Tuesday morning, we sat at The Pass and watched as the sun gradually rose above the mountain peaks and illuminated the land. After the thermals switched, Grant and I headed south to a special place we call Hidden Valley.
Over the years, Hidden Valley has beennotorious for holding bulls, and today was no different. We heard two bulls start bugling across the valley around noon. We tried to make a play on the bull that sounded more mature, but he only bugled for a short time before going quiet. We met Jake back at camp for dinner later that evening and were in bed by dark-thirty. It’s funny how you stop using a watch to tell time in the mountains and plan your day off the rising and falling sun.
Wednesday morning, the three of us planned to hike toward the backside of Hidden Valley. We waited until the thermals started blowing up the mountain and were cautious to stay as high and be as swift as possible. We set up 200 yards from where we heard the more dominant bull bugling yesterday. Our plan was to wait until he bugled and then challenge him. However, the bull had other plans. We waited from 9:30 a.m. until 1 p.m. and he never made a chirp. We decide to bugle and rake trees to see if we could fire him up, but there was no response. With the temperature creeping close to 80 degrees in the middle of the day, it was just too hot. We walked three miles back to camp that afternoon and found a ton of elk sign along the way. We were in the right place; it just wasn’t the right time.
On Thursday morning (Sept. 26), Grant and I were sitting together at our listening spot above Hidden Valley. A squirrel was going crazy, barking and popping his tail at us. We were slightly amused but mostly annoyed at this daring little guy. Then when we least expected it, the bull we had been hunting the past few days started bugling a couple hundred yards away at 7 a.m. We both looked at each other with wide eyes. We could tell he was HOT. We listened as he bugled on his own, repeatedly. His vocalizations ranging from high screams to deep low chuckles. Now was our opportunity to make a play.
With the thermals still blowing down the mountain, we cut the distance through the dark timber. We stopped so Grant could let out a location bugle. The bull immediately answered about 250 yards in front of us. I set up by a large spruce tree while Grant and the bull continued bugling back and forth—the intensity rising in every note. My heart was racing in my chest, and I felt like it was going to explode. Grant was 50 yards behind me mimicking the sounds of cows and a challenging bull painting the picture perfectly. He raked trees, broke branches, rolled rocks and made as much natural noise as possible. I concentrated on breathing in through my nose and out through my mouth trying to steady myself. My hands were trembling as I looked down to knock an arrow. I knew in my gut this was my long-awaited opportunity and I had to compose myself.
Suddenly, Grant ran up to me and whispered intensively to move lower because the bull was going to try to “J” hook below us to catch our wind. I ran 20 yards down the slope through the thick timber and began ranging trees where I thought he would walk out. Within 100 yards, the bull let out a deep growling bugle that shook me to my core. Further behind me, Grant cut him off mid-bugle. At that instant I knew IT WAS ON. After a few minutes, I caught movement through the trees. Straight ahead, not 20 yards, I saw flickers of tan and brown. Something clicked inside of me as I drew my bow and everything grew still.
It seemed like time stopped. It was only me and the bull. I steadily held my draw for what felt like an eternity as he stood behind the trees, turning his rack side to side, searching for his challenger. Grant started softly cow calling and I knew it was now or never. Thebull slowly stepped forward into a small opening 15 YARDS in front of me. He postured up and began to turn his massive body broadside, showing off his large rack as he stepped down the mountainside. I didn’t even look at his antlers and stayed focused on my sight, which was completely filled with tan hair. I found the shoulder and eased my top pin behind it as he turned fully broadside, walking into my shooting lane. I released my arrow as the bull was mid-stride….whack!