September – the first things that come to my mind are the majestic sounds of bugling bulls deep in the canyons, morning fog rising above the pines, the aroma of rutting bull elk, antlers clashing together, and the numerous mountain views to enjoy. Elk is without a doubt my favorite animal on this great earth to chase, which is why September is something I look forward to each and every year.
I grew up in Michigan where whitetail is the prestigious trophy. To be successful, you need to be an expert at hunter dodging. With well over 600,000 hunters in my home state, I’ve still managed to have great success in the whitetail world. However, my dream hunt has consistently been elk. I quickly learned how physically demanding archery elk hunting is over the flatland whitetails in Michigan. My first archery elk hunt was in 2009 as a graduation gift from high school. I never connected with a bull, but I was hooked on archery elk hunting from that moment forward. Since then, I’ve pursued elk in Montana, New Mexico, Colorado, Idaho, and Oregon. Numerous trips and thousands of dollars and still no elk in my freezer. I began to get discouraged. Why couldn’t I put one of these animals on the ground? It’s like I was cursed!
Over the years, I continued to make new contacts and discovered the benefits of being a member of Huntin’ Fool. Isaiah and I became close friends after hunting together in 2012. He mentioned becoming a member of Huntin’ Fool and all the benefits they have to offer, including Hunt Advisors with years of experience on draw odds and outfitter recommendations. I was all in after years of failure. In 2016, I booked a hunt with Huntin’ Fool’s recommendation of a private ranch in Idaho. Turns out, this was one of the best hunts I’d experienced for the amount of elk I saw. After seven years and hundreds of miles of hiking, blood, sweat, and tears, I was able to connect on my first archery bull in 2016 at this ranch. Walking up to that bull was something I’ll never forget. I lost composure and even shed a few tears over the hardships to put my hands on those antlers. From that day forward, my Huntin’ Fool membership would never expire.
As the 2019 season was closing in, I hadn’t chased elk since 2017, so I was itching to hear some bugling bulls. I received a phone call from my great friend, Isaiah at Huntin’ Fool, about an elk hunting opportunity on a private ranch in Montana. Of course I said sign me up. The results were in, and I was a successful draw applicant for the 900-20 tag. My dad, who travels and hunts with me on all these trips, started to load up the RV. We started the 1,600-mile journey across the country to begin setting up our new home for the week. After a couple days of driving, we arrived at the lease in Eastern Montana, a private ranch consisting of over 10,000 acres of prime elk habitat. Once we arrived, my dad and I checked out the cozy cabin, unhooked the truck from the RV, and elk camp was officially on its way. I checked the sights on the PSE Carbon Stealth and waited for Isaiah and Casey’s arrival to begin hunting.
With darkness only a few hours away after setting up camp, we decided to go out for a quick afternoon hunt. We were informed by the owner about a large herd of elk consisting of adequate 6x6 bulls amongst the herd. This information lifted our spirits even more to try our luck. Casey and I grabbed our bows, hopped in the truck, and rode about a mile into the beginning of the ranch. Isaiah insisted I rip a bugle from the truck to see if these bulls went far judging by the information the landowner gave us earlier. Surprisingly enough, a deep, aggressive bugle responded back instantly. I was in shock. Ten years of hunting these animals and we had bulls screaming less than a mile from camp. We began to bust down the draw and started to close the distance on this bull, occasionally letting out a few cow calls. The bull was spotted 75-100 yards away, which appeared to be a big frame 6x6. After further examination, he was a big 6 on one side and a club on the other. I elected to pass on him. In the meantime, multiple bugles were filling our ears.
We continued to make our way, trying to put ourselves in position to set up on these bulls. Casey was full-on Rambo mode walking around with an arrow nocked, ready to roll. The bulls were going nuts, continuing to scream. We set up and began cow calling. Casey was down low, and I took the high ridge. Immediately after I ranged a few trees to get some yardages in my mind, I looked right at a cow staring me down at 25 yards. Remaining completely still, the bull made his way quietly to 35 yards and stopped dead nuts behind a ponderosa pine. He was a beautiful 6x6, but, of course, there was no shot opportunity. The wind switched, and the elk slowly trotted up the draw. Excited and full of adrenaline, we made our way up the draw into an open meadow where a continuing bugle fest was occurring.
Sitting next to a small ponderosa, we caught movement of a massive 6x6 approximately 250 yards up the meadow working his cows. In the meantime, a smaller satellite 250" 6x5 ran directly into our cow calls broadside at 55 yards. I elected to pass being only an hour and a half into a weeklong hunt and already seeing multiple bulls over 300". We held this position for another hour, admiring this big 6-point bull bugling and gathering his cows. The bull slowly reached the top of the hill and jumped the barbed wire fence, skylining his impressive antlers. To his left, a new 7x7 bull we had yet to see made his way towards the massive 6-point. They crossed paths multiple times, staring at each other. They squared off, tilted down their heads, and charged! A loud blast of bone echoed amongst us. I was in shock to witness two 300"+ bulls fighting less than 200 yards away.
Casey said, “Wow, they’re not paying attention right now.”
This lit a lightbulb in mine and Isaiah’s minds to go after them. With less than 10 minutes of shooting light, we dashed up the meadow, closing the distance to 60 yards. We sprinted up to the barbed wire fence in the absolute wide open. The fence was a cattle break on the heart of the ranch, so there was no need to worry if there was an adjacent owner. Standing there fumbling to nock an arrow, Isaiah yelled, “40 yards!” The bulls were intensely fighting with dirt flying and antlers clashing. They had no idea we were there. I came to full draw and tried to settle my pin on the bull on the left. The movement was greatly impacting my ability to aim. Suddenly, the bull on the left was pushed back. I regained my sight picture and heard, “35, 25, 20 yards. Shoot, Kyle!” The arrow was in flight, but I was instantly second guessing my shot. The second bull stood still at about 50 yards. Casey let his arrow fly only to find out it was a clean miss.
After regaining composure, we came to the conclusion I hit my bull the way he stepped back and took off over the hill. Isaiah was certain he saw the bull go down. I was a complete mess praying I made an ethical shot. We decided to let the bull lay overnight with some uncertainty and start the search in daylight. My best friend, Hunter, and his wife, Shelby, who live in Montana visited our elk camp that night and were super shocked to hear the news of a potential bull on the ground three hours into my hunt. That night, I may have slept for an hour contemplating the situation.
Morning came and the search was on. Very little blood was found, and then I heard Isaiah yelling, “Hey!” and excitedly waving his arms. There lay my second archery bull approximately 200 yards from point of impact. We thought he was a 6x6 but ended up being a 7x6 with a kicker on his brow tine for an added bonus, grossing 313". This was my biggest bull with a bow and my goal of a 300"+ bull.
I can’t express my gratefulness enough towards Huntin’ Fool and all my friends who have helped me along this journey. A trophy in hand is always the goal, but most importantly, it’s being with my dad, great friends, Mother Nature, and all the new memories that overwhelms you. Elk hunting is something every hunter needs to experience.