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Coulee Critter on the Diamond K

by Daniel James Hendricks 24. December 2011 04:07
Daniel James Hendricks

Since 2003, Kim and Cindy Kafka, owners of the Diamond K Ranch in Havre, MT have generously donated an Elk Hunt on their ranch to be auctioned off at the Annual UFFDA Banquet in an effort to support its mission.  The 2011 hunt was purchased by UFFDA Charter Member and longtime friend, John Swanson of Sauk Rapids, MN.  John lost his right leg during Desert Shield in 1990.  He has been a hunter since the very first UFFDA hunt back in 1995 and has served on the board of directors; he is also the current Range Master at the UFFDA Camp Wilderness Hunt in Park Rapids, MN.

Havre, MT is located in Central Montana about 40 miles south of the Canadian Border.

The third element of the Diamond K Adventure was the ranch’s Elk keeper, Skip Owens.  Skip has been the guide on each and every UFFDA hunt at the Diamond K since 2003, and like the Kafka’s, not only has he served us well, but he has become a very dear friend.  This year, instead of staying in a hotel, Skip and his mother, Berta invited us to stay in their home where we were treated like visiting royalty, helping to make it the best trip yet.  As with each and every UFFDA hunt, one thinks it can’t get any better; then the next one comes along and amazingly, the bar is raised.

Bringing the Kafka’s, Owens and Swanson together was my assigned job and suffice it to say, I love my work.  Taking photographs and the literal documentation of the hunt, as well as serving as the court jester were my responsibilities and I dived into my chores with gusto.  

Although the hunt was rigorous, John Swanson reveled in the experience. 

The 15-hour trip out to Havre was marred by bad roads for part of the journey, but even the slick byways were unable to squelch the excitement that had us as giddy as a couple of lads bound for their very first “big-hunt”.  John had never taken an elk; but had dreamed about a trip to the Diamond K hunt since the very first year it had been offered to the UFFDA membership. 

On the first day of the hunt, we awoke to partly cloudy skies and mild temperatures for early December.  A fresh dusting of snow had fallen over night adding to the 3-inch base, freshening up the surface and making it easy to identify fresh tracks.  The elk was in a 2600 acre pasture that we were able glass from Skip’s front porch.  We tried to locate the bull, but were only able to see a few of the 40 to 50 head of the buffalo that populate the pasture. 

The pristine beauty of the mountain slope was made even more so by the layer of white frosting of freshly fallen snow.

The first order of business was to sight in the crossbow to make sure that it was still on the mark.  John had asked to borrow my Scorpyd 165, not only because he admires the bow for its performance, but also because it is equipped with the HHA Optimizer Speed Dial, which allows the archer to launch an arrow accurately from zero to 80 yards with a simple turn of the dial.  He realized that in order to take the bull with a crossbow, he had to be prepared to take a longer shot than what he was used to.  The Scorpyd and the Optimizer Speed Dial would make that shot possible, if it had to be made.

We loaded up and headed for the bull’s stomping grounds, each filled with excitement over the onset of the chase.  The first objective was to find the bull and that task proved to be no easy chore.  As we began our search, John discovered that what appeared to be a smooth, but steep slope from a mile away was instead was a complicated system of hidden coulees that spread out over the mountain side like the veins of the circulatory system in the human body.  The natural gashes in the landscape ran deep and were shrouded in thick underbrush providing all the natural cover that any wild thing needs to hide and survive. 

John’s special prosthesis enabled him to negotiate the treacherous terrain like a pro.

Finding the bull proved difficult, but a steady search of the coulees with three sets of eyes eventually located the animal bedded down in thick brush halfway up a draw.  We analyzed the situation and then Skip carefully laid out his plan of attack.  The objective would be to sneak down an adjoining coulee to where it emptied into the ravine that held our bull.  John would have to make about a 40-yard shot to take his trophy if the stalk worked as planned, but of course, it didn’t.  As soon as human heads came into view, the bull jumped up and bounded out of the coulee stopping on the top of the rise to peer back and scoff, erasing John’s chance for a shot.  The bull paused long enough for me to nail it half a dozen times with my camera and then disappeared, making a clean escape.  Round one went to the bull.

