of the stick and string.
I have the utmost confidence when I engage targets with my rifle, as I had attained a level of proficiency before my retirement from the Army in 2007 that allows me to be calm when confronted with a large critter. When it comes to archery I don't always portray the same confidence, and am often left shaking after my close encounters with big game.
So when I had the chance to try a crossbow during a Wyoming archery elk hunt I jumped at the chance. When I first received the crossbow, a TenPoint, I was not overly impressed, as it was quite unwieldy compared to a vertical bow. It would be a challenge to carry it while trudging up and down hills in Wyoming as well as having to ride a horse for a minimum of three hours a day.
But I gave it a shot. I set up a target and stepped back until my rangefinder read 30 yards. After attaining a quick zero, I moved back to shoot different targets with each arrow to keep from wrecking my nocks. This bad boy was incredible, and quickly changed my mind about crossbows.
I quickly figured out the TenPoint scope, and the speed setting vs. power setting ring. TenPoint calls it a variable speed and arrow drop compensation setting. What that really means is the reticle of the TenPoint scope is on the second or rear focal plane: the reticle does not correspond to arrow drop as you dial up or down.
To ensure the dots, which indicate drop at various distances, stay true to point of impact, you must set the speed to match your arrow's flight.
You can use a chronograph, or just test distances by zeroing at 30, for example, and then turning the ring until it matches the point of impact of the 40-yard shot.
I zeroed the center crosshair at 30 yards and had hold dots aligned at 40, 50, and 60 yards.
Once I was zeroed using a bipod for support I switched over to broadheads. My zero did change at 30 yards, but once I dialed in for the 30 yard crosshair the corresponding hold points were once again zeroed.
I was off to Wyoming to good friend Robb Wiley's of Non-Typical Outfitters camp. I did stop at Cabela's and picked up a crossbow case to make pack animal use a little easier.
When I arrived in camp I checked my zero with broadheads and quickly saddled a horse to do some evening glassing. I was excited one of Robb's guides, named Jeff Walters, a fella I dubbed "Dummy Cord," had already taken pictures of some monster elk through his spotting scope, so we were headed out to look for "Elvis" and "Romeo," which was the larger of the two bulls. Dummy Cord got his name for his ability to lose gear, and several hours of riding to retrace his steps. Dummy Cord is a term we use in the Army for cords connected to your gear to keep from losing things.
After riding over to the top of a rock slide, we set up in the howling wind to see if we could find any bulls, and right out of the chute there they were. Plenty of cows and 10 bulls and lo and behold, running from cow to cow was Romeo a big 6x6. Darkness came too quickly so we rode silently back to camp, all of us plotting the destruction of Romeo the next day.
We were up at 0330 in order to get to Romeo's hangout by daylight. The freezing two-hour ride was torture, but the alternative walk would have been even more difficult, so I just shut up and let my horse Willie do all the work.
Day one was uneventful, other than having a few bulls bugling around us and actually calling in a small bull. It seems they weren't too responsive to the bugle. I ended up using my Kuiu Icon Pack with the crossbow cocked and attached muzzle down. This seemed to work pretty well but didn't allow for any quick encounters. When I didn't have the crossbow attached to the pack I used a Viking Tactics Backpack sling, which has a split shoulder strap that can be configured to allow for backpack-type carry.
With sore feet and hunger pains we headed back to get our horses and ride to camp. After arriving at 2330, that is, 11:30 p.m. for civilian types, we took care of the stock, ate some chili and crashed for the short night sleep.
Day two brought the same schedule, up early, saddle horses, drink coffee, cold ride, tie up, climb a steep rockslide, and then enjoy the scene as the sun slowly climbed over the mountains.
I enjoy those sunrises almost more than any part of the hunt, the only chart-topper would be the pursuit of the elusive wapiti, which happened early on day two.
As Dummy Cord and I headed up the ridgeline, we heard a bull hammering at us from below. Unfortunately, the morning wind was switching directions quickly and at the most inopportune time, resulting in us bumping several bulls. Once they blew out of the area we knew our morning hunt was finished.
We continued to move to the creek below and listened for nearby action. None came, so we found a good place to eat lunch and take a midday nap. We both quickly fell asleep, only moving when the sun hit our napping spots. Dummy Cord and I discussed our evening hunting plan and both knew it would involve having to climb all the way back to the ridgeline we had descended that morning.
As I finished my coffee, a bull bugled extremely close to our location. I jammed my gear in my pack and we headed straight up the hill, listening as the bull bugled. Once we felt we were in close proximity, about 100 yards, Dummy Cord hit the cow call as I nocked an arrow.
It didn't take any time to hear the bull head our way. Before I knew it I was watching Romeo work towards us. Dummy Cord had moved back as the bull came, hoping to entice him in close proximity to my position.
It worked. Romeo stopped broadside at 61 yards, and with the crossbow I was very confident. But two huge trees covered his vitals. There was no moving around to get the shot, he had to step out. My partner kept calling, but the bull wouldn't move. Dummy Cord tried him with a bugle and that was it, Romeo was a lover not a fighter, and he turned quickly and walked away. I cow-called to try to stop him, but he had his mind made up.
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On day five we made up our mind to shoot a decent bull if one came in. We called in seven bulls on what would be the last day of hunting with the crossbow. Dummy Cord has a way of being extremely sexy when he starts to call, and the bulls love it.
One hour before sunset he lured a 5x5 across a deep drainage to within 20 yards of our hiding place.
I was really excited to see the bull stop broadside at close distance. I didn't even have time to use my shooting sticks. But I lowered the center crosshair on the vitals and squeezed the trigger.
The sound of the crossbow made the bull jump, but Dummy Cord started to call and the bull stopped within 10 yards of where he had been hit. He started to rock back and forth, as he stumbled and fell down the steep hill. Once he stopped rolling the celebration began.
Dummy Cord had done a great job and helped me to drop a fine bull. I put that bull near the top of my trophy list due to the manner in which the hunt unfolded.
Several hours later, and more than our allotted amount of cussing, we were back on the main trail to camp. It had been an incredible experience and I knew I would be back again with crossbow in hand. Being able to harvest a ten point, with the TenPoint had been a quest I won't soon forget.