Big Elk Die Hard

David Stephens

Anaconda, Montana

The last week of archery elk season always comes too soon in southwest Montana. It seemed like only yesterday that we were bringing in supplies and stock for the 1991 hunting season. My hunters were two guys from Maryland named Jim and Doug. Both guys seemed to be in pretty good shape, so I elected to take them to a spot I knew for sure held trophy bulls. The pintlar wilderness area is truly that, all wilderness. Great craggy peaks and dense pine forests are the main living areas of some truly monster bulls.

I got my two guys up at about 4:30 a.m. for what was going to be a long day, no matter what happened. Doug was the ring leader for these two characters, and he did most of the talking. I could tell Jim had been coerced into this trip, a situation that always made my job harder. We decided to walk in this day, instead of taking horses. I could always come back for stock if and when we had an elk down. It was promising to be a beautiful morning, so off we went, me in the lead, then Doug, and followed by Jim.

My hunters had decided to flip for who would take the first shot, and Jim had won. We walked for about a mile and a half into the wilderness area proper before I decided to do any bugling or cow calling. Taking out my cow call I squealed a couple of times in an effort to get the bulls to answer. Not a sound came back, so I gave a long mature bull bugle. Still no answer. I turned to my guys and gave them the news that we had to go up the mountain and find us a wallow or bedding area to try to find where the elk were.

Three other guides and I had been in here for five weeks already, and the elk were starting to get a little spooked. As we started the climb up I sprayed both of my guys with Bull Rage, a commercial scent product from the local sporting goods store. Doug was in the lead and I was right behind him as the sound broke over the mountain. If you have never heard the sound of a mature bull in full rut at very close range, you have missed one of the greatest thrills in life. After 20 odd years of this work, I still felt primeval anticipation as the hair on my neck stood straight up. This guy was big and he was within half a mile of us.

I immediately turned to Jim and told him to get in front of me and nock a narrow. I bugled just a little bit, just enough for this bad boy to think I was a small bull, and no serious threat to his harem. Immediately he came right back with an ear splitting roar, and he was coming our way. I put Jim in front of me about 50 yards or so, and Doug out to the side where he could get a shot if the bull circled us, which, by the way, they are famous for. I then settled down and started doing what these guys paid me for, coaxing this bull to within 35 yards. I cow-called like I was a cow ready to be bred, and the bull squeals of an immature bull. I wanted the bull to think I was a cow going to be bred by an inferior bull, and it worked well. The bull immediately screamed right back and I could hear him breaking brush as he closed in on us.

Big Elk Die Hard

Suddenly there he was, 40 yards out and still coming. He started to quarter into the wind when all of a sudden he stopped dead in his tracks, looking off toward where I had put Doug. At that moment I heard the sound of a bow release, and a patch of orange appeared low on his chest. He wheeled and ran back the way he had come, blood streaming down his chest. Doug had figured, correctly, I might add, that Jim was in a good spot, and he had made a coughing sound to distract the bull while Jim sank a broad head in him. We were elated. Jim made a good shot low in the chest and the bull was not long for this world.

We gave him about an hour to bed up and die before we started after him. We had a good blood trail to follow, and we went nice and slow. For over four hours we tracked him. We would get close, and then he would get up and move off again. Finally, at about thirty minutes before sundown, we found the bull, dead. He had eluded us for hours with an arrow through one lung. Jim was ecstatic with his first elk. It was a good one that scored in the field about 390. He was a nice 6x6 with full beams and only one slightly broken antler.

By the time I got him dressed and caped out it was dark and we were maybe five miles from camp. I went back to camp, got some horses and another guide to help me, and we packed him out that night. By the time we got back, got the bull hung up, put away the stock, and had a victory drink or six, I crawled into my sleeping bag at 2:30 am. It was a long day, and I was awful tired, but I fell asleep knowing that my hunter would remember this day all of his life.

David Stephens

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