From the hot hills of Arizona to the thick bush of British Columbia, raging bull elk scream far and wide. And hunters capitalize on it. Here are a few tales of giant bulls from the past.
Hunter: Greg Busch Weapon: Bow, Rifle Area: Arizona and New Mexico
When it comes to elk hunting, there’s something to be said about persistence. Take North Dakota resident Greg Busch. This guy not only loves chasing bulls but is also willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done. His Arizona bowhunt last fall proved just that.
It all started with the completion of an application; not just one, mind you, but multiple licks of the stamp over a 10-year period. That’s not unique if you’re after a ticket to one of North America’s best fall dances, but when Busch told me that he flew to Arizona just so he could take their hunter safety class, which would in essence toss his name in the application hat an additional time with an all-important preference point, I knew he took his elk hunting seriously.
You can imagine his bowhunting glee when his decade-long dream finally materialized last year and he held a Unit 1 tag in his hand. Although he was planning to hunt the complete 14-day September season, this persistent elk hunter was leaving nothing to chance. Not only did he fly out to Arizona for a four-day scouting trip in August, but he arrived four days before the season to make sure all the scouting t’s were crossed and i’s dotted.
Busch was surrounded by screaming bulls daily, and on day seven everything came to a crescendo. His mouth became dry and his palms began to sweat when the bull’s bulky body and 350-inch frame came over the ridge. Although Busch had seen bigger bulls on previous days, this guy more than met his self-imposed 330-inch killing threshold. It goes without saying when he passed by at 40 yards herding a couple of cows, the hunter couldn’t resist and let the string slip from his release.
The story of this dream season doesn't end there. Not only did Busch play the odds and draw an Arizona tag, but his elk lotto number was also up in New Mexico. He drew a Gila National Forest Unit 16C tag. The pressured bulls in this late-season hunt were not nearly as vocal as their counterparts to the south, but when a 7x7 stud made a fatal mistake, Busch dropped the hammer. As he put it, “the bull went down like a piano fell on him!”
Hunter: Jason Spencer Weapon: Bow Area: Mt. Emily, Oregon
Life’s full of second chances, but when it comes to hunting elk, you usually don’t get a second bite at the apple. But when it happens, you savor every second of it; that’s exactly what Oregon bowhunter Jason Spencer did last fall. It all started when he drew a Mt. Emily elk tag after 12 years of trying. If you know anything about hunting in the Northwest, you know this is one of the top destinations in which to set up your tent once fall rolls around. Its steep mountains are home to lots of heavy-beamed bulls.
But this wasn’t his first bite at the Mt. Emily apple, at least in an indirect kind of way. His dad had drawn an Emily elk tag the previous season, and they spent 17 days chasing elk through her rugged hills. Although the story didn’t end with a punched tag, it’s hard to beat the memories of such a father-and-son adventure. Not wanting a repeat of last fall, Spencer took the knowledge gained, scouted the unit three times over the summer and was prepared to take four weeks of vacation to get the job done.
It goes without saying that preparation often ends in rewards, and on day 13 of his hunt, things began coming together. After bedding a particular bull and his harem in some dark timber, Spencer pulled a sneak and got within 70 yards of the Oregon brute. Although 70 yards is close, it’s not close enough for a bow; all he could do was watch the bull thrash a tree for 45 minutes before the evening light faded.
Spencer watched the same bull the following day enter another patch of timber for his daytime nap. The hunter was determined to try again. After sneaking within range, he waited nearly an hour for him to stand — but it was worth the wait. Spencer sent an arrow on its way, and a Mt. Emily 7x7 palmated brute stood for the last time. Sometimes that second bite does taste a little sweeter.
Hunter: Tim Gillen Weapon: Rifle Area: British Columbia
British Columbia. It’s not only one of the most beautiful patches of country in North America but it also just might be the most game-rich as well. Known to grow big mountain goats, and giant bears, it’s also home to bighorn sheep, mule deer, whitetails, buffalo, moose and elk, many of which grow to Boone & Crocket proportions. In fact, in 1994 a 465-inch bull was found dead in the Upper Arrow region. California resident Tim Gillen headed north to see if he could grab his own piece of B.C. elk glory.
