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2019 Wyoming DIY Archery Elk Hunt – First Bull

Three days after the birth of my son, Brayden, I was surprised with another miracle.  Knowing the Wyoming draw results would be released soon for the 2019 season, I decided to jump online to check to see if the draw results had been posted.  This was our first year applying to Wyoming after having applied for and hunted Colorado for the previous four years.  

With zero preference points, we decided to swing for the fences and applied for a unit with historically good success rates; one that typically required several preference points to draw.  Based on our goHUNT Insider draw odds, we had only a 2% chance of drawing one of the Type 9 regular non-resident random draw tags.  When I logged in that day on the Wyoming Game and Fish website and saw “successful” under the draw results, I immediately texted my Dad and brother to let them know the good news. Step 1 of operation Wyoming Elk Hunt Success.

Offseason - Getting Prepared

I’d be lying if I told you I had prepared myself more from a physical aspect for this years hunt.  A newborn and juggling the work-life balance made it tough to devote a lot of time to physical conditioning.  However, in the limited time I had to train, I felt as though I had maintained my physical conditioning throughout the year so the “hump” to get in shape seemed a much easier obstacle than in years past. It also helped that the terrain for this hunt was a bit more forgiving rather than steep and deep drainages we were used to hunting in Colorado. The change in topography between the areas was evident during our online/virtual scouting through onX Hunt app and Google Earth.

One aspect where I felt that I was more prepared was knowing how to hunt and call elk: I was a sponge for learning information on elk hunting. I religiously listened to the new episodes of Elk Talk podcast, read/watched as much info as I could on the Elk101:University of Elk Hunting online course, and scoured the internet for more information to help improve my odds. Having a few years of actual boots on the ground elk hunting experience also helped.

Off to Wyoming

This year we decided to hunt the week of September 7th through the 15th. An effort to miss some of the potential early season high temperatures and the additional hunting pressure of the Type 1 special archery permit holders. However, this timeframe had us hunting the week of the full moon.

I spent much of the last few days before we left for Wyoming finalizing my gear list, packing up my hunting clothes and doing a quick check over my equipment.  On September 5th I loaded up my truck to make the three-hour trek southwest to my dad’s place in Indiana where we would meet my brother.  Calvin’s nine-hour drive from Virginia would put him at my Dad’s place around 2 AM.  I spent some quality time with my mom before stopping at dad’s to make sure he was ready to go. When Calvin finally arrived, we loaded up all of our gear in his truck and headed west.

We drove through the night and most of the day on Friday, stopping only for fuel, food and a quick stop at Cabelas’ in Nebraska.  Once we arrived at our destination in Wyoming, we had just enough time to chase a couple grouse and get camp pitched before sunset. Since we typically camped near the truck until we found elk, this year we decided to do a basecamp-type hunt approach rather than a backpack-style hunt.  While we still had our ultralight camping stuff with us, the idea of sleeping on a cot every night instead of an ultralight inflatable mat was a lot more appealing.

With our packs loaded for the morning hunt, we hit the sack full of anticipation of what the week would hold and with high hopes of filling a few tags.

Day 1 - A Great Start

For us, it’s not often when you let out the first bugle of a hunt and you get a response. It was very windy, but the response was unmistakably a bugle. We pulled up the onX Hunt app to get an idea of where the bull was and how we’d set up.  Circling around the backside of a ridgeline we made our way to get into position.

“Elk…elk… ELK!” I whispered increasingly louder and louder as I crested over the ridgeline.  I pointed down in front of us through the juniper where I caught a glimpse of a cow and calf making their way from our right to left only 40-50 yards in front of us, but angling slightly away.  Seconds later “BULL!”. A nice 6 point followed behind them several yards back.  I yelled at my Brother and Dad to get ready and get further down the ridge to get into position to intercept him.  They were moving quick so I grabbed a bugle tube and let it rip. The bull stopped immediately, now at about 80 yards away, and turned to face us.  He took about two to three steps our direction before turning back to follow the cow before we were able to get a shot.

