“The bull’s just ahead, slightly downhill,” whispered Toby Shaw, my hunting buddy on this third day of a six-day elk hunt in Wyoming’s Bridger-Teton National Forest.
Our foursome had spent the first three hours of daylight climbing to timberline and had located a bull in a deep gorge. The bull bugled regularly so we split up and worked our way toward it, using stealth and silence instead of calling, often a gamble on public land. With a little luck, the rutting beast would work our way.
In fact, the bull was in-coming and my down-slope friends frantically hand signaled: “I see it, and it’s coming our way.” My crossbow was already steadied on shooting sticks, and I’d ranged several snags and rocks. In two previous years, I’d taken good bulls with compound bows, and my heart pounded with the prospect of a high-mountain hat-trick. Better yet, with the crossbow, I didn’t have to worry about the bull catching me moving to full draw.
Expecting to see the bull at any second, I searched intently for the slightest movement, trying to remain calm. Seconds turned to minutes, yet no target emerged. Shaw signaled downhill, but they saw nothing. Five minutes led to 10, then to 15 when suddenly the bull bugled on the far side of the canyon. The wind was right, we were well hidden, yet Lady Luck (maybe a hot cow) turned the bull’s course and kept it from harm’s way.
CHANGE OF VENUE
Ken Byers and Toby Shaw operated an Idaho wilderness elk camp for their friends and business associates. But they had seen minimal success in recent years, and elk seemed to bugle less each year. Perhaps a result of the increasing wolf population.
Daunted, but determined, Byers and Shaw moved their camp to Wyoming and encouraged “the gang” to apply for tags. Most drew, with the exception of Byers and Shaw, in an ironic twist of fate.
We set up camp along one of the many forest service roads and then went about exploring the huge expanse of public land south of Jackson Hole. Back in Idaho, elk were frequently found in the deepest, steepest canyons. But Wyoming elk were in remote regions near timberline.
This theory proved golden the third day of the hunt when Andrew McKean of Outdoor Life magazine took a respectable 4×4 bull by bivouacking overnight, high on the mountain. Elk bugled voraciously before daylight, and McKean sneaked into position just as the eastern sky paled. Stalking a bull in sparse terrain, he cow-called and the bull turned and came to 40 yards.
One arrow was plenty.
Kudos to McKean for his hunting stamina as he packed the bull off the mountain over the next day and a half. It was a three-hour climb every trip.
My partner on the trip was Barb Terry, a retired U.S. Army captain who now works for TenPoint crossbows. Whereas Byers and the boys hiked the mountain tops, Terry and I explored the medium altitudes looking for pockets of elk activity. Our first day was magical as we drove to 8,000 feet, parked our rig and hiked a long gradual ridge. Since every inch of country was new to us, we moved slowly, bugled occasionally, and glassed often. We returned the next morning well before daylight. We hoped to catch elk in distant meadows at dawn, yet saw none.
As noon approached, we headed back to the rig for new territory and drove past a sheepherder near the roadway.
“Let’s ask him if he’s seen any elk,” said Terry. “Maybe what we need is more intel.”
The friendly rancher said he hadn’t seen many elk lately. “Yet there was a bull bugling up a storm right behind our camp this morning.” He gave us precise directions.