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July 2018
Story by Kory Van Dorf
State: Colorado
Species: Elk - Rocky Mtn

Mid-August, my hunting buddies and I set a date for “the hunt.” Since none of us had drawn a specific tag this year, we decided to fall back on an old over-the-counter unit in Colorado we’d hunted before. We had also hunted this unit the previous year. Since we were archery hunting, we hunted the very first week of September, hoping to elude the muzzleloader season. However, our plan backfired. We eluded the muzzleloader season, but we were faced with daytime temps of around 80 degrees and very warm nights, which usually means low bull activity, if any.

The date for the hunt this year would be the very last week of the archery season, and we were hoping it would be cooler and have a lot of elk activity. When we arrived, everything unfolded as we had hoped – very low hunter pressure, cool temps, our favorite campsite, and most of all, elk bugling! As we set up camp, all we could think about was getting in the woods and checking our favorite wallow and elk trails.

The first three days, we saw four different bulls and heard bugling every morning and evening. Since the bulls were so vocal, we tried calling them into our setups and different stalking methods. We had a couple close encounters, but no shots were made.

After four days, the bulls had almost completely shut down on bugling. They may have wised up to our calling, and the weather began to warm up. I’m not sure what happened, but we started to limit our calling and look for active wallows to set up on. We had no luck sitting on our usual wallows, so I decided to scout out a new area close to camp. After studying the topo map, I began my ascent. After reaching the top, I discovered a new waterhole full of elk tracks, wallows, and rubs. I was careful not to “stink up” the area with my scent. I studied the elk trails and wallows and made a plan for an evening hunt there. When I got back to camp, I was excited to share the new information with Todd and Jordan. They also had some luck finding fresh sign, so that evening, we all went separate ways to hunt.

When I returned to the “spot,” I changed from my hiking clothes to scent-free hunting clothes and began checking the wind. It was a little erratic, but by evening, I figured it would settle down on one direction. I decided to sit under a large spruce behind some bushes overlooking a wallow and an intersection of elk trails. Since the elk went silent, I decided that I would not call at all and just sit and watch the wallow and trail.

After only an hour, I caught a glimpse of movement to my left. I couldn’t believe my eyes, a beautiful 300"+ bull was walking toward the wallow at 70 yards. He stopped and stretched his neck and nose as high as he possibly could into the air. My first thought was that he was going to smell me, but the bull relaxed and began to walk toward me. That bull walking towards me is a moment I will never forget. He came in and worked a wallow about 50 yards from me. After he was satisfied with making a mess, he began to walk out in front of me. He was coming down the trail at me and would pass by at 30 yards. I watched in awe as he made his way to me. And then it happened, he stopped about 30 yards broadside but looking at me. I decided that if he turned his head away from me I would draw back and shoot. I waited, and the bull turned his head slightly away from me but not as far as I would have liked him to. I quickly decided to try and draw on him. As motionless as I could, I drew my bow back. As I did, the bull caught my movement and turned his head, looking straight at me! My pin was right behind his shoulder, and I thought that it was now or never. If I waited, he may be gone in two quick bounds.

After the arrow released, the bull spun around, and I could clearly see it buried deep behind his shoulder. The bull dashed into the woods, sounding like a bulldozer going through it. I heard a huge crash and the bull coughing a couple of times. Then, all was silent. I thought he was done. I kept telling myself that it looked like a well-placed shot.

During the next 20 minutes, I kept replaying the scene over in my head. I prayed, and I even shook a little. I then walked over to where I heard the “crash,” and there, piled up on some logs, was the bull, lying with my arrow through both lungs. I got on my knees and thanked God and field dressed the animal. I returned to camp and shared the news with Todd and Jordan. After high fives and a lot of excitement, we decided to go get the bull in the morning.

As I think back on that September night, I know in my heart that none of this would be possible without my buddies, Todd and Jordan, my awesome wife, and our creator, God.