I was screaming, “I FOUND HIM!!!! I FOUND HIM!!!” Then I reached for my radio, squeezed the button and said in a calmer voice, “I got him dad. I got him.”
Lack of Focus almost caused me to fail, it was a valuable lesson.
I have one of those Dad’s (mom too) who really does what he can to help his son succeed, with what he has got. What he gives me when he comes on my elk hunts is something many can’t give, his unquestionable effort. Whether it be hiking a rattle snake invested mountain he is not prepared to hike,or driving to town to get supplies. He is the guy who does the dirty work on an NBA team and he never asks or wants any glory.
Honestly, I am super intense when it comes to my own personal hunts and I don’t blame anyone for not wanting to hunt with me when my name is on the tag. I often will have nightmares throughout my hunt that I didn’t push myself hard enough to succeed. I just don’t sleep much during hunting season and it begins to wear on you mentally, but when you are scared to fail, you have only a couple of options.
So, Dad, I owe you and I appreciate both you and mom coming up to help on this hunt.
As some of you know, I hunted a bull I dubbed “Mr. Heavy.” We found him on the first afternoon of my second trip to Utah for my elk hunt. Mr. Heavy was a big 8×6 and I am confident that he would have scored in the 385-395″ range.
Unfortunatly, he took me to school and I wasn’t able to get a Trophy Taker in him. I had him at 60 yards twice, but both times he was not at the right angle. I either didn’t do everything I could to get him on the ground, or I wasn’t suppose to wrap my tag around him.
On the second day, my dad found a bull he could not stop talking about. At one point in time, I told him it was awesome, but to zip it, because I was going to hunt Mr. Heavy, until something changed.
Well, with only a couple of days left to hunt, Mr. Heavy went MIA. I hadn’t seen him in a day and a big storm system was heading our way.
With the storm moving in, my parents both stayed back at camp during the middle of the day and I headed out to glass. I found several elk right away, but no signs of Mr. Heavy. I continued to move north and I knew I was getting into country where my dad had seen the Big 6. I was still hoping to find Mr. Heavy, but now I also wanted to see this Big 6.
At about 1:30 I found a big bull! At first I thought it was Mr. Heavy, but it wasn’t…
I called my dad on the phone and told him I found a good bull, but I wanted him to look at him. I wanted to know if it was the Big 6, because if it wasn’t, I wanted to continue to look for the Big 6 & Mr. Heavy.
It took my parents about 30 minutes to get to my location, but when they did, my dad confirmed, it was the BIG 6.
The rain was falling at a steady pace and I really thought the Big 6 was in the 360-380″ range, but I wasn’t quite sure on his beam length. It was now raining hard enough I couldn’t see well through my scope and I just couldn’t pin his score down inside of 10 inches.
I decided to get a closer look, just after he bedded on the edge of this meadow.
I made it to the patch of trees on the opposite side of the meadow, just in time to see the BIG 6 up and feeding. I got one glimpse and I knew I was going to shoot him. I was just in too good of a spot and he was just too good of a bull to pass at this point.
I watched as he laid back down and then I began crawling. It was a soaking rain and showing no signs of letting up, but I didn’t care how much it rained, I was going to kill this bull.
I made it to 87 yards and then he stood up again. I crept 2-3 yards at a time, while he had his head down feeding. I finally made it to 70 and thought, “I can shoot him now.” My better judgement told me to wait for a closer shot.
He slowly fed back toward his bed and now he was at 60 yards, but it felt closer. I decided I was ready to shoot. I drew slowly and settled my pin. I squeezed (possibly punched) and I saw the arrow hit him, but way back! The bull ran to his left and I knocked another arrow. I ranged him at 75 yards and then dialed my Black Gold sight up. He stood facing me and all I could see was his head and rack, because of the angle and sunflowers. After a 5 minute stand off, he blew out and up the hill.
I was pissed.
I knew I made a piss pour shot and it was suppose to rain even more. I walked up to where he was standing and grabbed another arrow out of my quiver shoving it in the dirt to mark his tracks. I called my dad on the radio and told him I was walking back down to the truck.
I hit the bull way back! Somewhere about the last rib, but it was buried to the fletching and was at the right height. I was thinking liver at best…
My lack of focus really caused me to make a crappy shot and was just unacceptable.
When I got to the truck I told my parents the whole gig. They didn’t see any of the action because of the heavy rain, which sucked, cause I was hoping they would have possibly watched where he went.
It was now around 5:45, so I decided to go back to camp and wait until the morning.
It rained all night… I mean all damn night.
The next morning we arrived at my arrow just after day break. We found 2 fresh bull tracks and we followed them for about 15 yards, before deciding those happened just after the rain and could not have been my bull.
