After months of planning and setting up access, my son Kyle and I were off on our northern Saskatchewan camping/special draw elk hunting trip. Once camp was set up, we spent the next couple of days with some on-the-ground scouting, so we were ready to roll come opening day.
One of the areas we had secured permission to hunt was prime elk country. It had hills, trees, water and a cornfield where the elk were heavily feeding. There was a lake on one side of the area and only one road in and out. The landowner assured us that since we had asked first, we had sole permission to the area for the duration of our hunt. He added that he had wired the property gate shut to keep others out, and that if we got an elk, we should use an ATV to retrieve the animal because of a very wet spot along the trail into the property. He didn’t want anyone driving over that area and rutting it up with a truck.
By the fresh sign we observed, we knew there was a herd of elk living in the area. There was no doubt that the area would confidently produce a bull elk. However, since this area was small, we knew we needed to look at some of our other areas to hunt once we had successfully taken a bull from our Plan A area. So, we proceeded to set up a Plan, B, C and D.
Plan B was a giant community pasture with several hundred square miles of land. While looking at this land base, we determined our best bet was to access the area from a starting location about an hour away from our base camp.
Plan C was a much smaller pasture with plenty of bluffs of trees and alfalfa fields.
If need be, we also had a Plan D, which was a solid section of mature trees that local residents indicated would fill up with elk once the hunting season started and the elk were pushed from smaller areas with limited trees.
On the evening before the hunt, we drove down the lone access road to our hunting location. Not wanting to spook the elk, we parked on the distant edge of the property and sat glassing and listening for calls to give us a good idea of where to start the next morning.
THE DEMISE OF PLAN A
Just before sunset, a truck came bouncing down the road toward us. Expecting it to be the landowner, I stepped out of my truck to greet him. However, it wasn’t the landowner; it was two strangers who drove right by me and down into the area we were planning to hunt.
They were down there for quite a long time before we finally saw them driving back up the trail. As they got closer, we could see their truck was covered in fresh mud. They stopped and told us they were hunting the spot, that they had permission from the landowner, and that basically, we should hit the road.
Something didn’t seem right with this story. Earlier in the day, the landowner confirmed it was just me and Kyle who had permission to hunt this little area. On our way back to camp, and just before we left cell phone service, I made a phone call to the landowner. I got his voice mail, so I left him a message telling him what had happened—and let him know we did not drive through the mudhole. I further advised that given the circumstances, we wouldn’t be hunting there for a few days. We were sure the other guys spooked the herd of elk and that they weren’t the kind of “hunters” we wanted to be near.
We were a sad pair while cooking supper, since so much effort had gone into securing our Plan A location and because of all the positive elk sign we had observed while scouting the area. As we ate supper, we discussed our options and decided it was going to have to be Plan B. The more we talked about it, the better Plan B sounded.
With the anticipation of a new day and time to execute Plan B the next day, we were up and raring to go well before we truly needed to be. As we broke camp and started driving to our parking spot for the day, my cell phone indicated a voicemail. It was the landowner indicating that the other hunters did not have permission to be on the land and that we were good to go for the rest of the week. That was good news! We really weren’t too sure what to expect from our Plan B, but we were ready to give it our best effort on opening day.
We arrived at our chosen parking area, loaded up our day packs and started hiking in the dark. It was a calm and crisp morning. As we walked along, we could hear coyotes calling in the distance, but we heard no elk. By the time legal hunting time arrived, we had covered about a mile of distance from the road. At that point, we stopped walking, loaded our rifles, and started scanning the surroundings to get familiar with exactly where we were as we scouted this area via aerial maps.
In front of us was a series of small bluffs of trees with open pasture between the bluffs. We knew that by following the line of trees, we would eventually get to the middle of the pasture, where there was a large dugout that we would hunt to and then hunt back from.
As we slowly stalked along, we would periodically stop, bugle, listen and then move forward. After an hour or so, we got a distant response. Each time we would bugle, a bull would return our call. It didn’t take us long to realize there were multiple bulls calling, so instead of calling back right away, we would move towards the calling bulls. When they slowed down calling, we would bugle again to fire them up!
A CLOSE CALL
Several minutes into the calling game, we were stopped along the edge of a bluff of trees and listening for the next bugle. We heard an unexpected, loud, shrill cow call from the trees we were standing near. Based on how loud the call was, the cow had to be very close! After gaining my composure, I gave out a soft cow call in response. Then we froze, listening and watching.
Almost instantly, a cow stepped into an opening 75 yards straight ahead of us. A second elk was right behind her. I could see that it was a small bull. Kyle was off to my right; he whispered about there being a second bull behind the first bull.
