The day had been scheduled for about two weeks. September 3,2001, we dropped off the girls with the mother in-law who would be watching our two daughters, Ashlie and Halie, while my wife Jodie and I would go bow hunting mule deer in central Idaho. Everything was going as planned as we pulled the truck into the timber patch where we would unload the Yamaha 200cc Big Wheel and gather our gear for the morning hunt. As we dressed for the cool, crisp ride on the bike which would take us four miles into the canyon below, I packed the necessities consisting of the bow, canteen, and two elk calls. I felt it would be best to leave the fanny pack behind in order to give the wife more room on the bike. The day was going to be spent looking for mule deer bucks although elk also inhabited this specific area. Then in the middle of the day, the wife and I could take a nap alongside a nice, cool creek in the shade to avoid the 80-degree September heat.
We waited about ten minutes until there was enough morning light to see deer. About two quarters of the way down the canyon road, I told the wife about a ridge below that years before I had hunted for elk and maybe it would be worth our while to check it out. As we rode the bike off the main trail onto the old dead-end trail, it was nice to see that no one had been down there except the four-legged critters we had come to see. Upon starting down the trail, I mentioned to the wife about a major bedding spot with three good trails leading in and out to feeding areas, and if there was any elk to be seen today, this was going to be the place.
The wife had been asking questions from the moment we left the house that morning about this and that and how and why, and she showed no sign of letting up as we walked away from the motorcycle. We were only about fifty yards away from the motorcycle when her next question was "Will we hear any bulls bulging this morning?" My answer was simple, "Don't bet on it." I then told her if we did hear a bull squeal he would be trying to find his voice because the main rut had not begun. Just about then, from somewhere above us, a bull cut loose to prove me wrong. As I turned to ask the wife "Where the hell did that come from?" he cut loose again.
We stood there in the dawn light awaiting another audio confirmation to see exactly where he was. It took only a few seconds to hear the mountain, monarch challenge to all that this was his domain again. He was right above the bedding area and to the left of the springhead about 800 yards. I told the wife we would take the route we had previously decided upon since it was easier going and it would take us right into the vicinity of the bull.
On the ascent up, it was apparent the elk had changed very little in their patterns from years before and the elk sign seemed to be exactly as it had been almost ten years prior, right down to the beds they used. It took the wife and I about fifteen minutes of steady climbing to get within playing distance of the bull. During the ascent I cow called every few minutes to make sure of the bull's location, temperature, whether other elk were near, and to get his response to a hyper-cow call. The bull was answering right on key but was hung up in a timber saddle. I told the wife he probably had some cows and we would be going to him the last 150 yards.
As bow hunters, we were now ready to start the true hunt. We worked the main trail to our left, which took us right into the timber saddle where the bull had been for the last fifteen minutes. We had progressed about 70 yards when he cut loose from the back side of the saddle (Not Good)! My first thought was "he is moving his ladies away ."
A few moments later a horrible cow call sounded off to our left about 30 yards, this was answered by one soft cow chirp 60 yards right above us, and then a bull let out a single squeal to end the conversation. I stood in the trail with the wife right behind me trying to think things through. I turned around and told the wife that some hunters must have come in from the top of the ridge on an old logging road and heard the bull carrying on, just as we had heard from the creek below. We stood there for a minute or so without calling or moving when I caught some movement above us. I knelt down expecting to see a fellow bow hunter moving under the timber branches. To my surprise, out stepped a cow elk broadside at 50 yards. At this time, it dawned on me that all the elk calling we had heard, good and bad, had been real elk. Once the cow was out of view I turned to the wife and said "it's all elk" and away we went, back into hunting mode.
The cow above us was traveling in the opposite direction at a normal feeding pace. I knew there was another bull up there somewhere because he had cut loose close behind the cow. The other bull returned his challenge somewhere further from the timber saddle.
I proceeded to follow the elk above me knowing there was at least one bull in the group. I advanced 40 to 50 yards toward the timber ridge when I looked up to see a branched bull, broadside, looking down in our direction. I motioned to the wife to come forward so she could see the bull, thinking this might be as close as we would get. I wanted to make the climb worth her effort and time. She nodded her head at me acknowledging the bull. Later that day I found out she hadn't seen the bull fearing her movement would have spooked him. The next few minutes the bull and I played cat and mouse moving up through the timber ridge with two shot opportunities almost materializing.
Once the bull crested the ridge, he made his way toward his two cows. I finally had the bull standing in one spot. I dropped to my knees feeling this was going to be the final encounter, regardless of the poor ambush spot I was in.
The two cows continued feeding with an occasional look at the manmade elk commotion 50 yards below. The wind was perfect. It blew steadily onto our faces as the first cow started heading down the trail. The lead cow would stop every few yards to grab a mouth full of grass and scan the area for the newcomers. At about 18 yards, I felt our "good thing" was going to turn bad. But, just as the lead cow was on the verge of blowing our cover, she stepped off the main trail with the other cow following behind her. In my mind, this was turning out just the way it was supposed to. I knew the bull 50 yards up the ridge would soon follow their path.
As the bull moved behind the last fir tree 27 yards above, I came to full draw while taking a quick look to see where the cows were. It was just my luck they were locked up at 19 yards looking right at me. I said a quick prayer hoping the bull would take three more steps before the cows blew out of there ruining my chance at any bull on the mountain that day. Later that day I discovered my wife was saying her own silent prayer for me. Although her prayer differed in content, ultimately it came to the same conclusion.
God was looking down on us that day for the next thing I saw were his nose and eye guards magically appearing from behind the fir tree, directly into my shooting lane.
Then the shot followed....
The bull spun to his left as the cows bolted down the ridge to the right. I started to bugle and cow call to stop the bull. The wife proceeded the last ten yards up the hill after all the commotion. As I was recounting the experience, a lone cow elk came up from the springhead to see what was going on. After she realized we were making the commotion, she quickly followed the other two cows down the ridge.
I continued telling the wife how unsure I was about the shot and in my excitement made a side bet involving Red Lobster. Just then we heard what we thought was the bull going down the draw below. After waiting at least 30 minutes we decided to start tracking a short distance to see if I had hit the bull. After finding blood 30 yards out, we waited again. The bull had traveled only 70 yards before going down for good.
The rest of the day was spent doing the normal things that follow the harvest of a great animal; celebrating, taking pictures, butchering, packing, packing some more, and packing a little mote. After arriving home that evening and being able to make it to the butcher shop in the nick of time, I kept telling the wife how great it was for her to participate in the hunt from start to finish.
I will remember this hunt for a long time and the comments and experiences the wife and I shared throughout the day. She gained a new understanding and respect for the whole elk-hunting experience. (Also how big and heavy these animals truly are.) I feel the wife has a better understanding of why I do what I do. I think she will also cut me a little more slack when I return from a trip to the mountain tops, pursuing the animals I admire and respect, and she will understand why I am so dirty, tired, and even smell worse than our own garbage cans.
This day with the wife has been one of the greatest memories in which we have shared with the elk. My wife even has the small branch "her lucky stick" she used to rub a small pine tree to bring in our bull. She carried it off the mountain and has it laying in our backyard to prove it.
This was the wife's second experience harvesting an archery bull with me, but this was the first time she and I harvested a bull from start to finish alone.
In closing I would like to challenge all husbands and fathers to include their wives and children in our sport in one way or another. If done right, your lives will be enriched and all will come closer to each other and Gods own creations.