“Are you crazy?” That’s generally the response I received when I told friends and family that I was selling my Mathews compound and switching to a recurve bow. Some of them told me not to do it because I needed more harvests under my belt with a compound. A good friend also said, “Well Good! That leaves more elk for me?” And one of my cousins even had the audacity to blurt out “I guess you want to wound a lot of game don’t you.”
I took heed to their comments and used them for motivation. The truth was that I was starting to get bored with the compound and did not enjoy shooting it as much. And to be honest, and not disrespectful to the compounds, I grew tired of all the fancy gadgets that are out in today’s equipment. I read a great article in a recent “Bugle” magazine written by Josh Engbretson. “I do not want my eye aided by pin and peep, my arrows powered by cables and cams. Yes, there is excellence in technology, but I find greater excellence in simplicity.”
I always said that someday I would make the switch to traditional equipment but didn’t plan on doing it this soon. It all started the summer of 2005 during a day trip out to my uncles cabin. My young cousin Joe walked out of the cabin with a couple recurves his grandpa use to shoot around with. Joe asked if I wanted to shoot with him and I gladly accepted grabbing one of the recurves and some old arrows along with it. I ended up shooting that bow all day long. I could not recall having that much fun shooting a bow than I did that day. The simplicity and excitement of shooting instinctively grabbed a hold of my soul.
I couldn’t stand it anymore during the winter of 2006. My heart and the spirit of the bow kept whispering to me it was time make the switch to the real stick and sting. I finally sold my Mathews compound and ordered a 59-pound Black Widow Recurve. I was on cloud 9! It was all I could think about for several months.
Since it would take two months for Black Widow to build my custom bow, I was very thankful and lucky to borrow my father-in-law’s backup recurve to practice with in the mean time. My father-in-law Dean is an accomplished traditional bowhunter with a good number a trophies to his credit. He warned me about how frustrating and challenging it is to shoot a stickbow. Challenging? Perfect! This was right up my alley since I tend to love doing things the hard way.
My first goal with the bow was to get comfortable with it and shoot every single day. I became obsessed with traditional archery. In fact, within the first two weeks of shooting, I pulled a pectoral muscle one day while coming to full draw on a target. But my determination overpowered my pain and I continued to shoot every single day to become as deadly as possible with this type of bow. I shot every day whether it was at the outdoor range, the indoor range, or even in my basement; which drove my wife crazy!
By the time September came around I felt very confident that I could shoot effectively within 30 yards. Finally September arrived but I had to score fast. My wife and I were expecting our 2nd child and her due date was set for September 19th (Yep, I didn’t plan that very well). So whether it was a bull or a cow within my effective range, I would take it. I figured that any elk with a bow was a good elk. And that any elk with a recurve was an exceptional elk!
Opening day I found myself back in my usual haunt where I’ve had a lot of success in the past. What I consider success is just getting into elk and being close to them and learning their habits and behaviors. I can’t count the times I’ve stalked or called bulls into range and have not had an ethical shot. But, every time they moved out range or scented me, I smiled, tipped my hat and was thankful to just be in amongst them, and I kept on hunting.
John James Audubon, 1897, said it best; “I do not hunt for the joy of killing, but for the joy of living and the inexpressible pleasure of mingling my life; however briefly, with that of a wild creature that I respect, admire, and value.”
Success on this particular opening day would be a lot different than what I was use to. It was the first opening day that I did not hear a bugle or any talk for that matter. I spent all day hiking and searching for elk or any fresh sign. Around noon, I did finally move in on a couple cows. I snuck with 50 yards as they lay bedded chewing their cud. But the fickle wind blew my first true stalk with a recurve in hand.
I spent all day working the bedding areas that I knew but it was difficult due to the very dry forest floor. I arrived back at camp later that night somewhat discouraged with the lack of elk sign considering the amount of country that I covered on day 1. I decided on day 2 that I would try my luck about 2 miles from the previous day.
The next morning, I gathered my equipment, put on my headlamp and hit the trailhead. But right off the bat I heard a close bugle. For a split second I could not believe that it was actually an elk. Then he bugled again. I could tell he as up the ridge in the timber about 400 yards from the trailhead. Yes, he was that close.
I waited for a bit to let the sun rise enough for a legal shooting situation and then I started slowly working my way up towards the bugle. I got set up in a spot that gave me a shot through a small lane if the bull came in. I broke off a few limbs so that I had full motion for my 60” recurve……..and then I cow called.
Right away I could hear the bull working towards my postion. He bugled and I said to myself, “Alright, here we go. This is what I’ve been visioning in my head for the past year. Don’t screw up!”
As I listened to the bull approach, I finally caught a glimpse of him only 60 yards away. Then in no time he showed himself in full. All I remember thinking was, “BIG BULL, BIG BULL!” Before I knew it, he was only 23 yards and slightly quartering away. As I got ready to cow call to stop him, he stopped dead in his tracks looking right through me. He must have caught my scent or me just slightly moving my bow as I got ready to draw back on him. I knew it was now or never and in one fluid motion I sunk my arrow all the way to the nock in this awesome bull.
The bull took off running like it was going out of style. I stood there listening and it sounded like all hell broke loose in the forest. I heard a hard crash, but then more noise. He was on his feet again but not for long. I heard one more solid crash and then it was dead silent. I sat there for an hour before I started tracking him. It was the longest hour of my life. I knew I hit him a little far back, but by judging by the sudden quietness that overcame the forest after the shot, gave me hope that he was down for good. I found the blood trail and followed it for approximately 200 yards. I found half of my arrow at this mark but as soon as I did, the blood trail started to peter out. At this point I decided to go back to camp and get some help.
At camp, I got plenty of help as everyone could see the excitement on my face. My dad Jim, sister Kristin, future brother in law Jeff, Uncle Jason, and buddies Miguel, Alex, and Raymond offered to help locate the bull. Once we finally made it back to the scene I showed them where I thought he might have piled up. We all split up and before I knew it I heard Raymond say, “I found him!” I was only 40 yards away from Raymond and I made my fastest 40 yard dash of my life.
As I approached, I was speechless. He was bigger than I first anticipated and everything I had every dreamed. This was my second archery bull elk, but this bull was exactly what I had worked so hard for during the past 6 years. Years of hard work, sacrifice, and leaving the trailhead at 4:00 in the morning led me to this moment. And to share it with friends and family was icing on the cake. The bull ended up gross scoring 340”. I never in my wildest dreams every thought that I would take my dream bull with traditional equipment.
I never would have killed this bull if it wasn’t for my dad Jim. He brought me to these mountains at a very young age and taught me how to hunt these amazing animals. From ethics, to shot placement ,and everything in between, I learned from my dad. And for that, I want to thank him.