Our quarry was far too smart to let us get close after the first stalk.

From that point on, the bull was on the constant move successfully keeping itself far away from the danger that it had correctly recognized us to be.  No matter what we tried, the elk out maneuvered our attempts to close the gap, rendering our efforts fruitless.  It was Skip that first detected a pattern in the animal’s flight pattern and his knowledge of the mountainside gave birth to a new brainstorm.  He took us to a ravine that was dotted by the fresh tracks made earlier by our quarry.  He pointed to the thick cover of pucker brush and tall prairie grass that covered one slope and told us to find a good spot there and wait.  It was on the alee side of the coulee so we were protected from the frigid wind chill and had to deal only with snow packed ground on which we rested our cold-sensitive butts. 

Ambush was our only recourse and Skip found a perfect spot for John to set up.

Skip moved away to begin to dog the bull hoping that the plan he had hatched would successfully provide John with what he believed would be a 30 yard shot.  John set the Speed Dial at 30 yards and we nestled deeply into the shelter of the underbrush to wait.  Positioned myself above John, I dialed my Sony camera to the video mode hoping to catch the all the action live if Skip’s scheme went as planned.  John was the first to detect the approach of the elk as he picked out the bull’s ankles popping as it neared our ambush.   Instead of following the trail along the ridge it angled down to the bottom of the coulee, moving directly towards the hunter.  At ten yards, I heard the subtle bark of the Scorpyd as it launched its projectile into the unsuspecting creature.  Taken totally by surprise, the big bull spun in a blink and bounded up to the top of the coulee.  It stopped and turned, staring back at the bottom of the ravine in a vain attempt to determine what had just happened.  After a short pause, the confused bull turned to flee taking only ten steps before gracefully somersaulting into death.  It was over!

After the shot, John was all smiles.  The elk never had a clue that John was there until it was too late.

Skip had watched the bull come back out of the coulee thinking we had been busted and that the elk had made good its escape.  Then, through his field glasses, he saw the blood escaping from both sides of the animal before it crashed to the ground.  Rushing to the coulee, he triumphantly joined us for the celebration we had all been working towards.  After many photos had been taken of the successful team, the real work began.  The animal was field dressed and then slowly, but surely drug by very small gains into the back of the pickup.  Thank goodness the huge expired beast came equipped with a pair of really big handles!  We hauled our trophy back to the ranch, where big machinery helped to complete the final processes of skinning and quartering the elk.  Once that was done, it was off to the locker where the bull was to be cut and wrapped.  From there, it was home for supper and a jubilant celebration that brought a fitting end to what had been a very special hunt. 

Guide, Skip Owens and John with his trophy of a lifetime.

The next day was spent tying up the loose ends and spending some quality time with our hosts.  On Sunday morning, John and I stopped at the ranch and collected the meat and the head then headed for home warmed by all of the good things that had taken place over the last four days. A hearty thank-you goes out to Kim and Cindy for their continued, generous support of the UFFDA Mission and their warm and wonderful hospitality.  We truly thank Skip and Berta for opening their home to us and treating us like part of their family.  And to Skip, a very special and heartfelt acknowledgement for his extraordinary service and all the hard work he put forth to make this hunt such a great success.  We love you all. 

Left to right: John Swanson, Kim Kafka, Skip Owens and Cindy Kafka.

Until next year, my Diamond K friends, fare the well!

Bowhunting Elk in Colorado

by Justin Zarr 25. September 2011 11:31
Justin Zarr

Nearly two years ago our good friend and forum member Dan Mater (130Woodman) asked Mike Willand and myself if we'd like to go elk hunting with him in Colorado. Having prior obligations for the 2010 season we decided as a group that 2011 would be the year we headed West to chase elk together. So on Friday September 16th we packed up the truck and hit the road. Some 17 hours later we rolled into town and without sleeping, hit the mountain.

