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"Finally, A Bull for J.W."
Photo provided by: J.W. O’Connell

J.W. O’Connell writes, "Finally, I get to tell MY elk story. I am really just writing it for me (and my buddies), so that I don’t forget one incredible detail (or they don’t either, Ha). Also, and maybe more importantly, for the average guy/hunter who can only hunt on weekends or a few days because of family and/or work obligations-the guy who can’t afford a guided hunt and has NO connections to hunt on private land –THIS STORY IS FOR YOU! Hopefully, this will encourage you to NOT give up and hang in there, for you might be blessed like I was (or better?)!

You see, I started going hunting in Colorado with my dad when I was about 14. And, for almost every year since then, I have been dreaming about getting one of those awesome animals, a big bull elk. I’ve hunted MANY different public areas (with different methods–archery and rifle), for close to 40 years with limited results. To be fair, I’ve gotten a cow (elk), a nice muley buck, and an antelope doe (all with a rifle). I don’t feel this is much to shout about in almost 40 years.

Here’s my story. We had been archery hunting deer and cow elk in an excellent area and seeing plenty of game. But, due to “normal” circumstances when hunting with a bow, only one of our “boys” (o.k.-Cameron-there, I gave you your due) scored with a nice plump doe. During the season, I was given some priceless tips on certain sweet-spots (that I didn’t know were priceless until later). But after MANY years of chasing my tail-I mean leads, rumors, whims, etc.- I was, to say the least, skeptical and reluctant to break from “the plan” my buds had come up with for a new area we were hunting. After hunting hard for 4 weekends (our job/family obligations dictated -weekends ONLY), we were seeing game, but as any bowhunter knows –too many toos -(too far, too dark, too many branches, etc.)

However, due to a sinus infection, (blessing in disguise), I took the day off to go to the doctor to obtain the necessary antibiotics. The appointment wasn’t until 11:00, and my buddies were working, so I decided to go run down one of these places (wild-goose chase?) before the appointment, even though I didn’t feel that great. That morning, in the dark, and not knowing for sure where the specific spot was, I parked the truck and started to hike into where I thought it was. Almost immediately, a bull started bugling across the road in another GMU (game management unit) and I heard what I thought was another hunter responding - by also bugling. So, I cow-called hoping the bull would bring in a “friend” for me to introduce my arrow to. It sounded like the bull(s)? were heading towards me, and not being familiar with the terrain, I decided to let them come to me. I found a high point, (fairly well hidden) and tried to respond – not too much, but enough to get some action. 20 to 30 minutes after they stopped calling, I decided to at least “scout” the area the best I could before I had to leave to make my doctors appointment.

While walking, I was forced to stop to pull out a cactus point that had worked its way into my toe through my boot. I was not happy to be sitting when I had precious time to waste! Finally, I was able to persuade the cactus out. I started to walk again and caught a glimpse of a (5 point?) bull passing by a tree, down into a draw. Instantly my mood changed as I looked for “company”. Evidently a lone bull and of no use to me since I held a cow license – but still thrilling! I went back to check his tracks and discovered that while I was silently thinking bad thoughts, trying to wrestle the prickler out, the bull had walked up behind me at about 35 yards (responding to the earlier cow-call?). I walked a little bit further, then decided I had better start back for the truck.

I barely made my appointment and got my anti-biotic, but was feeling run down so I went home and caught a quick nap before going back out. This time I thought I would check out what was supposed to be a small spring (over-grown with tamarisk) that was occasionally frequented by elk?

