A number Bassmaster Elites set their sights on elk this fall, venturing west to pursue one of the largest terrestrial mammals in North America.
The anglers, most with bow in hand, covered miles and miles of mountains in the wilds and showed some fantastic scenery. Long an elk hunter, Brandon Palaniuk entertained cousin-in-law Carl Jocumsen on a Montana stalk near his home state of Idaho. Caleb Sumrall ventured to Colorado for a grueling first elk hunt, and Cliff Pirch, who guides elk hunts out of Payson, Ariz., was again outdone by his daughter.
Canadian Cory Johnston, who by a stroke of good fortune went to an elk mecca in New Mexico, came away with a 6X6 bull that scored 340 inches of antler, about 20 shy of making the Boone and Crockett list.
“I get lucky every once in a while,” said Cory, who was invited at the last second. “A buddy had an elk trip for four booked and one backed out.”
Thinking the hunt would start the next morning, Johnston was surprised when the outfitter took them out for a late afternoon stalk as soon as they arrived. They only needed to walk about 300 yards to sit near a water hole before the first encounters.
“One bugled, and I never heard one before,” Johnston said. “It makes the hair on your arms stand up.”
Johnston saw a dozen or so bulls that evening. He even knocked an arrow for a 320-class elk but passed. Johnston said that first sit gave him an idea of elk as the guide quickly assessed each on what he even called a special night.
“It was really cool to see these bulls,” Johnston said. “He’s like, ‘That’s a 280-incher, that’s a 300.’ When you’ve never seen them, it was good to get a gauge on them.”
It was on the fifth day of the hunt, and after a three- to four-mile hike, that their guide remembered a trail cam set up at another water hole. Seeing it had visitors, they set up a ground blind and waited, all the while hearing bugles echo through the canyon.
It was enlightening for Johnston, who with ultra-competitive brother, Chris, are serious deer hunters near their homes north of Lake Ontario. (See The legend has fallen.) Elk aren’t quite as elusive, he discovered.
“They’re nose is great, but when you’re walking and stalking them, they’re not as alert as a deer,” Chris said. “There are so many elk in the area, they’re used to hearing branches break. You can get away with a lot more movement.”
His bull walked into the meadow followed by 15 cows, but he remained out of range and even out of sight at times in thick brush. Another problem was sunset was coming. The guide actually slipped around the harem to prevent them from exiting stage left.
“All the sudden, he popped into our water hole at 42 yards,” Johnston said. “I was drawn on him for about three minutes before he finally gave me a shot. He was kind of turning to walk away to his cows. I put an arrow in him.”
Johnston wasn’t sure he made a good shot but the guide was 90% certain he “smoked him.” As satellite bulls moved in trying to coax away the gals, the crew waited until dark and found him just 60 yards away.
“Massive animal. We loaded him in back of a pickup, which I learned is not an easy task,” Johnston said. “I’ve been eating that elk the last couple weeks. It was a bit of a pain getting here, but man is it ever good. It’s probably some of the best wild game I’ve ever had. We had elk burgers last night. None of it goes to waste.”
Chris might be sharing the haul with family, but he’s also made his brother green with envy.
“Oh yeah, he was not happy he could not go on the trip,” Chris said.
Another friend on the trip killed an elk, and Cory wrote this on Chris’ post: “I hate them both so much right now but at the same time I’m so happy for them on two great bulls.”