Nothing prepares a Midwestern whitetail hunter for their first up-close encounter in the wild with a giant bull elk. You can watch videos, look at full-body mounts, watch them from the truck with your binoculars, but nothing compares to that first real encounter.
Last fall my brother and I headed to Colorado with Alli Armstrong and her dad Darrick, to hunt elk at a place where Alli had killed big bulls in the past. It was Tom’s first elk hunt and he was really looking forward to the experience. QRS Outdoor Specialties and owner/outfitter Quentin Smith did not disappoint. The lodge was outstanding, the scenery spectacular and the hunting was awesome.
By all regards it was a dream hunt for my brother. He had always wanted to hunt elk, but as with many of us, life got in the way. Until this happened.
Several things had to happen before we ventured out on our first day in the mountains of Colorado. If not for this chain of events Tom would not have ended up 75 yards from his first big bull.
First, I had been elk hunting on a few occasions in the past. Once with my uncles and cousin in New Mexico, then later with my husband Stan. I killed a couple cow elk with my bow and was able to take a nice bull with my rifle at Three Forks Ranch in Colorado while hunting for a TV show called She’s Beyond the Lodge.
Second, we met the Armstrongs a few years ago and became great friends. In fact, Darrick’s mother’s maiden name is Potts and my mother’s maiden name is Armstrong. We haven’t officially traced any family heritage, but decided to declare ourselves family anyway. Surely we were related somehow!
Third, Alli and Darrick met Quentin Smith, owner of QRS Outdoor Specialties and ended up hunting with him. Alli has had great success at the Rocky Mountain Ranch ever since.
Fourth, Stan and I partnered with some friends from Arkansas (Terry Horton and family) and started a TV show called Legacy Trails on Sportsman Channel. I soon fell in love with videoing hunts for the show. In fact, I can honestly say I prefer running the camera to being in front of it. Just getting started, we were on a tight budget, but I wanted to go elk hunting again. My brother, Tom, wanted to go too. We struck a deal. I would run the camera on his hunt, if he would switch and run the camera for me the next year. We plan to alternate like this as many years as possible.
Fifth, in January and April of 2014 I had surgery to replace both hip joints. I could walk much better after the surgery than before, but was still hesitant about tackling any really tough mountainous terrain just 5 months after surgery. And Tom and I wanted to hunt on our own without a guide. Quentin said not to worry, he had just the right area in mind for us.
So with all that history in place, Tom’s first elk hunt came to fruition. We immediately fell in love with the location Quentin assigned us to hunt. Each day we had a single bull screaming on the mountain. It took us a few days to get him figured out, but just when we thought we knew what we were doing, the bull and his cows threw us a curve ball.
On the fourth morning of the hunt it was raining. We waited for a break before leaving the truck to head to the location we thought would be perfect to intercept the bull. We hadn’t walked 50 yards from the truck when Tom spotted a moose. Yes, a moose. I struggled to get the plastic bag off the camera without spooking the animal. Tom walked a few yards further and seconds after I got the camera running I heard Tom’s voice in my earphones, “There’s our bull, right there!”
I turned to my left and saw the bull. He was a beauty. I was caught in the open 50 yards from the truck, 100 yards from the bull, with camera off-tripod, holding the plastic bag over the camera, and trying to control my breathing so the footage wouldn’t be shaky.
While I was trying to video the moose, Tom had moved further down the logging road. For the first time in the hunt we were separated. I could hear him in my earphones, but he could not here me.
The bull had several cows around him. Too many eyeballs to risk moving any closer. It was hard for me to judge exactly how far Tom was from the bull, so I just kept the camera rolling, full-frame on the big bull standing broadside. I expected to see an arrow slip into frame and bury into the vitals at any moment.
Unfortunately Tom was 75 yards from the bull. Too far to shoot. Too many cows around him to try getting closer. We watched the bull for several minutes as he bugled and chased cows. Ultimately they all moved away, passing the location we had initially planned to set up on him.
Hindsight is 20-20. If only we hadn’t waited for the rain to let up. If only I hadn’t ben trying to get the moose on video we might have been further up the road. If only the bull had read the script.
When I caught up with Tom the big grin on his face told me the entire trip was a success. He didn’t need to put a tag on a bull to call this the hunt of a lifetime.
I remembered my first ever encounter with a bull several years prior. My cousin called it to within 15yards and I just stood there. It was quartering toward me and my cousin was crouching on the ground in front of me expecting that arrow to slip into the vitals at any second. I was in awe. I just stood there. I was a young hunter and had never killed anything with a bow. After the elk bolted, my cousin said, “Give me that bow.” I handed it to him. He said, “I am not giving this back to you until you promise to shoot next time!” I didn’t need to put a tag on a bull to call that trip the hunt of a lifetime either.
There is just something about your first up-close encounter with a big bull in the wild that impacts you like nothing else. We will be back elk hunting with QRS this fall. It will be my turn to carry the bow. I’m hoping to write a new story without “Almost” in the title. We will keep you posted.
I'm busy working on my blog posts. Watch this space!