Punching Tags On Public Land

There's no doubt public land hunting can get crowded. But if you work hard and play your cards right, public land can make your trophy room crowded, too.

Public-land bowhunting for elk takes time. You have to scout areas well in advance of the season. You need to learn the country. You have to secure a camp near the hunting area and, of course, you have to be lucky. Last weekend my son, Cole, and I had a plan come together that included many of the previously stated ingredients.

We were hunting public land in Wyoming. The herd there, like many public areas, is always in a state of motion. Sometimes they hold up in an area for a week or more, but most of the time they move from drainage to drainage as they dodge hunting pressure and migrate to winter haven.

Last season the elk held up longer in one particular region, giving Cole a chance to arrow a solid bull with seven points per side. It was his first-ever elk and a great trophy for anyone, a beginner or seasoned veteran. This year our hunt was postponed due to an elk hunt I had set up for Mathews' Corrine Bundy and NASCAR’s Clint Boyer. Corrine had great success while Clint had several close encounters. It was a super hunt, but I was ready to get home and hunt with Cole.

After school got out Cole and I headed up the mountain to camp and hit the sack early for an early weekend start. Saturday morning was cool and perfect for bugling bulls. Unfortunately the air was empty of elk vocalizations so we headed to a ground blind I had set up earlier. After several hours of waiting and watching we moved on. The wallows had only been hit once unlike last year when a party was going on nearly every day.

That afternoon while scouting and still-hunting through thick cover, Cole spotted a big bull less than 60 yards away. I slipped back and started calling. It almost worked. The bull moved to within 40 yards, but apparently I sounded a bit too aggressive because the bull eventually turned and walked away just steps before Cole could get a shot. That evening at dark we heard another bull in a distant canyon. We suddenly had a goal for the morning.

At shooting light the bull was still bugling, so we moved in and just as we thought we were in the neighborhood, he shut up. Fortunately another bull started up, but we lost him as well as we neared the spot. Just as we were contemplating returning to the blind, I bugled again and he screamed back just a few hundred yards away. We pushed forward fast and set up. I pulled back and Cole set up downwind to ambush the bull if it tried to circle in for scent.

For nearly 25 minutes we battled it out with bugles, chuckles and I raked trees in desperation to get the bull to budge. He wouldn’t. I motioned to Cole we needed to make a big move, so he sneaked back to me and we slipped down a draw to get below the bull. I cow called and it drove him into a bugling rage. Of course I returned the anger.

We landed in a creek and I whispered for Cole to run ahead fast because the bull was likely on its way. Cole hunkered in some small trees and seconds later the 6x6 strolled onto the scene. He paused so I mewed again. That’s all it took as he walked to within 12 yards of Cole. Realizing the bull was about to walk over him, Cole drew, but the bull saw movement and bolted. I immediately bugled and the bull screeched to a broadside halt 22 yards away. Cole had already released the string on his Mathews Heli-M. The Carbon Express arrow blew through the bull and we were sure we heard the bull crash to the ground seconds later.

Nevertheless, I’ve been on one too many elk hunts where anticipation led to pushing a wounded bull into Never-Never Land. After nearly 2 hours we started on the blood trail and a big whiff of bull elk led us right to the dead bull.

After grins and high-fives, we shot photos and began the chore of preparing the elk for the pack trip out. Cole arrowed the bull a bit after sunrise and as we loaded the horse and mule into the trailer after packing out the animal, nighttime darkness had already enveloped the forest. It had been a long, long day, but one neither of us will forget after scoring success on public land.

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