2011 Utah Archery Elk Hunt — Hard Lessons Learned

4x5 Bull Elk Feeding

A young 4x5 bull elk I watched for three days. I kept this guy in my back pocket for a last day harvest if the opportunity arose...

I really thought I was a shoe in to draw a limited entry archery elk tag this year. Somehow I didn't, strange?!? However it probably was for the best. In January of this year my bad right knee had problems and I had another surgery on this knee in February to clean it up. Then in July I messed up my "good" knee. To make it through this hunting season I am wearing a DonJoy knee braces to protect both of my knees from being injured further. I am really having to baby my good left knee as it doesn't like being bent much past around 110 degrees or it swells up like a balloon. I will be in to get it fixed shortly after the hunting seasons this fall. So it was probably for the best that I go into probably my once in a lifetime (most likely once in a lifetime given the odds) limited entry elk hunt with my knees and body in a little better shape. Thanks to my knees I also haven't gotten in as good of shape as I would like.

This year, as I like to do, I planned a four day hunt to backpack into a remote area the last four days of the archery season. Elk season just really doesn't start for me until mid September but in Utah they think it should be over by then and that you should be hunting in the middle of August when it's around 95 degrees and the elk aren't talking... if I was to shoot a bull in August getting him out on my back, five miles to the truck before the meat spoils when it's 90 degrees just isn't going to happen that easily.

Larger Bull Elk I tried to get with my bow.

This is the only picture I was able to get of the bull I spent most all of my time trying to get. I knew him more by his bugle as he was almost always in the timber when I was after him. I think he is just a five point although the photo makes it look like his right antler has a split main beam???

The last four days I packed into some rugged remote public land in Northern Utah. An area I had not hunted for elk with my bow before. I figured that there might be some elk in the area but wasn't sure if they would be. The area is a pretty good mule deer area and I also wanted to scout the area for my upcoming muzzleloader deer hunt while I was hunting for elk.

Tuesday afternoon I hiked my way into the area the I had planned to hunt. I setup my military rain poncho in tent like fashion with my water proof "breathable" (actually not breathable at all) bivy underneath. I placed my therma-rest pad inside of the bivy and I slept in my sleeping bag on top of the bivy and under the rain fly setup. The idea is that if it rained I would then slide inside the bivy knowing I would be getting a little wet from condensation inside the bivy but not as wet as the rain would get me coming around the edges of the rain fly.

Large Tree Rubbed by Bull Elk

This was a rub the bull I was after made on a pine tree that is twelve inches in diameter while I was taking a nap about 200 yards below him.

After setting up camp I took off for the evening hunt. It wasn't long and I was hearing bugles. I worked my way around to the top on a draw I could hear bugling in below and gave a soft cow call... and received an immediate response and within seconds I watched a bull cut through the timber towards me at around 150 yards. I tried to get him in closer but he dropped over into the next canyon following all the cows he already had. I never got a really good look at this bull but he appeared to be a fairly decent sized five point. I was able to quickly find him and recognize him from his bugle and did he bugle... all the time. I ended up spending the next couple days trying to get this guy to make a mistake.

Thursday morning I was successful in getting him to pull away from his cows using a cow call but that was short lived as his cows started calling back fervently and pulled him back to them. I then broke out my bugle and tried to get him mad enough to come after me as I followed him to his bedding area. He would bugle back every time but never came after me. Knowing where he was bedded down I decided to take a nap on a boulder and wait for the evening. Looking back I wish I had tried to tip-toe in while he was bedded down and try to get him...

Bull Moose in Quaking Aspens

A bull moose I watched on a couple different occasions during my hunt. I first knew he was in the area in the middle of the night hearing the hollow sound of him rubbing his antlers.

That evening he was up with his first bugle at 5:28pm and the position I had moved into trying to get in front of where I thought the herd would feed out into proved wrong, so the chase was on again and out came my bugle except this time he really got tired of the bugling "bull" chasing him and he came charging in to about 80 yards slammed on the breaks got a good whiff of me thanks to the ever changing wind and that was the last I saw or heard from him.

In my back pocket I had been watching a small herd of cows that had a little 4x5 watching over them. I had a real good opportunity to take this bull on my first morning on the mountain but with the larger bull I had seen the night before I didn't want to put my tag on this bull just yet. I watched him again the follow morning and that evening I finally messed up getting the larger bull. That evening as I made plans in my head for the last day of the hunt I told myself that if the small 4x5 came around the saddle going to what I figured was his back-up or secondary bedding area I would take him. In this location I would be able to ambush him fairly easily and it was also a better location to pack him out on my back should I get him.