Again, I parked and started for what I thought was the place. I found a draw that appeared to have held water at one time and proceeded to follow it to see if I could locate the spring that hadn’t been sucked up by the salt-cedars. 20 minutes later, as I was walking along the side of the ditch I heard a ruckus in the ditch up ahead. It had 10-12 foot sides so I couldn’t see what was making the noise! We had seen some bears in the area, and last year one of my buds had gotten WAY too close to a black bear! I was somewhat concerned, so I got ready to make myself invisible (?) or at least release an arrow in its general direction? The noise stopped and I thought “it” must have heard or smelled me and ran off down the draw. About 5 minutes later, as I continued to walk alongside the ditch, (about 20 yards from the edge), I caught some movement out of the corner of my eye. There, sticking out of the draw was a set of antlers! Didn’t do my cow license any good, so I just waited to see what it was. All of a sudden, a bull runs out and stands on the other side. The wind was in my favor, so he didn’t know what was wrong, but that something was amiss. Just to see if I could do it (without shaking) I raised my bow as if I was going to take the shot. I put my 40 pin on him and to my surprise – steady as a rock! As one of my friends said later – “of course you were steady –you weren’t really going to shoot!” Probably true. After a few ticks, the bull decided to relocate and walked off over a little rise. I ranged where he was and it was a perfect 40 yards!

During the last couple of weeks of archery, I checked a couple more times and would find semi-fresh tracks - cow/bull? – but never an animal. Archery season ended and two weeks later, our rifle season began. We now were hunting bulls only and again had some close encounters, but weren’t able to close the deal. Since I hadn’t seen anything by the spring (except for that 1st time) and we were hunting different sections – I kinda forgot about it. Last day of the hunt, in the morning, we had been trying to “catch” some bulls around a well-used water hole we had found. No luck – so I remembered the spring and thought why not try it in the afternoon – last day - maybe something will change. I parked the truck and started walking in toward the spring. In my mind, I was going over all the cool things that had happened in the seven weekends we had hunted. Hanging out with good friends, seeing all the wildlife - deer, elk, turkeys, coyotes, bears, hawks, eagles, rattlesnakes (o.k. - some things - not so good), the close encounters, the incredible scenery, etc.

I was approaching the place where I had seen the bull four weeks earlier and was just about to turn around and call it a year, when here comes a bull - walking in towards the draw! I was already stopped by a small bushy tree and in my head I’m freaking out – what to do? “Stop drop and roll”?, hide behind the tree?, shoot?, grunt to stop him?, cow call?, cry? - Then he stopped at about 80 yards and starts looking around – ‘cause he knew something wasn’t right? Thank God the wind was in my favor. So I decide – it’s now or never. I pull up my 300 WSM and try to hold on the elk, but it seems like I’m shooting from a rowboat in high seas. I try to talk myself into calmness – but my heart keeps trying to jump out of my chest. Finally, I get a little steady (I think) and the gun goes off. I look at the elk and he casually walks over a little rise. I truly wanted to die, I must have missed!? - HOW?

From the heights of ecstasy, to the depths of despair in seconds. I cow-call, hoping he will stop around the corner, in this big open area. I cross the ditch and look on the ground for blood – NOTHING! How do you miss at THAT distance! As the worst HUNTER FEELING IN THE WORLD comes over me, I decide to look around into the big opening and maybe I can get another shot at him-even though it’ll probably be a LOT longer shot! So I start to edge into the clearing, ever so slowly, step by step, looking and seeing absolutely no sign of him. Then, almost 90 degrees to the left is something brown, laying on the ground! My 1st reaction is – who left that thing on the ground? My mind can’t wrap itself around the fact that that’s my elk! He only went 20 yards! Words can’t describe the feelings-after all these years! -seeing that beautiful elk there and Bonus! - He’s a 6x6! All I knew when I shot was - he was legal – he had antlers!

It was 5:10 p.m., exactly one month to the day, that I had seen a bull during archery, in almost the SAME spot! Now, October 26th, 2008 is a day I’ll never forget! I was overcome with gratitude to many – to God, to my dad for teaching me how to hunt (and infecting me with elk fever), my wife for being so understanding before, during, and after the hunt(s), my friends–Ralph, Lawrence, Bill, Cameron, the “new guy”-Josh, and my neighbor Ken and his friend James! (for your help and TIPS!)– without you guys and your help in SO many ways-I couldn’t have done it! God bless you all!

Epilogue: As a testimony as to how incredibly tough these creatures are; when we started to skin him, we found a semi-fresh broad-head wound in the middle of his neck that had gone completely through! - it had already started to heal! It looked to be about 2-3 weeks old."

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