A deer spotted in the wild

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Two elk in the wild

What’s Elk Hunting About Day 2: Ronnie Strickland Bowhunts...

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What’s Elk Hunting About Day 1: Ronnie Strickland – Bowhunting Elk

Ronnie “Cuz” Strickland with his elk hunting gear
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Editor’s Note: Ronnie “Cuz” Strickland of West Point, Mississippi, is a legend in the outdoors. Cuz started his outdoor career as an outdoor editor for the Natchez, Miss. newspaper. Then when the world discovered video, Cuz was a cameraman and vidiot for Primos Game Calls. Today, Cuz is vice president of Mossy Oak television and video productions. Cuz has been a bowhunter for as long as he can remember and once shot tournament archery.


Ronnie “Cuz” Strickland of West Point, MississippiI grew up near Natchez, Miss., in the Deep South. So, about the only thing I knew about elk for the first half of my life were the animal’s pictures in outdoor magazines. Hunting elk would be a dream hunt that I probably never could afford. Elk were like moose, mule deer and other exotic animals that lived on the opposite side of the Mississippi River. Back then where I lived, there weren’t any outdoor TV shows. The only way I could identify with those critters was from pictures in hunting magazines. I thought I would have about as much chance going on an elk hunt as I would traveling to Africa to hunt a lion. But back then, elk hunting was something I really wanted to do. When I got into the TV and video business, I’ve had the opportunity to hunt elk quite a bit, and I love it.


The first two elk hunts I went on were on public land. They were do-it-yourself hunts. But for me, those first two elk hunts were dreams that had come true. Now, I wouldn’t say that elk hunting is as much fun as turkey hunting. The terrain where the elk live is so much tougher to get to and through than the river bottom swamps in Mississippi. Now elk hunting is similar to hunting turkeys because you get to hear the critter talk and call in the critter. It’s a chess game – just like turkey hunting. My first two elk hunts were horrifically tough.


One year, I got to go on one of those really-nice hunts like I had read about in those outdoor magazines. Actually this wasn’t my hunt. Toxey Haas, the creator of Mossy Oak, was supposed to go on this hunt but had to cancel. So, he asked me to go in his place. Now the thought of going to Utah and shooting a big bull elk that could weigh between 600-880 pounds or more was really exciting. I thought I probably would need at least an 80-pound draw weight bow to shoot a critter that big. I knew I could shoot accurately with my bow set on 59 pounds. So, I was willing to bet on accuracy rather than draw weight, when I packed up my hunting gear to go to the Deseret Ranch in east-central Utah (www.wildcountryoutfitters.com). The ranch is huge. It has several thousand acres and is extremely well managed for elk.


Elk in the wild

This was the first time I ever had hunted with a sure-nuff, for-real elk guide. I really liked hanging out with the guides, because all the guides lived in that area and had been hunting elk for many, many years. They were the real deal. The guides explained to me that the bulls on the Deseret were really receptive to calling. At the end of elk season, the Deseret opened up its land to the public to harvest cow elk. Because of the cow harvest, the bull-to-cow ratio was really good.


My guide told me, “Cuz, you can take whatever bull you want to take, but I recommend that you wait on an older-age-class bull, because we have plenty of big bulls on the ranch.” I told him, “That’s fair, but here’s the kind of bull elk I’m looking for – one with a pulse that’s within bow range. That’s all I’m concerned about, and other than that, I don’t care how big or how old he is. I don’t really care what bull I shoot.” Then the guide encouraged me to hold out for an older-age-class bull. I said, “Okay, I’m cool with that.”


The first day I passed up two really-nice bull elk. The guide would get behind me and call the bulls in to me, much like I do when I call turkeys for some of the guests on our TV show. The guide told me, “If I think the bull is an older bull, and you should shoot him, I’ll give you a thumbs-up. If I think we can get a better bull than the one coming to you, I’ll give you a thumbs-down.” After 2-1/2-days of having several really-nice bulls called within bow range, I’d had about enough of that thumbs-down stuff. One of the field producers from Mossy Oak was with me filming the hunt. Finally, I told the field producer, “The next time we get one of those elk coming in, you can get him on video, and he’s within bow range, I’m going to take him.” So, the second afternoon we had a really giant bull come in, and I came to full draw with my bow. I was ready to squeeze the trigger on my mechanical release, but there was a small limb between me and the elk’s vitals. So, I had to let him walk off.


Elk in the wildWe went back into that same area the next morning. Sure enough that bull was bugling. I could see him about 600-yards away. My guide would call, and the bull would bugle. Then, I heard another bull behind me, and he kept getting closer and closer. The cameraman and I moved up to a little meadow – the way the second bull was coming. We left our guide below us calling. When we got to the meadow, we could see the bull – a big 6×6 – coming to us from 150-yards away. This bull wasn’t nearly as big as the bull across the mountain, but this bull was coming, and the other bull wasn’t. So, the bull coming to me went way up high on my priority list. Then the bull stopped, facing right and straight at me.


I was leaning up against a tree wearing Mossy Oak Break-Up Infinity. I couldn’t get a shot, since the bull was facing me. The bull stood out there at 35 yards for at least 5 to 10 minutes, bugling with almost every breath. If you don’t think that’ll unnerve you, you’re crazy. I don’t care if you’ve been hunting lions in Africa with a bow. When you have an animal that big bugling so loud that you think he’s going to blow your hat off, you will get shook up. Finally, the guide made a couple of soft cow calls, the elk turned his head, and he turned broadside to me, looking away from me, which gave me the opportunity to draw. As soon as the elk took one more step, I released the arrow. The elk made a button hook type move and ran back up the same trail he had come down through the meadow.


I shot the bull at 36 yards with my bow set on 59 pounds and got a clean pass-through. I realized I didn’t have to pull 80 pounds to shoot all the way through an elk with my bow. I’m still pretty old school. I’m 59-years old, and I still have a rubber tube on my peep sight like old-timey bowhunters once used. I’m from the old school of archery that says, “If it’s working, don’t fix it.”


I only have three pins on my pin sight – 20, 30 and 40 yard pins.  I feel I can shoot accurately out to 50 yards with anybody. I know there’s better equipment as far as sighting systems go, and I know some of the younger archers and some of the tournament archers can range an animal, dial in that range to a single pin, shoot dead-on out to 100 yards and take an animal. I’ve found that when your journey as a bowhunter is over, and you look back at all the animals you’ve taken with a bow, 99 percent of the animals you’ve taken will have been at 20 yards or less. That’s not to say that bows won’t shoot accurately out to 60 yards and farther. But for me, I like to get in close on any critter. Yes, even elk.


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/gp/product/B008KQA40W/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_hsch_vapi_tkin_p1_i5.

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 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.


Tomorrow: Ronnie Strickland Bowhunts Public Land Elk

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