It was September 1st and I was on the road heading to my elk hunting grounds. The excitement was real and every second of the drive was staggering! As soon as I made it down that last dirt road and parked my truck into the pines, I stepped out and felt like I was home. My meat rack was still hanging between the two pines I strapped it to the year prior which gave me so much joy. I proceed to instantly unpack my truck and get camp set up. I set up my rather large 10 man tent - basically a mini house haha, as well as the high-line for my horse and then in the distance I heard my first bugle. I smiled from ear to ear. The sound I've waited all year long to hear.
Once everything was set up, I tacked up my horse, Kilchii, and rode in a few miles to a glassing point. I was so excited that I forgot both my binos and spotting scope back at camp haha. That evening was still enjoyable and managed to see elk far off in a basin as well as hear a few more bugles.
The next morning, I left Kilchii at camp and decided to walk into a canyon I visited the year prior. I was quickly greeted by multiple bull elk screaming their guts out! There were bulls on both sides of the canyon and I picked the bull that sounded the most heated. It led me to getting myself into a nasty steep thick face where I ended up getting stuck in one spot for a long time due to a group of cows feeding above me. The bull never came close and eventually that 10AM bed time rolled around the woods quieted down. Not wanting to stay on that north face and push out elk, I back out back to camp. It began to rain and a stormed rolled through right as I made it to camp. It lasted a few hours then passed over.
That evening I walked up a different ridge to come in from a different angle, but only heard a couple bugles and there wasn't much action.
I remember day 3 being very beautiful. It rained throughout the night, so the morning was foggy and dewy with the sun creating that soft angelic glow through the clouds. That morning was relatively quiet so I went back to camp and grabbed Kilchii to make a few mile ride into another canyon and grab a trail camera I had left in there during the summer.
Upon retrieving it, I pulled the footage from it and dumped it onto my phone. As I scrolled through the videos, nothing was catching my attention. It was full of lots of young bull elk, some moose and a couple deer. As I got to the end of the videos, the last couple really caught my eye! It was an impressive bull. My camera snagged two videos of him before it died. As I watched the video, this bull began to seem familiar. I was pretty sure he was one of the bulls that showed up the year before. I scrolled back through my camera roll to trail cam videos from last year and found the video I was looking for. Sure enough - It was a bull that I was very intrigued with.
He was old and beautiful. A bull that I thought was regressing in antler size and just going downhill, wasn't even sure if he'd make it through the winter. But, he certainly did. Not only that, but he came back and grew an even bigger set of antlers! He was very recognizable, not just from the character of his antlers, but he had a very noticeable cataract in his right eye. He also had heavy creases in his neck as well as big sagging belly.
The year prior, I even ran into this bull during the rut and got to listening to him bugle and push around his cows. I remember sitting there on a side hill just above him and watching him till dark.
I knew, as soon as I saw those videos and figured out it was him, I wanted him to be my target bull.
After some deep thinking and searching, I decided to name him Callisto. As his blue right eye looked like a moon, and Callisto is the 3rd largest moon in our solar system.
The biggest problem I had targeting this bull, was trying to figure out where he might be. The country I was hunting was thick so glassing wasn't much of an option and I only had two things to go off; his bugle, and the spot I had seem him in last year. Elk are typically animals of habit, so my hopes would be that he'd be in the same general area as last year. So that's where I decided to spend most of my time in.
The next few days were slow. Weekend hunters started showing up and the elk got quiet. I began sitting wallows during the hot parts of the day and gaining elevation in the evenings to try and beat other hunters as well as get above the rising thermals so I wouldn't blow out any elk.
On the 7th evening, I remember hearing a couple bulls bugling above me. It was tricky to get close as the wind was going up the mountain so I had to walk along the base of the mountain far enough to where my scent was going up directly to them. As I made my way up I accidentally spooked some elk, but proceeded to make it to where I heard those first bulls. The bugles led me into some thick bedding areas on a steep face half way up the mountain.
