With only 2 years of applying for a limited entry elk tag in Wyoming as a non resident I was elated and ecstatic to see the words successful when I logged into the computer to check my draw status! My brother Justin lived close by and he would help me scout and hunt when the season arrived and I owe much of this hunt to him and his help. Thank you Justin!
The summer involved many trips west to scout for one of my favorite animals to hunt. The Wapiti are an addictive critter to hunt as they are very interactive and allow you to play chess with them if you will. They talk back, they move in on your position, you move on theirs, it is one big chess match and being able to come out on top is the preferred but not always the case ending that we all pursue. Being able to outsmart a half ton bull on his terms is very addictive! My brother told me of an old bull that he had became to know in this area. He nicknamed the bull “Chuckles” as he didn’t have a full bugle but more of just the chuckle at the end of his love scream. I would love to meet this bull!
Mid to late summer scouting trips confirmed some great bulls in the area. Although the bulls had meaty, fleshy, soft antlers covered with velvet when we were able to see them I knew the bulls would be in the area in a couple of months. The many hiking trips into the dark timber revealed what I was scouting for. Not only the elk themselves but wallows, game trails, bedding areas, and old rubs from last year were very prevalent and made opening day get here even slower than before!
On one such trip in August my brother and I were working a ridge down to a low area that we felt would have water and feed. It was a two part scouting trip as we were in search of sheds and any elk sign to help educate us on this area. I looked up and spotted the dark neck of an elk and we quickly hit the ground. I watched as eleven bulls fed towards us not knowing we were there! I eased my camera out of my pack and snapped photos as they fed close enough to hear them ripping the grass out of the ground my the roots. A truly unbelievable experience none the less! This too made opening day get here much slower!
On another scouting trip we worked our way high above the treeline and after waiting for the sun to rise we were able to glass two distant bulls feeding above timber that I felt would have easily went over the 375 mark! I knew where I was going to be come opening day! You guessed it! Above the treeline! This too made opening day come much slower!
The time was finally here and the night prior in the camper brought little sleep as I waited the big day, opening day! My wife had accompanied me on the trip as it would be Labor Day weekend and she had a few days off of work. She was to return early as I had a week off to try my hand at the beasts that had caused very little sleep over the months prior.
Opening morning had Justin and I close to where we saw those huge bulls about a month prior. The sun began to consume the land slowly at first and then all of a sudden it seemed as if it had been daylight for hours….the time was here….the time was here for me to try my hand at these Wyoming bulls! Were those huge bulls still up this high? Would we be able to find them? Time would tell….
The day involved many miles hiked with little fresh elk sign. We were successful on one of our calling sequences and we called into range two other hunters who too, were thinking that they were hunting at the end of the rainbow thinking that they were in a location that would allow them to hunt without seeing other hunters. Oh well…onward and downward we moved on. We were sure the bulls had moved lower in search of cows. The sun faded away as it dipped behind the mountain peaks and we made our way back to our starting point early that morning. It was then that we realized my brother left his binoculars on a large rock many miles behind us. To this day we always wonder if they are still there. Someday we will check!
On day 2 we heard our first bugle very early in the morning. The bulls were indeed much lower likely in search of the ladies and the more abundant food sources. It didn’t take long and we were on a great bull that was with numerous cows. We were behind them and just couldn’t close the distance or get around in front of them. We watched as they headed to a high ridge-top with thick timber to bed for the day. I persuaded my brother to hold tight and we would wait out the elk in hopes that they would move back lower to our location late in the day. I knew this is what they would do but it took some convincing to get my brother to sit still for many hours awaiting our prey. We napped, ate MRE’s, and moved about in the shade in the old burn area where we were camped out in order to keep the thermals in our favor. At some point in the morning we heard the bull my brother had talked about. Chuckles was indeed still in the area! I wanted a closer look but the bull moved off in a hurry. He was in an area where we couldn’t get thermals in our favor and dared not to head that way.
It seemed to happen so fast. I was asleep and I felt debris hitting me as my brother was throwing rocks at me to wake me. He had just heard the bull bugle and it sounded as if they were getting closer. I rubbed the sleep from my eyes and sure enough, the bugle woke me right up! We listened as the bull and his cows moved closer. We weren’t far from a well used wallow and I wondered if he would hit this wallow. They moved farther down the burn area and I snuck towards them silently but was quickly caught off guard by a spike bull at 40 yards. The big bull was right behind him staring in my direction. I wasn’t able to seal the deal and watched as the bulls move away with the cows. He was a big 6x7 with a non-typical point jutting out from his main beam near his sword point. I estimated him around the 360 range. A dandy bull for sure!
Evening approached as we worked to another area that held a lot of elk sign. Light was fading fast as we neared the area and spied a nice 6 point bull feeding in the opening. He was at 60 yards and had no idea we were there. I snuck ahead as my brother stayed behind but I decided to let the bull walk especially after seeing that 6x7 earlier in the day.
