110421_Zach Even-ELK-WY-DIY-PL

Up Close And Personal

By Zach Even

“The bull turned and looked in my direction. He was at 12 yards….”

The sustained 50-mile-per-hour winds ripped across the exposed ridgetop. The blowing snow tore at my face as I squinted in an attempt to spot my hunting partner and the pack string ahead of me. The hell being unleashed on the ridge was a far cry from the bluebird skies I had enjoyed just a few hours earlier as I saddled up the horse for the ride out.

We started the morning exploring a long, timbered ridge above camp. It didn’t take us long to find elk, and as the day went on, we worked the entire length. That evening, two bulls began to sound off from another nearby ridge. Since I was shooter, it was up to me to make the call on how we’d approach the bulls. I decided to head straight up the ridge toward the bugling bulls in order to get a better vantage point. 

We gradually made our way up the ridge, occasionally calling to the bull in order to narrow down his location. Finally, we reached a point where the thick timber gave way to a large, grassy bench. I let out a soft call. The bull immediately ripped a response bugle that I could feel resonate through my chest. We were close! He was just out of sight, ahead of me along the edge of the timber. I signaled to my hunting partner that I was going to move forward. I crept through the timber. With each step, I could hear the dried pine debris softly crackling under my feet, and I wondered if the bull might be able to hear it, too, but I proceeded cautiously.  

I spotted one of his cows first. I froze. She was grazing just off the edge of the trees. I carefully repositioned on the edge of the timber. The bull bugled, then appeared near the cow for a few brief seconds. Four, five, six…seven, I counted. There was just enough time to make a quick evaluation of the bull’s right beam before he disappeared into a low cut I hadn’t noticed just off the timber’s edge. He was headed in my direction, but I couldn’t see him!

The seconds passed like minutes.

I was tempted to carefully slip into the meadow in order to get eyes on the bull and possibly get a shot. Unfortunately, one of the cows had moved further into the meadow and was now grazing on a rise, silhouetted against the setting sun about 80 yards away. She’d bust me for sure if I moved. Just then, the bull’s antler tips popped over the grassy rise to my right, and the rest of him quickly followed. He’d walked to where he’d last heard me quietly moving through the timber. I was already in position, ready to draw. The bull turned and looked in my direction. He was at 12 yards, slightly quartering toward me. No shot. While excited, I kept my thoughts in the moment and remained patient. I wasn’t going to force a bad shot. As I had hoped, the bull soon spun, trotted further out into the meadow, stopped, screamed a bugle to his cows, then turned and looked in my direction. This gave me all the time I needed. 

I heard my arrow impact the bull’s ribcage. He spun, then slowly walked toward the cow that was still grazing on the rise, unfazed by the situation. The bull paused near the cow, silhouetted against the orange sky, then walked slowly over the rise. As I watched his antlers disappear, a dump of adrenaline hit my veins. For 45 minutes I stood still on the edge of the timber, watching two of the bull’s cows graze. It looked like a good shot, but I did not want to risk spooking the cows. Eventually, they fed out of sight, back behind the timber from where they had come earlier.

I approached the spot where I’d hit the bull and followed his route over the rise. At the top I stopped and glanced around. No sign of him. I walked another 10 yards and spotted the bull laying on his right side 30 yards away! It was a good shot, and he hadn’t lasted long. It was only upon closer inspection that I realized the bull’s mass and character. This was truly a special bull. After some quick photos, we got to work on him. 

The next morning, we finished packing the bull off the ridge. It had been a beautiful morning, but as we were packing gear onto the horses, fog began rolling into the drainage. As we rode up the ridge, snow began to fall. Conditions were changing fast. By the time we reached the top of the ridge, the storm was at full force. I’d faced similar conditions when climbing Denali and knew the dangers of a situation like this. Having good gear, keeping your wits about you and sticking with your partner are vitally important to making it through a situation like this safely. We made our way down the exposed ridge tops for hours and eventually made it back to the truck as dark set in. The drive home gave me time to reflect on the hunt. It had been an adventure—maybe more of an adventure than I’d hoped, but one filled with plenty of memories and good stories.

GEAR LIST | Bow Bowtech Destroyer 340 | Arrows Gold Tip Kinetic Pierce | Broadheads Rage Hypodermic | Sight Spot Hogg Fast Eddie | Rest QAD  | Release Stan SX3 | Binoculars Brunton Epoch 10.5×43 | Clothing KUIU, Core4Element | Boots Salomon Quest 4D | Pack Stone Glacier Sky 5900 | Rangefinder Leupold RX-1200i | Knife Outdoor Edge Razor-Pro | GPS Gaia app | Tent Seek Outside Cimarron | Sleeping bag Big Agnes Summit Park 15

ABOUT THE AUTHOR | Zach Even is a high school art teacher in Lander, Wyoming. He spends his free time fishing, backpacking and hunting with his wife, Anne, and children, Brooks & Adlyn.

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