Sometimes you see something you know you'll never experience again. This is where these stories lives on beyond the campfire.

Jared Hadlock

My first bull elk

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“At first light on the first morning of my hunt I was right where I wanted to be. On a high ridge where I could get a shot across a steep, narrow canyon between two canyons of bugling bull elks.”

As the sun climbed over the distant ridge, I spotted multiple bulls screaming at each other from across the hillside. Then the clash of antlers drew my attention to the bottom of the canyon. After a few minutes of glassing, I spotted movement through the thick oak brush and orange and yellow leaves flying through the air. I noticed a large, aggressive 5-point and a mature 6-point bull fighting in the brush; they pushed and shoved for a couple of minutes. The sound could be heard for quite some distance – what a rush! And what a way to start off the first morning of my hunt.

As one bull would bugle in the canyon another would scream back from across the ridge, seemingly cutting off the first bull’s bugle, expressing his dominance. This kept going all day long and I had a blast just sitting and watching it all. The bugling bulls would slow down during the middle of the day but it didn’t take much to get them going again – a soft call from my Primo’s hyperlip single would make the quiet hillside erupt with excitement.

After a few hours of searching the canyon and not finding anything worth going after, I ventured further down the. The thick oak brush country I was hunting in made it difficult to spot elk. Visibility was limited to short distances, usually less than 20 yards, and I was reminded of this when I suddenly heard a roar of a bugle about 50-yards in front of me. I stopped instantly and realized I was in the middle of a herd of elk (their pungent smell didn’t let me forget it), then the wind swirled and the bugling was over as quick as it had begun. I never did get a look at the deliverer of the bugle, but did see a few of his cows as they crashed over the ridge. It definitely got my heart racing.

I then elected to head back and glass the opposite canyon from where I’d started that morning. I could hear a deep sounding bugle coming from the mixed timber and oak brush that sounded promising. I spent the next hour and a half searching for the bull, picking apart the brush with my spotting scope and binoculars. There was also a large sounding bull further down in the bottom of the canyon that would not show himself; he never wanted to leave the dark timber and even though his mature sounding bugle tempted me, I knew I would blow him out if I tried going after him in his bedding area. I finally managed to find the bull I was initially looking for, but I only caught glimpses of him under the dark shadows of the lone pine he was bedded under. The only way I was able to find him was by the movement of his massive antlers tilting back when he would bugle. I could not tell exactly how big he was but I knew his rack was big enough to try and get closer for a better look.

I started picking the country apart looking for a path to the bull. About a half hour later, I finally found a way that would take me within yards of the big bull. But would it enable me to move quietly enough to not spook the magnificent heavy-antlered bull? I managed to keep the big bull pinpointed with cow calls from my diaphragm call as I approached. After about an hour of sneaking through some of the thickest, nastiest oak brush imaginable I reached a well-traveled trail the elk had been using. This enabled me to approach much more easily and quietly. I thought he was going to come to me once I got within a hundred yards, but to no avail. I soon realized he had cows I did not see while glassing and he was content where he was.

As I neared the bull, I tiptoed over the soft brown soil that seemed to have been recently plowed by countless passing elk hooves. At the same time I avoided any calling or noise that would give the bull my location. Then, at 35 yards I spotted a cow – and she spotted me at the same time. Only five yards beyond her, I noticed the tan color of the bull with his large sweeping antlers as he was sneaking out of the thick brush before I had a chance to do anything about it. It was maddening but exhilarating at the same time. This was still just the first day and I still had plenty of time to hunt.

The next morning my brother Lance and I headed to the draw where I had earlier seen a 315-inch satellite bull in hopes of a chance at the herd bull. As luck would have it, there was a truck parked right where we wanted to be. We were frustrated, but started glassing on top of the ridge in hopes of discovering the herd bull and getting a look to see how big he was. We spotted a bull on the top chasing cows; he looked heavy and had long sword points but at the distance we were glassing from we couldn’t tell how big he was. A quick look at the map revealed fairly easy access from the opposite side of the ridge, so we went around, hoping the other hunter might push the elk our way.

Soon after parking the truck we spotted a few cows on top of the ridge; a quick bugle confirmed a mature bull was with them, so off we went. After a 45-minute hike through rocky and brushy terrain we were finally able to see the herd. A small raghorn had spotted us while pursuing the larger bull, but he didn’t seem too concerned. Then, 80 yards up the ridge, we spotted another bull. He was in the thick oak brush and all we could see was his head and wide-sweeping antlers. I pulled up my binoculars and noticed his mass, decent tine length, and exceptionally long 4ths. At that moment, I decided I would take him if I had the chance. We hadn’t bugled since we left the truck, so he was unaware of our presence. We moved up the hill about 120 yards from the bull, hoping for a better shot; this gave a better angle over the tall brush.

Suddenly, he came out and offered a good broadside shot. I pulled up my TC Omega and by instinct squeezed off a shot. I only had a split second to take the shot and couldn’t have thought about it even if I wanted to. I wasn’t sure if I had hit him but as the smoke cleared, I noticed he had not reacted much other than turning up the hill and walking away slowly. He walked behind the only pine tree on the hill and we never saw him reappear. In fear of pushing him we waited in suspense for about five minutes, but still no sign, so I traversed the opposite hill to see if I could get a better vantage point and spot the bull. After a few minutes of glassing I was able to see a fraction of his antlers sticking out of the brush. I watched for about 10 minutes and he never moved. He was down for good! We made our way to him and I was not disappointed. His massive antlers were impressive to hold. We celebrated with some pictures as the reality of harvesting a trophy bull began to sink in.

My bull is a 6×6 that carries his mass all the way out; his long tines and width are an added bonus. Upon capping him out we found his upper legs and forehead were bloodshot from fighting. He also had scars on his neck and 5 broken tips. He was a true warrior. For my first bull elk, I can’t complain. I’m sure it will be pretty tough to beat this one, but I am up for the challenge!

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