Brief recount of my once in a lifetime North Dakota Elk tag hunt.
It was COLD last Friday night/Saturday morning so that fall feeling was creeping into my veins waking up the next AM. We got out to our spot on the butte crest, the wind had died down pretty good but was still a good direction. There was an eerie fog rolling in too with how cold and humid it was. We weren’t sitting long in the dark before we heard some elk. My brother and buddy stayed high and I worked down to the base of the butte where there was a little knob with some thicker trees and bushes. I started to bugle and listened.
There were some bulls right where we left the cows to our S and then we heard more bugles directly SE of us. The wind was SSE so we were in prime position. After listening to the bulls getting worked up with all the commotion I started to get more aggressive and started smashing the trees and shrubs where I was standing with a stick. The bulls to our SE did not like that and let us know. I peaked around that corner and saw 15 elk quite a few cows and 3-4 bulls. Nothing big but I figured there was a good one back there from the bugles I heard. So I thrashed around a bit and challenge bugled a few more times then cow called. I see some elk start working my way. I climbed back up the butte a bit into a overlook ledge and got setup with my buddy who climbed down.
We noticed the fog had gotten crazy thick and then started hearing bugling directly to our west towards the lowland and where I was setup the night before. The adjacent landowner was back and also bugling at the bulls. I had to decide if I wanted to head that way or risk it and hope the bulls behind us were working to us and there was a shooter. I was tempted to head down with the fog cover because if there was a bull there chances are I’d have been able to shoot him on the land we were on. But we decided to wait it out and watch especially in case one of the giants came out of the park. Well it wasn’t long and my decision became the right one. My brother waved at us that elk were coming right to us from the SE.
We were in prime position hidden behind and above the butte to where they’d be walking. First came a decent 5x5 walked 100 yards from us and walked across the field towards the other property landowner bugling. Two rag horns followed shortly behind, stopping briefly for a short spar and kept going. I took the opportunity to give one more bugle to keep attention to the area, I was quickly answered by a pissed off bull coming from the SE like the others. Then we saw more movement from behind the corner and trees. Two more bulls, the front one looked pretty decent and then I saw another bull... He looked GIANT. Clearly bigger than anything we’d seen up close, chocolate rack with ivory tips. I saw him from the front and he man looked solid and then he turned his head for a side view. Yep no brainer, I set my pack out in front of me and creeped up to the cliff edge. Got my rifle in position and waited. Him and the other bull trickled out following the same path as the other 3. He’d be about 100 yards from me where he was walking.
I waited until he cleared the trees and shot! Nothing! He didn’t flinch and barely moved, just stood there. I reloaded and shot again, still nothing! I remembered from Randy Newberg and other elk hunters I’ve followed saying “if a bull is standing I’m still shooting”. I couldn’t risk him making it back to TRP and if he did I’d have to call a park ranger and wait for them to escort me to retrieve him. Yeah no thanks! He started to trot NW towards the other elk, I shot a third time and then he finally acted hit. He turned slightly quartering me and I shot again, he flinched and tipped over. My bull was down and my once in a lifetime tag was filled! My brother and buddy started yelling and came over and tackled me. We couldn’t believe how everything came together.
All of us were shaking, grinning from ear to ear. We could see he expired within 30 seconds of him toppling over but we watched him for a few minutes to be sure. Then we heard a BANG! In the direction of the other landowner, he also shot an elk within minutes of me taking mine. Pretty damn cool! We went down to my bull and wow, he got bigger with every step we took towards him. I couldn’t believe how fortunate I was to take a bull of his caliber in my own state. Grip n grin photos and then the real work began. All 4 of my shots connected and my first two shots were perfect, right behind the shoulder within an inch of each other. He would have likely expired quickly but not knowing if I hit him and not risking him getting to the park or private land next door I am glad I anchored him where I did.