I wrote this story about my Super Tag elk hunt just a few weeks ago. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it! Here it goes, enjoy!
Super Tag Success
I will never forget hearing my first bugle; the big bull crested the hill and let out a bugle that broke the silence of opening morning. It was enough to give even the most experienced and seasoned hunter chills, let alone a 21-year-old college student on his first elk hunt. Our first hunt of the season was off to a hot start, but it paled in comparison of what was soon to come.
Rewind two months, I had just returned from a weeklong vacation to Texas on a bow fishing trip and to Maryland to see some good family friends and do some bow fishing there as well. It was now officially the heart of the off-season, and bow season felt like it was an eternity away. In the back of my mind, knowing that my name was in the hat for one of Nebraska’s coveted Once-in-a-lifetime bull elk tags was about the only thing keeping me going as summer began to drag on. Though I knew my odds were already low, these hopes would soon be crushed when I got the infamous “denied” on my application status on draw day. My mom was texting me at the time, and I told her to tell my dad no luck on the elk tag. I jokingly said at the end of the conversation: “oh well, maybe the super tag”
At the time, I didn’t really know much about the super tag, but knew in the back of my mind that it was the only chance left for a Nebraska elk tag. I remember looking at the odds from the year before of drawing it, and saw that they were nearly 1 in 1600. I thought for a long time about whether to apply or not, and finally I decided that at the end of the day $26 was not that much money, and if anything at least I could donate to Game and Parks. One of the last things I remember seeing on the Super Tag information page was that the winner would be notified by phone call, little did I know how much this would come into play later in this story.
A couple of weeks went by and I did not think much about it besides the occasional visit to the Game and Parks website to check the draw status on my application to see when they shut off the draw. I knew the winner would be announced soon when I saw the application was shut off for the tag. I couldn’t help but to think that I was going a little bit crazy over this Super Tag; I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but had this strange feeling in my gut that I might just be the lucky winner. Needless to say, when I got a phone call just a few days later from an unknown Lincoln number, my heart began to race, only to be let down moments later when I found out it was just a telemarketing call. “Oh well!” I said to myself, “did I really expect that to be the phone call I’ve been dreaming about?”
The next day I was in the exact same position, I was in the gym when my phone rang. It was my dad; I looked at it for a minute and thought about calling him back later. Something inside of me told me to answer this phone call, I had a weird feeling that it might be important. The conversation started just like any other, but took a turn when he said, “guess who drew that super tag?” After already having had a tease the day before, I said “who?...” thinking he was either about to play a joke on me, or someone we knew drew the tag. “You did!” he exclaimed. For the next few minutes I did not believe him and paced back and forth trying to decide whether I was about to be let down once again even worse, or I actually had actually drawn the tag. My dad explained to me that Nebraska Game and Parks had contacted my mom and notified her that I had drawn the tag. It all hit me then that this had actually happened and I couldn’t believe it. It all felt like a dream. I actually had drawn the Super Tag; needless to say, I was flying pretty high for the next few days. That night I set a goal to shoot my bow every single day until season, and little did I know just how much it would pay off in the end.
The days following the news that I had drawn the tag were spent mostly contacting landowners. We had decided that we were going to focus on the North Platte area in the Box Elder unit. We had some connections there thanks to some friends and I was off to a good start getting permission. Out of all the calls that I made, I never got a solid “no” from any of the landowners. Some of them had family members or hired hands that were hunting and said that they had first priority, however, I had a number of places that told me they would be more than happy to have me hunt elk on their place. Along with the landowners in the North Platte area, I also made contact with some good family friends close to the Ainsworth area since my elk tag was a statewide tag and I was not limited to one unit. Needless to say, we had plenty of ground to hunt. It was now a matter of finding elk and getting ready to hunt when September 1st rolled around.
