By Justin Nelson
September 24, 2016
Literally 8 hours ago, the guys and I were packing out T.J.’s bull. What seemed like a never ending night, finally ended with us back to camp around 4 in the morning. With the season ending for me in two days, my opportunities were dwindling. After a long hard week of hunting my pickiness was gone. We had finally located the big bulls, but our time was running out. I made it clear to the guys that I would probably shoot just about any elk that stepped in front of me.
For the first time this elk season the entire group was together on a hunt. Searching for new country and trying to locate more elk, we split into pairs for most of the season. This would be difficult at times but also had its advantages. Garret and I struggled early in the week but Jeremy and TJ seemed to be in the right place. Jeremy would down his bull on Monday and T.J. got his on Friday. Struggling most of the week, having Jeremy and T.J. back with us was refreshing and gave us hope for the evening hunt.
We started the hunt by walking nearly 4 1/2 miles. We had hunted the same area the previous night and there was activity everywhere. At one point I was right in the middle of two bulls that would go over 340 inches. We heard multiple bulls bugling and had seen close to 25 elk. Our plan was to come in on the trail staying low and listen for a bull to give his location away. However, that night the moon was full and hillside would be lit up all throughout the night. After awhile, it was apparent that the elk had been up all night long and wouldn’t be as vocal as the night before. We decided to slowly work the timber with the wind in our favor.
With two camera men and one caller, we headed through the first bit of trees. Leading the group, I weaved my way through the edge of a clearing and back towards the timber. Just as I was about to enter the timber, I slipped and fell making a loud crashing noise. People always say I’m clumsy when I hunt, which is true, but I always tell them that’s why I can spot more game, keeping my eyes always looking up. But anyways, as soon as I fell there was crashing all around us. Several elk got up from near by beds and ran into the timber. We were unable to tell exactly what they were but immediately tried to call to calm the hill. After about five minutes we continued in the direction they were headed.
I moved up the hill, found a good game trail, and slowly walked down the path. Carefully looking in all directions I moved slowly ahead. Not more than 50 yards after jumping the elk, I spotted an elk below us in the trees. I quickly signaled to the guys and we got into position. Through my binoculars I saw antlers and whispered, “bull”. I signaled Garret to move up the hill behind me and to start calling. T.J. and Jeremy moved in slowly to capture the bull on film. The bull was a smaller five point and was feeding right below us. I guessed he was about 80 yards away. Garret began to call and quickly got the bulls attention. I ranged a few trees in his direction and knocked and arrow. The bull slowly worked his way through the trees and was now within 40 yards. When the bull stepped out from behind the timber I pulled back. Needing the bull to turn broadside and with brush covering a frontal shot I was forced to hold back and wait. The bull continued to look in my direction, and I was weakening by every second. At one point I almost let back down but somehow managed to fight through the weight of the string. Two minutes later the bull finally turned to the right and walked to the clearing. I resettled my pins and released my shot. I could see my arrow flight was off, but the sound of the impact was good. It was the sound of a pass through and was through the main body cavity. The bull ran off and was gone instantly. I looked back to Jeremy and and showed him where I thought I had hit the bull. From what I could tell the shot looked forward. After things calmed down the guys came down and we watched the footage over and over. They assured me that he was dead, and I too started to believe the shot was fatal. After waiting for about 30 minutes we slowly walked down looking for my arrow and the first sign of blood. Although we couldn’t locate my arrow, the path was obvious as blood covered the leaves in the direction he ran. It was then when I looked up and spotted my bull upside down about 60 yards in front of us.
The shot had gone through the shoulder and exited out the backside crease. The arrow had pierced the elks heart. We all had worked so hard and now we had 3 of our 4 tags notched. We worked as a team that night from the hunt, to the kill, and to the pack out. I was grateful for the opportunity and grateful to have everyone together that night. We hiked through the night and returned to camp around midnight.