Desert Bull: 22S Muzzleloader Elk
Updated: Oct 6
Last week will be hard to beat. I hunted with one of my favorite people, and helped her take her second and biggest bull elk. Nearly 28 years ago, my mom Kristin, took her first elk while pregnant with me. This year I got to help her sneak in close and take this desert dweller. Of all of the hunts I’ve been a part of, this one will always stand out as one of the most significant in my life. I am incredibly proud of my mom for keeping calm, placing a perfect shot, dealing with the ridiculous heat and me. I was humbled to be by her side during the hunt and to have taken the bull we were after on opening morning, all with intense hunter pressure in the surrounding area.
Long before the sun lit the sky we sat in the darkness, listening to silence. I let a few elk calls out in to the star filled blackness. Far in the distance a bull answered, harsh and raspy. Our ears only catching a portion of the ephemeral noise. Two others responded ahead of us. One cutting through the calm with a pulsating emphatic chuckle of high and low tones. I commented “that’s our bull” and signaled towards the most faint noise. “I know what he sounds like, he’s different than the others.” We gathered our things, checked the wind direction, and proceeded through the brush as grey light revealed the hillsides. We moved in the direction our bull, which I named “Twist” in prior scouting days. I called again and he sounded off a rebuttal.
We crept forward and I panned the hillside ahead with my binoculars. There he was. Above a line of rock, a string of cows and calves moving around him. “I told you, that was his bugle.” I stated to my mom and Daniel who was off to my side. I keyed the radio, explained where the bull was, and waited for Pat’s response. “I’ve got him.” Pat replied in seconds. Upon our spotter’s confirmation, we dipped into the brush to our left and began to close the distance. When I glassed him up initially, Twist was roughly 1100 yards away. As we moved, Pat periodically updated us on the bulls movements. My dad and Tanner heard confirmation on the bull from the radio and watched from a different perspective awaiting updates.
We progressed steadily and closed the distance to around 200 yards as Twist began to gather his harem of 20+ cows and push them towards the ravine to bed. Only four days prior he was roaming the hills solo, now he had an army of protection. The sun shined bright, casting large contrasting shadows through the manzanita, crucifixion thorn, piñon, and oak as it crested the horizon. The bull bellowed nearby as we readied the muzzleloader. We couldn’t see through the dense scrub but the volume of the beast ahead made his proximity undeniable. I felt the air change direction for a brief moment and the elk were silent. I feared the wind had busted us. Moments later, Pat relayed that the bull was pushing his cows into a cut ahead of us, likely to bed for the day.
We cut off in that direction and approached from the adjacent ridge. As we inched forward I caught movement amongst the scrub oak. A cow was feeding in the shadows and to her left our bull stepped out. I set up my tripod and adjusted it to the appropriate rest height for my mom. She stepped up, settled the muzzleloader, and waited for the bulls antlers to clear his body. As he lifted his head the shot ripped off. White smoked enveloped the three of us and obscured our view. I turned to Daniel, took the gun from my mom and we proceeded to reload. Pat quickly notified us that the bull was not hit and moving north. We quickly hiked over to the next drainage to intercept him again.
As we approached a dense brushy slope, a cow walked by unfazed and several more stood below us in the shade unbothered. I repositioned the rest and got my mom set up on the gun as the bull stepped out and looked up at us. He was only 88 yards below. He became uncomfortable and stepped out of the brush to investigate what was above him, stopping obscured from view. “He is going to come out, up and to the left, be ready and I’ll stop him.”
He stared through the brush at us, unmoving then suddenly broke left as I had called. As he began to clear the trees I let out a cow call with the reed in my mouth. He stopped broadside. I plugged my ears and watched the smoke pole’s barrel steady on his vitals. Boom! The shot ripped through its mark and the bull stepped out of sight. “You freaken smoked him!” Daniel stated relieved, from behind us. Twist was now ours. Expired in short order from a perfectly placed shot. Hugs, instant replays, excited radio talk, pictures, thankful prayers, processing, and heavy packs ensued. All with the help of Patrick, Daniel, Tanner, my dad Richard, and later Cole for the pack out. Not many have the privilege of having a badass mom that hunts!
Part 1 of our hunt was complete. To read part 2 click here: The Gate Keeper: 22S Muzzleloader Bull Elk.