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First Elk Opportunity Blown


Well-Known Member
SH Member
Dec 4, 2016
Willis, TX
Three of us set up to glass across a valley to some dark timber. About ten minutes into sitting down, he came out of the timber and started feeding. As the crow flies, he was about 3/4-1mile away. We had not yet figured out a way down the sheer cliff we were on, to the valley below to make a play. We decided I would be spotter, and signal to the other two what he was doing while they attempted to get into the valley. They got cliffed out, and he started to make his way in the timber, so they called at him. I thought that was a dumb move, seeing as they were stuck. Well, he barreled down the mountain, into the creek, crossed it, and was roughly even with them in about 3 minutes. I saw him flash through some brush about 300 yards below me and disappear. They tried calling to no avail. Fast forward an hour, and they make it into the valley. I was sitting on a ledge getting sun eating my sandwhich when I saw them, so I popped up to walk to my scope to see what they were doing. As I turned, I caught the elk out of the corner of my eye. He was feeding about 200 yards away. I took a deep breath, calmed my nerves, and put a plan together. I grabbed my bow off my pack, which I had not touched since I packed it that morning. I had no intention of being "shooter" on this hunt.

I picked my way down the cliff edge to within 100 yards. I had two openings below me that I ranged at 55 and 60 yards. I briefly debated trying to get further down, but the risk of slipping and spooking him, and my confidence in my equipment/shooting ability, led me to stand pat. I had a strong thermal in my face and he was perfectly calm. Mistake #1 I nocked an arrow, and adjusted my sight to 57 yards. I remember thinking it was odd I had to hold my bow at a funny angle with the quiver on there to set the yardage and see the indicator. I chalked it up to the new quiver - Mistake #2. I got my feet set, took a couple practice draws to make sure I wouldn't slip or hit anything. Closed my eyes and listened to the wind whip up the mountain. I took a deep breath in, opened my eyes, and flipped the kill switch.

I let out two soft cow mews. I could just barely see the tips of his antlers over the brush he was behind. They instantly turned my direction, then disappeared in the brush. He was coming. I could only see his feet as he made his way down a trail that led to the openings I had ranged. His head appeared in the edge of the opening and he froze. He looked my direction, ahead of him, all around. But he didn't see a cow. I got worried he'd bail, but he calmly took two more steps broadside into the opening at 55 yards. I drew my bow, put my pin at the lower third/middle third line, slowly squeezed my shoulder blades, and let off a perfect shot. The wind was blowing enough that he didn't even hear it. Time slowed down, and I watched the arc of the arrow, rotating in slow motion, dead on line. But the arc didn't arc, and the arrow sailed about 6" over his back and buried in the snow. The noise startled him, and he took a couple steps forward behind some brush. I nocked a second arrow, in complete disbelief I had missed. It felt perfect, but he was still standing there, and no time for second guessing.

For about 12 minutes(watch confirmed) he stood there motionless. He then stepped into the second opening as I drew. I let out a soft mew when he got clear, and he stopped and looked my direction. I held the same line, went through the same sequence, and sailed a second arrow over his back. This time he heard the shot and arrow impact and bounded to edge of the opening, and turned, looking in the my direction. We both froze for what felt like an hour, but was probably a minute or two stare-down. He turned to start walking back the way he came, and I nocked a third arrow. Mistake #3. He stopped again, and I ranged him just to be sure I wasn't just completely off. 58 yards. Pin set at 57 still, I drew back. He was behind a little brush about 20 yards from me, but my arrow would pass well over based on previous shots. I held steady, and released what again felt like a perfect shot. The arrow traveled perfectly left and right, but again about 6" over his back. I am now convinced that something is off on my bow. He begins walking away and I range a spot at 65 yards. I dialed to 60, c/nocked a fourth arrow - mistake # 4 - cow called him to stop him in the opening, and put my pin on his elbow. I shot, but could not see impact as my adrenaline had picked up quite a bit. I heard the arrow hit him, and he took off. Silence for about ten seconds, then crazy crashing sounds.

