Bowhunting World Xtreme 2004

Extreme Tactics For Monster Elk – By Chuck Adams

On September 24, 2003, Chuck Adams defied all
odds by bagging yet another monster elk—the fifth in a row gross
scoring over 370 record·book points. Chuck’s ’03 giant is a symmetrical
6×6 with main beams over 60 inches, an inside spread over 60 inches,
and average tine length over 18 inches. With a green gross score of
423 and a green net score of 412, this bull has a chance to eclipse
Chuck’s own Pope and Young World Record from 2000. P&Y panel
judging will occur in early 2005.

What follows here are exciting details about this huge bull plus
specific tactics Chuck uses to locate and shoot oversize elk like this one.
was scrambling down a near-vertical slope when the accident; occurred. Pine
I needles gave way underfoot, and I fell on my butt as I skated toward a cliff 50
feet below me.
The wild ride ended after I smacked a four inch pine, pinwheeled upside-down,
and collided with another small tree. I hugged the trunk like a long»lost friend, my
body aching but my bow miraculously still in my fist. My feet dangled over a five foot ledge.

Seconds later, the bull I was after bugled just below. I saw antler tips first, and
then the animal sauntered into view. At less than 20 yards, he looked immense.
But fortunately for me, my first really clear look showed massive beams and long
brow tines but little else to write home about. I say “fortunately”, because I could
not have shot my bow to save my life.
The bull’s rack had seven points on the left and eight on the right, but main beams
were short and tine length petered out near the top. The mature but only moderately large monarch climbed higher and veered directly beneath me. Shooting distance, had I been able to shoot and had I wanted to shoot, was less than ten yards.

After the elk disappeared, I dug in my heels, scooted away from the edge, and
crawled uphill to safety. Unless you’re dead, things can usually be worse. I was
tickled to still be in one piece with no broken bones and a promising elk season
ahead of me.
The very next day, I saw the monstrous bull I finally shot three days after that.
I had found a great elk area—a place I’d never hunted before with fresh sign and
enough undisturbed animals to allow a quality bowhunt. How I found the place
is a story in and of itself.

In Search 0f Extreme Habitat
My guide and I have hunted together for years. We are friends, we think alike,
and we dearly love to chase big elk. So after seeing a number of so»so bulls in
places we’d hunted in times past, we decided to pull up stakes and try new ground.
We weren’t interested in ordinary elk, and we knew that somewhere there had
to be a brute.

I looked at topo maps for hours with specific things in mind. I passed over
places with classic alpine elk habitat, because I knew there’d be other bowhunters
there. I was looking instead for corncob»rough, extremely steep ground on the
ragged edge of known elk»producing places. Modem elk are expanding their range
in many parts of the West, and I wanted to find a spot where elk hunting might
not yet be popular.
My 2000 World Record elk had lived in such a place—difficult to penetrate, even
more difficult to hunt, and just enough off the beaten path to not be hammered by
guns or bows. A truly monster bull elk is at least six years old, sometimes eight
or ten. Very few animals reach ripe old age
without having a hideaway with light hunting pressure.

Some bowhunters believe the best elk
are found on private, expensive guided
ground. It’s to think the grass is greener
in such places. In fact, some archers have
told me they assumed my biggest elk have
been taken in pricey outfitted areas where
hunting is easy.

No so. As a matter of fact, I believe that
places frequented by outfitters might be
the very worst spots for genuinely huge
bulls. Serious, hard»hunting outfitters
know every inch of their private leased
ground, and they tend to keep elk age in
such places lower than it needs to be for tip-
top antlers. One very successful elk outfitter
recently told me he deliberately harvests
bulls at about five years of age. He
explained that most hunters are tickled
with a 330 or 340 elk, and added that he
made more money by managing for nice elk
rather than extraordinary elk. Savvy outfitters
concentrate on the bottom line, not
World Record antlers.

If I wanted a decent 6×6 bull and had
the money to spend, I might bowhunt such
a place. Quite a few privately owned elk
properties in New Mexico, Wyoming, Colorado, Montana, and other
states will consistently produce record·book bulls in the
290 to 320 range. A few will yield even better elk.
But for truly huge old mossbacks, I
prefer offbeat pockets not routinely hunt»
ed by guides. Such places are often public
land or private property where free trespass
permission can be obtained.