After 6 straight days of walking 8 to 12 miles a day (mostly uphill I believe) we returned home defeated this past Friday. We're not entirely sure what the problem was, but it seems like a very late spring has turned into a very late fall with the majority of the elk not bugling much. Those of you who have hunted elk on public lands probably know that when the elk aren't talking, the hunting can be tough. We only heard a handful of bugles during our trip, and most of those were far away and were unresponsive to Dan's calling. The lone elk who responded and came into calling was on the 2nd to last night of our trip, and the only night where Mike and I split off on our own to hopefully cover more ground. So while Dan had an angry bull at 40 yards, Mike and I were a mile and a half up the mountain watching nothing but squirrels and birds. Figures!

I'm no expert, but I don't think late September in the mountains of Colorado is supposed to be this green.

So instead of spending most of our time trying to coax an angry bull into bow range, we spent the majority of our time simply trying to locate elk to hunt. Many of the typical spots where Dan has has success in years past were nearly void of elk sign. So we scoured the mountains as best as our Midwestern legs and lungs would allow us, and in the end came up emptyhanded.

Mike and Dan listening for a response after letting out a bugle during our Day 3 climb to nearly 11,000 feet.

Mike and I were all geared up to capture some exciting footage for "Bowhunt or Die", but the elk just didn't feel like cooperating.

Although none of us bagged an elk on this trip, I have to say it wasn't a complete bust. The three of us shared more laughs than I've had in a long time, experienced some amazing scenery and breathtaking views, and solidified our friendships which will most assuredly spend more time in the field together in the future. I'm not going to say I'm not disappointed that none of us got a shot opportunity because I am, but hey, that's life!

Sunset on the last night of our trip.  It's not an elk in the truck, but not a bad way to end the week.

For those of you who have never elk hunted before, here are just a few tips that I learned during my hiking adventure, which was disguised as a hunting trip.

1. Make sure you have good-fitting, comfortable, waterproof boots. Us Midwestern guys may think we're used to walking a lot up some of these "hills", but trust me it's NOTHING like climbing 2,000-3,000 feet in elevation up a mountain side which takes sometimes 2 to 4 hours. Having boots that fit well, are comfortable, and waterproof will make your hunt 100x better. If your feet get wet, sore or blistered on the first couple of days you're in for a LONG week.  My boot of choice on this trip was the Rocky Lynx, which worked out great.

2. Bring plenty of food and water. During this trip I typically went through about 2-3 liters of water per day. 2 liters were in the water bladder in my pack, and the other in bottles I brought with me. Hiking up these mountains all day is tough work, and you'll be glad you brought the extra water. I also packed 2 sandwiches, 2 Nutrigrain bars, and 2 granola bars for the day as well. When you leave the truck at 5 am and get back at 8 pm you'll need the food.

Peanut Butter & Honey?  Don't mind if I do...

3. Have a good pack. Although after the first day or two I took out everything I didn't need, I still found myself bringing a lot of gear up the mountain with me. Whether it's extra clothes, 1st aid kit, water, food, binos, rangefinder, GPS etc you'll be taking a lot of stuff with you each day. Having a pack that is light weight, adjustable, comfortable and big enough for all of your gear is a must. On this trip I used the Blacks Creek 3:16 Lumbar pack, and it was awesome. Roomy enough to hold all of my junk, and comfortable enough not to bog me down. I'll be doing a full write-up on this pack in the next week or so. IMO, it's the best pack I've ever personally used/owned.

Mike glassing for elk.  Keep looking buddy!

4. Dress appropriately. Unlike some of the short walks to your treestand on a cold November morning where you can get away with wearing most of your layering clothing, you can't do that when hunting elk. After my first day of trying that, I learned my lesson pretty quickly. By the 3rd day I was walking up the mountain in the mornings in nothing but a t-shirt, with no hat. Once we got up the mountain and slowed down I would then add my Scent Shield Merino Wool insulating layer and top if off with a Lost Camo hoody from Gamehide.

Even though we didn't so much as lay eyes on an elk, I still had a great trip.  A big thanks to Dan Mater for bringing Mike and I out for our first elk hunt, and dealing with our ridiculousness all week!

