Plenty of elk hunters have more experience than I do, but few have a story that can match the taking of my first bull elk.
It was September 2013, and I was bowhunting Colorado's Unit 140 with guide Marty Dowling of Trophy Outfitters. On the second morning of the hunt, I decided to pass up a 13-yard shot at young, 5x6 bull. And on the fifth morning, I somehow failed to get a shot on a point-blank, seven-yard encounter with a huge, 6x6 harem master that came to Marty's cow decoy and expert calls as if he were on a string.
That evening, with the disappointment of the morning's failure still lingering in my mind, Marty said he could hear the sound of crashing antlers as we slipped along the edge of a large meadow. Moments later, we spotted a group of cows and a young bull about 70 yards below us. Off to their right, two mature bulls were locked in fierce battle. They were swinging their massive antlers violently and exchanging vicious body blows as they pushed back and forth in a testosterone-fueled battle for breeding rights.
Unfortunately, Marty and I were out of cover. It was close to 7 p.m., and I knew there were maybe 20 minutes of shooting light remaining. With nothing to lose — and without saying a word to Marty — I slowly moved toward the bulls, trying my best to hide behind a few tufts of tall grass. The cows must have spotted me, however, because they quickly took off down the hill and out of sight.
Meanwhile, the bulls just kept fighting. Sensing their preoccupation, instinct took over as I stood up and literally sprinted across the wide-open meadow, cutting the distance from about 70 yards to just 14.
As I stood there, my chest heaving, the bulls still had no idea I was standing there. So, I came to full draw and quickly shot the bull nearest me. As the arrow disappeared into its body, the bull didn't even flinch! Even as blood began to run down its side, the old warrior continued to thrash its rival.
As I nocked another arrow and prepared for a follow-up shot, the bulls paused and looked my way for the first time. I was just reaching full draw as they turned to run, and I sent a second shaft into my bull just as he whirled around, sprinted down hill and disappeared into a patch of scrub oaks.
As the bulls were running away, Marty came running up from behind and shouted, "That was incredible!" As we stood there exchanging high fives, we thought we heard my bull coughing, and then crashing.
"Have you ever seen anything quite like that?" I asked Marty, knowing full well he hadn't.
Despite our confidence, we couldn't find either of my arrows, and I was unsure about whether the initial hit was a bit far back. And since it was almost dark, we decided to head back to the truck and get some help before taking up the blood trail.
On our way down, we walked straight into Alan, another guide at Trophy Outfitters, with his clients, Jeff and Bruce. They were coming up to find us. Marty told them we needed to give the bull time to die, and Alan replied, "No, we don't. He's dead! We watched him fall, and he's laying right there at the base of a tree."
Amazingly, those guys were hunting in a meadow across the valley from us and spotted Marty and I sneaking through the meadow. When I sprinted out toward the bulls, they were watching the whole thing through their binoculars!
A little while later, the six of us reached the area where the bull had fallen. Marty was the first one to spot it in his flashlight beam, calling the rest of us over for a closer look. As I knelt beside the fallen monarch and touched the bull's massive, 6x6 antlers for the first time, I realized that this was, without a doubt, the greatest day of bowhunting I had ever experienced — truly an epic moment!