The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation seeks to lengthen its stride in better carrying out its conservation mission of ensuring the future of elk, other wildlife, their habitat and our hunting heritage. We enjoy our work and find great satisfaction in seeking to make a tangible difference for the most majestic of North America’s wild creatures, and those of us who appreciate and love to pursue them.
Every so often we get tapped on the shoulder and recognized for those efforts by everyday folks who find success on some of the landscapes positively affected by our work.
For example, the photo to the right was forwarded our way from Byron and Kathy Richard, landowners in North Dakota who opened their private land to public hunters just this past hunting season. The 20,000-acre Beaver Creek public access project, carried out in conjunction with our partners at the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, created that state’s largest hunter access tract. The Richards received the photo from a hunter who successfully filled his freezer while hunting on their land. They then sent it to us.
Below is a play-by-play of an elk hunter from Arkansas who had “one of the best experiences” of his life when he took his first bull elk. It happened on land in Idaho that was part of another RMEF land project. Our thanks to Rocky Bellomy for sharing it with us.
I left Arkansas on the seventh of September with two tags and a dream of filling them within the next two weeks. I had studied for months and contacted the local game warden and talked with a couple of friends I have in southern Idaho about the location I was going to hunt. I had rented a trailer and packed it full, been practicing with a homemade elk target to be able to judge distance on a full size elk. I was prepared the best I could be for the trip. It took me a day and a half to get to there and met up with a friend and we headed off into the mountains to the first camp site. Didn’t really unpack anything but my bow and gear and headed off in search to fill my tag. I camped in the first place for two days and was able to fill my mule deer tag on a year and a half old 3×2 buck. He wasn’t a giant deer but mine all the same and I was proud of him. He was the first buck I had killed in three years and the very first that still had velvet on his antlers.
I switched up location for camp and decided to go lower as the nights were pretty chilly up high in the mountains and we weren’t seeing any elk up high and hadn’t heard any elk bugling except late at night or real early morning. I hunted hard with another friend of mine that had moved to Idaho a few years back for a couple days and we still came up empty-handed and not sighted an elk yet. We started hunting over water holes and wallows that we had found or others told us where they were. I was able to get a spike bull within 72 yards but decided to pass, not sure of the shot.
For the next four days I kicked myself for not shooting that spike. I had practiced to yardages past that distance and was confident, but for some reason that day it didn’t feel right. The evening of the 14th we decided since the bulls were not bugling we would get our turkey tag and go to another location and shoot a turkey until the bulls started really speaking up. We had moved about an hour away and was setting up camp when we got a phone call that the bulls were fired up and bugling in a location we had been hunting the previous two days. So we loaded up and headed back.
We arrived there at around 11:30 at night and jumped in bed ready for daybreak. When the alarm went off, we jumped out of bed dressed and ready. The temperature was cold, somewhere around low 30s or high 20s. We stepped outside and sounded a locator bugle and had a response back from three different bulls. We picked a bull and headed out closing the distance fast before day broke and he went silent. The fog was thick at ground level and we had good cover from it to across the open areas to get close. We got within a few hundred yards and hit the cow call and he answered and we moved in. He was halfway up a ridge and in thick cover of oak brush. We were at the edge of the open area and nearly right below him. Shane took the decoy out of his pack and stood it in the edge of the tall grass and made a few cow calls as I moved up the mountain to get closer as he called him down. The bull was having none of it, he would move to an opening on the ledge and watch the cow from above. I am sure he was waiting for the wind currents to shift so he could be assured there was no danger.
We swapped plans and watched him bed down in the oak brush. We knew we had him. Now if we could get close and start cow-calling to bring him out of his bed. Our plan was to walk down a half mile and start up the base of the ridge until we got to his level and then side-hill around until I got close. Shane was to stay back about a hundred yards to call once I was within range and ready. There was a deer trail that was going directly toward where the bull was bedded and I slipped down it for several hundred yards, taking my time and being quiet. The wind had shifted in our favor and was now coming up the hillside as we were slightly above him. I got within about thirty yards and gave Shane the signal to start calling as I readied for the shot.
The moment the bull heard the cow calling from down the ridge from him he got out of his bed and headed toward the opening to look down the deer trail. I was posted on the side and slightly uphill. I was in shock. I was closer to him than I thought. As he stepped out in the opening at 23 yards I was already at full draw. I steadied the pin behind his near side front shoulder knowing he was quartering to me slightly I tried to get it tight in to the shoulder. I released the arrow and he wheeled and trotted off. I forgot to cow call I was in shock. Shane, on the other hand, was not and started calling to him and watching him through his binos. Shortly after the shot I could hear and see oak brush moving back and forth below me. I was thinking the bull was moving below me back and forth and was trying to keep track of where he was going.
We got together and talked about what happened. My other friend was watching from the other ridge as the whole thing went down. He came over and told us that he seen several cows run from the oak brush but there was no bull that ran out. That explained all the movement below me, so where was the bull? I started on the blood about a half hour after the shot and found blood within a few feet but it quickly was gone after he had rubbed against an oak brush and smeared it off. I was in despair going back over the shot what I could have done differently. Could I have aimed better, waited for a broadside shot, everything? Shane was without doubt and started moving toward where he seen the bull last in his binos. I was searching for blood with Shane started making cow calls on his diaphragm call and then making weird sounds. I went toward him. He seemed to be confused as to what happened. I figured he found some blood or my arrow or something. He was standing beside my bull which had made it about 75 yards before he went down and slid down the mountain about 40 yards.
I had a mix of emotions. Just hours before I was worried about taking a turkey since the bulls were not fired up yet. I went from ready to take my first elk, to enjoying the scenery that Idaho offers and was taking several pictures. But everything worked better than I could have hoped for. The cow calling peaked the interest of the bull making him get up and close the distance needed for a clear shot. The wind stayed steady and in our favor and my arrow flew true.
All this wouldn’t have happened had it not been for the efforts of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and land purchases associated with it. I took my first elk on September 15, 2016, on some land that was purchased by or in conjunction with RMEF funds. I just wanted to show my appreciation for what you do for both the animals we pursue and the hunters who pursue them.Thanks,
Rocky BellomyIf you are a landowner or hunter and have a “coming full circle” tale to tell about hunting on land that is part of a past RMEF public access, permanent land protection or habitat stewardship project, we would certainly love to hear about it.