We found some places where elk had ran in the direction I last saw the bull, but we weren’t sure, because you couldn’t actually see the tracks. We began trailing the inditations in the mud and could tell it was a couple elk, which would have been right, if he did in fact hooked up with his cows.
We pushed what was left of the tracks to the bottom of the draw and then out into another meadow. By now, it was 10:30 and it wasn’t looking good. We couldn’t follow the tracks or what was left of them, so we kept making loops, but finally we lost all hope.
It was getting hot and we were now3/4 mile from where my arrow was. We jumped some cows and a different bull in the bottom, but he wasn’t with them. It was 11:30 and my worries were coming to a head. I made a horrible shot and we probably weren’t going to find my bull. If I would have just focused…
I finally, just started talking to the man up stairs. We needed a break. We needed something!!! I was praying to find this bull. Praying my lack of focus didn’t cause this bull too much suffering and cost me the gift of wrapping my tag around his antler.
I found my dad trying to relocate the tracks at the mouth of the canyon. We had split up and we were trying to get lucky. I told him to look around the general area, but I wanted to go back to the beginning. I just thought we were missing something and thats what I was led to do.
I reached my arrow and began trailing the 2 fresh bull tracks again. I trailed them for another 50 yards and as I ducked under a tree limb, there he was!!!
My prayers were answered, as my bull only went about 70-80 yards from where I hit him. My bull died almost immediately after I shot him and I was a very thankful hunter.
FYI- the 2 bulls had trailed my bull up after the rain stopped and this was the break I had been praying for.
Thanks for taking the time to read my story, but if you are like me, you might like to watch some of the footage: 2013 Utah Archery Elk Hunt
Becoming a Better Predator Hunter by Craig Steele
In the mid to late 80’s, I was very blessed as my dad would pack me on many of his predator calling excursions. This planted the seed for me at a very young age. By the time I was 11, my friend & I had decided to make our first solo predator excursion. The first evening we drove Kenny’s Honda three wheeler to a wash sitting just off a mountain. We could hear coyotes talking as we hurried to our stand. Back then, I was told if I heard coyotes howling, they would NOT come to the call, but even at a young age, it just didn’t make sense. So, we continued to ignore these rumors & made it to the palo christi tree. Within two to three minutes of blowing on the call, we had a big male standing less than thirty yards from us. The very next day, we drove to a new spot, and it didn’t take long for a pair of coyotes to come barreling in from the wash below us. First double!
I have spent many days calling, reading and scouting since that time, both successfully and many times not. Through twenty years of calling & over thirty-two years of being around it, you learn a lot! With that said, I still have a lot of stuff to learn, and I enjoy listening. I want those that read this to take away two things: first, I am by no means the world’s greatest predator hunter; second, neither are you.
Why B.A.S.S Masters isn’t called…
What the hell does the B.A.S.S. Masters or fishing have anything to do with predator hunting? You asked…
Why don’t they title B.A.S.S. Masters, “F.I.S.H. Masters”? Because they aren’t fishing for cat fish, pike, or bluegill; it is a BASS tournament. The fishing world has grown to identify that just because you are fishing, does not mean you are fishing for every type of fish. Many fish are predatory fish, but even these predatory fish live and act differently from one another. Good anglers will use different gear & tactics in order to catch different types of fish. Ok…what does this have to do with predator hunting? Everything!!! Far too often, guys pick up the calls and say, “we are going predator calling.” To become a better predator caller/hunter you first need to recognize that predators are different. Whenever I head out to the field, whether it be scouting or calling, I have it in my mind what specific species of predator I want to target. Although it’s not an exact science, you can sure see your success rates go up by recognizing bobcats, foxes and coyotes are all predators, but extremely different.
Probably the easiest way to isolate different types of predators is by identifying the terrain they typically live in or use. Coyotes generally use the most variety of terrain. Territorial coyotes will often seek areas with less human pressure during the day. Typically, these areas will consist of cover or topography dynamics which will allow them to defend or keep this territory year after year. Bobcats love cover and especially box canyons that have a drainage (wash) which leads to their nightly hunting grounds. Gray fox live in steep terrain with cover, as it is their only way to avoid their bigger cousins!
With that, there is always the exception to the rule. Bobcats and coyotes have a lot of transition areas, as do grays & bobcats. Generally speaking, this is when predators are transitioning from their feeding to bedding area or vice versa. These transition areas are usually better in the early morning and late evenings. Again, this is not an exact science, and you can never use the terms “always” or “never” in the wild.
Know your predator & scout.