A bugle sounded off in front of me 100 yards out and I began to start a calling sequence to see if I could bring him in. I played it off as if I was a herd bull with a hot cow. I bugled and chipped and ran around, breaking branches, raking trees and causing commotion. The bull responded to it and began bugling back and coming in. I'd bugle right after he would, pretending to be that frustrated herd bull. Once he began getting closer, I got quiet. It was so thick and I couldn't see him, but he made it into 30 yards and bugled once more. I hoped he'd take those few extra steps to come into my view, but quickly lost interest and turned around. He bugled a few more times and I tried calling him back in, but at that point he just didn't care and left. Even though he was gone, I was excited. Why? This bulls bugle was very familiar. It sounded the exact same as Callisto from last year. I knew it was him. It was awesome knowing that he SO close even though I never got a chance at him. But my hopes remained high and I was just ecstatic that he was actually in the area.
I had a bit more action with other bulls the next couple days, but no sign of Callisto. I hadn't heard his bugles and wasn't certain if I had pushed him out of the area or not. On the 9th evening, a big storm started to roll in. On my way back to camp the wind picked up and the trees were bending so badly I honestly had no idea they had that much flexibility. It was quite nerve wracking as I knew a lot of the trees in the area were older or rotting and fairly unstable. I had dropped my horse off back at home a few days prior, so at least I didn't have to worry about him. It was pretty much dark when I made it to my tent. The wind was howling and the rain started to fall. The big tent I was in also did NOT fancy anything more than a breeze. So before getting dinner ready, I went back out into the dark and decided to tighten down the tent the best I could. The headlamp I was wearing didn't have much battery left and the light was dim, it was just enough to be able to see what I was doing 2 feet in front of me, but couldn't see much further. As I tightened the strings on one side of the tent, an eery creek began ringing through my ears. I had no idea where it was coming from and I franticly looked around into the darkness seeing absolutely nothing. The sound amplified and I knew it was a tree coming down. I didn't know where to go and proceed to look around to try and catch any bit of movement so I could avoid it. The tree fell and crashed hard. The crash came from directly behind my tent, only a few feet from where I was standing. It just happened to fall the right way. I walked around to the back to see a good sized pine uprooted from the ground. That was exciting, I suppose, but not in a positive way haha. At that point the rain really started to come down, so bad that it was creating pools on the roof of my tent. I had to constantly push up on it to dump off the water so the tent wouldn't sink in and collapse on me. I probably ended up getting out of bed and doing that a good 20 times throughout the night before the rain let up enough to where I could fall asleep and not worry about it. There were a few more trees that fell during the night as well, but all further away, thank goodness. I remember waking up a bit late that morning, it was already getting light out and I looked around to see the tent a little caved in from the rain. I pushed up on the tent and let it drain, then got dressed to start hiking.
The elk were definitely active that morning and right off the bat I was chasing bulls up the mountain. I was right behind one bull for a couple hours, but I just couldn't catch up to him quick enough and he ended up following more elk in a thick bedding area. I sat above this meadow listening to the bugles in the thick timber. Not wanting to risk blowing them all out, I just sat and listened until they quieted down around 10AM then headed back in the direction toward camp. Even though I had no opportunities chasing those elk, the thought "I have a good feeling" just kept popping into my mind. As I made my way back around on the front face of this mountain, I heard more bugles coming from another thick bedding area. I figured it was a group of bachelor bulls. I snuck in and got to a spot where I was between them and a wallow. Maybe if I got lucky I could catch one going to water. I sat in a good spot above a game trail probably 100 yards out from these bulls. After 20 minutes or so, I noticed the bugles started to seem a bit more distant. My gut urged me to go in after them, so I did and still the thought "I have a good feeling" continued to repeat in my head. Slowly and very carefully I began to sneak in, following a game trail. I soon found myself 50 yards above a screaming bull. I proceed to walk off the game trail and down the face into some very thick area but quickly noticed some bedded cow elk just to the left of me. I froze, as one of them was looking into my direction. As I had a staring contest with the cow elk, I continued to hear the bull just blaring below me. I prayed I didn't just mess up the whole situation, but luck have it, the cow looked away and I snuck back onto the game trail where they couldn't see me. I walked about 10-15 yards back down the trail and back into the thicket, hoping to get a better angle at this bull. As I snuck back in, again