Editor’s Note: My friend Nate Treadaway, CEO of Blackpowder Products, Inc., loves to elk hunt. BPI provides Bergara and muzzleloading rifles and accessories under the brands of CVA https://cva.bpishopping.com/, PowerBelt bullets https://powerbelt.bpishopping.com/, DuraSight Scope Mount https://durasight.bpishopping.com/, Quake CLAW rifle and shotgun sling https://quake.bpishopping.com/, and Dead Air https://deadairsilencers.com/.
I could hear my heart in my ears. Although my breath had slowed, it was still somewhat labored. The bull elk I was hoping to take was sleeping in a meadow about 200-yards below me. I was tired, yet I was as excited as a youngster waiting for the first rays of light on Christmas morning.
On this hunt in Eagar, Arizona, I’d had a great morning. We’d seen 12 bulls, half of which were in the 300-class on Boone & Crockett https://www.boone-crockett.org/. At first light, we’d bugled but failed to get a response from any elk. As the light got better, we began to spot-and-stalk elk. We made several stalks on bulls, but they weren’t the size I wanted to take. At 10:00 am, we started strolling casually back to the camp to eat and relax before the afternoon hunt. But on the way to camp, my guide spotted a herd of elk 3-miles away on another slope. Using my binoculars, I could see a dark-brown patch, which was a mature bull, in the light-colored herd. We decided to check him out.
Excitedly coming off the mountain we were on, we hurriedly climbed up a drainage to within 1/2-mile of where the herd was grazing. As we got closer, we could see that this bull was a nice one and had about 10 cows with him. We made the decision to go after this bull elk. Soon my lungs were burning, my breathing was heavy, and my heart was pounding, not only from the altitude, but also from the sheer excitement of chasing this bull. We had to cross some open ground cautiously to keep from being seen as well as try to stay downwind and get ahead of the herd.
The elk were still above us when my guide picked out a rock outcropping that he thought would offer an excellent shooting position, if we could get to it without the elk seeing us. Because the outcropping was within 200 yards of the elk, we had to watch the herd and only move when they weren’t looking in our direction. Once we finally reached the rock outcropping, we could see the herd feeding on the right-hand side of the mountain, coming toward us yet still above us. Because we had the wind in our faces, we felt confident that I would get a shot at this bull as long as they continued to feed and move along the same route they were traveling. We settled in and picked out three possible clearings where I could take the shot. However, when the big bull walked through one of those clearings, I wouldn’t take the shot because I didn’t know what the yardage was. I quickly got out my Bushnell Yardage Pro laser rangefinder https://www.bushnell.com/ and ranged the second opening at 217 yards. I needed to know the yardage because I knew I would have to hold-over, since my rifle was sighted dead-on at 150 yards. At that range, I knew I would have to hold roughly 5-inches high to make a lethal hit.
I was shooting a .50 caliber CVA gun https://cva.com/ with a 405-grain PowerBelt bullet https://powerbelt.bpishopping.com/ with 100 grains of Triple Seven Hodgdon’s Powder https://hodgdon.com/. Since I didn’t know how much time I would have after I made the shot to clean my rifle on this hunt, I used this less-corrosive Triple Seven powder. I was ready to take the shot once the bull stepped into the second opening. But, instead of continuing to feed and move toward the second opening, the big bull bedded-down with one of his cows. I could see the bull, but not well enough to take a shot. That’s when I rested my gun on the deadfall and began my forever wait on the bedded bull elk. I had my head down in a position to take the shot for an hour while the bull slept. Then suddenly, the wind switched from blowing into our faces to blowing straight off our backs. The cows became nervous and started looking down the mountain to see where we were.
“The cows are moving off now, so get ready,” my guide instructed. “The bull probably will stand up and begin moving next. When he gets to the opening, be ready to take the shot. If the bull’s walking when he’s coming into the opening, I’ll cow call to him to try to stop him, so you can shoot.” As the herd moved away, the big bull stepped into the opening. My guide cow-called to him. The bull stopped, turned his head and looked down the hill toward us. I aimed just a little below the top of the bull’s shoulder and squeezed the trigger. When my gun reported, gray smoke blocked my vision. But my guide saw that I had made a good hit. The bull ran and vanished into thick cover as we waited for what seemed like another eternity. Finally, I got the go-ahead. We climbed up the mountain to the opening where I’d shot the bull and discovered a very-good blood trail. We didn’t have to go far before we located the elk.
Although this was my first elk hunt, it definitely would not be my last. The climb was difficult, the shot was long, and I was on my last nerve waiting forever on that elk to stand-up and start moving. However, I really enjoyed the challenge of this hunt. When the moment of truth came, all my equipment did the job it was designed to do. I’d go on this hunt again in a heartbeat if the opportunity arose. I took a bull, and I had several bulls from which to choose. Now I understand the definitions of agony and ecstasy. The agony was waiting forever on the shot. The ecstasy was finding that bull of a lifetime at the end of the blood trail.
To learn more about hunting elk successfully, check out John E. Phillips’ book, “Secrets for Hunting Elk,” available in Kindle and Audible at https://www.amazon.com/. You may have to copy and paste this click into your browser. (When you click on this book, notice on the left where Amazon allows you to read and hear 10% of the book for free). On the right side of the page and below the offer for a free Audible trial, you can click on Buy the Audible with one click.