This was not Gillen’s first trip to British Columbia; each time he’s sampled this wild country, it started with a call to Wade Derby of Cross Hair Consulting (www.crosshairconsulting.com). B.C. requires all non-residents to use the services of an outfitter when heading to the bush, and Derby always seems to have the right hookups.
B.C. manages its rugged country for a quality experience, and with Gillen heading to an area with a 6-point minimum, during the rut no less, it goes without saying he was more than eager to get in the field. It didn’t take long to find screaming bulls, but when you’re hunting what the locals call “the bush,” sometimes it can be hard to get a clear shot, and that was the case the first few days of the hunt.
It’s been said “good things come to those who wait,” and when the last day of the hunt rolled around, Gillen was hoping that would be true. Just like the days before, an early morning bugle got a response, but this time the bull stepped into the clear cut. When the outfitter glassed him and enthusiastically blurted out, “He’s got six,” Tim knew it was time to chamber a round. The bullet rocketed 473 yards before dropping the bull in his tracks, and his 6x7 rack was more than enough to slap a smile across Gillen’s face.
Hunter: Dan Staton Weapon: Bow Area: Idaho
Hunting elk is tough, and when you have to patch weekends together just to get time in the hills, it can make punching a tag even tougher. Add to that the travel time of being a non-resident hunter, and you have the dedication and persistence of a true weekend warrior. That’s what Washington resident Dan Staton turned into last fall. With an Idaho tag in his pocket and bow in hand, he packed his truck every weekend and pointed it east.
It was an up-and-down battle to say the least. Not only was he hunting a few days at a time in some of the Gem State’s most rugged country but the particular patch of public ground he chose to hang his weekend hat in was a “brush hole.” In fact, in many places a clear 30-yard shot would be considered a gift; 15 to 20 yards was the norm.
With a missed shot the previous weekend still hanging over his head, Staton started his third trip of the season five miles from his truck with hopes of another opportunity. As with anything else, being persistent usually brings with it rewards. If you’re a bull hunter, sometimes it’s in the form of a 7x7 rack.
Staton had been hanging around a bedding area waiting for the right opportunity to pull a sneak. With the wind right and satellite bulls screaming in all directions causing the herd master fits, conditions were ripe. The distractions allowed him to sneak within 20 yards. Just when he was deciding what opening he was going to shoot through, another, bigger bull came into the picture looking for a fight. Staton decided to switch gears and go after him. In a short time he was looking over a ridge at this Idaho brute, but was busted when he was coming to full draw.
With the original bull still close and screaming his head off, Staton switched gears again. As he put it, “everything fell into place,” and he was able to sneak past several cows and slip close enough for a shot. Some bulls are just meant to be, and when they boast a rack like that, it makes being a weekend warrior even sweeter.
Hunters: Heather and Will Farrar Weapon: Rifle Area: Utah
Sometimes big gifts come in small packages, and when Utah resident Heather Farrar received a Utah elk tag wrapped in a bow from her husband, Will, it was like an early Christmas. Not only was this a southern Utah elk tag, which in itself is a jewel, but it also came with Doyle Moss of Mossback Guides & Outfitters (www.mossback.com), who routinely guides his clients to giant bucks and bulls. As Heather so eloquently put it, “it was better than getting jewelry.”
Because Heather was hunting in one of Utah’s Cooperative Wildlife Management Units, which are areas consisting of mostly private ground that are managed to allow public access, she was able to hunt during the rut. There was no shortage of bulls in this prime area, and they were letting everyone know of their presence. In fact, 350-inch bulls were seen almost daily; as crazy as it sounds, opportunities on such critters were passed several times. But when you have your eye on a particular bull, you have to let some walk.
Heather was beginning to lose count on just how many days she had been looking for this bull when they finally spotted him 23 days into the hunt. Because of the vastness of the region and the thick cover, finding him had been difficult. When they finally got their first attempt at a stalk, he gave them the slip.
As all good hunters do, however, Heather kept after it and three days later, she got a second chance. After seeing him from a distance and figuring where he was heading, they set up on a field edge. Soon, the big bull stepped out, giving Heather plenty of time to squeeze the trigger on her .270. After it was all said and done, the bull taped out at over 393 inches.
The story doesn't end there however. Heather’s husband, Will, also had a tag. When he dropped his Southern Utah prize, it made this hunting couple’s time together in the woods complete. His bull taped at over 410 inches.