It was a screwy year last year. My usual reservation archery elk hunt was cancelled, and I didn’t draw any tags. I did find an archery hunt for Roosevelt elk in Oregon, so I jumped on the chance at a mature Roosevelt bull. I would be hunting on several thousand acres of private land and adjoining timber company land only 20 miles inland from the ocean. As I started my trip, there were several big fires flaring up in western Oregon and the routes through the Cascade Mountains were closing down quickly. It was going to be a challenge just to travel through the state. Only one highway remained passable, but when I got there, it had closed for an accident, so I had to spend the night south of Bend. I got through the next morning and arrived at my destination that afternoon.
When I rolled into my outfitter’s base, the smoke was thick as fog and remained for the next four days, making glassing impossible. I joked with Ron, my guide, that we could see as far as I could shoot, so the hunt was on. Opening morning, we learned that the timber company land access was shut down for fire danger. The odds were certainly getting stacked against us to fill my tag in these conditions. I had already decided I would only take a mature bull on this hunt. We were into elk every day and had several close encounters but no shot opportunities on herd bulls. Things picked up once the smoke cleared and we had visibility, but there was still no chance for a shot.
Seven days hunting these elk and I just could not connect. I stayed on an extra day hoping for a miracle. The morning of day eight was rainy with scattered fog. Late on this morning, we drove right under a herd along the road. We continued driving around the bend until we were out of sight. A hasty setup followed as I climbed onto the ridge to get above the elk and Ron stayed low. As I topped over the ridge, I could see part of the herd directly below. We were in a recent clear-cut with new trees 10-15 feet high. Ron gave a couple calls and that got the elk moving single file below me to escape. The 6-point herd bull came last. He stopped briefly to see where everybody was going, and his head was behind a tree, leaving his body fully exposed broadside. It was as if fate had intervened to present this perfect opportunity. I knew this would not last but a second, so I made a quick decision to draw and shoot. I guessed him to be at 50 yards.
I saw immediately that the shot went high. I had not compensated for the downhill angle, and he was a couple yards closer than I thought. I had the sick feeling that this was probably an eventual lethal hit but it could take some time. If he escaped out of this clear-cut, it would be almost impossible to catch up to him. I held out some hope that I had clipped the top of the far lung.
Before continuing, I should mention that during the summer I practiced at my backyard range by shooting a few arrows once or twice a day at 80 yards and up to 100. I have found that shooting just a few good arrows at a time prevents developing any bad habits and my confidence at closer distances improves. My range and bow sight both limited me to 100 yards.
At the shot, the bull and the herd took off through the clear-cut, heading for a saddle where they would cross over the ridge. As they left, I was in hot pursuit hoping to put another arrow into him and stop his escape. He stopped in the saddle. I ranged him at 87 yards, drew, and released, but at that instant, he took off again and my arrow impacted a few inches behind his butt. We all took off again, and he stopped once more. Now he was at 94 yards. I adjusted and shot, but in the misty rain, my lighted nock looked like it went high. Again, we moved off until he stopped at 106 yards. Being desperate to put more hurt on this bull, I decided to hold over his back by a couple feet with my sight on 100. At this distance, the arc of the arrow flight seemed like an artillery round as it flew through the mist toward the bull. It looked like this time I had hit low on the chest. They took off again and quickly went out of sight around the hill. I was left with only one arrow and a sinking feeling this had all ended badly. I decided to press on up the main ridge to see which way they left the clear-cut into the deep timber. On my way, I saw the herd climb up the sidehill but no bull. I could only hope he had given up his escape. Sure enough, once on top, I saw him down below and he was down but not out yet. I could tell from his labored breathing that his lungs were failing.
Ron caught up to me, and we knew we had this bull for sure, so he left to get help for packing. When the crew got back, I went down to dispatch this bull who by then was almost done. As I stood a few feet uphill of this bull, I remembered the news report of an Oregon archery hunter who was killed by a wounded Roosevelt bull several days before. We went about quartering and boning and saw that my 94-yard shot had impacted in the backbone under his backstrap. The 106-yard shot had hit low in the chest just back from the heart. I can only speculate that these follow-up shots were instrumental in bringing down this elk. I have always planned for a follow-up shot, but nearly every time, the situation has not allowed it. This time, things worked in my favor by having the visibility and a healthy dose of luck.
It took five of us to work up this bull on the steep hillside and pack loads of meat up to the ridgetop. A couple of the guys, Tyson and Troy, did most of the packing, and it took both of them to take out the head and cape working together. At the top, I put on the pack frame and posed for a photo. It was all I could do to stand up with the heavy load. It reminded me that age has a way of catching up with us.
Thanks to my most gracious hosts, Ron and Kayleen, for the great accommodations, excellent meals, and a memorable hunting experience. In spite of the setbacks, our perseverance enabled this hunt to be successful. Most times, you just have to be out there with a positive outlook and create your own chance for success. If an opportunity develops, it helps to be prepared to make the shot.