Step by Step: Stuart’s 2020 Idaho Bull

Small details often determine the outcome of a hunt. Videos don’t always show the small steps that led to filling a tag. I have written a timetable of the bull I shot in Idaho in 2020 to give other hunters an idea of what to expect. These posts allow me to reflect on what went right and wrong as well. If you have any questions please let me know.

Location: Idaho. Wallow in a small drainage on a north facing slope, 6500 feet elevation.

Set Up: 20 yards from wallow. Cow decoy 5 yards uphill/upwind, partially obstructed by branches (Tip from Corey Jacobsen of Elk 101).

Calling: Cow calls only. 3-5 mews spaced every five to ten minutes. Matching the intensity of the bugle.

Shot: 30 yard broadside while kneeling.

4:30 a.m. Wake up

5:30 a.m. Leave camp, first morning hunt of the season. Slow to get organized and out of camp.

6:30 a.m. Sunrise.

6:30 – 8:30 a.m. Climb ridge. Intermittently stop to cow call while hanging the decoy from a nearby branch. Hunt slowly. Morning thermals travel downhill and allow me to work into the wind.

8:30 – 9:30 a.m. Sidle along the slope and stop to cow call for 10 or 20 minutes at a time every few hundred yards as I approach the wallow.

9:30 a.m. Tie Nali to a tree and set up behind brush 20 yards from the wallow. Cow call with no response.

9:40 a.m. Cow call. Bull bugles back. I have the wind in my favor, but know it may switch soon.

9:45 a.m. Cow call, bull bugles, two eager cow sounds. Kick branches to add realism and make it seem like a herd has moved into the wallow. This is a tip I picked up from Paul Medel, the Elk Nut

9:50 a.m. Bull walks to 30 yards broadside. Shoot the bull. Hear it crash down within 100 yards.

10:30 a.m. Recover the bull.

10:30 am – 10:30 pm Pack out the bull on two trips.

What Went Right

It wasn’t where I shot my bull the year before or even my most consistently producing spot. But, I had called a bull into the wallow during the same week last season. The bull had approached silently, and I was too exposed, which caused the bull to spook before allowing a shot. 

Patience was the biggest contributor to success. I hunt slowly in general but especially in the early season. Good wind and limited calling put me in a position where I could let the bull make a mistake. There was no point in rushing. In early September it’s not likely the bull will have a harem of cows. With few cows in heat it’s also unlikely you’ll find a super fired up bull.

I shot the bull at 9:30 am. He had likely bedded for the day. There had been minimal hunting pressure, and I figured as long as I limited my calling and kept the wind in my favor the bull was unlikely to leave without first checking the wallow. Lastly, there was a scree field above the wallow, which made it difficult for the bull to circle above and hang up out of range.

As far as calling I like to match a bull’s intensity with cow calls and bugles. If he seems frustrated I give more eager calls to wind him up even more. I didn’t respond to his first bugle. It was only after he started to sound more demanding that I gave a response.

What to Work On

On early season hunts quarter out your bull as quickly as possible. The meat turned out okay, but I should have hung each leg before hiking down to get my pack. I like to hunt as light as possible, and I rarely carry game bags. I worry about flies at times and made the decision not to butcher it right away. That was a mistake.

The wind could have swirled and ruined the hunt. Sometimes you do the wrong thing and shoot a bull. Other times you do the right thing and walk out empty handed. I almost never get away with gambling on thermals holding. Pay attention to wind currents and what time they switch each day to give yourself the best odds at success. If you know they will switch within a half hour, it may be best to wait a bit before approaching a wallow or bedding area.

Good luck, and thank you for reading.

Stu

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