by: Bryan Schiller
In Utah, we have to enter a drawing every year for our public land permits. I only started archery hunting two years ago and archery tags are much easier to draw. So I decided to put in for archery this year and drew a Central/Southern Utah elk tag. I was extremely excited but nervous because I had never stepped foot in the area I had drawn, still a rookie with my bow although I shoot it often. How would I learn such a huge area in a short amount of time? The area starts in central Utah and runs to the Arizona state line. Fortunately, I had a buddy who hunted the area 6 years ago and chased big bulls, but learned they were difficult to locate. The unit is very thick with trees and the animals are always moving. My friend Briant Hemmingway and his buddy Kyle Paxman had one weekend during the summer and both joined me for some scouting. We drove about 300 miles from Northern Utah to the unit boundary then covered 220 miles south of backcountry dirt roads in my RZR looking at areas we scoped out on Google Earth. Also hiking in to set trail cameras in spots Briant had previously hunted.
After the initial visit I went home and continued scouting from my home computer. Looking at topo maps, finding water, and searching specific elevations with steep terrain to further explore. I made the 5 hour drive each way three more times during the summer hoping to turn up some good pictures on my trail cameras and to my surprise, I had only cow elk on one camera, deer on the other and one five point bull that got me excited. The last one was full of good ol black angus!
Feeling a bit flustered with the hunt approaching, I was able to get down a few days early and explore some of the areas I mapped out. It turns out most of the areas were an additional 1.5 hours southeast and I had already set up a camp, which I planned to stay at as long as necessary to be successful. The hunt started on August 20 with an end date of September 16th. After spending the opener out of my base camp and hiking in every direction with little sign and few elk, I decided I needed to move my camp where I had seen much more sign (mostly fresh tree rubs) from bulls. After spending 5 days on the mountain, I packed up and headed farther south. I would get some much needed rest instead of arriving at camp near midnight and leaving again at 3am. By this time I had put eyes on a 350+ bull in the lower area. I spent two days trying to get on him and never got a close look, nor did I see another elk. Three more days passed and I had now been seeing a few good bulls and several smaller bulls, but they were miles away. Friday afternoon brought some much anticipated excitement when I spotted a decent bull about 1000 yards out, and made a quick decision to make a stalk and get a closer look. I should mention that the weather was not in my favor, it was less than 30 degrees with the wind chill and there was lightening and rain for three hours, then came the hail and snow with whipping winds. Wednesday and Thursday were horrendous and I was stuck on the mountainside for hours in the freezing temps. I was well prepared and knew I would encounter weather, I just wasn’t planning on hell, it was difficult to find shelter.
As I moved closer to the bull, I spent three hours stalking him and with the wind factor I finally decided to back off. I had the bulls scent and could not locate him and didn’t want to risk screwing up the opportunity and pushing him out of the area. My buddy Josh Willard and my Dad (Clark Schiller) who both joined me on the hunt were a mountain range over with their spotters and although they couldn’t see me, they were watching the area where we knew the elk had bedded down in the thick timber. As I started to back off, I dropped low on the hillside and heard something directly below me (100 yards) get up and move. I heard him hit a log, break a few sticks and then some loose rock slid. It wasn’t something busting out of the area, but it had to be an elk and I knew the bull I was stalking was above me. Fortunately Josh was watching the hillside in his spotter and caught a glimpse of something moving through the timber. He only got a 5 second window as he stepped through a small clearing and Josh had a visual and confirmed it was a different bull and counted at least 8 points on the one side. He jumped on the radio to let me know all the commotion below me was indeed another bull and with his excitement in relaying the information, perhaps the one we had been dreaming about!
The rain had started up again and the wind never stopped blowing. It was fast approaching dark and I was almost out of daylight so I had no choice but to back off and make a new plan. I knew if I didn’t push him out of the area, there was a good chance I’d be able to find him Saturday morning. I reluctantly started hiking out and by the time I got off the mountain, I couldn’t put my mind at ease, thinking about the bull and the circumstances. All week I had been pushing to get the animals to talk with no response. I had bugled and cow called for a week and had only got one bull to answer me on Monday. I knew it was still early but with all the cold weather, I though maybe I could convince the elk it was already September :)! I really needed to get a get a bugle to help me locate on Saturday morning.
I got off the mountain and back to camp and lights out around midnight. After a short restless night and strategizing my morning plans over and over, the alarm went off and I was eager to start my two hour hike in the dark in hopes to be in a good position at first light. I had a few things on my mind and it was time to make something happen.
