column By: Brad Fenson | November, 18
When Keith Pullins drew a limited elk tag in South Dakota, he couldn’t express his excitement enough. He had been applying for the special elk license for 10 years, and his dream hunt was about to become a reality.
Keith had only been on two other elk hunts in his lifetime, and both were in Idaho where tags are more easily obtained. Pullins shot a small 5x5 on one of the Idaho hunts but had much bigger expectations for his home-state elk adventure.
The draw results had hardly been available when Pullins started planning. After finding out he had finally drawn this coveted tag, he spent every spare moment scouting. Trail cameras were set in strategic locations, and hours were spent glassing new areas for that one special bull.
After spending months in the field, the season was approaching fast, and Keith had a few nice bulls located but knew there were some bigger trophies in the area. As the season kicked off, Pullins spent the first week hunting alone as his caller and good friend Jeff Johnson had to work. During the first week the solo hunter called in four nice bulls that were apparently in the 270 to 310 class, but it was early, and Keith opted to hold out for a bigger bull.
The second week started out very slowly. The weather got hot, and with a full moon the elk activity was limited to very early in the morning and right at dusk in the evening. With things so slow, the hunters checked out multiple areas trying to find active elk but had no luck.
As the end of the second week neared, the hunters finally located active elk. Jeff was able to call in multiple bulls, but nothing more than little raghorns. Even though Keith and Jeff spotted some bigger bulls, none of them wanted to commit or come to the call. During this time, the hunters kept hearing the unique bugle from a bull they later nicknamed “Growler.” It had a very raspy, distinctive bugle that set it apart from all the other bulls. Without ever seeing the bull, the bowhunting duo chased it for three days before finally getting it to respond. The big bull was followed by several great satellite bulls, so Keith figured the herd bull must be impressive.
On multiple occasions, calling brought the boss bull close to Keith, but either the wind wasn’t right or its cows were in a bad position, and they were afraid of busting the bull out, so they backed off.
Persistence paid off, and after weeks of arduous work and determination, everything fell together. Hours and days of chasing a ghost bull called “Growler” came to an end on September 16 with a well-placed arrow. The bull scored 335-3/8 Pope & Young.
Keith’s dream of taking a South Dakota trophy elk became a reality. Glassing for months, knowing when to back off when conditions were not right to get close, and keeping tabs on the big bull eventually provided ideal conditions to bring it close.
Honey Hole Buck
Brandon and Cindi Baudhuin are avid public-land hunters and have plenty of options to pursue big game in their home state of Wyoming. The general mule deer season is something the Baudhuin duo looks forward to every fall. The couple headed to a favorite area, but when nothing showed up they reverted to a “Plan B,” an area the couple tries to hunt when their “Plan A” locations come up empty.
Brandon feels that if a hunter is willing to work, there are some great bucks available to the do-it-yourself, public land hunter. The effort the couple puts into their hunts makes it extra special when they come out with heavy packs. Brandon and Cindi laugh about hunting their special location, as they suffer every time they trek back to the truck. Even though they swear up and down that they will never hunt it again, they begin strategizing for the next return as soon as they reach the trailhead. The desire to hunt areas like this quickly erase the pain endured to reap the rewards.
Leaving the truck in a rush, sandwiches and snacks were overlooked. The area they wanted to hunt was several miles of hard hiking away from the truck, meaning neither of them was offering to go back to fetch groceries. However, the best way to forget about a growling stomach is to spot a nice buck. “Plan B” worked great, and late in the evening a good muley buck was spotted. Initially, Cindi was in position to take the shot, but a last-second change in the buck’s route prompted quick backtracking and maneuvering in tinder-dry Ponderosa pinecones and needles. As Brandon was positioned several yards behind Cindi, it quickly became apparent that it would be easier and quieter for him to try to make a play on this deer.
Brandon set a goal of reaching an old windfall to use as a rest and when he did so, was forced to wait a good 30 seconds for the buck to feed into a broadside position. At the report of the rifle, it became obvious the deer wasn’t going far, and the couple watched as the deer expired within seconds.
The happy hikers had found the buck late in the evening. Due to the difficult access to the location, the Baudhuins only venture into this area two or three times a season. The public-land honey hole is a quick getaway the couple likes to hunt without prior knowledge of specific bucks. It is one of those places where blind confidence has produced one or two shooters every year.
Brandon and Cindi are avid shooters and love the long-range challenge. Therefore, it should not be surprising that Brandon’s rifle was a Montana Rifle Company X2 6.5x284 topped with a Nightforce ATACR 4-16x 42mm F1 scope. The 185-yard shot would not be considered long range, but accuracy is what counts at any distance.
Brandon says, “There is always a certain degree of luck involved in the harvest of mature big-game animals. We have found that the many hours spent studying satellite imagery, scouting, and our willingness to go the extra mile literally have greatly increased the frequency of when good luck comes knocking.”
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