We woke up on Day 3 having heard some bugles throughout the night and into the early morning from what sounded like the creek bottom in the cut below camp.
Thomas and I formulated a plan to go after these bugles but were quickly thwarted by the wind. Calling an audible, we went around to the other side of the basin and made it to the opposite bottom where we were fortunate not to run into any other trucks/hunters.
After getting our packs and gear out of the truck, Thomas let out a locator bugle. 15 seconds later, a response rang out from inside the dark timber around the creek bottom.
With adrenaline levels rising we checked wind, which was not great, and tried to quickly develop a plan of attack. After a bit of hesitation, we ended up jumping off the road and heading straight across the cut to try to get to the timber edge on the other side as quickly as possible.
Unfortunately, it was extremely slow going due to all the fallen trees and thick brush. Throughout the process, we exchanged bugles with the bull a couple more times. After one such response Thomas asked if it sounded different than the previous bugles...
And it was.
3/4 of the way across the cut, I hear a cow call. I look to my right and sure enough, there's another hunter.
We got Doug Fluty'd.
What a way to start the day!
Luckily, the other hunter was incredibly nice and we spent a few minutes chatting with him.
He had been on the other side of the creek (where we were initially planning on going but decided against) and had heard our initial locator. As he was making his way through the timber and creek bottom, he said he had a 4-point bull come in to his cow calls. He had it at 20 yards but decided to pass, as he figured our bugles were coming from a bigger bull than this 4-point.
Eventually, we went our separate ways. Thomas and I decided to hang out by the timberline and see if we could locate the 4-point the other hunter had mentioned. We figured it was the smaller bull we had seen cross the road the day prior and Thomas would be super happy with that guy as his first ever elk kill.
Alas, it was not to be. After not hearing anything for about an hour we decided to head back to the truck and find new ground to hunt. The slog out of this cut was maybe one of the hardest hikes we had the whole trip and took us a good hour to go about 200 yards.
We spent the rest of the afternoon driving new roads, bugling down into new drainages, and hoping to locate a bull that was ready to play the game. After no success with this strategy, aside from finding some fresh rubs, we decided to return to the area where we 100% knew elk were located. The plan for the evening was to get into the thick timber at the bottom of the clear cut where we had stalked in on 5x5 the previous day, sit until last light and see if the herd fed out into the cut or if we could at least hear/see/smell them in the area.
But we got nothing.
This trend of one day on elk, the next day no elk seemed to follow us for the rest of the hunt.
We slept in. What can I say. Sometimes you just need to recharge a bit, especially when you're my size! As we were eating breakfast, an old, wise hunter drove by and shouted at us from his truck, "YOU CAN'T KILL FROM CAMP!", and he was right... so we headed off in search of a bull.
We spent the day driving new roads and trying to find new drainages that might hold elk. We covered a lot of ground, let a lot of locator bugles ring out, but again weren't able to turn much up. We did come across a little bit of fresh bear sign, but nothing in an area that had a decent shooting lane or was a spot we wanted to hang out.
Eventually we decided to explore the other direction from camp, a bit further than we had been up to that point. From the GoHunt maps satellite view there looked to be four solid cuts with timbered creek bottoms that seemed like they might have potential.
As we made out way to them, we came around a corner and saw 4 cows crossing the road in front of us.
ELK! Finally! What a relief.
The cows turned around and headed back into the private land from whence they came, but at least we had seen something! Spirts lifted, we continued on in search of a bull.
In one of the cuts, Thomas spotted a loan spike. That loan spike turned into a spike, a couple cows, and a calf. We wondered if maybe we had split the herd when we'd seen the cows on the road earlier. This group of elk slowly moved away from us and, according to the maps, were headed in the direction of an adjacent cut that had a road leading down to right where they were.
We decided to head that direction in the truck to see if we could turn them up again.
On the way down into that area, we passed along side the adjacent cut, then turned down the road that led to where the elk were. We came across a couple of pretty fresh rubs and that boosted our spirits even more. We parked the truck and continued the rest of the way down on foot, eventually passing by the skid road the elk took from the cut where we originally saw them.
There was a bit of fresh sign, but we didn't pick up any auditory or visual confirmation that the elk were still in the area. Thomas let off a few bugles and some cow calls, but we got no response.
Somewhat dejected, we headed back to the truck, then started back up and out. As we got back to where the timber cut started, Thomas slowed his speed and I kept my eyes peeled for... I don't know... ANYTHING.
We were 3/4 of the way back to the main road when something caught my attention out of the corner of my eye. Something dark... something large...
"Hold up!" I said to Thomas, "I think it's a bull! It either has really big ears or it's a bull!"
I threw up my binoculars as fast I could, manipulating the focus wheel until it finally came into clear view. There he was in all his glory... a 5x5 raghorn, but to us he was the biggest, most beautiful bull we'd ever seen. He may as well have been 400".
We had stopped behind some trees, and I could seem him directly, Thomas wanted a look and started rolling forward. "Stop stop", I almost yelled, "he's looking right at us!"
Thomas slammed the truck in park and shut it down. We exited as stealthily as we could and started to gear up. I grabbed my spotter and hit record on my iPhone, using my PhoneSkope setup to capture video.
My excitement level blew threw the stratosphere and into outer space. I was losing it!
At this point, it was a mad scramble. Light was fading fast and we were running out of time to put a stalk on this bull. Once again we found ourselves in a conundrum where our inexperience reared its ugly head.
Do we go dive off the road and try to go straight at this bull? Do we run down the road to the bottom and circle around and try to come at the bull from below?
We didn't know which strategy would be best, and we didn't know if we had enough time to execute either of them. We finally made the call to go straight down off the road from where we were at. I decided to stay back on the road and try to film the stalk from there.
It was go time.
Thomas started making his way towards the bull, but it was slow going. If you've ever been in one of these timber cuts you know they're an absolute mess of branches, deadfall, and brush. Occasionally the bull would bugle and Thomas would respond to keep him engaged and interested.
From my vantage on the road, I eventually lost sight of Thomas as he dropped into a little draw. When he finally reappeared he hadn't advanced as much as I was expecting. The terrain was slowing him down too much. It was starting to look very questionable if he would be able to get close enough to pop the bull's bubble and draw him in.
The bull kept pushing his cows back towards the timberline, then returning towards Thomas to investigate the bugles he was ripping. As the last light faded, the bull finally followed suit and disappeared into the timber. To add insult to injury, the bull would pipe off a couple more times as Thomas started the long hike out.
It took Thomas a good 45 minutes to make it the 300 or so yards back up to the road and by then it was pitch black out. I was proud of him for diving into that hole after the bull and doing his best.
As a new hunter, it's impossible to describe the excitement of seeing a shooter bull and the process of stalking in on it. No question about it, I am hooked for sure.
We finally made it back to camp, got some dinner, and started to decompress from the day's activities. It had started out slow, but ended with a bang.
Tomorrow is a new day and a new opportunity to make it happen.