Finally - Successful!
I remember it like it was yesterday. It was the beginning of July, and I received the annual text from my good buddy Travis Theel. “Elk tags were drawn, no luck for me.” So many times I have opened the GFP webpage to read the words “unsuccessful”. I was reluctant to quit what I was doing to just to find out I didn’t draw any elk tags once again. It would be another year of drooling over trail camera pictures of big elk knowing those bulls likely won’t even be around by the time I won the lottery and finally drew a tag. Eventually I quit what I was doing to log on and read the word I have learned to hate. There it was again, “Black Hills Archery Elk UNSUCCESSFUL”. I continued to scroll down and I could not believe what I saw. I drew A unit 2 rifle elk tag with 9 points! I had a hard time believing what I saw so I refreshed the page multiple times and it never changed. I decided I should respond to the annual “I didn’t get a tag” text. I sent just one word, “bro…” It was like he read my mind. The text read some thing like this, “You better not be messing with me, did you draw!” followed by multiple "not-so-family" friendly words. I proceeded to call everyone I knew whether they cared that I drew an elk tag or not.
That evening Travis and I decided we couldn’t wait, so we hopped in the truck and headed to the hills. We knew the chances of us seeing any elk were slim to none, but we couldn’t handle the excitement and decided to anyway. We had to address the elephant in the room “Raspy.” This was a bull we first got trail camera pictures of for the first time in 2014, A big 6x7. In 2016 we saw this bull multiple times and in 2017, he was a giant bull. It didn’t need to be said that this was the bull we would chase if we found him still alive.
After a few more scouting excursions digging up nothing special it was time that I started back at work, which I just so happen to have to do a lot of traveling for. This is where having a good friend comes in handy. Travis spent somewhere in the area of 40 mornings before work, scouting the area we knew “Raspy” frequented. The end of August is when I finally received a call with a report that he was alive and well. We knew of his whereabouts all the way up until a few days before the rifle season began.
The Friday before the Sunday opener was finally here and I was off of work for the next week. I have never been so excited for a hunt in my life. We decided we wanted the full effect of elk camp and set up a camper near the general area that we wanted to hunt, knowing we would have to tough out the cold nights. After setting up camp we decided to split up for the evening scout. Once back to the camper we discussed what each other came upon. My night was fairly slow besides walking into a small herd of cows and a small 5x5 bull that somehow didn’t notice I was there. Travis’ scouting was a little more productive as he told me we have a dilemma. The dilemma was another bull that would be hard to pass up given the opportunity. I decided I was going to stick to my guns and give “Raspy” at least 3 days before I pulled the trigger on anything else.
Day 1 Found us in the most recent area we'd seen Raspy. Just at first light we heard what we were there for - the unmistakable bugle of the big bull we were after. The 40 plus days of scouting was about to pay off because we knew the bull would head to one of two places. We headed to where we thought we would intercept the bull. The elk were going crazy opening morning, and in the excitement we hopped out of the truck grabbing nothing and headed into the woods. Shortly after we ran into multiple cows, Knowing there would be a bull in the group I got down on the rifle I knew I would have a short window to shoot if Raspy was in the group. The next thing I heard was Travis saying “ not him.” The bull that was with this group of cows was a good 6x7. I couldn’t pull the trigger on this bull 30 minutes into the season - especially knowing that Raspy was near by.
Just then we heard raspy bugle. That is when we realized we got held up by the other heard of elk long enough to end up behind the herd that Raspy was with. We knew then that the odds were not in our favor to catch up to him. We had one thing going for us, and that was the noise he was making. Raspy was bugling every couple of minutes, allowing us to follow him. At one point we had gotten close enough we could see the cows in the herd. As we scanned through the thick trees looking for a glimpse of antler, Travis spotted him. This was my chance to tag the bull we had been following since 2015. I couldn’t see the bull from where I was so I quickly went to where Travis could see him. Just as luck would have it a cow stepped in front if him the second I was finally able to put eyes on him. The herd moved off and we continued to follow them for almost 6 miles before the bugling quit and we had lost track of him. In our haste to get on the bull quickly that morning we grabbed no water and were now 6 plus miles from the truck and the sun was getting warm.
The next 2 days of the hunt were spent slow hunting many known bedding areas and coming on lots of elk, but nothing I wanted to put my tag on. It wasn’t easy but I was determined to give Raspy at least three days. On the night of day three, and after at least 50 miles of hiking we needed something new. The bulls in our area all but quit talking except for the occasional far off bulge and last light bugle. Working off of a tip from a friend who knew of a good 7x7 bull we decided the morning of day four we had to change it up.
We woke up on day four with high hopes. We were heading to a new area and were hopefully going to get our eyes on some new bulls. Maybe these would even be vocal. Our friend Kenzie was now with us to follow us around with a camera. We parked the truck in the dark and the three of us got out and began to get ready to hike in while listening for bugles to give us a direction to head. We didn’t have to wait long. The bugle came from what seemed like a quarter-mile away so we headed that way as quick as we can while trying to stay relatively quiet. Just as it was getting light enough to see I spotted a cow. Not knowing if this was the herd or a stray cow we stayed put and listened. More cows began to appear in the opening and then, a bugle. This is when my heart began to race and the nerves set in. The bugle came from only about 200 yards away. Finally we spotted the bull, all I could see was the tips of his antlers but that is all I needed to see. It was the 7x7 bull we were after and he was a great bull. The heard stayed in the open feeding below a small dip in the terrain which allowed me to creep to within 150 yards. I found a good rest and waited. The bull and a few cows were making their way out of the opening and into the thicker timber, but of course they were still behind the only trees left standing in the logged out clearing they were feeding in. There was a gap in the few trees that I watched the cows go through so I put my scope there and waited, and waited. It must have only been half a minute but to me it felt like an eternity. I picked up my head to make sure the bull was still doing what I thought he would do and as I did that I could see him making his way into the gap. I got back onto my gun and there he was. I did everything I could to not look at his antlers and concentrated on what I needed to do tag this bull. As he stepped into the clearing Travis let out a cow call and the bull stopped perfectly. Seconds later I pulled the trigger and watched the bull drop in his tracks. It was at that point a flood of emotions rushed through me I didn’t even know what to do so I acted like a little kid on Christmas morning. To my defense Travis was acting the same. I looked over at Kenzie who was 15 yards behind us and gave him the “Did you get it on film” look and he gave a thumbs up. I wasn’t sure this day could get much better.
Walking up to the bull and putting my hands on him was an amazing feeling. He wasn't the bull that we have chased for 3 years but he was amazing and I was shocked at the mass this bull had. Part of me is happy that Raspy lives on. He is one of those giant ghost bulls that almost deserves to die of old age. After taking multiple photos and re-telling each others versions of the story we broke the bull down and carried him to the truck and proceeded to call and text everyone we knew.
I couldn’t be happier with the bull I ended up tagging and the way the hunt turned out. I spent it with great friends and had the time of my life. The stories will live on in the delicious meat this bull will provide and when that runs out I will always be able to look at the giant mount on the wall and tell this story to whoever is willing to hear it for the one-hundredth time.
I would like to thank my good friend Travis Theel for putting in more time scouting for this than anyone could ever expect a friend to do while I was working and making sure I would have the time off to go on the hunt. And thanks to Kenzie Vosburg and Brandon Koel for joining in the fun and filming throughout the week. Check out the Buckstorm Youtube channel for the video coming soon!