Last Chance Bull

Nolan had contacted Bwana Bubba in the spring time of 2017, asking if I knew a place in central Oregon, that he might have chance to harvest a elk during the archery season.   I had an old haunt that, my partners and I had hunted with great success.  I was willing to share, but I wanted him to use  technology, in order to give him a better idea and also stay legal on the hunt…

Last Chance Bull

Oregon Archery Hunt

The day before the end of the 2017 season, I’d driven out to a new place I’d never seen before as a last ditch effort to try and kill an elk.   I’d scouted, prepared, & hunted so hard all season long to make it happen on a D.I.Y. over the counter elk tag, public land, archery elk.  After my blunder on opening day when I missed a cow at 44 yards, I figured my 2017 season was over.  I blew my shot opportunity for the year and it was going to be a long 12 months until I’d get another one. 

Nolin used both mobile onX HUNT and Garmin GPS with onX HUNT…

As soon as I got out of the truck that morning I heard a bugle, then another bugle, and another.  It was too dark to see the ridge that I was hearing the bulls from, but I grabbed my gear and took off.  After about 10 minutes I glassed up the shape of an elk about half a mile uphill from me.  I knew if I had any chance at cutting him off, I had to hustle.   I ran up the drainage to the West of him and when I reached the top I could hear it wasn’t just a lone bull.  It was a whole heard, I peered around the corner and saw close to 60 elk working up the draw.  Bulls screaming, pushing cows, the whole herd was going nuts.  

As I was trying to decide what to do I turned around and saw there was another hunter about 60 yards behind me.  I thought to myself,  “You’ve got to be kidding me”.  I busted my ass to get up here and I’m going to have to compete with this guy.  As frustrated as I was, I walked down to him and said “Hey, there’s a big herd of elk up here”. “What’s your plan”?  “I don’t want to screw up your hunt”.  I fully expected him to tell me to take a hike.  Instead what he said next blew me away.  He said “We need to cut them off, and get in front of them, let’s go!”  I asked him what he wanted me to do, and he said “Come with me” and we took off!

Self portrait picture of my velvet Spike Bull.

I’m not a tall guy, 5’6”.  But this newly met hunting partner of mine is at least a foot taller than I and subsequently covers ground much faster than I can.   Before I know it I’m out of breath and desperately trying to keep up with him.  As we follow the fence line between the public and private land, we keep getting glances of the herd about 250 yards away in the draw to the east of us.  We dropped our packs a ways back to be as quick and low profile as we could.  The herd can see us, but we keep pressing on to try and cut them off, in the valley 1/4 mile ahead of us.  I keep thinking to myself “I can’t believe this is happening”.  We paused at this little knoll and heard some elk coming up to where we were as they headed to cross in to the private, so we set up.  I sat behind and told this guy “I’ll range for you” and before we knew it, there was a group of 15 cows being pushed by a big 6×6 up the hill in front of us.  I keep ranging him, 124, 117, 111, and 110.  He’s not going to get any closer. There are no trees or brush that we can get closer to either.  We wait for them to cross the fence so we can keep pushing forward to where the rest of the herd is headed and all of the sudden this piercing bugle rings out no more than 100 yards from where we sat.  This massive 7×7 was pushing another group of cows through the same spot!  My partner slid down the hill 20 yards, but the bull stayed just out of range and wouldn’t stop.  He was on a mission, away from us.  We wait for them to clear and then we’re booking it to the next draw, “if we can get to it there’s a good chance they’ll be there waiting.”

Now the work starts, but it is so worth it…

Right as we crest the draw we see 25-35 elk pushing up and onto private, there’s still quite a few elk coming up the draw though.  I start cow calling to try and bring the big bulls closer.  There’s elk everywhere, bulls pushing cows, screaming, heads back and hot to trot.  They just won’t come any closer than 120 yards.  My new friend scoots down the draw another 10 yards and 6 elk bust out 30 yards below us, it’s so steep that we didn’t even known they were there.  A bull stops at 60 yards, I hear “do you wanna shoot that bull?” without hesitation I said “Hell YES”.  I pull out from the tree I’m behind, range him at 84 yards. I’ve been making this shot all year.  I have flung thousands of arrows practicing for this moment.  I can make the shot, I dial my sight to 84 yards, draw my bow, anchor, cow call to stop him, settle the pin on his lungs, and my arrow is gone.

I watch the glow of my green knock sail across the ravine. THWACK!  He drops, barrel rolls 3 times to the bottom of the creek bed, stops, and it’s over.  “He’s down”!  I sat next to the tree beside me and cannot believe after all the work I put in, the ups and downs, the frustration, everything, that it all came together.  It wasn’t over, because of how quickly he went down he didn’t spook any of the other elk, it’s time for me to try and call in a bull for my partner.

There is some rough terrain to navigate at night, plus forging a creek…

I cow call like nothing else to try and bring the 6×6 in from 150 yards but he just isn’t willing to leave his cows.  My buddy takes off over the next ridge after him and I start hiking back to get our packs.  While I was walking back I was overcome with emotion.  It’d been 6 years since my last elk.  

As any archery hunter knows, this is something that requires an immense amount of preparation, dedication, will power, and luck.  But everything lined up that morning and I was beside myself.  My arrow left my string at 7:32 am. By 8:30 I was notching my tag and taping it to his antlers.  As I sat and looked at him I realized that I’m here alone.  I have a 450-500 pound animal down in the bottom of a ravine, 1.5 miles from the truck and it’s just me.  I snapped a few pictures and started the process, 6 hours later he was ready to be hauled out and I started the journey back to the truck with one of my most prized possessions, meat.  It took me until 11 PM that night to get him back to the truck.  My body was nearly broken, but I didn’t care.  I couldn’t wait to do it again.  And the phrase that kept resonating in my head stayed there until my head hit my pillow, “Never, ever give up”.

Almost to the access road and the truck. Last load out, the rack…

This is my story Nolan Lathrop –  2017 Central Oregon. 

“The land of Rimrock and  Junipers”

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