Days turned into weeks and before I knew it, summer was drawing to an end and school was starting again. I still had not missed a day of shooting my bow and I refused to let that slip now that my schedule was getting even busier with classes starting. The week of September 1st finally arrived, and I began to get things ready for the weekend. As the weekend drew nearer, the time seemed to move slower and anticipation was at an all time high. Friday could not come soon enough. I made sure to take care of everything in school, so that when the weekend rolled around I would be able to focus on the hunt. Finally Friday arrived, and as soon as class was over, I packed my car and headed west for North Platte, but first I had to make a stop. I stopped at the archery range on the way out of town and took one last shot. I had to keep my promise.
I did not know what to expect the first weekend, I really thought about how we had not had a lot of time to scout, so I figured this trip would be more of a scouting trip and getting the elk figured out. Regardless, I was happy to be going elk hunting as it was something I had always dreamed of, and knew we had plenty of time to hunt. I met my dad and Matt Gideon that evening south of North Platte near Wellfleet, we would be staying with our good friend Chad Stengel and his family for the weekend. This was very convenient as it was just a short drive away from where we would be hunting for the next three days. I can’t thank him and his family enough for putting up with us for the weekend!
That night we went and met with a couple of the landowners. One of them insisted that I ride with him so he could show me where exactly the property lines were, as sometimes on maps they can look deceiving from what they actually are. My dad and Matt followed in the pickup behind us. After showing me around, I shook the landowners hand and thanked him again for the opportunity to hunt elk, I can’t say enough about how nice all of these landowners were that I was dealing with! When I got in the pickup, my dad and Matt informed me how they had seen a big bull crossing the pasture as we drove by, needless to say, this had all of us fired up and we had our spot picked out for the morning hunt.
After a pretty sleepless night, I woke up ready to go. I threw on my hunting clothes, grabbed my bow, and headed out the door. My dad and I would be sitting where we saw the big bull cross the pasture the night before. Walking in that morning I had no idea what to expect, but I was excited to see what the morning would hold. As we walked in a shooting star as large and as bright as I have ever seen lit up the sky for a good few seconds, my dad and I both stared at it and then at each other in disbelief, it was unlike either of us had ever seen. “We are going to kill a bull this trip…” I thought to myself, “I can feel it.”
That morning was unforgettable. It was without a doubt, one of my favorite mornings of hunting in my life. We had been sitting in our spot for about 40 minutes when my dad nudged me and said “elk!” Sure enough, on the horizon, a cow came over the hill, and then another, then another. The elk just kept coming and coming, and even a few of them being little bulls. Finally, a moment I will never forget for as long as I live, a big herd bull crested the hill and let out a bugle that echoed through the early morning air. “That was awesome!” I whispered to my dad, as we looked at each other with both of our eyes just as big as the other’s. I had just watched my first elk bugle, and it was a moment I will never forget. We watched the elk for about 45 minutes while they chased each other around, fed, and bugled on a little patch of green grass on the far side of the pasture. Eventually they went into the cornfield for the day. The hunt ended with a small rag horn that came into about 120 yards with a cow and a calf. It was an action packed hour that had us fired up and ready to hunt again that evening!
On our way back from the morning hunt, we found a spot in a small shelter belt of cedars where elk had been crossing to get into a pivot that I had permission to hunt on. This was not far from the pasture that we were set up on and was certainly sign from the same elk that we had seen that morning. The herd bull had a tree completely shredded from rubbing on it were they were crossing. We had brought a tree stand with us and we knew exactly what to do for the evening. I had never imagined that I would be hunting these elk from a tree stand, but I was now glad that we brought one, as I knew that the chances of having an elk come by were fairly high by the looks of the trail.
