Editor’s Note: Steve Byers of Delta, Colorado, has been talking to elk and hunting elk since he was 3-years old and began cow calling to elk with his natural voice at age 5. But by the time he turned 13, his voice changed, and he started using diaphragm calls and bugles. Much of Byers’ knowledge and training in the art of elk hunting came from his dad.
I have a friend named Evan Baize who once hunted with me all the time. A lot of Black Angus cattle were on one of the ranches I hunted. I told him that cattle don’t affect elk movement, and cattle don’t spook elk like they spook whitetails. Evan didn’t believe me, because he’s from back East where cattle do spook whitetails. We had to walk through a herd of Black Angus to get to the other side of the pasture where we were to hunt. As we were walking across the pasture, about 30 Black Angus cattle followed us for about 1/2-mile. Of course, they were making all kinds of noises. About 45 minutes before dark, I turned around and ran at the cattle to get them to quit following us. Well, Evan thought that was the funniest thing he ever had seen. He started laughing almost uncontrollably. Finally, I got the cows to quit following us.
As soon as the cattle began running away, an elk bugled at us. I don’t know if that bull thought the cows running were other elk, or what he thought. When that elk bugled the first time, he probably wasn’t more than 100 yards from where Evan and I were. I ducked down and started cow calling. I only made two cow calls before the bull elk came running in straight at Evan. Evan shot him at 5 yards with his bow. Although the bull was only a 5×5, I think he’s the first bull Evan ever had shot when he was hunting with me. Evan was more or less meat hunting and hoping to have a fun time with me. He was tickled to death when he took that bull with his bow.
We’ve had some really-close shots on elk in seasons past. I’ve had three or four of my hunters take shots at only 3 to 5 yards. When an elk gets in that close, my hunters have a difficult time keeping their nerves, emotions and adrenaline from getting the best of them. Evan is an amazing tournament archer. Over the years, he’s probably taken four or five bulls with me. The farthest shot he’s ever had with me is 20 yards. Now Evan can hit the 10 ring on paper all day long. But when one of those bulls comes in screaming, growling and slobbering, something just happens to him, and his shot is always just a little bit off what would be the 10 ring.
We usually hunt in the mornings. We’ll go to the top of a mountain, come back down the mountain in the afternoon and hunt as we come down. On the way down one mountain we hunt is a place with a little spring. I always try to stop just before I get to the spring to see if there’s a bull watering or wallowing there. Most of the time, there’s not a bull there, because the spring is fairly close to the road. Once as we were going down to the spring, I told Evan, “Hey man, watch your step right here.” I had no more gotten the words out of mouth than I fell flat on my back. For a year or two before this hunt, I’d been encouraging Evan to get some rubber boots to wear elk hunting, but Evan wasn’t very big on rubber boots. So, when I was on the ground, I heard Evan saying, “Yep, those rubber boots really worked good for you, didn’t they.” We both started laughing so hard we almost began to cry. We have plenty of fun in elk camp. For instance, when one of our bowhunters misses a shot, we’ve got a furry animal tail that he has to wear until he takes a bull elk with his bow.
If you’re going elk hunting this year, remember, even on the first day of the hunt – don’t pass-up a bull that you’ll be happy to take on the last day. Many times a hunter will come out here believing that he’s not going to shoot until he sees a 300-class bull. There are some hunters who hunt with us who do take 300-inch bulls. But when you’re first getting into elk hunting, you need to harvest some bulls. You need to understand where you need to aim to take a bull quickly and efficiently, and you need to have success. Hunting elk is fun, but taking a bull is even more fun. If you go home with a tag in your pocket, you may have had some fun, but you haven’t had the most fun you can have.
I’ve had guys come out and hunt with me, who have passed up one or two nice bulls on the first or the second day. Then when we get down to the last day, they’re kicking themselves, because they haven’t taken the bull they’ve seen on the first or second day. When we spot a bull that will score 330 off in the distance, my hunter will say, “That’s the bull I want to take. We’ll go out tomorrow and take him.” Well, we may not see that bull again. If we do see him, he’ll be difficult to call within bow range. I encourage my hunters to take the bull on the first day that they’ll have been satisfied taking on the last day, because we don’t run into 300-class bulls every day or even every week.
Elk meat is delicious. One of my favorite recipes is to take an elk roast and boil it in salty water to get all the fat off it and also remove the gamey taste that elk may have. I take the meat straight out of the pot, put it in a deep dish pan, cover it with my favorite barbecue sauce, cover the pan and put it into the oven for about 30 or 40 minutes on about 350 degrees. The elk roast sucks in the barbecue sauce. Then, I shred the elk meat like you shred pulled pork or beef, place the meat on a bun and eat it like a barbecue sandwich.
You can read John E. Phillips’ latest book on hunting elk, “Elk – Keys to 25 Hunters’ Success” and learn more at https://www.amazon.com/Elk-Keys-25-Hunters-Success-ebook/dp/B07F3CNTX2 for Kindle and print book versions. You can see John’s other elk books at http://johninthewild.com/books#elk. You can download a free app to enable you to read this book on your computer or your tablet. You also can download a free book, “Miz Denise’s Outdoor Cooking – More than 35 Recipes for Elk and Mule Deer,” at https://www.emailmeform.com/builder/form/rtJ6fD5m97CYhMXd. For free elk recipes, visit http://johninthewild.com/free-books/.