Steep Kuntry on their Idaho Elk Hunt
Fall is the time of year that every western hunter looks forward to. If you are hunting elk in September, then you know the magic that can be created in the woods. During this time, colors change, temperatures cool, and the sound of elk bugles fill the morning air. The combined effect of the fall equinox and harvest moon equally intensify the emotions running through every elk hunter's veins.
Our September started off hot (quite literally and figuratively) with record-setting temperatures and lots of elk action. I (Richard) was in the elk woods before the sun came up on the opening day of August 30th . Just as the mountain side across from me came into view, a bugle rang out; the first one of the season. This kicked off the next two days for me as I found myself within bow range of 2 bulls that had done their best curious sneak towards my enticing cow calls. Though I wasn't able to send an arrow in their direction, this was certainly a thrilling start to what I knew would be an eventful September.
The weekend came and Angry Dick (my father and hunting partner) joined me. We had both located bulls previously in the back of a canyon. Since early season in 95 degree weather didn't call for much bugling, we created a game plan to come from the backside and ambush them in their bedding area. This was a failed attempt. The elk that we had previously seen in the area left nothing but blackened dirt and trails that emulated highways. We decided to adapt our approach for the following weekend.
The plan was simple. Backpack in, shoot an elk, and pack it out. That was exactly what we did. We relocated to an area that we knew had previously held elk, hiking in about a mile to dump our camp and start bugling our way into the canyon. We heard a faint but undeniable chuckle on the side of a canyon that almost looked impenetrable, but we knew what we had to do. We bugled and the cow called a few more times to get the exact location of the bull. Once this happened, it was on. We started up the steep and thick face of the mountain. We had only one goal in mind, “Put a bull on the ground.” We had closed the distance on the bull we had initially heard to about 75 yards. The underbrush and forest was so dense that you could hardly see 10 yards in front of you. This brought opportunity not only for us, but for the elk. As we were in a call off now with the larger bull, antler tips were making their way down towards Angry. This caused him to knock an arrow and be ready to draw. To our surprise, a sneaky spike had presented itself at about 10 yards into an opening. What followed was the release of an arrow. The crashing sound of brush was louder than thunder and shook the mountain side. This continued all the way back down into the bottom of the canyon in which we had just come up from. This would be that bull's final resting place as he laid down in the middle of the creek bottom. The events that followed was a day full of cutting and packing meat to our camp, a restful sleep in the backcountry, and the trek back to the trailhead.
After working for a week, I was antsy to get back into the elk woods. My dad and I were ready for our 14 day getaway back into the public lands of Idaho. The first day back tested my patience. An incoming storm silenced the woods. This prompted us to do some research on where the herd from the beginning of season might have traveled to. Our plan for the next morning was set and all we needed to do was execute. The morning came with a light debate about the proper time to be in the elk woods - either right at first light, or in the dark. Regardless of our opinions, the question was answered for us later that day.
We were able to locate a bugle that morning somewhere between 400-500 yards away from our current location. Normally, we would head straight to it, but because the cow elk were moving through below us, we needed to reevaluate. Our previous knowledge of the terrain and elk hunting experience helped us develop a plan that would position us with all factors covered, including wind and elevation. We made our way over to the elk. We had cows all around us and bulls bugling. We ended up in an entirely different canyon where 7 different bulls were bugling. Not only had we located the herd from the early season, but we found new elk as well. As we closed the distance, we dropped into our “shooter/caller” setup. It wasn’t long before I could hear not only the guttural bugles of a bull elk, but the sound of brush being walked through. I nocked an arrow and looked for a shooting lane. Simultaneously though, I heard the noise split into two different bull elk and realized I had two bugling bulls coming in on a string. Elk are very smart animals and a rutting mature bull is no exception. The bull that broke off from the original path of travel crossed the draw between us and came straight up the ridgeline I was on. His buddy who I could see was a 5 point, was still across the draw from me, standing at 30 yards with no presentable shot. Meanwhile, the bull on my ridgeline was now standing directly behind me at 7 yards! I could see his antlers and body through the thick brush and identified him as a 6 point. I had no move and I knew the next decision I made would be a critical one. My patience was again tested as the bull across the draw from me tried to pinpoint the source of the cow calls. He decided to move forward.This presented a quartering away shot for me at 33 yards. My arrow left my bow and entered into the bull’s body cavity. After the initial shock, he immediately slowed down. This was a good sign. The bull walked out of sight and we waited an hour to track him down. Eating our Mtn Ops protein bars, the woods stayed alive with the sound of elk bugling all morning long and made for a pleasant but stressful tracking job. After a few hours, we found the bull tipped over no more than 175 yards from the initial shot.
It is a family affair when we put a bull on the ground. Everyone partakes in the celebration. We rallied the family to come help us pack out my bull and were sitting at the dinner table that same evening enjoying his fresh tenderloin that was walking on the mountain 12 hours prior. The elk woods are a magical place for us. Every year seems to bring new experiences that last a lifetime. These are moments and memories that I personally will never forget and am forever grateful for.
-Richard Bettencourt, Steep Kuntry Outdoors