That evening I climbed into the tree stand and had a perfect view. I could see the pivot in front of me with the trail through the trees, and the green patch the elk had been on that morning to my far North. I could see a long ways and knew that I would be seeing elk that night; it was just a matter of time. Not long after being in the tree, I saw a few cows pop over the hill and start making their way across a patch of wheat stubble towards the trail below me. Not long after spotting them, a big, ivory tipped bull crested the hill right behind them. I put my binoculars on him and decided immediately that he was a shooter. The cows started angling away from me, along with the bull. I decided to cow call softly, I had nothing to lose. I let out a soft mew and the big bull lifted his head and snapped his head in my direction. I cow called again, this time a little louder. The bull turned and was now on a b-line directly for the trail below me. My heart was pounding out of my chest. “This is really going to happen,” I said to myself. Just then, I felt the wind on my cheek. “Oh no…” the bull stopped dead in his tracks and turned the other way and went back to the cows. So close, yet so far, a matter of moments and I would have had my opportunity at this bull. As heart broke as I was that the big bull had caught my wind, it was such a cool experience to see him come in like that after calling at him, and to top it, it was still early. As it got later and the sun was setting, I spotted more elk, this time they were not coming my direction, they were making their way in the distance to the same green patch of grass that they had been on that morning. Cows and calves made their way to the green patch and following them was the big herd bull we had seen bugle that morning. I watched them until dark through my binoculars. At dark I texted my dad to come pick me up, I told him I had watched the whole herd go to the same place they had been that morning. With a southeast wind in the forecast, I knew exactly where we needed to set up in the morning. The cards were on the table and we knew right where we needed to be tomorrow. We all knew that we now had the best chance we’ve had yet the whole weekend at getting a chance at a bull. It would be another sleepless night.
After telling the story of the close call with the big bull that evening, we watched football and discussed our plan for morning before heading to bed. My dad and I would be setting up in the morning in the pasture that we were in the previous morning, this time as close to the green patch as we could get since the wind was in our favor. The next morning came early; my alarm went off at 4:45 AM. I rolled over and sat on the edge of the bed for a minute after shutting off my alarm. I was tired, but the same time, I was excited. I knew that we now had a good idea of what these elk were doing and that today our odds of getting a chance at a bull were higher than we had at any other time during this trip. I set on the edge of the bed for a second before putting on my hunting clothes. “God, please give us a bull today.” With that being said, we all got dressed and were out the door within minutes. The drive there was fairly quiet, we were all tired from not sleeping much from excitement the last few days, however, you could feel the excitement in knowing that we knew we were setting up exactly where we needed to be. Matt dropped us off, and my dad and I walked into the pasture, we set up just on the outside of some tall weeds that separated us from the green patch by about 150 yards. We set up and waited in silence in the dark as we waited for the sun to come up.
The sun began to rise and gave way to a cloudy morning with a steady breeze out of the southeast just as forecasted. Perfect, now we just needed the elk to do the same thing that they did the previous morning. Not long after the sun broke the horizon, two bulls and about 18 cows and calves started making their way from the south towards us right in a line with the green patch. The herd bull stopped and let out a bugle and continued walking. Moments later, all of the cows and calves were in the green patch with the two bulls hanging just outside of the herd. The herd bull chased the younger bull away from the rest of the herd and the younger bull moved quickly away from the herd to the north across the pasture. Now all that remained were the herd bull and all of his cows and calves on the green patch. They were right where we needed them.
