21 January 2000

Bull @ 18"

by Steve Wingert

Bull @ 18"

I had been hunting for some two and a half weeks in the area around Island Park, ID, my favorite haunt and hunting grounds, and had seen and heard plenty of bull elk. By the third week in September the cows were in full heat and the bulls in full rut. I would lie awake in camp long into the night listening to bulls bugle their challenges to one another, sometimes less than 50 yards from our tent. By morning’s first light the elk would be gone, working their way up a rather nasty canyon that I had been avoiding because I was getting into elk on flatter, easier, fat man country.

We usually would hunt in pairs but this morning there was an odd number of people in camp so I rode out on my bicycle before first light to the base of that nasty canyon. From there I hiked up in pursuit of the bull that had disturbed my sleep that very night. Just as the sun began to rise over the ridge I had caught up with my quarry. Keeping the wind in mind, and checking to see that I had my cover scent on, I eased my way into a small heard of feeding cows who were in the company of a bull which was preoccupied with its bugling with another bull further up the ridge. Being in the middle of his cows I figured if I’d bugle he would have to recognize the threat and come charging in to chase off the invading bull, giving me a chance at a shot. I bugled; the bull circled the heard, gathered up his cows, and chased them up the canon at a fast trot. I tried to pursue for a time but could not keep pace. I had botched that one.

After retreating down the hill and riding my bike back to camp I was growing tired and was ready for my afternoon nap to which I had become accustom to in elk camp. As I rode into camp my chocolate lab, Nestle, was awakened and startled by my approach and let out a high pitched bark before realizing who I was. The bugle of an elk just a quarter mile behind camp immediately echoed the bark. Tired, but not too tired to ignore the opportunity, I halved the distance to the bull and bugled. The bull responded but had moved a little further away. I halved the distance again and the bull was still moving away. We leapfrogged like that for approximately 1.5 miles but each time I was gaining ground on him.

Then I bugled but got no reply. I set up in front of a small evergreen, watched, and grunted softly. After a few calls I watched as antlers began to emerge over the crest of a hill, then its head, and then its whole body were in full view. The bull approached to 50 yards and hung up on an aspen tree, which he began to rake. I had drawn my bow when the antlers first appeared and had now been holding full draw for 3 to 4 minutes. I was excited, beginning to fatigue and shaking badly so I let the bow down. I watched the bull rake and piss and bugle for some 15 minutes. At first I tried to divert my eyes from his antlers in an attempt of avoid “buck fever”. However, after 10 minutes I started to look them over and critique them. Through the study of the animal and what he was doing I began to calm down.

I decided to voice bugle, and the bull advanced right at me. I wasn't sure what to do. The bull was looking right though me for the other bull he thought was there. There was a screen of brush 20 yards in front of me that I thought he would walk around giving me a chance to draw my bow, and a 20 yard broadside shot when he would step out. But he busted right though it. At 10 yards there was some dead fall that I thought he might hang up on. He stepped right over it, staring through me the whole time.

At that point I thought about waving my arms to scare him away because I thought he was going to rake the tree I was standing in front of. But at 3 yards he veered around the tree and stopped 18 inches off my left shoulder. When he stopped he turned his head to look away from me, I tipped my head back so his antlers wouldn't hit me and at the same time drew my bow, pointed my fist at his chest, and let go. No sights, no anchor point, I didn't even come to full draw. The arrow entered in the short ribs quartering forward, the bull bolted, I bugled at him, and he slowed to a trot and went out of sight.

After waiting for what seemed like three weeks but was more likely 10 minutes, I began to track the dark-red blood. I followed the trail for some 75 yards and could track no further. I sat down, drank some water, ate my last candy bar, and listened for any clue as to where my bull might be. I returned to camp to get my friends aid. We found my bull less than 75 yards from the last spotted blood.

It was one of the easiest packs of my life thanks to my camp buddies who all skinned, butchered, and packed till their wasn't enough left to feed a coyote.

I figure I'll never be able to top that hunt, but I’m ready to go try again next year.

Steve Wingert
Grace, Idaho

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