Then magically, the three elk moved out of the trees and into the wide-open pasture. As they did, I could see the first bull was a 4×4. The second bull had six points on his right side and was covered in wet mud.
The last time we had been drawn for elk in another zone, the landowner of the property gave us permission to shoot one bull elk between the two of us, and he preferred Kyle do the shooting. Kyle took a nice 6×6 bull on that trip. So, prior to this adventure, he gave me dibs to shoot first.
Given what happened to our Plan A hunt, I knew we had to shoot this gift bull. My fatherly instincts fired in and I signaled to Kyle to shoot the bull. He shook his head no! Not wanting to waste the opportunity, I quickly centered up the crosshairs on the bull’s chest and launched a Winchester 30.06 180 Grain Expedition Big Game Accubond Bullet. At the shot, the bull hunched up and then slowly stepped forward a couple of steps. I shot again and he bolted ahead about 100 yards and stood frozen with his butt end to us.
The smaller bull jumped back into the trees while the cow just stood there trying to figure out what had happened. Kyle bugled with the intention of having my bull turn broadside so I could get in another shot. As he did, my bull piled up!
But before we could even make a move, we heard a distant deep guttural bugle with a crazy chuckle at the end. I had never heard a call like that while elk hunting, but I somehow sensed this was the herd bull showing his dominance. At the end of the chuckle, the cow took off running toward the source of the bugle and chuckle. As she ran away, she was chirping and the bull would answer back. It was incredible to witness. Once the cow disappeared into a distant bluff of trees, the bugling got further and further away.
With one elk down, we knew we couldn’t follow the herd bull, so set out to field-dress my bull. Once that was done, we headed back to camp to get our flat deck trailer for retrieval. While picking up the trailer, the landowner came over to inform us that a fellow over at our Plan A area had driven over a fence and broken a gate. We later found out that the same guy that ruined our Plan A hunt was arrested by the authorities.
LIVE, LEARN, EXECUTE
Day Two found us in the dark, starting back in the area where I had taken my bull on Day One. We walked in there silently and never heard a bugle. As the sun crested, we started calling. After walking deeper into the pasture and more calling, we finally got the elk to start singing. Bugles were occurring to the north and to the east of us.
As we moved closer to the action, we recognized the guttural bugle from the day before. We figured the big bull was north of us and not far at all. The plan was to run at him while cow calling and to see what happened.
Kyle moves faster than I do, so with my one hand gripped on his backpack and the other on my Wapiti River Outdoors Easy Girl Call, we ran straight at the bugling herd bull. Each time I cow called, he bugled back. Then the other bull to the east would sound off. However, this time the big bull wasn’t running away. Instead, he was holding his ground waiting for the “cow” that was calling and running to him, as we were sure he didn’t want the satellite bull to steal her.
Our hearts were pounding with excitement from the sounds around us and from what we were anticipating. With each stride forward we knew we were closing ground on the herd bull. We were suddenly very close because his response was super loud and caused the hair on our necks to stand up! At that point, we stopped running and inched ahead. As we topped a small rise, we could see him just across the opening. He was in a meadow, rushing amongst a group of cows, then charging towards a screaming satellite bull to the east. The big bull was so agitated and moving at full speed. It was like he wanted to be in multiple places at the same time.
Kyle set up his Bog Pod Shooting Sticks and attempted to catch his breath and steady his rifle. As the bull came back, it was half trotting, with head high and antlers towering in the air. Kyle was following him with his scope. I had him in my rangefinder and I was whispering distances to Kyle. First: 500 yards, then 450, 365, and then the bull stopped at 227 yards. The moment the elk paused, I blurted out 227 yards. Instantly, Kyle nailed him in the lungs with a 130 Grain 270 Winchester Power Point Bullet.
I could see the bull was hit perfectly, yet he took off running toward the cows. When he reached the cows, he turned his body and horns on a dime and started herding them towards some distant trees. As the cows took off, he started to slow down and was not keeping up with them. With the bull still on his feet and headed for trees, Kyle shot him once more. Down he went.
The cows kept running and disappeared. However, the bull to the east kept calling and kept coming closer and closer. Before long, we had three satellite bulls within 75 yards of us including one with a tree branch in his antlers. We figured they must have been coming to see why the herd bull was down. We watched these bulls mill around for about five minutes until they slowly disappeared.
Once the other bulls were gone, we walked up to Kyle’s bull. It had a huge body and matching antlers. He was a dream bull elk. We were so excited, yet totally shocked that we took two bull elk on back-to-back mornings in the same pasture on a Plan B hunt.
When I close my eyes, I can still hear that big bull bugling and see him running in the open meadow. Now, if we could only get drawn to hunt in that region again!