After the close encounter our focus again shifted to the bugle we heard at first light.  However, he never bugled again so we spent the rest of the morning bugling and hiking trying to find another elk.  That afternoon we moved about a mile or so to a new area, but didn’t find much fresh elk sign.

Day 2 - Sticking to the Program

After the great start on the first morning, we thought it made no sense to leave elk to find elk. We headed up the same ridge line in hopes to find some more. As we made our way up the ridge, we stopped at the edge of a large clearing.  Ahead of us through the darkness I could make out some dark objects working across the face of the mountain opening towards the tree line to our left. I pulled up my binoculars and saw four cows quietly slipping by at about 150 yards. Behind them again was a bull but I was unable to make out how big he was.  We waited patiently after they passed and made our way up that direction. We shadowed them for a couple hours trying to get in position with the wind in our favor, but we couldn’t keep up as they headed off to bed. We decided to back out and wait for the thermals to switch in our favor.

We circling back around the top of the mountain and waited for about two hours to try an approach from above. A bull bugled from his bed on the other side of the hill, a couple hundred yards away.  After an intense back-and-forth bugle-fest, it was clear they were not coming any closer.  Since they weren’t in the mood to come to the fight, we decided to bring the fight to them.  At one point we made it within 60 yards of the bulls when a cow busted us and sent them off up the hill.  The bulls ended up running past my Dad at less than 20 yards but he was unable to get a shot off before they disappeared over the ridge to his right.

Day 3 - High Winds Continue

After having a pretty eventful day the day before, we were excited for what day three would bring.  The winds from day one had returned with a vengeance which made it almost impossible to hear anything.  Knowing elk were in the area, we again headed off the same direction as the mornings before.  This time we approached the patch of aspens close to where the bull and cow/calf from the first morning traveled.  The winds ripped through the treetops as we were on top of the ridge line.  Our bugles were no match. It had to be calmer, and quieter, at the bottom…  

Although we had to cross a big opening, we decided it would be best to lose some elevation and get closer to the bottom of the drainage to get out of the wind.  It proved to be a great decision.  Once at the bottom of the drainage, we worked our way slowly up a little draw towards the saddle most of the elk seemed to be using. Calvin let out a location bugle. Much to our surprise a bull immediately sounded off less than 200 yards away!  Frantically, we unstrapped bows from our packs and discussed where the shooters would set up and the calling approach.  The area was pretty open, but the pines were so close together that they provided some concealment.

Moment of Truth

Bow in hand, I took a few steps in the direction I had decided to get set up.  I looked up in the direction we had heard the bugle and to my surprise he was walking almost directly towards us.  “Bull…Bull BULL…” I exclaimed. About 80 yards away, quartering towards me, he glared through me as if I didn’t exist.  I froze.  We had a brief standoff before he continued making his way from our right to left, getting closer and closer.  I came to full draw as he hit an opening in front of me. I didn’t have an elk call in my mouth, but managed to stop him right in the shooting lane, perfectly broadside.  Used to hunting whitetails, I figured he would bust out of there any minute. I rushed the shot. I saw the green Firenock zip through him about mid way back and about half-way up his body. A poor shot. He turned to run but instead slowly walked back the direction he came from.  He hit another opening around 45 yards away.  The bull stood there quartering away before I released another arrow.  The arrow missed the mark high this time and he trotted off.  

We watched as he circled to our right.  He appeared to be badly hurt after having a Grim Reaper Micro Hades zip through him.  As he worked to our right, I took off through the trees to get closer and try to get another shot.   He started up a ridgeline in front of me.  I ranged him at 60 yards, turned the dial on my Fast Eddie XL, came to full draw and let another arrow fly.  I misjudged the width of my shooting window and my arrow implanted into the side of a tree.  This time the bull turned and trotted off down towards the drainage.  My Dad took off running to try and cut the bull off.  Dad ended up getting within 20 some yards from him but could not get a shot through the thick brush.  The bull eventually turned and took off downhill along the edge of the clearing.