In order to better understand the behaviors or tendencies of the different types of predators you are targeting, I would encourage you to use our biggest information and sharing tool, the internet, to research them. You can find a lot of different studies and articles on predator behavior which will help you better understand the animals you are pursuing. By having a better understanding of how they tend to behave, you will increase your ability to locate them at different times of day and during different weather conditions. With this, I would also caution you, as none of it is exact science. Even my views are based on experience, educated guesses & theories. Sometimes gut feelings and experience are what makes the difference. These come with time.
Scouting for predators can increase your odds tremendously. Terrain, as stated above, will dictate a lot when it comes to scouting. Look over topo maps and use Google Earth (with OnXmaps land status overlay) to familiarize or identify different terrain. I also like to find “soft spots.” These are areas with less human traffic or disturbances. Soft spots generally produce the best results for me. They are much easier to detect with a GPS (with land status and topo features) and scouting efforts.
Finding scat and tracks are obviously a basic tool for finding predators, but they can be misleading. Predators can travel great distances, depending upon prey densities and territorial issues. Weather and time of day might also devalue your predator scat and track findings. Glassing and other methods during daylight hours will also help you hone in predators. Scouting is not always simple, and you have to be diligent in your efforts.
Sounds & calls.
We are inundated with a million e-sounds and a million hand calls. A couple of different realistic distress sounds and a few different animal vocalization sounds are all I typically use. I have blown and heard guys play the best sounds in the world on more than one occasion, only to see nothing show, stand after stand.
I do personally like busier sounds for bobcats and greys. For coyotes, I like deeper distress sounds, and my preference of coyote vocals. I do typically start a little lower in volume for the first few minutes and then CRANK it up in the middle. I will typically play my sounds constantly if I am calling for bobcats & greys, but with coyotes, I will pause between series. By no means am I saying these are the only ways to call!
E-callers are far and away worth the investment if you want to consistently call bobcats. Typically, bobcats come straight in, which makes them difficult to see if you are hand calling. Yes, it can be done, and I have done it, it’s just a lot harder to see them when you are out of breath and your eyes are watering. Keep in mind, not all bobcats creep in. It all just depends, and I have actually seen more trot in than creep, especially during the middle of the day.
I really love calling coyotes with hand calls! Nothing beats having a pair of coyotes barreling in on you or running up your backside. With that said, e-callers are coyote killing tools. With e-callers, you can call effectively in funky wind conditions. By this, I mean if you walk out to the stand, and you feel the wind coming up your back, you can set the call off to the side 25-100 yards and still make a quality setup. If you are blowing a hand call, it will be a tougher stand to be successful on.
All predators are callable.
Probably the most overused terms I hear are “call shy” and “educated.” Yes, I do believe you can mess with a predator’s physiological state if you call him in and launch three rounds of #4 buck next to his head. What I don’t believe is he will never come to a call again. In fact, I have called coyotes back in within seconds after doing this. If you do it enough, it really makes you revaluate the term “educated.” Many times, callers (even veteran ones) will use these terms loosely if they go out and have a bad day. It has almost become an epidemic excuse for why predator callers aren’t more successful. Bobcats, coyotes and foxes do not think like us, and if they did, they would NEVER come to a call, because they would all be educated by now. Second, they do all have different personalities and personal experiences which will influence how they respond. Remember, they are creatures that live in the wild 24-7-365. Every moment of their lives is a territorial and survival battle. They must eat! They must either fight or flee to survive! This does not stop, and many times this is why they won’t approach a call.
In my opinion, predator hunters far too often are searching for predators that have never been called before. I call this the, “Pot of Gold Effect”. Personally, I think it can be a waste of time. I would much rather spend my time finding high population densities, callable topography & territory. Why? Well, even IF you do find a coyote that has NEVER heard a call before, there is no guarantee he will come running in. Territorial issues, personality and personal experiences will all be deciding factors. Keep in mind, humans are not the only things killing coyotes, bobcats or foxes. Other coyotes, lions and wolves are what they have to deal with 24-7-365. It is a battle everyday, and this directly affects a predator’s physiological state.
Two things I firmly believe will make any predator respond to a call: call them where they feel comfortable and get to your stand undetected. Some predators may feel comfortable coming from a mile, and for others, it is 200 yards. Again, this will depend on territorial issues, personalities and personal experiences. So, before you give up and starting preaching how educated the predators are, use a little common sense.
Obviously, we didn’t cover every topic or scenario. That wasn’t my goal with this article. My goal was to help make ANY level of predator hunter revaluate their thought process in order to become a better predator hunter. I have learned a lot about predators over the years, but I will always have something else to learn or re-evaluate. Learning from different data, thoughts, people and experiences is what allows you to be the best predator hunter you can be.
Stay humble, stay hungry and never stop learning…