Black Powder: 22S Early Muzzleloader Bull Elk
Updated: Jan 1
Check out the film from the hunt here.
The early season Muzzleloader bull elk hunt came with much anticipation. I had helped Doug apply earlier in the year and with 12 bonus points we knew we would be doing a late September hunt together. The 22 South tag offers some extremely rugged country with a high bull to cow ratio. Much of the unit is vast stretches of wilderness and rugged thick mountain ridges and canyons. The 2016 season began 9/23 and ran until 9/29, the earliest of season dates possible. Just a few days prior to the opening of Doug's hunt my wife gave birth to our beautiful first child, miss Ridgley Rae Currie on 9/21. With this new addition to our family it made heading our for this hunt the most difficult yet! I wouldn't be far from the family and we were optimistic that Doug and I would wrap up the hunt early.
I pulled into camp and met up with Doug late in the afternoon on the day before the season. We quickly set up my trailer and headed down the road to glass. The sky was thick and overcast and we quickly found a broken large bull on a far off ridge. As we made our way back to camp we stopped just short at a large water hole. I heard a bull bugle not far in the distance and let out a call myself to see if he would give us a look. The sky opened up and amber light camp through the light sprinkles of rain. After a few minutes we moved up to where to bull was in an opening. He was a unique bull, a 6 on the left and a 4 on the right. His right main beam was as long as the left but lacked both G ones and G twos. The right fourth point I guessed was 21-22 inches. It was a nice sign to see a great mature bull prior to the hunt and made us anticipate what was to come.
Opening morning was brisk and we headed out in the darkness to gain elevation and overlook the dense juniper country. A bull screamed on the ridge across from us. We changed paths and went to get a better look. It was a solid 6x6 bull with a broken fifth point on one side. It was not the quality of bull we were searching for so we continued onward. We moved across to a new area and again could hear another bull off in the thick cover. I made a few calls and climbed up a large juniper tree to try and see him. Unable to find anything in the thick brush I returned to the ground. I could hear the elk approaching and signaled Doug to get ready. Out walked another freak bull at 17 yards, a small 6 on the right side with a club and two points on the left side. We again passed and left the bull walk off into the trees.
The evening was much of the same, more bulls talking, more action but not what we were looking for. We again located the non typical 6x4 nearly a mile and a half from where he was the night before. Our sunlight faded as we made our way off a high peak and returned to camp. The following days would be much of the same. We had good bugling activity and located several bulls in the area, nothing in the class we were searching for however.
We continued through the same processes each day, finding new bulls and new country. On the fifth day of the hunt we opted to change our approach and hunt an area new to all of us. We ventured into the higher elevations of the unit, hoping to find a bull responsive enough to come in through the thick tangle of brush. while driving through the area we quickly spotted a small bull on a steep slope just a few hundred yards off of the road. We pulled off the road in the tall timber and crossed the barbed wire fence next to the truck. We steadily climbed up a gravel covered slope until we could see across the drainage in front of us. Doug and Brian worked up slowly behind me as I scanned the dense hillside.
Glowing in the evening light a bull stood out feeding to the Northeast of us, he however was much too small for us to pursue. I waved Doug up to me to show him the young bull, in doing so I glanced back at the elk. To my surprise I could see a dark body moving in the brush just yards from the five point elk. A bear sauntered out of the manzanita and sat down in an opening. We followed suit and sat to glass the area. Doug requested I bugle and see if we could stir up a response. I let a soft bugle out and waited only shortly before being answered by a bull nearly three quarters of a mile away. I waited a few seconds and softly called again, this time he responded in a closer spot. Too my surprise I was convinced this bull would come all the way to us. I periodically called as the bull worked his way through the brush and up our hillside. In only a few short minuted the bull was only yards away from us. He was obscured by two trees preventing us from seeing how big he was.
The wind suddenly swirled and touched our backs as the bull crashed away. I quickly let out a few cow calls and we waited. I was doubtful he would give us a second look but called again. The bull turned and came back to my surprise. I got a quick look as he cut to our left below us. I was still uncertain on how big the bull actually was, I had yet to be presented with a representative angle. I signaled to Doug not to shoot. My instinct was that the bull was no more than 330" we were after a 350" bull and I wasn't going to make the call on a lesser bull. We let him walk out of site and quickly discussed the situation. It was time to move on and find another bull to play with.
As we pushed down the hill we inadvertently bumped the same bull up the ridge across from us. Now, out in the open it was clear this bull was likely better than 330" he carried more mass and had a much better front end than my first impression. Doug quickly set up and asked "you still thinking he's not a shooter? I don't want to regret passing a bull like that..." I looked over and said, " I still don't think he is gonna break 350, but he is unbroken, has an extra, and is not that far off, if your'e going to regret it it's simple. Shoot him." Doug remained set up and didn't say anything back to me. I flipped open the camera and began recording the bull. I said again "that's a decent bull Doug." Just then a shot broke out and white smoke enveloped our spot. "WOAH! I wasn't expecting that!" I shouted. Doug's only response was "Sorry." I laughed. The bull had dropped in its tracks.
The first shot had broken the front shoulders and spine, locking the bull the the ground. We opted to follow up and finish the bull off more quickly. The manzanita brush shook as the bull finally expired. As we put our hands on the bull we were all excited. He wasn't far from 350, low 340s was in the ballpark and it had tons of character. The elk had an exceptional front end with double G2s on the right, a 17" G2 on the left, and matching G3s at 16" a piece. The bull was a perfect representation of the area. The sky darkened quickly as we took photos and broke the elk down. That night we took the head and cape out, returning for every bit of meat once the daylight returned.