The cow call cuts through the silence, clear and abrupt. I leave my pack where I had taken it off and begin working along the slope. Most hunters do not picture a cow when they think of elk hunting. Instead, they picture a 6×6 bull bugling as it comes barreling in. But as I sat on the ridge to rest after four hours of hiking a cow call brings me to my feet.
I hesitate near a small pine and cow call softly. No response. I cow call again then begin letting out a couple of soft calf bleats. A bugle screams through the woods in my direction. I continue forward, weaving between trees and rocks as I scan for the elk. I kneel behind a line of trees and bleat several more times. Again, a minute passes before the bull bugles. He moves farther away as I attempt to close the gap. I begin to pass by saplings that have been shredded, a telltale sign of a bull’s territory.
Out of the corner of my eye I see a cow. She stares uphill directly at me. I crouch and stalk down, so I am even with her. I cow call and she responds immediately, seeming anxious. We banter back and forth, her responses immediately following my appeals.
I feel the breeze has switched, and I no longer have the wind to my advantage. A bugle erupts above me on the ridge. I know the bull will soon catch my wind. I bugle back to act as though I am a satellite bull sneaking in for the cow. The bull charges back and forth above me, trampling brush and bugling. At any moment I expect the bull to appear. Instead, the herd rushes back in the direction from which I had come.
I begin to circle uphill, to get the wind back in my favor. As I do I let out a few urgent calf bleats as if I have been left behind. The bull bugles once more and I see him emerge out of the trees heading towards me. As he reaches seventy yards, he pauses at a rub and begins to rake his antlers against the tree. I run straight towards him. I close the distance to forty yards and pause. The bull has stopped working on the tree, but he doesn’t turn and return to the herd. He continues forward.
The bull edges closer until he has come within fifteen yards. A short row of pines stand in front of me, blocking any potential shot. With the wind at his advantage, within seconds he will smell me. The bull sees my movement first and begins to run. I come to full draw and step out onto the trail. I calf bleat once. The bull lingers behind some cover for a moment, then takes two steps into a clearing. I bleat one last time. “Take your time, take your time,” I repeat to myself as the pin centers on his vitals, and the arrow connects.