LAST UPDATED: May 1st, 2015
Each April I send out invitations and a preliminary schedule for my annual elk bowhunt to Idaho, and every April, most friends on that list opt out of this do-it-yourself hunt with its over-the-counter license. It seems everyone wants to bowhunt elk when discussing it in January, but nearly everyone backs out when it’s time to actually buy the license and block in the dates; but not my friend Chris White, 35, of Toledo, Ohio. Within an hour of receiving my email invitation, White wrote back to say, “Count me in.”
Maybe that’s because White hasn’t forgotten the fun we had during his first elk bowhunt in September 2012. We started the third morning of that bowhunt by fast-sneaking for 15 minutes toward a bugling bull elk south of us at 6,800 feet elevation. Then we paused, deciding not to press, until knowing its exact whereabouts. And there we waited, arrows nocked, ears locked southward. We believed the bull was within 100 yards and would bugle again, much as it had done since first roaring 30 minutes after dawn. With luck and a little coaxing, we hoped to lure the bull into bow range for White.
Mark Endris, Chris White and Patrick Durkin pose with White’s 5-by-5 bull elk, which fell within seconds of being arrowed.
I nodded toward a small lodge-pole pine 40 yards ahead where the forest faded into an aspen meadow. Turning to White I whispered over my shoulder: “Sneak up to that pine and get ready. I’ll drop back and give a cow call.” But before we could separate, White hissed, “There he is.” Sheesh! So much for that plan. The big bull was crossing the meadow, its broad chest cleaving young aspens and tall grass as it headed straight at us. Then it stopped about 50 yards away and stared. We held our breath, slumped like stumps, hoping our camouflage clothing and face nets blended with the background. Just when we thought the bull would whirl and flee, it resumed walking. When it was 30 yards away on a parallel course, I noticed White lifting his bow to draw. “Wait!” I cautioned quietly, fearing the bull’s peripheral vision would spot the motion. The bull never slowed. It passed us at 25 yards, giving White a slightly quartering-away shot. “Draw,” I whispered, hoping I sounded calm and helpful. Remember, this was only the third day of White’s first elk hunt. In fact, he hadn’t yet arrowed a deer since taking up bowhunting a few years ago. The last thing he needed was some old guy – well-meaning or not — increasing the pressure. As excited as I felt, I couldn’t imagine what he was feeling.
Chris White of Ohio admires the 5-by-5 bull elk he bow-killed in southeastern Idaho on Sept. 19, 2012.
Maybe the bull saw him draw or heard me whisper. Either way, it stopped to look around. I expected it to coil at its knees and whirl away in a flash. Bull elk average 700 pounds, but can go from zero to 45 mph before a bowhunter can release an arrow, or so it seems…but not this time. This time White’s arrow and three-blade Muzzy zipped through the bull’s massive rib cage, and puffed dust from the dirt and grass 25 yards beyond. The bull trotted 20 yards, stopped, turned downhill into a grassy gully, and toppled dead 60 yards away. White made it look easy, but we knew better. He had practiced shooting all summer, and put in extra time at the gym and on the pavement, regularly running two miles and more to prepare for our high-country hunt.
Patrick Durkin, left, and Chris White head downhill toward camp with parts of White’s bull elk.
White and I first met in 2009 as guests at Tom Heberlein’s deer shack in Ashland County, Wisconsin. He fit in quickly with the gang at “Old Tamarack,” so I asked if he was interested in bowhunting elk. I warned him we’d camp at 5,500 feet and make daily 1- to 2-mile ascents of 1,000 to 2,000 feet. Borrowing a line from a Colorado guide, I told him: “I can’t guarantee you’ll get a shot or even see an elk. But if you’re not in shape, I can’t even guarantee you a good time.” No sweat. White flew from Detroit to Salt Lake City on Sept. 16 last year, and drove a rental car to southeastern Idaho to hunt with me and longtime friend Mark Endris, 60, of Hillsdale, Wisconsin. Three days later, as we shook hands and exchanged high-5s over his kill, White said he never expected to kill a 5-by-5 bull on his first hunt. He then dug out his cellular phone and called his wife, mother and half of Toledo to share the news.
Mark Endris pushes a handcart with a fully loaded pack and plastic meat-bag down a U.S. Forest Service hiking trail.
Meanwhile, I called Endris back in camp and asked him to start assembling our knives, sharpener, cameras, meat bags, plastic tarp and backpacks for the recovery operation. At 8:15 a.m., I started the 2-mile trek downhill to help Endris carry the gear up to White’s bull. The next 12-plus hours we imitated butchers, pack-mules and taxidermists. At 9 p.m., with the meat stuffed in two big coolers near camp, we washed the knives, cleaned the packs and sat for supper, exhausted but happy. White had arrowed the elk, but all three of us earned it.
And with those memories fueling our motivations, we’ve begun planning our September 2013 bowhunt. After all, it’s never too soon to start dreaming, checking and packing.