Story and photos by: Andrew Basabe
By the end of the summer I had a herd of cows patterned.
They were constantly hitting the same wallows, bedding areas and feeding areas. It wouldn't be long before a roaming bull would be amongst them. Hopefully, it would be "him," the old bull I had history with from recent seasons. The old bull that kept me awake for many nights. The old bull I had named, “Sherlock.”
Before I could catch a breath, opening day of elk season had arrived. After a few solid hours of hiking, I neared the head of the drainage and had high hopes for finding the main herd. I knew if I found the herd, there was a decent chance Sherlock may be close by. By then, it was late afternoon and the wind began to pick up. Leaves rustled on nearly every tree above my head and I felt a calm peace that only seems to arrive with elk season. The essence of fall littered the air and I felt all my senses heighten as I neared the top of the ridge.
I soon crested the ridge and began my descent to open basin. With only a few hours of daylight left, I took advantage of my elevation and decided to glass some parks on the opposite side of the basin. Within minutes of pulling up my binoculars, I spotted an impressive set of antlers glistening in the sun. The bull grazed for a while just a few hundred yards from a green park. With the wind working against me, I decided to wait.
The evening sun was setting quickly and fading behind the mountain and before long, the bull was up and on the move. He disappeared and reappeared in the scattered trees and I tried hard to get a better look at his head gear. Soon, he moved into a small opening and gave me the look I was waiting for. The bull's dark massive rack left no doubt in my mind; it was him! The matching, odd points by his fourths were a dead giveaway, it was Sherlock. The palmation of his antlers was incredible. My entire body was shaking with excitement and I could hardly keep my binoculars steady.
The silent darkness soon took over the drainage. I headed back down towards the creek and stayed out of Sherlock's favoring thermals. After a quick and filling mountain house meal, I put out my fire, crawled into my bivy and crashed for the night.
It seemed like only minutes had passed when I was awakened by helping coyotes. Distant treetops were beginning to appear and I jumped up in a panic. I knew I was already late and had to hurry. I wanted to be back on top of the ridge and a move on Sherlock by first light. I wasted no time and made the ascent.
As quickly and quietly as I could, I scrabbled down to a lush green park near where I last saw Sherlock. I wiped the sweat from my brow and unharnessed my pack. The white smoke from my wind indicator slowly moved upward toward me. The occasional squirrel and chirping birds broke the silence as I assembled my decoy and prepared for a set up.
From the opposite ridge above where I last saw the bull the previous evening, distant cow calls echoed through the timber. I responded with a few soft mews of my own and ran toward them as stealthy as possible. I moved ahead 60 yards just as the woods came alive with cows and calves communicating in all directions. The sounds of thumping hooves and snapping twigs drew closer and closer. One by one, the herd filed by my position. There were 15 or 20 elk amongst two smaller legal bulls. The herd fed their way toward the decoy, everything was unfolding perfectly with one exception. Where was Sherlock?
The herd quickly fed off and a few cows were startled as they caught my scent. I had to think of something, and fast! I let out the loudest and deepest lipbawl scream I could, pretending this harem was mine. Immediately, I was cut off by an unfamiliar roar. It wasn't Sherlock, but every hair on my body stood up. The bull was on a full-out sprint, crashing down the hillside as if the entire mountain cut loose. In an instant the huffing and bellowing bull was right below me. He turned and let out another deafening bugle. His left antler seemed out of place. It looked as if it was growing out of his eye. The bull turned again and headed towards the decoy. I quickly ranged the downed tree in his chosen path, only to find a dead battery. This was my only chance. I slowly drew back and let out a soft cow call. He took one more step forward and stopped perfectly broadside. I settled my 50-yard pin on his heart and gently squeezed. My fletching disappeared on the mark and the arrow continued through the opposite side. The bull quickly vanished toward the opposite end of the park and a loud crash followed in the distance.
Did that just happen? I found myself on my back, soaking everything in and I was overwhelmed with emotion. I had just arrowed the biggest bull of my life. After several breaths, I calmed down and began looking for the blood trail. It wasn't hard to find and I followed it through some timber before I came to another clearing. There I was, treated by a magnificent whale-tale sticking up in the air.
I was in awe of the character of this bull’s antlers. His skull looked like it had been nearly fractured in a battle years before and the configuration of his antlers bore the resulting consequence. I am sure he was Sherlock's nemesis and I could only imagine the battles that have raged between them. I paid my respects and got right to work. I had a long day ahead, as well as a long night with another graveyard shift waiting for me back in town
Hours later, I had managed to cache everything down by the creek where it would stay cool and began hauling heavy loads out to the trailhead. When I headed back for the last load, I was both exhausted and elated with my success, but I couldn’t get Sherlock out of my mind. I knew Sherlock was likely close by, heck maybe even shadowing and keeping his distance from the herd. I finally crested the ridge and just before my descent, I turned and looked over the vast terrain. I grabbed my bugle and let one more rip just to tip my hat to the one that remains on the mountain. I knew he could hear me, but I was only answered by silence. Until next year Sherlock...