I saw the cows. There wasn't any way around them. All the sudden I saw movement right in front of me and a loud siren like bugle bellowed in front of me. It was so loud I felt the vibration through my feet and it followed up into my spine, ringing my whole body. It was just like have the bass turned up to the max on a speaker. This bull was coming right for me, or so I thought. Carefully watching the cows, I snuck an arrow onto the rest of my bow and awaited this bull to come walking right into me. Suddenly, I got a glimpse of the bulls antlers. I saw a very large back end. In my head, I yelled "That's a big bull!" and my heart began to race. It tried jumping out of my chest I swear, and had to sweet talk it to calm back down so I could focus on a getting a shot on this bull. He proceeded to bugle and move around, and just as I thought he was going to push through the last bushes right toward me, he decided to turn and walk down and bed RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME at 30 yards. Part of me couldn't believe it and the other was like "Perfect! I'll shoot him right from his bed". But I still had bedded cows to my left and now a bedded bull below me all within 30 yards. I still had to make a few more steps to try and find an opening to shoot through. These next few steps were the most careful and serious steps I have ever taken! I must've been moving slower than a sloth, trying to weave over and through branches, grass, sticks and leaves, all while keeping my eyes on the ground and on the cow elk and bull. Every inch of movement I made, I studied the ears of the elk to make they didn't turn in my direction. If they did, I held as still as I ever possibly could until they would relax and lose interest. It was a heavy and stressful 10 minutes of going a whole 3 feet, but I did it and found a window that I could shoot through. The only problem was that I could only see his top line through the opening and didn't feel confident that I could punch an arrow through the thick vegetation below it to hit his vitals. However, as soon as he would stand up it would present me with a perfect shot.
The bull bugled out of his bed as I tried studying him a bit more. His antlers started to seem somewhat recognizable. For an instant I thought it could be Callisto, but really not wanting to get my hopes up I didn't get too excited. All the sudden to my left, a calf elk spooked out of her bed and ran down past the bull. Then the cows got up, getting a bit uneasy, and followed the calf down. This was honestly perfect, as I needed the bull to get up. He watched his harem start walking off and then began to lift his rear. I instantly drew back my bow as the bull stood up and quickly found my mark through the opening. It was all of a couple seconds and I released my arrow. A loud THWACK and scattering elk followed and the adrenaline kicked it. I began to shake uncontrollably and held my hand over my mouth as I heard a loud crash come from below me. Standing in that thicket with that herd of elk felt like it lasted forever and then all the sudden it was over. My head tried wrapping around what just happened, but I almost couldn't grasp it. Then the thought of it being Callisto popped back into my head and I almost couldn't help but get even more excited, but still tried pushing that to the side. After giving it about 40 minutes, I began to track the bull. It was a bit hard finding right where he went as there were also cow elk tracks going in all directions as well. But once I found that first drop of blood, it led me to following a very colorful trail of painted leaves and bushes. It was so thick that at some points I could barely see above my head, but the positive side was that the blood was pretty easy to follow. After about 100 yards down the face from where I shot the bull, I saw him laying there through the vegetation. I stood there, making sure I couldn't see any movement and carefully approached. The first glance at his antlers got me excited. I then noticed the 7 point on his left side, which Callisto had. Was it actually him? One thing would certainly tell, his blue eye. I came around the last bit of leaves to where I could see if it was really him. And it was. My jaw dropped and so did my knees. I was truly at a loss for words. The one bull I decided to target was laying right in front of me. The chances of me just happening to stumble into him and his herd were VERY low. But it happened. The chances of me getting busted by one of his cows or getting winded was HIGH, but it didn't happen. I just honestly could not believe it. This was a true monarch. A bull elk of his age, eluding hunters his entire life was now laying at my feet. Truthfully, it was bittersweet. But at the same time I was so incredibly honored to take such a bull. Who knows how many years he had left, but I am truly grateful I was able to give him a clean death, one where he'd know no suffering. Not only that, but his body wouldn't lay there to waste. Instead, it would be used to feed me, my friends and family, and too ultimately be cherished by me.
I am stilling processing the fact I was able to harvest my target bull and I continue to thank God I was able to have this opportunity. I will never stop admiring this amazing herd bull that has lived such a long life on public land. This bull is so so special to me. Words almost can’t describe.