Covering The Ground
The place my guide and I circled on my
map on September 20 was typically untypical
elk habitat. It was dozens of miles
from known and popular hunting places,
but close enough to hold at least a few
elk. It was murderously steep, with contour lines almost overlapping on the map.
Although I’d never been there, my guide
told me the general area had been heavily clear cut decades earlier, with nasty
timber-choked draws surrounded by wide·
open country. It did not look like elk terrain,
he said, and we probably would not
see other bowhunters. He said we could
probably get permission to hunt sections
that were not public land—an important
factor for elk success. When bulls rut,
they move with track shoes on. You can-
not score if you are stuck on one isolated
square mile of real estate. You’ve got to
move, and sometimes move quickly, over
mile after mile of rugged habitat.

When I first saw the new country on
Sunday, September 21, I was not impressed.
It was indeed open by elk»hunting standard,
with ancient pine stumps littering yellow»
grass hillsides. But slopes were cratered
with sudden pockets of timber and brush,
and deceptively deep canyons knifed
downward off the peaks.

On the second ridgeline we hiked, I
found a string of sap-oozing antler rubs
and piles of fresh elk droppings. Just over
the top, out of sight from an old road, was
a giant gorge with trees as thick as dog
hair. Loggers had taken the easy trees and
left the difficult ones behind. Despite a
severe drought in the West, stem»cured
grass was knee-deep under the trees. Somewhere below,
a stream bubbled merrily
over rocks.
Here, tucked out of sight, was a little
piece of elk heaven.
As if on cue, a bull growled deep in
the draw. It was the single, throaty rumble
of a wild elk that didn’t want to be
chased. . . just the sort of elk I love to chase.
The bull never made another peep, and it
was late in the morning, but I went after
him anyway. My trusty guide was lurking
a safe distance behind.

Going Strong All Day
Covering ground in the elk woods does
not only mean looking at plenty of places
with maps and vehicles. It also means
hiking long distance, both to scout and
to hunt.
Here I was, slipping downward
through very thick trees, late in the
morning with daytime heat settling into
the canyon. I do not believe in penetrating elk-bedding zones, because
bumped animals don’t always come back.
But the bull sound below me had been
too tantalizing, I had not yet seen a really large elk despite days
and days of hunting, and I just wanted a peek.

I got my peek in spades a few minutes
later. The pungent barnyard odor of elk
suddenly hit my nostrils, and then a big,
amber-colored cow exploded from her bed
directly in front of me. Suddenly, the
whole hillside was churning with elk
hooves and dust. I ran to a nearby point,
poked my head over the edge, and spotted
colossal elk antlers twisting downward
through the trees. The bull was hot on the
heels of eight females, hazing them like a
cutting horse after cows. Seconds later,
with the vision of giant antlers burned into
my brain, the small herd vanished beyond
a ridge.

I could not believe my eyes. This
bull was definitely larger than my 2002
elk, and the one in 2002 had officially
gross scored 377 2/8 and net scored 368 4/8
The back “whale tails” on the rack I had
just seen were immense, the main beams
dropping downward on both sides of the
rump. The spread looked impossible-
the widest I had ever seen on a live elk
or in a picture. As I compared my snap
impression with the World Record I had
taken in 2000, I kept coming back to a
startling possibility. This elk might be
just as big!

As my guide and I tramped the high
ridges the rest of the day to look for sign
and orient ourselves to the area, I kept
second·guessing my judgment. As I report»
ed in a 2001 issue of Bowhunting World,
bull elk scoring over 400 points are incredibly rare.
I had said then, and I kept telling
myself now, that seeing two such bulls in
a lifetime was impossible. Despite several million elk harvested in North
America during the past l0O years, fewer than
three dozen typical bulls had officially beat
the 400 inch mark.

We covered ground all day long, and
walked all the next day as well. We did not
hear or see so much as one elk during those
20·plus hours. There were pockets of fresh
sign, but not a lot of animals in the area. It
didn’t matter to me. At that point, I was
only interested in one elk-—the whopper in
the deep, dark canyon.

