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What Archery Dreams Are Made Of

  • 4 min read

After I graduated high school and moved out, I started to get the itch to get back into archery.  Our father had bought my brother and me both our High-Country bows when we were younger, but they had only managed to collect dust every season.
So, while I was back at home, I started shooting and practicing again during the summer.  After work, I shot almost every night behind the house we were building.  I practiced in hopes of bringing home my first archery buck.  

I was unsuccessful.
Years went by, and after getting married and starting a family, I picked up a bow again.  Trading my way back into the sport (I traded a cutting board and a couple of hundred rounds of 22 ammo for a PSE Bow Madness).  

I decided it was time to chase elk around the summer following my college graduation.  

So, my brother and I packed up my 78' F150 Ranger and headed north of Moscow, Idaho.  When we finally ran out of logging road that we could drive, we found ourselves above some dense timber overlooking multiple intersecting canyons. 

elk hunting

I told my brother, "let's just rip a bugle for the heck of it."  So, I grabbed the trusty blue-tipped Primos Terminator bugle and let out the best beginner's bugle I could muster.  

A bull bugled back just up the canyon to our south.  Neither of us have ever geared up so quickly, and we took off.  

elk bugle

This took place at 1 pm, and within 45 minutes, we had a bull within 14 yards of us.  We were downhill from it and could only see its antlers moving above the elkbrush.  It knew something was off, however, and wouldn't come any closer.  Then, it was gone.
I told my brother later that it wouldn't matter to me even if we didn't see or get anything that season.  How many archery elk hunters can say they winged their first experience from watching YouTube and got within 20 yards of a bull in their first archery elk hunt?
As the season went on, we continued to strike out, and on the last day, around 3 pm, I called my brother, and we decided to go for a quick drive to a spot relatively close to home.  We walked in following a powerline that ran alongside some darker timber patches and found nothing but turkeys.  On our way out (we had about 1.5 hours of shooting light left) I said, "Hey, let's cut through the timber behind the farm cabin just to see."  We knew there was a pond up further and decided to try our luck.  As we got in, I noticed a lot of elk sign, and we quickly decided to sit down with our backs to the same tree and call for a minute.  

elk hunting

We got on the old hoochie mamma, and within two minutes my brother nudged me and said, "Ethan there's a bull right behind us!"  

I thought he was lying until he nudged me again, so I looked around the tree behind me to the right.  There stood a cow elk.  "Tanner, it's a cow!" I whispered.  Frustrated, he replied, "on this side!".  

He was sitting to my left with his back against the same tree, so I slowly grabbed my bow and looked around him.  There stood a beautiful bull looking right at me at 38 yards.

I froze.  

He had to be a 5-point and was not concerned about us.  He must've known I was immobilized.  I was shaking too much to shoot.

The cow then continued walking to our left, and he quickly followed her.  

At that moment, my mind seemed to kick back into gear with my body.  "Let's go!" I said.  So, we followed them trying to cut them off, Tanner still hitting the hoochie mamma.  We probably stopped that bull 3 times, each time he was near 70 yards away, too far for me to feel confident or ethical.
While we followed him, we continued to bump more elk.  When I thought we had lost them, I looked up a skidder road where a different bull stood at 45 yards.  This one was bigger.  I pulled up to shoot as he was unaware of me at the time.  But at that moment, a turkey blew out of the tree above me, and he decided to meander off.  

elk hunting

As I quickly tried to parallel him, I looked down an intersecting skidder trail and saw a three-point bull step out and quickly walk away.  Then came a spike.  He slowly walked out right onto the road in front of me.  We were within minutes of no shooting light, and we could hear the wolves in the lower fields.  He gave me a broadside shot and I took it.

elk spike

I don't think I could've ever wished for a more rewarding and incredible first archery elk season.  Having been able to harvest a bull was merely icing on a very multilayered cake.  I am forever addicted now, and have a great story to tell friends and family for years to come.


About Ethan

Ethan Gilliam is a graduate student at Utah State University in Logan, Utah. He is a father, husband, and elk chaser. When he finishes his degree in animal science, he looks forward to building a ranch, running cows around the mountains and running a small archery shop on the side.

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