So with our elk hunt now officially over, Mike and I are turning our attention towards our true love - chasing whitetails here in Illinois. Our season opens up next Saturday and you can bet we'll be perched up in a tree somewhere. After last week's bowhunting frustration I feel sorry for the first doe that wanders within bow range of us!


by Brenda Potts 30. May 2011 07:50
Brenda Potts

Elk have always been there for me. They took part in my first bowkill. They sang to me on my honeymoon. Elk taught me the sorrow of losing an animal.  They got me through a midlife crisis and helped me fight my way back from cancer. Several milestones in my life have been defined by encounters with elk.  The first one took place more than twenty years ago in the mountains above Los Alamos, New Mexico on my first big hunting adventure away from home.  The most recent one took place just a couple years ago while filming for SHE's Beyond the Lodge on Outdoor Channel.

MILESTONE ONE - First Bowkill
My cousin called in a huge five-by-five to less than ten yards. I reacted with precision, drawing my bow and releasing the arrow in one fluid motion. Okay, that is not actually what happened. I stood there, frozen, staring at the bull as he came closer. My cousin was crouched on the ground before me trying to become invisible. I stood there, unable to move, unable to lift my bow, unable to think. I stood there as the bull came to within ten yards, got a whiff of us and whirled, quickly disappearing over the top of the mountain. My cousin threatened to take my bow away from me. Not much can fully prepare a young Midwestern whitetail hunter for that first up-close encounter with elk in the wild.

When the next opportunity to draw my bow finally came, I reacted differently. Instead of freezing, I sort of went nuts.

It was a foggy morning when we encountered the elk herd. A member of our hunting party shot a cow. His arrow passed completely through the elk and she only ran about 150 yards. The elk crashed down the side of the mountain, coming to rest upside down at the base of a tree. Unfortunately because of the fog he had not noticed the yearling. The arrow had passed through the adult elk and hit the yearling in the hip. It disappeared into the fog. We decided to take care of the cow and then launch a full out search for the yearling.

While the guys went to take care of field dressing and quartering the cow elk, I made my way back to the truck. It was my intention to gather drinks, cameras and snacks and head back to help. The fog was still thick enough that I missed the truck, circling well below it before I realized my mistake and finally found it. After depositing my bow in the back, I grabbed cameras, water and for some reason, stuffed my pockets full of vanilla wafers. It must have been our only food.

I was careful to follow a straight line back to where they guys were working on the elk. The fog was still thick with visibility to about 30 or 40 yards. About half way there I noticed movement. As I closed the distance I realized the moving blob was that yearling elk. It was not mortally wounded, but had separated from the herd. Panic gripped me. I decided to try to shoot the elk but my bow was back at the truck. I raced back to the truck, threw the cameras into the back and jerked all the vanilla wafers out of my pockets. I have no idea why. It looked like a vanilla wafer box had exploded, spewing little round cookies all over the bed of the truck. I grabbed my bow and went into stealth mode.

That yearling probably weighed two hundred pounds. It was as big as the bucks back home. As I closed the distance I realized I was about to get my first bow shot at a big game animal. We had no range finders in those days. It was foggy. My heart was out of control and so was my shooting.

I had four arrows in my quiver. The first arrow flew a foot over the elk. The second arrow nicked its ear.  After getting my composure I took the third shot. The now seriously wounded elk slowly started to walk down the mountain, away from my hunting party and into the thickening fog. I followed, keeping the elk in sight as it continued down the mountain. Just as I was about to get really stressed out over how far away this elk was taking me, it finally laid down. I sat, watching and waiting, not sure what to do. Finally I heard my uncle's voice in the distance calling my name. They were looking for me. I snuck away from the elk and in the direction of their voices. When we reunited they were surprised at my reason for straying into the fog. The story ends well, with my first bowkill and my first elk milestone.

Milestone number two taught me a sad lesson. Stan and I were elk hunting on private property near Chama, New Mexico. We had only been married a few weeks so this was sort of a honeymoon. One morning high on the mountain the bulls were especially vocal. We set up to intercept one bull as he made his way toward a bedding area. The bull worked his way in my direction, coming to the cow calls being made by our guide.

When the bull got to within twenty yards I shot. The angle of the shot was steep with the bull well below me. He was so close all my pins were in the kill zone as he turned broadside. The arrow passed through the elk.  He ran about forty yards and stopped, hanging his head as blood streamed from his nose. The guide decided we should give the bull some time so we slipped out of there. Later I found out he thought it best that I not hear the bull die! I guess he thought he was practicing some form of chivalry. It is nice to be treated like a lady, but let’s just say that what I have to say about his reason for leaving that bull isn’t very ladylike.