A few of the cows started to break away and make their way toward us. Not long after, the rest of the cows started to follow, and the herd bull was right behind them. “Here he comes,” whispered my dad. It was game on. The bull started to angle to our right and it looked like he was going to walk towards the field too far from us for a shot. My dad stood up and we started to move to try and get in front of the bull. As we stood up, in the tall weeds in front of us, my dad spotted the top of a cow's back. We could not see her before since the weeds and grass was so high and she managed to sneak in close to us without us knowing. He pulled me back down, we were stuck there and we were not going to be able to move. The bull was beginning to angle away from us the last we could see and we could not see him now. “Should I call at him?” whispered my dad. “Might as well, as fired up as he was it might work” I said. My dad let out a bugle and almost immediately the bull fired back. My dad bugled right back at him. The bull bugled again and this time it felt as if the ground was shaking. The bull was a lot closer now and closing the distance fast. He was within 40 yards, but was in the tall weeds, so I could not see exactly where he was, but he was close. “Here he comes!” my dad whispered. Just as he said this, I saw ivory tips bouncing over the tops of the weeds less than 20 yards away. “Draw your bow!” my dad whispered. I drew back and my heart was pounding in my ears and my hands began to tingle, it was an adrenaline rush like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. We were on the edge of the tall weeds and less than 10 yards away when the bull poked his head out of the tall weeds and made eye contact with us. The only thing I could see was his head and his rack. We didn’t move and I remained at full draw with no shot. The bull whirled and began herding up his cows out in the weeds, we could see them bouncing as he began herding them up running circles around them. At this point, the bull still did not know what we were. My dad grabbed me and said, “We are going in there!”
We went into the tall weeds, using them as cover, letting out cow calls as we went. The bull was ripping off bugles within 100 yards of us the whole time. We made our way to a small clearing in the weeds, the only opening we could really find. The bull was still bugling and had his cows herded up, we could only see the tips of his tines no more than 80 yards away from us. We knelt down in the weeds. My dad bugled at him and the bull snapped his head turned towards us. Once again he came bouncing towards us bugling. It was all happening so fast. I drew my bow again and the bull stopped again at 10 yards, this time with a very small portion of his chest showing. “Shoot him” I heard my dad whisper as I was at full draw with my pin settled on the bull facing us. From my angle the spot that I needed open for the shot was covered by weeds, but from my dad’s view he had a perfect opening to the bull’s chest. Just as I thought I had a small opening to squeeze an arrow into, the bull once again whirled and began to herd up his cows again that were beginning to break up. This time the bull lead his cows out of the tall weeds into some shorter stubble. We once again got to our feet and made our way to the edge of the tall patch to where we were now out of good cover. The cows were beginning to walk away through the stubble and behind them the bull was walking at a steady clip. “Range him right there!” I whispered to my dad. “He’s 51!” my dad said as he clicked his range finder.” I drew back and gave him a couple mews trying to stop him, but no luck. Just then my dad cow called and the bull stopped in his tracks and looked in our direction. Time seemed to stand still as I settled my pin right behind the bulls shoulder. The countless hours of practice all through the summer, the thousands of arrows shot, and all of the dreaming about this moment all came down to this. I touched the shot off and it felt good.
The next sound I heard was a hollow “thump!” that assured me that the arrow had found its mark. The bull ran for a few steps and I saw blood begin to run down his side. The cows took off in a blur and the bull stayed behind, looking very sick. “Liver,” I whispered to my dad as the bull walked to the edge of the green patch that he had been bugling and chasing on just an hour earlier. My dad and I watched the bull as he began to walk slowly across the green patch back towards a small group of trees in the middle of the pasture we had been hunting. In a split second, we decided that we should use the small strip of tall grass as cover that ran the length of the green patch to try to cut the bull off and get another arrow in him. I was confident that my arrow would do the job, but the sooner we could end it, the better for both the bull, and us. We snuck along the tall grass as the bull made his way across the grass patch. Finally, we got within range and my dad gave me a range, “71” said my dad. I took my time and the shot felt good, but it fell just short, just low under the bull. “Dang it!” I said as I looked at my dad. The shot felt good, but after being constantly on the move the last few minutes and having so much adrenaline running through my veins the shot was off. My dad assured me that it was fine, the bull did not even spook. The bull made it about 40 more yards before he bedded down. My dad and I layed down in the grass and watched him through the binoculars, he was hurting bad.
