Hunting tales: Duke’s first bull

It had been an unusually hot and dry fall and archery season had been tough; the elk were keeping to the dark timber and not in the rut until late. Despite a few chances, my son-in-law Matt and I didn’t fill our tags. My son Duke, 13, was hoping his luck would be better in rifle season.

The first day we hunted our traditional area with no luck and just a little sign. On the second day we went where we had last seen elk during archery season. There was fresh sign and we heard a few bulls bugling but they were bedding in cover so thick a tick couldn’t get through without sounding like a parade.

So we backed out and decided to return that evening. When we did, we set up on a small ridge overlooking an open park where we could see some other taller ridges and a spring. Soon we heard what we were hoping for: a bugle.

Our senses perked up. We knew there was a good bull in that area. Duke’s uncle, Alan, had shown us a picture of a huge bull he had taken with a trail camera at the spring.

We waited for the elk to start feeding closer to us. Then we saw him, but still too far to shoot. We started calling and he responded and started towards us. He’d stop, rake the brush and then bugle; it was a better show than any multi-million dollar Hollywood movie.

This went on until it was too dark to get a shot, so we backed out again with plans to return the next evening. I know Duke went to bed dreaming about that bull coming out sooner and in the open because I sure did.

The next morning we rose to frost on the ground. We headed out to where we had gone the first morning with the idea to return that evening to the spot from the night before. We hadn’t walked but a quarter mile before we came around a corner saw two lone bulls bedded down in the middle of an open, grassy park.

It was still too dark to see if either one was big enough to tag. By the time we did they had moved to the edge of the park and into the quakies. I thought our best plan would be to stay downwind and move around them to a ditch bank I thought they’d go to. We moved below them, then worked our way up to the ditch as quietly as we could.

Just as we reached the ditch, I spotted a spike bull 30 yards away. It hadn’t seen us and was feeding away. I gave a short bugle and was soon answered. We had done it – we were now ahead the bulls. The spike sounded close and in a few seconds Duke said, “There it is!”

I looked where he pointed and sure enough, right between two big quakies, was a nice five-point bull. I could see that Duke would have a clear shot right behind the shoulder. I said, “Take him when you’re ready.”

After a few seconds, “Blam!”

The old 30-06 fired and the bull dropped immediately. The time I had spent with Duke shooting and learning how to handle a rifle safely paid off in a father and son moment we will talk about forever.