Growing up with archery

Editor's Note: archery elk hunting

Archery takes elk season to new level


If you enjoy something, why not do it more often?
That was my initial impetus for getting started in bow hunting for elk. I’d spent nearly 20-odd years chasing elk with a rifle and had seen how some of my friends were filling their tags earlier in the season, when the September weather was warm and dry.

I shunned archery— and the opportunity to harvest an elk— until about three years ago, when I bit the bullet, so to speak, and bought a compound bow.
I spent the last three years working on my shooting technique and my equipment. I have a deep respect for the animals I harvest and wanted to be the best archery hunter I could be. I’ve been shooting bows since I was a teenager growing up in Missoula. My buddies and I would actually fish with our bows.

Each fall, right about this time, the large irrigation ditch that courses through Missoula is shut off at the inlet from the Clark Fork River, effectively trapping any fish that were in the ditch. When the ditch went down, we were right on it. We’d take wooden arrows, the kind you’d buy at the Five and Dime, cut off the field points and put a shell casing from a 30.06 rifle round over the end of the arrow. This made a perfect blunt tip.
Days of fishing in the ditch made me a good shot, and proficient with a bow in my hands. So, when I took up the modern form of archery a few years ago, it was a mild transition from my old recurve bow.

Shooting with a release, though, took some practice, and now I’d swear by them; they just make you a more effective shooter.

Archery season for elk opened last Saturday. 
My friend Jeff and I drove over to our favorite spot “East of the Mountains” in “Dry Creek” where we’ve been hauling out our elk during rifle season almost every year for the last two decades. 
A full moon was building as we packed in our hunting camp Friday night. Now Jeff is the kind of guy who does everything to perfection; his campsite was a model of perfection, from his new, expensive tent to his $400 camouflage backpack and techy water filter. I, on the other hand, like to improvise. And with a journalist’s salary, sometimes have to do without some of the fancier aspects of life. I drank from the cow creek next to camp. I slept under a tarp.
This afforded me a beautiful view of the moon and Milky Way. It also sent a cold breeze down my neck all night. Oh, what Jeff was missing out on in his cozy little bivouac!
We stepped into the darkness about 4:30 a.m. for our two-mile hike to where the elk hang out. Just as dawn broke, the elk starting bugling and calling. We spied a big six- or seven-point bull a few hundred yards in front of us, and hunkered down to discuss a game plan.
We heard some strange elk calls behind us, and figured it was hunters; sure enough, the hunters broke into the open, going after the elk, but we had about a ¼ mile advantage on them.

We had no option but to go straight after the elk, which were moving into timber at daylight. After about 10 minutes we caught up to the elk. Legal hunting time would start in five minutes. Opening day of archery was here. Jeff let out a big bugle to entice the bull that was about 200 yards away. I moved out in front of Jeff, in case something wanted to come in on us. A cow elk bounded to within about 30 yards of me, right on the trail, staring dead at me. No shot there, but I was at full draw on my bow. I needed a game changer, and Jeff had the right idea: he cow called, and she stepped broadside to me at 23 yards. My arrow struck strong and deep.

While I dressed out my elk, Jeff made a move on the bull. About an hour later he came back, no blood on his hands, while I was deep in elk process mode. 
We humped out the meat in one trip, and it was on ice by that afternoon back at the truck.
My elk season was over almost as soon as it started. But now I get to be a guide, helping my sons get their elk during rifle season. 
My archery has come a long way since shooting suckers in an irrigation ditch as a teen. 
That night, while Jeff snored away in his high-tech bivouac, I shivered with a cold north wind down my neck. 
I think maybe in rifle season I’ll bring a tent. 

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