Mule Deer, Elk and Western Big Game Hunting -

"Once in a Lifetime Bull"
Written by Andrew Cozzolino

Once in a Lifetime - Washington Bull Elk
Mike's bull grosses 367 3/8 and nets 358 6/8.
In April 2002, I received a phone call from my hiking and hunting partner, Mike Davison. I could hear the excitement in his voice as he told me he was drawn for a special hunt. He had been drawn for a special muzzleloader elk tag in Kittitas County. This was for an area we knew well, we did antler shed hunting there and a lot of off-season hiking.

Knowing that a lot of preparation was in order, we started by getting new maps of the area. We did antler shed hunting and met with the local game agents to talk about herd movements in the area. We double checked our packs and sighted in the gun. We had a plan in mind, but remained flexible depending on the weather on the day of the hunt.

The day before our hunt began we drove into our area. It was bitterly cold, but there was not a cloud in the sky. We drove up to our primary hunting area, and noticed that nothing had changed from our previous trips to the area. We spotted one elk in the timber, a spike, but nothing else moved. I began to tell Mike that I had a feeling we were going to get a trophy bull. Mike quickly admonished me, saying it was unlucky to say that kind of thing.

The next morning we started out early, getting to our staring point before the sun rose. As dawn neared we could hear the bulls bugling in the distance. Slowly it got nearer and nearer to us. When it was finally time to hunt, we headed out towards a close bugle. We spotted a nice five point bull standing a few hundred yards off, but nothing we could do would get him any closer. We decided to try and stalk close enough in to get a shot. As the sun rose higher, the bugles stopped and then the elk were gone. They seemed to have just disappeared into the forests. We hiked and spotted all day without seeing another elk.

The next morning we decided to try and set up farther into the woodline before the sun rose. We knew that the elk would disappear after the sun was up, and thought we might get one good shot before then if we started farther in. Once again we got there early. All around us we could hear the bulls bugling. We heard a close bull calling out his challenge, but there were no close responses. We decided to try and move in on the nearest one. There was a large meadow, with a row of trees on the far side, beyond that was a big clear-cut area. The bugles seemed to be coming from the big clear cut. After a little discussion, we decided that since the wind was in our faces, we would go after the one bugling in the clear cut.

Suddenly, we heard it. A monster bugle! It was deep and had a distinctive end to it, the sound made our hair stand up. It was coming from the deep timber to our north. I got excited, but Mike wanted to get the one in the clear cut, saying there was no way we were going to get close to the one in the timber. I would not give in, I told him we had to go for that one, and I reminded him that we still had fours days left to hunt. Mike agreed and we set out to try and find the monster bugler.

We walked a few hundred yards down an overgrown logging road, planning to find a good spot to sit until it was light enough to hunt. Mike was carrying a .50 caliber CVA muzzleloader with fiber optic sights, and in low light situations the front sight was nearly impossible to see. After hiking for a little while, we heard the sound of trees getting thrashed. It was coming up out of the deep timber and sounded like a train. All we could hear was the snapping of tree branches and the underbrush getting trampled.

Once in a Lifetime - Muzzleloader
We tried to predict where the elk would emerge from the woodline, and Mike set up. I was in some small trees approximately 20 feet south of Mike. From my position I could see the woodline first, but Mike was in a better shooting spot. As Mike got ready, I scanned the woods. Suddenly the trees parted and out trotted an elk. He was about 60 yards in front of me, and Mike could not see him yet. I scoped him out and counted six points on each side!!! I whispered to Mike and using hand signals said it was a six by six. About that time it came into Mike's view. It was only 35 yards in front of him and walking left to right. Mike aimed and I waited for the shot.

As Mike aimed, my attention was drawn back to the woodline. Another elk was coming out, just a few yards behind the first. I didn't need binoculars to see he was massive. I counted, it was another six by six. I whispered, waved and did everything to get Mike's attention. There was momentary confusion as I tried to use hand signals to get him to wait for the second elk. About that time it came into his view, and it didn't take long for him to draw a bead on it. Like the first, it was 35 yards away walking left to right. I knew from target shooting Mike would drill it, but the low light was a worry.
There was a pause then a boom and a huge cloud of smoke. Both elk kept walking oblivious to the fact they were just shot at. We could still hear the challenging elk in the clear-cut. Nearly deafing us the monster elk responded. I didn't move, and Mike knelt down and reloaded. When he was ready for the second shot, the bulls had turned and were walking away from us. I told Mike to shoot for the elk on the left; it was about a 60-yard shot. Mike aimed and again the boom and smoke. This time I could hear the slap of the round as it hit the elk. The monster bucked and kicked his hind legs once. Incredibly though, he just kept walking.

Mike started to get flustered as he reloaded a second time. His hands were shaking, and he kept telling me to keep an eye on which elk was which. By the time he reloaded the elk were on the far side of the clearing, the monster just kept walking and bugling. It was too far for a free hand shot, so Mike laid down, but the prairie grass was too tall. Mike ran up to an old stump and crouched down. The first elk was just jumping in the far woods, but the monster just paused. Then boom and again the slap of the round hitting. The elk stumbled, took about ten steps and fell over. Later we paced the final shot off at an incredible 140 yards, which for 100 grains of black powder, is a long shot.

Mike reloaded and started walking over to it. About halfway there Mike dropped to a knee and stared aiming, saying "It's getting up." But it was just how far the rack was sticking up. We got close and the elk was dead, there was no movement. We stood there for a few minutes in awe of how big it was. The tines were perfectly matched; there were still bits of pine trees and small branches hanging from the tines. It took awhile, but we cleaned it and loaded it in the back of Mike's Toyota truck. It was so big that the head hung off of the tailgate and we had to tie the rack on top of the canopy.

The whole way driving back to Kitsap County, we caused a traffic scene. Cars lined up to look at it, trucks trailed us, and truckers called ahead to let their buddies know what was coming up behind them. We even had a State Trooper stop us and take a look at it. We had the once in a lifetime hunt, something every hunter dreams and hopes for.

Click-a-Pic ... Details & Bigger Photos

Click-a-Pic ... Details & Bigger Photos

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