As I hiked up the mountain blazing a trail to the top, I took my time and moved as swiftly and quietly as possible. It got difficult trying to pass through areas with fallen timber taller than me. Fortunately it was very wet from the 3 days of rain and much more quiet than usual. I had great wind in my face, which I kept checking as I moved higher. At mid mountain, I could start to see a little light and I knew it was time to bugle. It was a very crisp morning, no rain but cloud cover and temperatures were around 35 degrees. I put in my diaphragm and let out a very subtle bugle just to see if I could get anything to answer. Almost immediately I had a bull to my right up high, a smaller satellite bull answer back. I was pretty excited, maybe the 3 days of rough weather and cool temperatures were working and the elk would finally help me out. The bugle came from the direction I was headed and I knew I needed to get closer. Another 15 minutes went by and not a single peep. I decided to cow call a few times with no interest. I kept moving and 15 minutes later I was around 9, 500 ft. The point I was shooting for on my GPS was 9,800 ft., so I didn’t have far to go. I didn’t want to give away my location, but I was all alone and and had no choice. I had to be aggressive, I decided to bugle again. I proceeded with a less aggressive bugle and almost instantly got what I assumed to be the same small bull to answer me, now much closer. I went to respond back and was almost immediately cut off by a much more aggressive bull and bugle. At that point my blood was pumping and that was all I needed to hear. I hoped it was the big bull and if so, he was still in the area. My game plan from this point was to shut up and move until I found him. It took me 20 minutes to get near the 9,800 ft mark I was shooting for and during that time it was complete silence. It seemed like forever with no communication and I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. I was very apprehensive and approaching a baby step at a time not knowing where the bulls were.
As I moved closer… finally, I got it! A very aggressive bugle and it was not far. In the same direction I was headed and soon, I’d hopefully be looking at my dream bull! I kept the same slow pace and got the flat point I was shooting for, I immediately stopped behind a tree and started glassing the area to see if I could spot him. Everything came together, I caught some movement and sure enough it was antlers. There was an elk bedded in the timber about 150 yards from me. I grabbed my binos and about dropped them when I saw the 8 points on the one side. It was him! Now what? How was I going to get closer in this thick fallen timber. I could only see his rack and I’d never be able to get a shot unless I could sneak right into his bed. Again, I checked the wind and kept moving. I made up 50 yards which took me another 20 minutes and got within 100 yards. At this point, the timber was so thick I had lost my visual. All of a sudden I catch glimpse of an elk walking through the trees, its him! He’s up and moving. With good wind and not being spooked, it gave me a huge opportunity to move a little quicker and not be as concerned about walking quietly as he’d be making some noise. He had no idea I was there and I could move with him and close the gap. I quickly lost sight of him, but I watched the direction he was headed. I took cover behind every tree making sure he didn’t catch my movement. The forest was very thick so I had good cover. Within 15 minutes, I had closed the gap and spotted him as he stopped to rake a tree. He was being very loud and it was the perfect setup for me to get in position. I was now at 50 yards and thinking there’s no way I’m going to get closer. Frustration set in because I had absolutely no shooting lane. Trees and branches were everywhere. I knew I had to wait for him to turn his head and keep moving closer. It took a solid 20 minutes to move 20 yards but he did not move an inch. He stood in the same place and attacked the same tree. There were two times we had a stare off and I did not twitch a muscle as he looked and looked and finally ruled me out as a threat. I made it. I was within 30 yards of the animal. I knew at this point every single breath was critical. No matter what kind of skill set I might have, at 30 yards if an animals sees, hears or smells anything abnormal, there won’t be another opportunity to exercise those skills. All the excitement and I still had no shot; I needed two steps to the left to get what I perceived as the best shooting lane with no branches and the best vital shot I was going to get. I waited for the bull to make his first mistake as he turned his head and I got my first step. It took another 2 minutes before he did the same thing and was able to take my second step and draw my bow at the same time. It was only seconds after at full draw I saw my sight bubble level out I had a clear heart shot. I released my arrow and and saw it hit PERFECT! The speed and energy behind my bow was enough to put this thousand pound animal on the ground within 20 yards. The moment was surreal and I could see the effect of the impact almost immediately. I earned my first archery bull elk. I put in the time, scouted the area and did it on my own with the help of friends and family. Harvesting an animal of this caliber has been a dream since I was a young boy. And to do it with a stick and string makes the experience extremely personal and special. This hunt is the pinnacle of my passion for wildlife and the outdoors. I plan to continue pushing myself to shoot more and push myself farther into the back country. With so much modern convenience around me, it’s great knowing I can raise my boys in the outdoors and provide food for my family. Thank you Bowtech for an incredible bow!