I had good wind cover so I immediately made my way down to the shot site while I still had light - cliffhanging in the dark would not be fun. I went to the first three shot sites, and couldn't find arrows - foot of fresh snow and steep downward angle and white fletches. I got to the fourth, found his launch prints, and cut hair perfectly lined up with where I shot. About 30 yards ahead I saw bright red blood splattered on the snow with my bino's. I made my way back up to meeting point to tell the boys what happened. We waited three hours, then took up the trail. The crashing I heard that I thought was him dying was him running through brush we could barely see or walk through. He was bleeding pretty good only out of one side. We hit the creek, and then he started heading uphill. Like, straight uphill. After about 400 yards. We elected to let him lie overnight.

After a mostly sleepless night, I got up and had coffee and breakfast. I walked out and shot my bow at 20 - dead on. I shot at 30 - dead on. I shot at 50 - dead on. I shot at 80 - dead on. Completely baffled, I headed out to pick up the train. With better light, could see he was dragging a hoof in the snow, and bleeding only in his footprint as the trail went on. I tracked him to a bed, where the heavy bleeding stopped, and then tracked him right back to where we first saw him feeding. Here, he made a maze of tracks feeding and pooping. I must have just hit him in the leg, and he was ok enough to feed and crap. I was relieved but sickened that he may have a broadhead buried in his leg or up into his brisket (quarter away shot). I headed for camp, confused and very bummed out.

I met up with the crew to head to the other side of the mountain to press forward. I loaded up my pack for the next few days, and when I strapped my bow on, I loosened my sight bar, and slid it in so it didn't get damaged. The sky started spinning, and I got clammy and sick. I knew instantly what happened. The day before, I had moved the sight in to pack in. I never moved it out for the stalk. Sure enough - I was about 18" high at 60 with it pushed in. I simply couldn't believe with all the preaching I do to keep things simple, that I let something like this cost me an animal.

In looking back, mistake number 1 was not trying to get closer - When I went down to confirm the shot, I was passed two more spots inside of 30 yards I could've shot from. At 30 yards, I was only about 6" high. He would've been dead as a doornail.

Mistake number 2 was ignoring the difficulty I had in setting the sight dial - this was obvious in hindsight why it was so difficult. That should've set off more alarms - but it was a new quiver this year, and I brushed it off.

Mistake number 3 was shooting at that distance after 2 huge misses, and not figuring out what happened. I simply couldn't believe it. I KNOW when I make a bad shot. And neither of those shots were bad. And yet, I couldn't recognize that something was wrong with my equipment, and address it.

Mistake number 4 needs no introduction. I was now going all in on a bluff on the river not sure if my opponent has a good hand or not. My adrenaline took over, and I was blinded by my ego. I felt confident I would hit the elk, and I was right.

After the snow melted, one of my crew hunted that area. He went to my shot site, and found all 4 arrows. The arrow that connected had no blood or fat or hair on the shaft. One blade must have opened up the back of his leg, and I missed really low. It was a huge relief to know he didn't have a blade in his body.

I shoot the spott hogg Hoggfather. A bulletproof, precise sight. For whitetails, it stays set at 28 yards and never moves. But that bar adjustment killed me in the moment of truth out west. I have sighted it in with the bar slid all the way in now, and will hunt that way with it from here on out.
I think we can all feel your pain. Hunting has a way of doing things to us, no matter how well prepared and how methodical we are - stuff happens. I think that’s one of the things that keeps us returning year after year. And it makes for memories, and stories we can share for years to come. It also makes us better hunters. Experience is a great teacher.
Why is it in hindsight we see things so clearly but at the "moment" it's always tunnel vision?
Sorry it didn't go as planned brother.
Thanks for sharing the great write up.
Wow, the story had my heart pounding . . . great start to my morning. Thanks for sharing it. It always amazes me, even after hunting as long as I have, how I can screw up something seemingly so simple in the heat of the moment so you're definitely not alone there. On the plus side its a learning moment (along with a great story) that isn't costing the animal his life or too much suffering. Good luck on the rest of your hunt, Enjoy it. Again, great write up and thanks for sharing it.
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Your detailed account of the hunt highlights the importance of equipment preparation and situational awareness during crucial moments in archery hunting. It's a valuable learning experience, and your willingness to analyze and share the mistakes can help others improve their skills and avoid similar situations. Keep honing your skills, and best of luck in future hunts.