Editor’s Note: Pete Shepley, the founder of PSE, has been an avid elk hunter since the early 1970s. He’s traveled all over the country hunting elk.
I’ve been an avid elk hunter since the early 1970s and have traveled all over the country hunting elk. I was talking with a group of bowhunters one day, and someone said, “Why don’t we go to Colorado and hunt elk?” I said, “Yeah that’s a good idea.” I thought this hunt would provide an opportunity to hunt a critter I never had hunted before and to take my first elk. So, four or five guys and I loaded up and went to Colorado to hunt elk. Although we hunted really hard, none of us really knew what we were doing, and we didn’t take an elk. As PSE grew, I had a salesman who had an elk-hunting operation in the Big Horn Mountains just above Lovell, Wyoming. I started going to Wyoming and guiding for him. I’d guide for a week, and then, he would allow me to hunt on my own for a week. Although I didn’t take many elk during my guiding days, I learned more and more about how to hunt elk. I was seeing a lot of big bulls, but I couldn’t get shots at them. I finally decided if I was going to kill a really-big bull, I couldn’t shoot an elk that wasn’t a really-big bull. So, I shouldn’t try to take a small bull or a medium-sized bull, because I knew there were big bulls on this property. Since their elk season was only for 2 weeks, and I could only hunt one of those 2 weeks. I decided to spend my time hunting the big bulls, instead of just taking any size elk, to be able to say I had taken one. To be really honest, I can’t remember when I took my first elk. And I can’t tell you the exact number of elk I have taken, but I know I’ve taken more than 20.
I really liked elk hunting, because unlike many hunts, you can start hunting elk before daylight (listening for them to bugle and trying to get in close), and you can hunt until the last minute of legal shooting time. So, I could stay busy trying to take an elk all day long. I also get excited seeing elk, hearing them bugle and then trying to get in a position to take one. An elk hunt is excitement all day long. I love to hear the calling and hear the bull respond.
Often in the morning, we’ll spend our time calling and chasing elk. In the afternoons, we’ll sit in a tree stand over a waterhole or a wallow. I don’t really like sitting in a blind as much as I do chasing the elk. Elk hunting is like many other types of hunting. You’ll make mistakes, and the elk won’t do what they’re supposed to do. You’ll be going to a location where you think you’ll get a shot, and the next time you see or hear that elk he may be a mile away. So, luck is one of the important factors in a successful elk hunt.
I often tell people that hunting elk is much like hunting wild turkeys. If wild turkeys didn’t gobble in the spring and give away their locations, there wouldn’t be nearly as many people who hunted them. I think the same is true of elk hunting. If the bulls didn’t bugle, the sport wouldn’t be nearly as exciting for me and many others as it is when they do bugle. For me, the most-exciting aspect of the hunt is calling to the elk, having the elk answer you, and if you’re really lucky, having that huge creature come to you.
In the early days, when I first started hunting elk, I considered myself a pretty-good elk caller. But compared to the men and women calling elk today, I really wasn’t very good at all back then. The calls that have been developed to call elk are far better today than they were 30-years ago. Back when I started hunting, we had those refrigerator coil tubes we used for calling.
One time I was hunting in New Mexico with a fellow named Ralph Meline, who was such a good elk caller. He called me in four different times in one day. He was so good at sounding like a big bull elk that I would slip in close and spot Ralph Meline (I called him Abe, because he looked like Abraham Lincoln). Each time he called me in, I felt much more foolish than I did the first time I came to his calling.
Having the Most-Unbelievable Elk Hunt
One of my favorite people to hunt elk with is Ralph Ramos, a school administrator in Las Cruces, New Mexico. For several years, we had a cabin in New Mexico, and Ralph would come up and hunt with us sometimes. Ralph is a super elk caller. I think he’s called in about 350 elk for himself and the people he’s guided, in his career. Ralph is so proficient at scouting and finding elk for the people that hunt with him that many of his hunters will take their elk the first days that they hunt. That’s the good news, but Ralph has one thing he does that can be very irritating. He never shuts up calling elk. He’s always blowing that elk call, and it tends to make me a little bit crazy. However, you can’t argue with success. Ralph has a proven record of being a successful elk guide and elk caller. He doesn’t call in an elk every day, but he calls in elk most days, and he’s highly successful.
Ralph and I were hunting one morning. By 10: 00 am, he had called in six bulls to 20 yards or less for me. However, the biggest bull was only about 325 inches. This was on the first day of elk season. We were videoing the hunt. Even though I didn’t take a shot, we were all having a great time having all these bulls come in to within 20 yards or less. Ralph has a system that he calls the X-Factor, and he’s deadly effective at calling bulls in really close.
A little before 11: 00 am, Ralph called in a satellite bull that I didn’t shoot. I was thinking to myself, “We’ve had seven bulls within bow range, and the time’s not 11: 00 am yet.” But Ralph kept on calling. After a few minutes, I spotted this really nice bull coming toward us. When the bull was at 45 yards, I drew my brand-new PSE X-Force bow. I had shot this bow at my shooting range and was really pleased with its performance, but this would be the first time I had shot the X-Force at an animal. I shot the elk in the front. The arrow went all the way through him and went out the side of his rear leg. He only went about 100 yards before he piled-up. When we got to the bull, he had really nice antlers and scored about 345 on Pope &Young. I thought to myself, “Life doesn’t get any better than this. Ralph’s called in eight bulls before 11: 00 am.” I took the last bull he called. This hunt was so phenomenal and so memorable, because when you call to an elk, most of the time, they don’t come running. Generally you have to call and call, sweet talk to them and try to move in close. Sometimes you may have to call for 2 hours to get them to come in close enough for a bow shot. Sometimes you may talk to them all day and never get a shot. For me, the calling and the anticipation of seeing a big bull elk is just really exciting. Then when you shoot an elk, there’s a thrill at being able to take one. Then all the excitement is over, because field-dressing, caping, quartering and carrying out meat is much like work. But in my lifetime, I’ve never had a fellow call in eight elk for me in one day. Unbelievably, we had all this excitement before noon. This has to be one of the most fantastic hunts I’ve ever been on in my life.