Slow and Steady Trail

We knew the first shot connected, but also knew it wasn’t in the best shot placement, so we decided to give the bull some time.  It was a little after 10:30 AM and knew we needed to wait a couple hours, at least.  Immediately we cut the blood trail close to where I took the third shot and began slowly trailing until we came up to the point where dad last saw the bull.  After eating a few snacks and taking a quick nap on the hillside, we got back to work.  We trailed for a couple hundred yards, finding a few beds with blood along the way.  After the third or fourth bed within 100 yards, we lost the blood trail about 30 yards from a bed. A distinct elk smell pierced our noses as the wind pulled up the drainage from where the bull headed to our direction. Circling the area for hours, we decided to split up and walk the drainage down to the creek in the direction the bull was heading. No luck. 

After another hour or so of scouring where we last found blood, we decided to back out and come back a little later.  On our way out, we worked up a draw towards a flat that was about 1/4 mile from where we lost blood on my bull.  As soon as we could see above the ridge line to our right, I caught a familiar sight.  “STOP!…don’t move” I exclaimed. “Mulie”.  About 70 yards or so to our right I saw a what I initially thought was a mule deer buck peering through some pines.  I pulled up my binos and closely examined. Quickly I realized it was an elk!  I got Calvin and Dad’s attention before slowly backing down the draw to get the ridgeline between me and the bull.

Back on the Hunt

I grabbed the bugle tube and let it rip after I made it down the draw about 30 yards or so. In no time, the bull’s curiosity got the best of him as he approached the edge of the ridgeline, within 40 yards of Calvin and my Dad.  Calvin let an arrow fly and I heard the unmistakable sound of “thwack” as it hit a tree only 5 yards from my Dad.   The bull didn’t flinch.  My brother reloaded and let another fly, this time connecting. The bull took off and appeared to be hit well, attempting to bed down about 80 yds away before getting up and trotting off.  

After a short period of time we decided to check the site of the impact and immediately found good blood. The Fatal Steel seemed to live up to its name.  With the blood trail indicating a lung shot, we waited only about 30 minutes before following it, thinking the bull had to be down not too far away.  Much to our surprise, we ended up jumping him about 150 yards later. We sat for a while longer to give the bull some more time.  Again we took up the trail again. The blood trailing was some of the easiest we’ve ever seen.  Calvin and I were playing games with how far ahead we could see blood; at times 20-30 yards ahead.  Some 8 hours and 41 minutes, and 3.4 miles later, we found him.  First bull down and Calvin’s first elk. It was a long night of “guttin’ and gillin’” as Randy Newberg would say.  We got back to camp a little after 1:30 AM, and finally crawled in bed exhausted around 3:30 AM.

Wyoming Archery Elk Hunt Success

The next morning we slept in a little bit to rejuvenate ourselves and prepare to look for my bull again.  After getting back to where Calvin shot his bull, we split up and worked different ridges down towards the drainage where we lost last blood.  I had reached the end of the ridgeline I was walking, and while overlooking the drainage below, thought to myself that we had lost him for good. 

I decided to walk down to the area where we lost last blood. About 2/3rds of the way down I just happened to catch what looked like an elk body in the thick alders down the drainage. I pulled up my binos and, sure enough, it was an elk.  Making my way closer, I could tell it was a bedded…and shortly after, I confirmed it was dead. My bull! Not 200 yards from where we lost last blood. I had actually walked right past him the day before when we walked the drainage down the mountain. Excited to finally have found him, it was now time to focus solely on getting my dad on a bull.

Closing Out the Trip

We spent the remainder of the week trying to get into bow range of another elk. The next morning we had an opportunity as a cow stood there 20 yards away. Dad elected to pass since it was only Wednesday and we still had a couple more days to hunt. Later that evening he had an opportunity on a nice bull at last light at 54 yards but the shot came up short.

I could go on and on about all of the experiences we had the last few days, but this article is already a bit long winded. We spent the remainder of the week trying to get a shot on a 5 point or better bull without luck. Dad really wanted to shoot a bull, or if another opportunity presented itself, a cow. While we had a couple close encounters with spikes, and even another 6×6, we weren’t able to make it happen.

Overall it was a trip none of us will ever forget.  We filled 2 of our 3 tags, all DIY, and all on public land. Success rates that all archery elk hunters strive for.

Calvin's Gear:

Brett's Gear:

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