Meanwhile, Matt had been watching the whole thing through the spotting scope from a ways away. We called him and he said the shot was a touch back, but not too bad. We agreed that we would wait for however long it would take for the bull to expire and watch him in the meantime as we knew he would most likely eventually try to make it to the trees just 100 yards from him. A few moments later the bull stood up. Just as soon as he stood, he fell back into his bed and we knew that he was really hurting. He began gasping and layed down on his side. My dad looked at me and we both knew that it was more than a liver hit. I had caught the back of the lungs and the bull was not too far from expiring, however, we knew if we could manage to get another arrow in him we could end it sooner. We made the quick decision to crawl up to the bull since we had plenty of tall grass and a small knob between us and the bull. If he tried standing again, we would at least be within bow range. My dad and I slowly made our way up to the bull, and now we were within shooting range. My dad ranged him through the grass as the bull was laying on his side with his head down. I wanted it to be over now. I asked my dad for a range and he said, “ 31, take your time.” I decided to take a few steps closer to get a more open shot. One more range, “27” said my dad. I drew back and held behind the bull’s shoulder and squeezed off the shot. My arrow hit perfect and the bull didn’t even stand up. He rolled over and kicked a few times and within a matter of seconds it was over. I could not believe what had just happened.
I raised my bow in the air and with tears in my eyes and a knot in my throat I hugged my dad and we began to walk towards the bull laying dead right in front of us. Neither one of us knew what to say, and we just looked at each other in complete shock. We walked up to the bull and I got down on my knees next to him. I wrapped my hands around him and lifted up his rack. I was absolutely speechless. I had just killed my first bull elk with a bow on the most unbelievable hunt that I could ever imagine. My whole life I had dreamed of killing a bull elk with a bow and now that dream had become a reality. He was now in my hands and it was all so surreal. Everything from hearing them bugle, to experiencing the highs and the lows, and getting to experience it all with my dad by my side was more than I could have ever asked for. It was absolutely perfect.
A few moments later Matt called and congratulated me. He drove down to us a few minutes later as we still were trying to figure out what had just happened. There were many high fives and hugs as we stood there and admired the bull and the unbelievable hunt that had just unfolded. We took plenty of pictures and then the work began! I gutted the bull and pulled the heart from him as well as the tenderloins, which would go in the meat cooler for our enjoyment later. We spend the next hour or more trying to load the big bull in the back of the pickup. It was a tiring job, but I was so excited I didn’t care. Thanks to a ratchet strap, a rope, and a few coolers, we were able to get the gutted bull into the back of the pickup and immediately get him back to the Stengel residence for butchering. We made a quick stop by the landowner’s house and needless to say, he was more than happy to see us get a bull! Again, I can’t say enough good things about the landowners that we dealt with on this hunt.
We spent that afternoon and most of the early evening butchering the big bull and getting him taken care of. By early evening we were finished and were ready to relax. After taking care of all of the meat and talking on the phone to friends and family that heard of the successful hunt, we enjoyed fresh elk steak as we watch college football and reminisced on the hunt. It was the perfect way to end a day that I had always dreamed of.
The next morning we packed up and said our goodbyes. It was an amazing weekend filled with memories that will last a lifetime. It was hard to believe that my dream had come true and it all happened on opening weekend. I could not have asked for a better way for the whole experience to unfold! As I made my way back to Kearney, I looked in the rearview mirror and had to shake my head in disbelief as I was staring at the rack of the bull. I still could not believe it and it would take some time for reality to really set in. “Not a bad investment for a $26 tag,” I said to myself. It is no doubt the best $26 I have spent in my life.
As I told the stories to my friends and family, I knew that words could not do justice to what we experienced, but I knew that they understood just how much it meant to me. Getting to share some of meat with good friends and family showed them why we do it. It is some of the best meat that I have ever had and it is keeping my freezer plenty full!
As I close this story, I still can’t believe that this has all happened. From drawing the tag, to experiencing elk action in its finest form, to harvesting a big bull, it was more than I could have ever dreamed. A few weeks after the elk hunt, I returned home for a Friday evening hunt after class. That night I arrowed one of my best whitetails to date, but that’s a story for another time!