The next day was Labor Day and we decided to rest and spend the day with our family. My wife was to get on the road shortly after lunch. It was driving me nuts not to be out hunting and my brother could tell. He told me I could go on my own as he wanted to spend the day with his wife and daughter.
It was early afternoon as I hiked what we call “Heart-Attack Hill.” The angle at which this hill protrudes from the ground really puts the name in perspective as you are trudging forward one boot at a time, up more than a 45 degree angle. The elevation change with each foot step brings you less and less oxygen making breathing heavier. Why do we destroy our bodies like this? Easy…for the thrill of the hunt!
When I reached the top of this rise I instantly heard a bull bugle. He sounded very distant but he kept bugling one after another and I decided to pick up the pace and close the distance. My boot steps quickened into a run as I worked through the timber heading his direction; his bugle made it very easy to close the distance. I was within 150 yards as I set down my pack and kept moving towards the bugle. He was just on the other side of a small rise in the same burn where we were the day before. When he came into view I quickly noticed that the bull was still in his bed bugling his head off and it was the non typical from the day before! I was going to get another chance! As I stalked forward the bull stood. I ranged him, settled my pin and sent an arrow right over his back! Bull fever had gotten the best of me!
I failed to find my arrow and recovered my pack and headed back in the direction I had come. I planned to hunt my way to lower elevation and back towards camp. Then it hit me. I had become complacent after my missed opportunity and wasn’t paying attention. I needed to get my head back into the game and focus on the task at hand. I decided to work my way back to the meadow where we saw the 6 point the night before. That bull may revisit the meadow again and I would be there waiting for him and to redeem myself!
I settled into my ambush location for the remainder of the day. I nestled in amongst some small jack pines in the middle of the meadow, removed my pack, got my calls ready, and nocked an arrow. Again light was fading and the day was coming to an end. I grabbed my cow call and let out a mew followed by two more a few seconds later. I don’t like to get too wild with calls and usually remain reserved when using them. I sat still listening to the woods around me. The wind was perfect for the direction I intended the elk to come from.
Then it happened. I heard the unmistakable sounds of a bull walking through the timber. The sound of an elk’s antlers breaking branches is very easy to make out. I peered in the direction of the sound. Grabbed my bow and readied myself. I first spotted legs and was sure it would be the 6 point from the night before. I watched as he moved closer and I ranged the area he was to come out at 120 yards, much too far for a shot but I hoped the bull was going to continue to move closer. I will never forget him tipping his head to the side towards the ground to move past a big pine. It wasn’t the 6 point from the night before! It was a huge 6x7 typical bull. A bull that I hadn’t had a chance to see yet; he continued along moving closer and at 80 yards he stopped and let out a bugle. Only there was no bugle! But there was a loud chuckle at the end! You know what that means! This was Chuckles and I was looking at him for the first time!
He continued on looking for the cow that was in the meadow. It is amazing how a bull can pin-point the location of a cow from so far away. He swayed his antlers back and forth in search of his new companion. When he was at 42 yards he stopped and let out another bugle. This time I could hear air rasp through his vocals and when he neared the end came the sound that gave him his name! So majestic this bull was!
He still continued and was at 23 yards when he stopped again. My rangefinder was pressed to my eye. I remained motionless with my bow in my other hand. It was then I realized I was pinned down. I was so mesmerized by watching him move across the meadow that I hadn’t prepared myself. The only thing between him and I was a little jack pine. I wondered if he was going to walk up to it and rub it. His antlers would have surely hit me if he wasn’t to see me first! I knew the next time the bull moved I needed to come to full draw and wait for a shot.
He let out another famed chuckle and I could smell his breath as he hit 18 yards and turned to the left, I came to full draw and the bull sensed something and stopped to look. It was too late for Chuckles as I was already at full draw and my pin was locked on. I squeezed the trigger of my release and the arrow impacted the bull taking out both lungs. He lunged forward and ran off. I grabbed my cow call and blew a couple of frantic mews and the bull stopped at about 60 yards and looked back. He tilted his head to bugle as blood rushed from his mouth and down his sides. I watched as he tipped over right there in front of me! His cows scattered amongst the trees and I now realized that I was able to pull a herd bull into my location. A feat that is very hard to do!
I had recently returned from a deployment to Iraq and watching Chuckles tip over reminded me of watching statues of Suddam Hussein being tipped over and succumbing to the fate that they both had in store for their lives. Both I enjoyed watching and are memories that are engrained into my mind forever!
Chuckles ended up taping out at a whopping 372” and some change. A true bull that was destined to be an icon in my hunting career and he will remain on my wall til the end of my time. He reminds me of my time spent with my brother and the bond that we forged through the hunt!