Refining The Game Plan
On Tuesday, September 23, I saw the big
bull again. It was mid-morning, and we
had just about given up on hunting. Glassing distant slopes had turned up one
raghorn 5×5, two spikes, and one cow.
just as we dropped our binoculars and
stood to leave our prominent perch, ell;
began streaming from a cut in a mountain
half a mile away. At the rear was a huge-
bodied bull with ivory·tipped antlers.
Even from 800 yards, the bull was unmistakable. My guide was flabbergasted The animal was a true rump scratcher, and all the tines were
long. I was beginning to believe that lightning just might strike twice
in the same place.
Before we could get anywhere close, the bull and his eight-cow harem
vanished in the very same canyon were I’d seen them two days before.
As many readers of Bowhunting World know, I prefer not to call elk.

Calling is certainly exciting, and young bulls certainly respond to well
practiced bugles and grunts. But old, hard»hunted bulls are wise.
I suspect they recognize the voices of other real elk in their area, and I know
they move away from imitation calls. You simply do not live six or eight
years by charging every bugle and grunt you hear.

The bulls I hunt don”t even call much themselves. They know from
past experience that mouthing off can be hazardous to their health,
Only when pressed by a rival bull or an overly aggressive pipsqueak do
they bother to answer back.

Such elk require you to refine your game plan. Call only to locate
bulls from a distance. Be quiet and stalk through heavy cover that trophy bulls prefer.
Dog the edges of elk herds, Sooner or later, the big
guy just might swagger into bow range. Never, but never let him know
you’re there. You should stay out of sight and out of his mind—a total
surprise to the bull when your arrow smacks him through the chest.
Going For The Shot

I hiked the mountainside downwind from the elk bedding canyon
till dark on Tuesday. Elk seldom move much before dead dark in
warm weather, and it was certainly warm. But my goal was not
shooting an elk that day, anyway. It was learning terrain so I might set up a shot
tomorrow.

First light on Wednesday morning
found me crouched on a knob near the
bottom of the mountain. A long slash of
wide»open ground stretched upward to the
top….a slash I now knew by heart. With
luck, the bull might push his cows across as
he had the morning before.

Bingo! Three elk appeared high on
the slope where the ones had been the day
before. My heart leaped. . .and then I
relaxed. These were small bulls, not the
macho kind capable of holding cows.
The trio wandered out of sight. Seconds later,
a string of cows appeared a little lower down.
Hot on their heels was the
massive bull.

I ran 125 yards like a madman, scrambling up an open cut that rose sharply I
toward the elk. Out of breath and shaking from excitement, I peeked beyond a bank
of dirt. Here came the cows, mincing along a narrow trail beaten into the hill,
They were barely 2O yards away! I ducked, nocked an arrow, and buried
my shoulder in the near-vertical slope,

Only my eyeballs moved as the females
slipped past me on the upwind side. I could
see the shine of their noses, the glitter of
their eyes, and the delicate flutter of their
eyelids. As the eighth cow moved past
and disappeared, I tensed to take the shot.
Nothing. No antlers, no sound, and
not even any dust, I waited as endless seconds plodded by,
Still no bull, Far uphill, a squeaky bugle erupted from
a patch of timber. Suddenly, polished
antlers appeared much closer above a hill.
They glittered like the mouth of hell as the
giant bull strolled out well above the cows.
I groaned, drew my Reflex bow, and tried
to estimate the distance over the arrow. It
was now or never, and I was determined to
make it now, When you think you can
make the shot, you should go for the shot!

The bull stopped and whipped his head
uphill, gawking toward the elk that had just
called. I guessed 45 yards, planted my sight
pin, and let the bowstring go. Half a second later,
the shaft hammered home with
a meaty, satisfying thump!

The bull staggered ahead, but he did not
go far with a broadhead through both lungs.
I had my elk, and I was thunderstruck by
the size of the beast.

Extreme hunting in an extreme elk
area had paid off with an extreme but very
makeable shot. The animal was also
extreme——extremely big and extremely
exciting. My guide and I rough scored
him well over 4OO points, and even after
half a year, the antlers still unofficially
score nearly three inches larger than my
current P&Y World Record.

Only expert panel judges can sort out
the fine points of officially measuring tines,
assessing main beams, and determining
exactly where the inside spread should be
taped. Half a dozen P&Y points can magically appear
or vanish in one serious measuring session, so l do not know for sure
how this animal will stack up.
But I do know he’s big. That bull
stunned me to my boots when l first laid eyes
on his antlers, and I’m still in awe of his
heavy headgear today. The memories of the
hunt and the thrill of wrapping my hands
around those massive beams are the things
that matter most. >—->>

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