The Heartbreak Bull

I saw some cool stuff and learned a lot last archery elk season. Things started out fast and then they got interesting, so I guess I’ll just start from the beginning.

Finances and time were an issue this year (aren’t they always?), so I decided before the season that any archery elk would do. On the first hunt of the season, I hunted with Ty and Greg Cameron. Ty had already shot a small six-point on opening day so Greg and I hunted one of our honey-holes while Ty glassed from the road. Right off the bat I called a spike in to less than five yards. We stared each other down for what seemed like forever and when a big ‘ole drop of snot dripped out of the little bull’s nose, Greg started laughing and the gig was up. While we were discussing our close call and how funny it had been, we were snapped back into hunting mode by a bugle. Amazing how effective that is.

Greg set up in a meadow and I started calling and before long we had three different bulls calling back at us.

One in front of Greg and two behind me. The front bull hung up, but the other two were coming in fast. Suddenly I had gone from “caller” to “shooter”. As I was finding a place to set up I could hear them crashing through the timber just above me and I was caught with my pants down so to speak. I had my bow drawn, but the bull (a nice one at that) was staring a hole through me and there was a pine tree over his vitals to boot. I thought it was all over, but he took a slow step forward which opened up his vitals. At twenty yards I can hit that every time and I did. My arrow hit exactly where I had aimed, but he wasn’t there anymore. Bummer. I just had to sit there and watch him run off with the other bull and a cow.

So now it’s almost dark and we’re thinking that the day’s done, going over what-if’s, feeling sorry for ourselves, excited about what had happened. The highs and lows are what it’s all about right? Anyway, we heard a new bugle. Well, more like a roar. No, make that a ghoulish, bloodcurdling scream….

So now it’s almost dark and we’re thinking that the day’s done, going over what-if’s, feeling sorry for ourselves, excited about what had happened. The highs and lows are what it’s all about right? Anyway, we heard a new bugle. Well, more like a roar. No, make that a ghoulish, bloodcurdling scream. We jumped and saw an absolute monster of a bull working toward us with his nose was on the ground like a bird dog. I instantly knew that this was the biggest bull I had ever seen and I could tell that he was trailing the elk that I had just missed. I told Greg, “I know where he’s going, I’m going to ambush him” and took off. There was no time to explain.

I made it to my ambush spot, but I was too late.

He was already past me and walking away from at thirty-five yards. I cow-called and he stopped and turned back to look, quartered away pretty hard and it was almost dark. Not much time left. I drew my bow, aimed, fired and… I missed. Again. I couldn’t believe it. The biggest bull I had ever seen at thirty-five yards and I missed. Heartache. Little did I know that I had just started the best and worst season I had ever had. Plus, my standards for the year had just gone up. Way up. “Any elk” wouldn’t work anymore. Finances be damned, and I suddenly, magically had lots of time.

The next week, my buddy Mike and I packed in to a different area where I had gotten a nice bull a few years before (don’t ask me why). We had a few close calls but just couldn’t close the deal. Plus there were hunters everywhere and we were having mule problems. The highlight of that week was an incredible sunset one night. A vivid orange glow that I had never seen before or since. Coming home was almost a relief. It was frustrating and I couldn’t get that big bull out of my head.

With just over a week left in the season I went back after the big bull and my son Webb went with me.

Driving in to camp we glassed from the road and spotted a bunch of elk down low near a hay field along the river bottom so we decided to start there in the morning. I wouldn’t have to climb 2000 vertical feet. WHOOHOO! When we got to the campground after dark we ran into my buddy Carey Craner. He was camping there too, so we decided to hunt together the next day.

At first light we saw and heard elk in the hay field across the river from us and a nice bull was working his way down toward us through some rim-rock. We thought we could intercept him at the river, so we snuck down and set up. It was quiet for a long time so we moved across the river only to see him cross right where we were set up. What did I learn from this? Be patient… I struggle with that sometimes.

Minutes later, we heard another bull screaming about 200 yards away and that scream sounded very familiar.

Chills went up my back. Was this the same bull? We ran up to the top of a little hill and started glassing and there he was. He was huge, but he didn’t seem to be as big as the bull I had encountered a few weeks ago. What were the odds of there being two monster bulls in such a small area? My heart was pumping and I was breathing hard, but not from our little run.

He had thirteen cows with him and they were heading back up into the timber. They had spent the night feeding in the hay field and had already crossed the river. We tried calling, but he didn’t pay any attention. He was going to bed. We followed them up out of the river bottom, across a big sagebrush side hill and through a small saddle. We ran up to the saddle just in time to see them disappear into the timber about a mile above us.

We could hear him bugling until about 11:00 and then things got quiet. Cary and I talked it over and decided that there was a good chance they would do the same thing the next morning so we got busy and built a rock blind in the saddle they had crossed. We stayed there all day and that evening the elk came back out of the timber. We watched him chase around and breed two cows and right before dark they moved into the next canyon. We were getting ready to head back to camp when I spotted another huge bull. I couldn’t believe it. He was just as big or bigger than “our” bull. To say the least we were excited.