Cow Elk Passing by my ambush location.

This cow and calf wanted no part of having two spikes tagging around with her. I watched her go all over the mountain trying to ditch the spikes then finally at 10am she came around the ridge just below where I was glassing from with the spikes left across the canyon.

Well as light broke the next morning I was up glassing around for elk. It only took me a minute to find the small herd (6-8 cows) and they where on the move headed toward the saddle at a much quicker than normal pace. I had to hurry and get down the ridge to get into position. Just as I got into position the elk came funneling through. I had time to range find where I figured they would be going through in advance but I was still trying to work out in my head what I figured the range I should hold for with the amount of downhill slope I had for a shot. As the bull came around the corner into view they all stopped and started to act like they might have gotten a little whiff of my BO. I drew back just as the bull stopped broadside with a slightly quartering away angle to me looking away perfect, just perfect... Well that's right about when perfect all started falling apart for me. As the elk were acting anxious I rushed taking the shot before thinking it all through as I have rehearsed over and over in my head. I wasn't quite sure of his exact range as I think where he stopped was maybe 5 yards further away. With the downhill slope and not knowing the exact range I made the mistake of "playing it safe" and held with my pin behind his shoulder and centered vertically in the middle of his body. In the rush of the moment holding dead center might feel like the best or should I say easiest way to make sure that you hit your target, well, yes and no. I had learned many years ago from hunting whitetail deer with my bow that I should always hold for a low heart shot. If I misjudge the range to be closer than it really is the arrow goes right under him. If the deer jumps the string or I misjudge the range a little longer than it really is then I have most of the chest height for the arrow to hit the deer or elk above where I was holding.

Small four point mule deer buck.

While elk hunting I was doing a little scouting for my upcoming muzzleloader mule deer hunt. This little buck was the best buck I could find.

In the rush to get the shot off in time before the elk busted I made that mistake of "playing it safe" and held dead center on the elk and I let the arrow fly. Whether the elk jumped the string a little, or my ranging was off a little in my head, the arrow impacted just below the spine and angled through and looked to have stopped against the top of the opposite shoulder and rib cage area. The placement was about six inches higher than where I was aiming and a foot higher that where I should have been aiming if I wasn't such a dork.

Upon hitting the elk he jumped forward and stopped behind the only dang tree on the mountain in the immediate area. I could see all the cows but I couldn't see the bull. He was there for what seemed to be a minute giving me plenty of time to take a follow-up and make up for holding too high on my first shot, if I could only see him. Well after a minute or so he took off straight away from me behind the tree and I wasn't able to get a look at him until he was about 150 yards away.

View of the Sunrise while archery elk hunting.

As I setup on a ridge to glass for elk and mule deer this was the view of the sunrise.

I was able to see him cross to the other side of the canyon and go into a group of pines. Once in the pines I wasn't able to see whether he stopped or kept on going. Then things got even worse as it started raining. Let me tell you, rain and wet blood mix really well, so well that I was only able to find just a little bit of diluted blood on a leaf at the point of where I shot him at.

I slowly worked my way around the canyon circled downwind and swung around to the ridge above where I saw the elk go in. Then I slowing started zig-zagging back and forth through the pines trying to find him either dead or be able to get a second shot in him to finish him off. I spent the next three hours looking for him and could not locate him nor did I hear him bust out at any time. My only guess was that he never stopped and where he went from there I had no idea without a blood trail.

Two Spike Elk

Two spike elk that liked hang out in one little canyon.

As I write this journal entry I still am haunted by the thoughts of not sticking to what I knew to do, AIM FOR A LOW HEART SHOT! As I gathered up my bivy camp and headed off the mountain I wanted to throw in the towel and just hunt with a rifle. I have now came back to my senses and realize that hunting is hunting, mistakes will be made and I need to work even harder to keep my head in the game when the shot presents itself.

Practicing a minimum of three times a week all summer long preparing for that one shot and I rushed the shot and didn't stick to my aiming game plan. With a bow and arrow I am now three out of four on recovering bull elk and no misses.

If  I could give advise to my sons that will archery hunt in the future that would be to always hold for a low heart area shot, always! Regardless if you think you may be off a little on your yardage it is always better to aim low. Oh, and don't hunt in the rain.

I hunted this hunt primarily wearing Mossy Oak TreeStand camouflage in which I felt works quite well in the various high altitude locations I was hunting this year. You can view photos of the TreeStand camo pattern in various terrians I was hunting in on this hunt.

Below is a video of a really neat Rubber Boa snake I found while on my hunt. This is the second one of these snakes that I have found.

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