We returned to the bull’s location an hour later only to find him standing. He started walking at a fairly fast pace down the mountain. All I can figure is the shot was a little too high and only caught the top of one lung.   They say a bull can live with a hit like that. We never did find the elk. For a month I jumped every time the phone rang, hoping they were calling to tell me they had found the elk or seen him alive. That fall I sat in my tree stand with a heavy heart. It was the first animal I had ever lost. Deer would walk by within range and I didn’t even raise my bow. It took quite awhile to regain my confidence.

Milestone number three came about as a result of a midlife crisis. Well, it really wasn’t a crisis, maybe just a reckoning. After several years of elk hunting I began to wonder if I could do it myself. After all those times following a guide or someone else around the mountains, I wondered if I could do it on my own. My good friend and fellow outdoor writer, Lisa Price was just crazy enough to go with me on this adventure and we soon named the excursion “The Thelma and Louise Elk Bowhunt.” Could we get ourselves into the mountains, get on elk and not drive off a cliff?
For months prior to the hunt I studied maps, planned our hunt and practiced navigating familiar terrain with my new GPS unit. We headed to Platoro, Colorado with high hopes. We checked into our cabin at 10,000 feet and got our gear sorted out. I showed Lisa a pinch point at the back of a meadow on the topo map that I thought might be a good place to start.

On our first venture we followed a gravel road to a high plateau, parked the rental vehicle and bailed off into the mountain. We walked along the edge of the meadow, working our way deeper into the mountain. After about a mile we found the pinch point I had marked on the map. The place just felt like elk. Rubbed pine trees hinted at bulls that had been there before us. The altitude meter read 11,000 feet.

I offered up my best elk bugling rendition and waited. Much to our surprise a cow elk burst out of the timber about a hundred yards away and came straight at us. Behind her was a legal bull with four points on one side. Lisa quickly got ready and I tried to convince the bull to leave his cow and come to me. My cow calls had him thinking, but he wasn’t going to leave a sure thing. She kept him out of bow range and then finally took him away from us.

Lisa and I were so excited. We had done it. We had found our way into the mountain and had a close encounter with a bull all on our own. No guides, just us. It was pretty cool.
A freak early season storm dumped eight inches of snow on our area overnight. Hunting came to a halt for a couple days. No one in the other cabins made it out to hunt either. When the snow stopped we went to another location further down the mountain that was only about 9,000 feet. I marked the truck on the GPS and we headed in, following a hiking trail. Before long we cut across an elk track in the snow and decided to follow it. The elk took us higher and higher. We found a beaver pond nestled below a cliff where a herd of elk were bedded. We could see a big bull and a couple satellite bulls among a big herd of cows.

There was no way to get above the bull or approach down wind. We would have to wait him out. We spent the afternoon watching the herd and making plans to intercept them as they came to the beaver pond before dark. Unfortunately right at prime time a couple of hikers ruined our plans and busted the herd. So much for hunting public ground near hiking trails. We never got an elk on that trip. But neither did most of the hunters in the other cabins. In fact, with the exception of one guy, Lisa and I were the only ones to get on bulls, and we did it all by ourselves. We had stepped outside our comfort zone. And we did confront and conquer the uncertainty that comes with facing the unknown. Another milestone.

MILESTONE FOUR - Another Reason To Fight
The most recent elk milestone helped me fight through the toughest battle of my life. In the fall of 2007 I was diagnosed with breast cancer.  I had to cancel my elk hunt. Surgery, chemotherapy and radiation took their toll. There were a few times when I wondered if I would elk hunt again. Most of the time I was determined to elk hunt again.

Two years later I still hadn’t quite recovered fully from the treatments. Every blood test showed I was still anemic.  The side effects of some of the medication I was taking made me light headed with bouts of weakness. None of these problems helped with my pre hunt conditioning. I had two elk hunts planned for filming for SHE’s Beyond the Lodge on Outdoor Channel. Would I make it?