Cary had to go home, but for four mornings I sat in my blind and they never showed up.

But they were still up in their meadow and I tried every day to work my way into them, but the wind was just too swirly and I would be forced to back out. The two huge bulls would throw insults back and forth to each other all day. The other bull was bigger, but he didn’t have any cows and didn’t seem interested in having any. I think he was the bull I had missed on the first day I hunted because he had that loud, creepy scream of a bugle. Besides, what were the odds of three monstrous bulls being in the same area?

I sat there in my blind for about an hour. Dejected. Depressed. Beaten. I could hear the two bulls above me. Taunting me. I decided I was going after them. I had nothing to lose, it was my last chance…

I had to go home for a day to get some work done, but Ty and Greg were coming back up so I told them about the two bulls and my blind. I had mixed feelings about letting them in on my secret, but I hope that they would do the same for me. What are hunting buddies for? Turns out that the the elk did come down to the hay field that night, but got up and over the saddle before they were set up. They did see him though and they weren’t too happy about having to go back to work.

Now it’s the last day of archery season and I’m back in my blind and the elk are down in the hay field.

It’s go time! I watched as they came out of the field, crossed the river and were headed right up the trail towards me. Now, I normally get a little bit excited in these situations but I almost passed out from breathing so hard. I was worked up and had to fight to get myself under control. Thankfully, it took them about ten minutes to get to the saddle and by that time I thought I had the cat in the bag… “the bull by the horns” would be a better expression I guess. Anyway, I digress. I had put in my time, stayed patient and a monster bull was heading my way. For some reason though, they veered up away from the trail and passed just out of bow range. To rub it in they milled around in the saddle for about an hour. Always tantalizingly close, but not close enough. Murphy’s Law sucks. Bad.

I sat there in my blind for about an hour. Dejected. Depressed. Beaten. I could hear the two bulls above me. Taunting me.

I decided I was going after them. I had nothing to lose, it was my last chance.

I can’t remember how, but Cary ended up with me again later that day. We ate lunch and made our last march up to the bedding area. It was late afternoon and the wind was actually blowing down towards us while we slowly picked our way through the timber and we could hear the big bull bugling up above us. The herd was slowly work up and over the ridge. We had to hurry!

We pushed hard to within 100 yards of the bull and we could see him and a few cows milling around up ahead of us. I’m not normally a greedy hunting partner, but I had spent a lot of blood, sweat and tears on this bull, so I told Cary to stay there and call for me and I started working closer. Before I knew it I had closed the distance to about fifteen yards, but he was just over a steep little hill above me and I could just see his head. Cary was calling his heart out, and the bull was bugling just as much or more, but I was stuck. Couldn’t go any further, but after a while of trying to come up with an idea, I noticed that each time he bugled, he closed his eyes. Hmmm…

Since I had figured out this little tidbit of information, now I could gauge when he was going to bugle and scramble a step or two up the hill every time.

Eventually I slipped, scooted and lurched my way to within seven yards and I could finally see his vitals! I waited for him to bugle again and drew my bow and I guess I got my timing wrong or he didn’t close his eyes that time because he spotted me, jumped away a few feet and the stare-down began and I couldn’t see his vitals anymore. Now, perched on the side of of a steep gravel hill at an awkward angle with my toes digging in for traction, I was starting to get tired and to make matters worse, a charlie horse started in my abdomen. I was giving myself a mental butt-chewing for blowing it when he took a step and I had a clear shot. By now I was shaking from fatigue and my pins are making big circles. I just couldn’t bear down, but I thought, “I can do this”.

I timed my shot for when my wandering pins crossed his vitals and squeezed off only to watch my arrow fly harmlessly over his back and the bull of a lifetime disappear over the ridge and out of my life. This is one of the lowest points I’ve ever had in my life and I’m a “glass-is-half-full” type of guy. I think I was truly depressed. I had missed a huge bull twice in one season, and I can shoot pretty well. Cary did his best to try to cheer me up, but I knew that I may not ever get a chance at another bull of that caliber. I thought about it for about a year, wondering what I could have done different but couldn’t come up with anything. Just wasn’t in the cards I guess.

Now I wish I had a happier story and a bunch of pictures of a happy hunter (me) with a huge bull elk but I don’t. However, this is my most cherished hunting memory and now that I’ve had a few years to digest it, I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s gonna make that monster bull mean that much more when I do finally get him.

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by Cory Glauner

After the Idaho archery elk season there is a lottery rifle season. A guy who had never gotten an elk before had drawn a tag and ended up shooting “my” bull on opening day. Normally, I would be happy for him, but as the story goes, his buddy (who had spotted the bull during archery season and had watched my little drama) was all excited and started caping him after they took pictures. Then shooter told him, “I’m not going to mount this one, I’m sure I’ll get a bigger one someday”. He later tried to sell the rack on Ebay for a preposterous amount and I guess now the antlers are laying on his garage floor with junk piled all over them. Makes me sad.

By the way, the bull ended up scoring about 385 inches B&C.