By Jeff Pippard, North Tonawanda
It is late September as I crest over a mountaintop in Wyoming to find myself a mile from my water hole ambush site. As I reach the peak, I glass the area to see if the coast is clear to make my final approach on the blind.
I see multiple herds of elk bedded in the open meadows sunning themselves in the warm, late-morning glow. It is 11 a.m. and these elk herds and harems would traditionally be bedded in the cool shade of dark timber by now. But a heavy snowstorm hit the mountains two days earlier, causing a pattern shift in the elk's daily habits. Now I have to stay put and wait for a clear entry to my ambush site.
I use the time to go through my pack, eat lunch, drink some water and grab my cellphone to make sure it is shut down so it can't bark out any unwanted noises while on my final stalk.
About 1 p.m., I get an opening to make a move. I have a three-quarter of a mile stalk to slip into my blind. By 2 p.m., I'm sitting in my blind. I nock an arrow, check the wind again and then start to run a range check on my shooting lanes. I feel that I am in a great position, so I grab my pack to set up my water and camera. I find a zipper wide open – my cellphone is gone.
I don't have to explain, but my brain went into “search or crash" mode. I simply could not risk leaving my hideout for fear of giving up my position. I had to take a breath and just tell myself, life isn't over and I’ll look for it tomorrow, or buy a new one.
This is where you just have to focus on the task at hand. I said to myself, I'm here to kill that big bull.
Hours go by and at 4 p.m, I started to hear the bull elk getting restless as they are starting to spar and fight while screaming to one another. I could hear five bulls communicating and moving around my perimeter. From glassing earlier, I know I have two herd bulls with harems in the area. I came into the hunting season with an empty freezer, so I do have a venison crisis. That can make for an itchy trigger finger with me because I love elk venison.
Heading into the evening, it’s around 6:30 p.m. and the day is burning the last amount of hunting light. I can hear the bugling bulls as they move their harems closer to my position. It sounds to me that the herd in front of me is coming very close. In a flash, a big bull unlocks his antlers from another bull and makes a break for the water. The big bull’s tongue is hanging out and steam is coming from his mouth. He runs into the middle of the pond and starts drinking. I drew my bow when he started drinking, but I wanted a better angle for the shot so I waited for him to turn.
As I waited, the bull kept guzzling water for the better part of a minute. He now has me in check. I need to let down. The second I let my draw down, he turns and bugles to his sparring partner. This big bull just gave me a beating, making me hold that draw cycle so long and now it looks like this bull wants to go back and fight. Before he exits the hole, I quietly draw my bow again and place the top pin on the bull as I squeeze the release trigger. I watched the arrow travel into the target. Mission accomplished.
After some quick photos, the real work begins, cutting, quartering and taking him back to camp to cool the meat.
The next morning I had to start my phone hunt.
I worked my way from my glassing area and tried to repeat the same steps. I made it 100 yards and there it was, on the ground. What a stress relief. I never expected to see that phone again.
Talk about checking all the boxes. I punched my tag on a big 6-by-6 bull that will score around 320, my third biggest ever. And, I filled my freezer full of awesome meat.
Hunting is always an experience of fulfillment. Sometimes you fill your body, sometimes you fill your brain, and sometimes it does it all.