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I would classify late season bull elk hunting as my all-time favourite pursuit. It is right up there with sheep hunting for me. It is a frustrating battle of wits with one of the smartest game species in Alberta.

Late season elk can have a very habitual routine. That is until someone or something messes with their program. It took five straight mornings of failure in the same area to finally get a break, make a stalk, and get a legal light opportunity.

The area is an open hay pasture with no bales and truly little cover. Shots are long when you get the chance and opportunities are scarce at times. This particular field is the last hay before thick sections of Crown bush; the perfect spot to catch elk on the move from breakfast to bed.

Day 1

We were greeted with two bulls absolutely tearing into one another. That beautiful sound of rack on rack smashing out a symphony of testosterone-filled furor was something to witness. I had my first and only shot opportunity of the first five days that perfect morning. Greed and concern for my friend, Jared (who has never harvested an elk), took over and we tried to close the distance to ensure a more effective shot. As we moved from 400 yards to 350, these MMA performers hit the eject button and were gone before we could blink. Lesson learned—never pass on a bull within your own effective range for the chance at a double. Take what is given to you! Check!

Day 2 to 5

This equated to four mornings of different approaches but the same outcomes. The herd was on pins and needles from a local wolf pack. Footsteps in crunchy snow were not conducive to productive elk hunting. Foiled four days straight, we were discouraged but still having a blast doing it.

My 11-year-old son Callum was also accompanying me, and did great on this trip. He never complained even once about me dragging him around the countryside in winter conditions. He will be ready to go next year when he turns 12. For that, we are excited.

Day 6

My wife is a super supportive Hunting Widow. She granted us the good favour of staying an extra day to accomplish what we were so close to accomplishing every day—filling the freezer with top quality protein.

Monday, November 16 rolled around and we caught another favour from Above. A fresh one-inch of snow to help eliminate the crunchiness. It’s on!

We decided to walk in just before legal light to encourage the forest horses to stay in the field longer. They obliged and we snuck in to set up. We just heard the boys crashing horns and all went silent. I motioned Callum to join me at the edge of a tree-filled gully, mid-field, thinking my boys had made an early exit to their bed. Disappointment was starting to set in when suddenly more than a dozen bedded elk magically appeared in a section of tall grass and began running to the bush line, scared off by Cullum’s movement. I stopped him and our accompanying friend Eugene in their tracks about 20 yards behind me. We had 12 minutes to legal light and a good bull was slowly trailing the fleeting herd to the bush line, 350, 400, now 430 yards away!

Innovation borne of desperation hit me. I pulled out my cow chirp and went to town. Well, that lead cow did not like the fact that one of her girls was trailing so dangerously behind everyone. She stopped and absolutely berated me for being so selfish. She did not bark but merely serenaded me with the largest chewing out I have ever received. That calmed the herd down; they stopped running, and slowly continued drifting to the tree line. Ole Hank (as Randy Newberg likes to coin any male animal) was trailing dutifully behind the cows but I noticed going at a slower pace. It was five mins to legal!

I kept the chirping going. I wanted a sub 400-yard shot. I practice hard and shoot sub MOA at that range and felt if I could get inside of that, and legal light would roll around, there was hope.

I started crawling upright on my knees and closed the gap to exactly 400 yards. I gathered myself and checked the time—12 seconds to go! I settled in prone behind the bipods, arrested my heavy breathing, and let the shot fly, mere seconds after legal light started. He stood there stalk still. I thought I had missed but that quartering-away shot proved lethal. The follow up shot ensured he remained anchored to the alfalfa where he took the hayfield temperature challenge. Nice bull down!

As is tradition with our party, on the way back to the ranch with Ole Hank loaded up, we encountered a mid-morning buck cruising in a cutblock. We set up on a cutline directly to the north of him to see if we could get a shot opportunity for Eugene. Sure enough, the buck dutifully followed a lone doe across the fence and gave us his broadside at 170 yards. Eugene, who hasn’t hunted for many years, let fly his 7mm-08, made a perfect shot, and down went brown.

The ironic part of the story comes with some rare hunting honesty. Eugene had attempted a shot at a similar buck on the previous Friday night. A small, smattering of hair, zero blood, and zero carcass upon grid searching the area produced a grazed deer who was lucky to be yet alive. Upon closer inspection of this new, downed customer, revealed a fresh bullet hole in the base of the right-hand antler. It was the same buck! Sweet redemption.

I am super thankful for this beautiful bull. It is the biggest bodied bull the rancher has ever seen shot in that area. It was like breaking down a small steer. I love his mass that he carries all the way through.

I am extremely glad we stayed that one more day. I should start hunting for one-day increments only, as I have killed four bulls the last four years on either the first or last day.  Now THAT plan is Hunting Widow approved! ■

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