I knew the shot was going to be close, real close! I could hear the hooves of the trotting bull long before I saw the tops of his antlers, and they were headed not just my direction but right at the small juniper tree I was standing behind!
How do you get into this kind of situation? Well, it started for me long ago, 30 years as a matter of fact, when I started building points for elk in Colorado. My passion was archery hunting elk, and I knew I wanted to hunt the biggest bulls Colorado had to offer. I was 39 years old at the time, and it was taking six or seven years for a non- resident to draw a tag in the trophy units in the northwest corner of the state. As I applied year after year, watching point creep set in and the state change how they issue tags, the realization that I may get too old to do a hunt or never get drawn set in. Going into the 2022 draw, it looked like I might have a chance to draw an archery tag in 201, the best unit in the state.
As it turned out, not only did I draw the tag, but my good friend, Al Tuck, drew a resident tag for the same hunt and my grandson drew an elk tag in Wyoming that was adjacent to our unit. With the help of members who had hunted the unit before and friends who had spent time in the unit, we had an idea of where to start and areas to check out.
I pulled into the area we planned on hunting on September 2nd, opening day, and met up with Al. We were both committed to this hunt and planned to stay the entire season if needed. Unit 201 is a big unit with plenty of public ground, and we managed to cover a lot of different parts during our hunt. After only a few days of hunting and glassing, I knew this was going to be a great hunt. We were seeing quality bulls everywhere we went! Most mature bulls were in that 300" to 320" class with a few pushing that 350" mark. The rut was starting. The bulls bugled at night, and each morning brought new elk into the areas we were watching. If you have never bowhunted elk, you have no idea how many things can go wrong while trying to make a stalk or trying to call in a mature bull. Those who have, know all too well the challenges that a bowhunter faces when trying to kill a top end bull. The hunt went on with opportunities on good bulls almost every day.
Now back to the hunt. Day 21 of the hunt found Al and me listening to a bedded bull sounding off in a drainage right above camp during the middle of the day. A plan was made to tag team him as he worked down to some irrigated ground that the elk were using at night. We moved in and set up about 75 yards apart well below the bedded bull as soon as the downdrafts started. Al began with a short cow call, and the bull responded with a bugle. A few calls later, we were greeted by a bugle from the next drainage over. Now the game was on, both bulls were cranking it up bugling at the calling and each other. Both were on the move and working in. The original bull had cows with him and was working down toward Al, while I was set up on his left and had planned to work around behind him and try to call the bunch past him, giving him the shot. That changed when the second bull came in fast. By the progression of his bugles, I knew he was going to cross in front of me. He did, but he was 90 yards out too far for a shot. Both bulls were closing in on Al’s calling. He had the bull with the cows called in to under 30 yards and was preparing for the shot when the bull that had passed by me showed up. Things went sideways for him quickly; the bull he was trying to shoot made a mad charge at the newcomer, sending him back my way on the run.
I drew my bow and prepared for the shot as the bull approached the small tree I was behind. It looked like he was going to pass at arm’s length, but at the last instant, he cut to the other side of the tree. As I twisted around for the shot, the bull stopped, quartering hard away at 15 yards. The arrow hit right behind the short ribs, angling forward. I could see the lit nock glowing as he headed back the direction he had come from. I texted my buddy, telling him what had just happened. He replied that the bull had stopped near him and he heard the unmistakable wheezing sound of a bull in trouble. We met up and followed the blood trail to a deep ravine where the bull was piled up. Field dressing and a few pictures were done that night, leaving the recovery for morning. I was lucky enough to have a grandson and friends in the area to help get him out.
Al would not settle for anything but a giant and ended up hunting the full 28-day season without tagging a bull. After my hunt, I helped my grandson take a good bull in Wyoming. (That story was published in the January 2023 issue). Although my bull didn’t make the 350" mark I had hoped for, it was still the best I had taken and the experience was well worth the wait!