As my much anticipated elk hunts drew near I ignored the problems and focused on returning to the mountains. The first elk hunt was at Three Forks Ranch in Colorado. Fortunately the altitude was not bad and the guide was able to take us part of the way into the higher places using ATVs. Kandi Kisky and I both got elk with our TC rifles. 

The next hunt in west central New Mexico with Trophy Ridge Outfitters was the one I worried about most. It was in unfamiliar territory and I wasn’t sure how much hiking would be needed to get to within muzzleloader range.

My guide Audrey McQueen, nine-time national elk calling champion and fellow SHE Team member had several options for us to try. On the first hunt we hiked quite a bit, enough that I began to doubt my ability. Audrey switched tactics and set up to hunt from a ground blind near a water hole. It really lifted my spirits because we came close to tagging a monster bull. As the hunt progressed I quickly started regaining strength. Each hike got easier and my confidence returned. On the last day Audrey spotted a bull, a really big bull. He didn’t get that big by being stupid. The bull was bedded near the top of a mountain and we were at the bottom of it.

I made up my mind right then and there that I would get to the top of that mountain. It took us over an hour. Everybody helped carry my gear. Audrey pulled me up some of the steeper parts. It was painstakingly slow progress, but I kept putting one foot in front of the other. I focused on one step at a time and on not quitting.

We got to within one hundred yards of the bull. He was magnificent. A huge monster bull, estimated to score over 350. I was going to have to shoot across a steep canyon. We set up, got ready and felt the wind swirl and hit our back. Busted! The bull bolted over the top of the mountain and disappeared.

Everyone was so disappointed. We had worked so hard for over an hour to get within range and in a split second it was over.  We sat on top of the mountain dejected.
Part of me was sad over not getting the bull, but most of me was elated over having climbed to the top of a mountain. I was chasing elk again, challenging my limits, facing uncertainty, stepping outside my comfort zone and regaining confidence.  I had battled back from cancer and climbed back into the mountains. It was yet another milestone in my life defined by encounters with elk.






Elk Hunters; Montana Decoy's Present "Miss September".

by Bow Staff 14. June 2010 03:05
Bow Staff

Elk hunters headed out to tag a bull this year may want to take a closer look at Montana Decoy’s newest creation. Think Megan Fox looking the other way while eating; this is what an Elk would envision!

Montana Decoy Presents Miss September!

Feeding poses have been proven effective during any phase of the hunting season and the all new Miss September Elk Decoy from Montana Decoy combines that potent pose with HD photography.

"A herd bull might try to add a lone cow to his harem during the rut or it might be a confidence decoy in the late season after the rut has passed," said Jerry McPherson, owner Montana Decoys. "Either way, using a realistic decoy can mean the difference between success and failure."

The ultra realistic HD photography on Montana Decoy's Miss September easily fools even the sharpest elk in the herd. Simple twist-and-stake set up is a hallmark of all Montana Decoys and the new Miss September is no exception. The light weight construction means it can go with you no matter if you're hunting near the road or backpacking in the wilderness.


Miss September stands 41 inches tall set up and weighs in at a mere 42oz. Meaning it will go unnoticed in your elk pack until you need it. Suggested retail for the Miss September is $99.95 and will be on dealer shelves in plenty of time for fall 2010.

Visit the Montana Decoy website or call 888-332-6998 for a full list of decoys, tips and where to find a dealer near you.

About Montana Decoy

Created in 1996 by Jerry McPherson, Montana Decoy got its start from an average hunter trying to improve his bowhunting success. Tormented by an uncooperative bull elk, McPherson returned to his truck, thinking about how he could design a packable decoy without adding bulk and weight. McPherson got inspiration from folding band saw blades. He utilized the same twist-and-fold concept to hold open the decoy image.

Montana Decoy offers turkey, elk, whitetail, mule deer, antelope and predator options along with a Moo Cow confidence decoy. All share the same ease of use, light weight and ultra realistic HD photography.

Check out's full list of decoy's, including those made by Montana click here. Thank you!

About the Authors

The staff is made up of "Average Joe" bowhunters from around the country who are serious about one thing - BOWHUNTING.  Keep up to date with them as they work year-round at persuing their passion and bring you the most up-to-date information on bowhunting gear and archery equipment.

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