Public Bow Bulls from 2011
Four stories of big public-land elk taken last season by bowhunters just like you
I can still hear his deep bugle and picture that heavy frame coming over the ridge to my cow call. For this young hunter, his 300-inch rack and 800-pound body was more than worthy of my arrow. When he stepped into an opening at less than 40 yards, my arrow flew true. Every fall I envision that first elk hunt, and although I end the season with an unpunched tag more often than not, it's ultimately those sights, sounds, smells and close encounters with stick and string that keep me, and many others, coming back season after season. These four hunters have the same desires and were able to capitalize when the opportunities presented themselves last season.
OPENING DAY BULL
Hunter: Jason Stafford
Although consistent success comes in many forms, any seasoned elk hunter will insist that its foundation begins and ends with scouting. As Wyoming resident Jason Stafford glassed from his mid-summer perch, plans were being made for another successful elk season. In the last decade, Jason has arrowed eight bulls, the largest being a 375-inch toad, and by the looks of his summer scouting sojourns, he was about to kill bull No. 9.
The season opened where his summer scouting ended, with Stafford's eyes glued to his binoculars. Although a couple of the bigger bulls escaped his opening morning plans, as the sun crested the eastern slopes, he was undeterred, and headed to the familiar canyon floor in hopes of zeroing in on another bull. It didn't take long to catch movement slipping through the pines, and in short order he was bird-dogging a bachelor group of six bulls, one of which piqued his interest. Two hundred yards quickly melted into 30, but thick cover kept opportunity at bay, and the elk escaped unscathed. But knowing where their daily bachelor pad was, Stafford made plans to return that evening.
As the sun began sliding west, Stafford again located the bulls bedded on a bench. Being familiar with their afternoon routine, he headed back to the canyon floor and eased into an area where he anticipated they would eventually pass through. Glassing ahead as he moved up the valley, he saw a bull feeding in his direction. With an arrow nocked, he blended into the pine forest and waited for an opportunity to present itself. The minutes passed, and finally the Wyoming 350-inch brute fed through a narrow opening 44 yards away. With the release of a single arrow, Stafford's opening day hunt came to a close.
UNIT 1 DOUBLE
Hunters: Scott Hettinger and Jame Todd
SUCCESSFUL! You don't believe that simple 10-letter word when it initially flashes across the screen. You rub your eyes at first and then pinch yourself to make sure you're not in some deep midnight slumber. But after 14 years of trying, North Dakota residents Scott Hettinger and Jame Todd finally drew the elk tags of elk tags, the Superbowl of September, a couple spots in the most coveted elk-hunting destination in the world: Arizona Unit 1. Once the euphoria wore off, these bowhunting addicts began analyzing maps, examining aerial photos, stalking internet bulletin boards, and when that long-awaited early September day finally arrived, they loaded their truck and pointed it toward this Southwestern elk mecca.
They had high hopes when their boots hit the dusty ground, and almost immediately they were into elk. Mature bulls were seen daily and countless bugles heard, but after 11 days of hard hunting without an arrow released, they were beginning to wonder if their long-awaited dreams were going to come to fruition.
On one occasion they were able to slip close enough to a 360-inch gagger and his harem of girls. Time stood still when that drooling brute bellowed a scream at 8 yards. Scott knew an opportunity was imminent, but there's little an archer can do, even at that distance, when thick cover keeps the arrow on the string. All Scott could do was watch in disbelief when the bull's sixth sense over-took his lustful mind and he melted into the timber.
The morning of day 12 started like any other Three bulls were bugling in the distance, and the chase was on. After an errant stalk on the first contender, the second brute let out a deep bugle, and in short order he was coming into their setup on a string. Hearts pounded when his screams drew closer. When he appeared coming down a 30-yard trail, Scott knew his hard work was going to pay off. In a matter of seconds the bull bugled his last. Scott's 12-day quest had come to a heart-pumping end.
Two days later, Jame capitalized on his own Arizona prize while waiting over a well-used wallow. Needless to say, with nearly 650 inches of Arizona antler in the truck, the hunters were all smiles while heading home.
Hunter: Lou Phillippe
Forty-eight years is a long time to be lugging a bow around in the high country, but when Colorado resident Lou Phillippe stepped into those familiar woods last September, he had high hopes his traditional recurve would do the job again. No stranger to archery success, Phillippe has managed to not only arrow whitetails, mule deer, bear and caribou with traditional tackle, but 31 elk.
Phillippe had hunted all or part of 20 days in the Over the Counter Unit last season, and as he explained it, there were only a few days remaining before the fat lady sang. He'd passed several smaller bulls in his recurve range, and he had a couple close calls with some big ones. But as the days ticked away, his anxiety increased. One particular heavy 6-point had escaped the business end of his arrow on three separate occasions.
After a discouraging morning hunt on his 20th day, Lou was heading back to camp when a lone bugle erupted from the timber he was skirting. Quickly darting for cover next to an old fire road, he attempted to locate the bull in the timber. As Lou crested a small rise he spotted the bull looking directly at him from 80 yards down the road. Thinking Lou was a cow, the love-sick bull let loose with a bugle and immediately headed in his direction.
Eighty yards quickly melted into 7. With barely enough time to nock an arrow and ease into some cover, Phillippe was face-to-face with the same bull that had previously eluded him on three occasions. The bull's wide-eyed stare went right through him, and in an instant the bull let out a scream so loud it set off deafening feedback loops in Phillippe's hearing aids. Expecting him to turn back down the trail and scat, the bull instead eased forward. When his pump house cleared the trunk of a spruce, Phillippe let the string slip from his fingers. The mountain erupted with the sound of clattering hooves, and after an 80-yard sprint, the bull was down for good.
ONCE IN A LIFETIME
Hunter: Jim Maus
Some elk hunts come easy, while others are on the other end of the spectrum. When you're 64 years old and have been trying to draw an elk tag in one of Colorado's premier northwest elk units, it truly is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Pennsylvania resident Jim Maus and three of his hunting buddies have been applying in this unit for 20 years. Two of them drew the only non-resident tags the two previous seasons, so Maus knew his time was coming. Last fall it was his turn up to bat.
Maus had high expectations when his truck finally came to a stop for Colorado's late August opener. His plan was simple: use the late summer heat to his advantage in this high desert, sage brush region and guard a well-used waterhole. After his first afternoon on stand he knew he had made the right decision.
Over the course of the next few days the 30-year elk veteran watched 25 thirsty bulls come to water, several of which sported heavy, 320-plus inch racks. With each dusty step they took closer to his stand, his heart pounded with the excitement of a boy on Christmas morning, and on the evening of day five he couldn't stand it any longer. A bull with a heavy rack seemed impressive, and although he didn't have the width some of the other bulls carried, he more than met the hunter's 20-year goal. Maus sent an arrow his direction, and the bull tumbled to the ground only a few yards from the waterhole.