Editor’s Note: Donnelle Johnson of Franktown, Colorado, is an elk-hunting fanatic and has been hunting elk since 1998. When she’s not hunting and calling in elk for herself, she goes with friends and family members and calls in bulls for them. “I just love to be in the woods hunting, calling and trying to outsmart Colorado bull elk on public lands,” Johnson says. “My husband, David Johnson, and I moved to Colorado then. Dave started going elk hunting with his boss in 1991. For the next 5 years, they’d hunt together. In 1997, I went on my first elk hunt with Dave, and we went to the place where Dave’s boss always had taken him to hunt elk. I chased cows around, trying to get a shot with my bow, even though I had a tag that would allow me take a bull or a cow. From Dave’s experience, we founded our company called Hunt Data (http://www.huntdata.com/).”
Recently I had been shooting my bow every day to get ready for elk season. On the first morning of this hunt, I shot over the back of a 6×6 bull I felt I should’ve taken. As I replayed the shot in my mind, I couldn’t think of any mistake I had made, but I knew I must have done something wrong. The second morning of the hunt I shot at a 6×6 that I felt certain I would arrow. Once again, the arrow flew high over the bull’s back. I was really frustrated! I knew my bow was dead-on, and I knew I didn’t have any form breaks. I couldn’t understand why I had missed two nice bulls in two consecutive mornings.
So, I went back home, got out one of my archery targets and started shooting my bow. Once again, the bow shot high, even though I knew I was dead-on on the target. When I checked my bow, I finally saw that my peep sight had slid down about 1/2-inch on my string. The distance that the peep sight had moved wasn’t even noticeable in the field. I had climbed through some brush, and I’m sure that brush caught on my peep sight and moved it. After I got my peep sight and my bow squared away, I went back out the last weekend of the season. I wasn’t finding as many elk then as I had located at the first of the season.
In camp the last night of the hunt, I decided to stay one extra day longer than I had planned to hunt. I got up at 3:30 am the next morning, so I could go deep into the wilderness before daylight. I knew a good concentration of elk was on the backside of the region I’d been hunting. However, to be real honest, I dreaded the thought of having to carry an elk back to the truck for 3-4 miles. Friends of ours, Robbie and Dave Black were with me. To get to where I wanted to go, we knew we’d have to cross a stream. So, we took some garbage bags to put over our feet and legs to try and help us stay dry. As we crossed the creek in the dark, we heard Robbie scream. About halfway across the creek, water had run into her trash bag.
I’d heard some bulls bugling in the morning. If we stayed in that area until last light, I felt certain I should have an opportunity to take a bull. At about 11:00 am, we took a nap on the side of the mountain. Late that afternoon I called in a 6×6 bull, but a lot of timber was between me and him. I didn’t have a clear archery shot. The bull was a nice one and would’ve scored about 310 points, but he was 50-yards away. I was sure I couldn’t snake my arrow through the timber to hit his vitals. I talked Robbie into calling for me, even though she’s not an elk caller. I told her I would put a diaphragm in my mouth. If I had to call, I’d call, but I wanted to keep my hands free to get a shot. Robbie started calling, and another 6×6 arrived. I could see another bull that was a 6×6 shaking a tree not far from us, but he never would come out of the brush to give me a clean shot.
After we’d taken a nap, Dave decided he’d go fish in the trout stream that we had crossed rather than go hunting with Robbie and me late that afternoon. We carried radios with us, so that if we got lost or needed help, we could contact each other. I heard my radio go off right after the first bull had left, and the second bull was fighting with a tree. I heard a third bull bugle that seemed to be headed in our direction. When the radio beeped, I tried to get my hand in the pocket of my hunting coat to turn it off, but it beeped again. I believe it might have scared off the second bull, since I couldn’t get the radio to quit beeping. As soon as I got it out of my pocket, I took the batteries out of my radio and put them on the ground, because I felt certain a third bull was coming. I looked over my left shoulder, and I could see the tips of white antlers moving through the trees. Robbie and I were both giving cow calls to try and sound like more than one cow that was talking to this bull.
Before the bull got to within 40 yards, I was already at full draw. Finally, the bull stopped perfectly broadside between two trees, and I released the arrow. When the bull took the arrow, he turned 180 degrees and went back up the mountain the way he had come. I knew I’d made a good lung shot, and I didn’t think the bull would go far. So, I started running up the mountain for about 200 to 300 yards to get in front of him. When the bull came up to where I was, I could tell he was about to fall over. However, I already had another arrow nocked. So, I shot him again on the opposite side of where I’d shot him the first time, and he tipped over. The bull would score between 280 and 300 points, and I was really excited that I had taken him down.
There was just Robbie and me to try and field dress, quarter, cape-out the elk and get him back to the truck. I returned to the spot where I’d shot the elk to find the batteries to the radio. I called Dave, who was about a mile from us. He agreed to come and help us get the elk off the mountain. Robbie and I went back to where the downed elk was. As I started field dressing the elk, I still had my diaphragm call in my mouth, so I was giving cow calls. The mountain just came alive with bugles. So many elk were bugling that Dave called me on the radio and said, “There is so much bugling going on, I can’t find you. Give a triple bugle, so I can locate exactly where you are.” We carried out as much meat as we could on the first trip and put the rest of the meat in game bags to come back for later. I’d shot the elk at 5:00 pm, and we finally got back to our truck at 5:00 am the next morning. We went back to camp and slept a few hours. Then we got back up at 10:00 am and returned to get the rest of the meat. I literally shot my bull in the last minutes of the last day of my hunt.
To learn more about elk hunting, check out John E. Phillips’ book, ‘Secrets for Hunting Elk,’ available in Kindle at http://amzn.to/WGb9le.
Tomorrow: Why to Use HuntData for Public Land Elk