Chase's Tule Elk Hunt

By Chase Fulcher

Like any great adventure, this one started simply enough - among friends.  I flew from Kentucky to Pete Shepley’s Arizona home, where I spent the night before a planned departure via Pete’s plane to our Tule Elk camp in California.  Delays stink; we’d been planning this hunt for two long years but when the storms rolled in I trusted Pete’s judgment.  An awesome pilot, Pete had the experience to make the call. Our new plans required us to make the 10-hour road trip.  That’s plenty of time to solve the world’s problems and talk about hunting and archery, while laughing all the way.

 Pete, PSE Archery and I go back 35 years. I shot his PSE bows years ago in competitive archery for 10 years and won many times using Pete’s equipment. We have a huge respect for each other, have super thick skin and a great friendship - or we wouldn’t have survived this TRIP!  Even after ten hours, the superiority between my Hoyt bows and his PSE bows was still undecided - a 50-50 tie. I’m sure there will continue to be intense discussions, but doubtless this argument will never be resolved. It was ten hours of good fun among great friends.

 Upon arriving in Shandon, California, we grabbed supper and found a hotel. We agreed to meet at the ranch the next day at 4:30 a.m. to start our hunt.

 What greeted me the next morning left me perplexed.  Well before first light we snuck to the highest point on the 9,000 acre ranch.  As the sun winked over the horizon, a shocking sight greeted me – no cover. I couldn’t believe my eyes. The elk were all in wide-open barley stubble and CRP fields.  Oh man, this was a bowhunt!  I could see 6 bulls, and two shooters nearby and a separate group two miles away with 40 cows and a big bull rutting among them.

 Round about that same time we also learned that our new friends and hosts — rancher Clint White and saddle maker Scott McCulloch — were leaving in FOUR days for a big rodeo in Salinas. What was supposed to have been a six day hunt had suddenly turned into a four day hunt.  Pete pleaded innocence, swearing he had no knowledge of this serious change of plans.

 “Dammit Pete, what if we don’t have our Elk in three days (which was very likely)? Are we supposed to wait four days for the rodeo to end or keep hunting with uncertain knowledge of boundaries and roads until they return?”

 I never should have trusted Pete to plan this one!  “TEAM ROPING RODEO HUNT”.  It was starting to look more like a goat rodeo.

 Then, to top it off, we found out that the six bulls were actually on a neighbor’s land; we could look at them, but not hunt them unless they moved.

 I could tell this “HUNT” was going to be a true test of PATIENCE.  It also ended up being a test of stamina, mechanical skills, hay bailing twine knots, fixing fences, ranching (with an emphasis on construction) — and, yes, did I mention “PATIENCE”? I felt more like the hired help than a guest hunter.

LIFE ON THE RANCH

 With time scarce to begin with, we had to wait on the elk and soon found ourselves fixing water lines to save Clint’s 500 head of cattle, starting pumps, working on a Case backhoe, running to town for plumbing parts, hooking up trailers, loading horses and saddles, doctoring sick calves, feeding stock and driving pickups where only four wheelers were meant to go. We were definitely getting our money’s worth – well maybe we weren’t, but the ranchers were.  Pete had definitely outdone himself this time.

 I remarked to Pete several times that I hoped we didn’t have to pay extra for the education we were getting on how to run a ranch. Pete, who owns and runs a ranch of his own - with 600 cattle - seemed to feel sorry for Clint.  He was actually enjoying the “RANCHING FIASCO” and I HATED to admit I was starting to feel sorry for Clint, as well.  At this point, I wouldn’t take any monetary payment for all that was happening because I was going to ride all of them unmercifully and the humor would be worth it to me, just to have something on “MISTER” Shepley for life, “WHETHER I KILLED AN ELK OR NOT”

 We went to calf roping several nights so Pete could dream about his other hobby and past roping wins. Man, I never knew there was so much to this team calf roping. I actually started to admire and respect the sport. But I knew better than to even try this hobby; my wife wouldn’t be proud of me bringing home another addiction.  Like my “ARCHERY EQUIPMENT TESTING” and “BOWHUNTING” were not enough.  It actually brought me back to my youth – a refreshing diversion of an adult make-a-living life.  I grew up with horses on my great-grandfather’s farm, riding mostly bareback as a young boy and getting thrown frequently. It was a thrill to be part of that lifestyle again.

 I thought it would never happen, but finally Scott the saddle maker asked me if I wanted to ride his horse. I was going to let off some steam and shock them, showing that this bowhunter could ride. I gave Scott’s horse several kicks and took off wide open on this prize roping horse that he would be using at Thursday’s rodeo. I had no idea he was a $40,000 horse.

 I nearly rode him through the end of the arena and the metal-pipe fence, but he cut hard left at the last instant. I made two more laps; all the others were impressed with this REDNECK BAREBACK riding KENTUCKIAN! All except Scott, who wasn’t too happy with my heroic performance. But he is the one that told me to ride. In Kentucky, “RIDE” means blow the carbon out and let it EAT. I’m sure the miscommunication was Scott’s fault, and not mine.

 We did learn quickly there was far more money and importance in the upcoming California Rodeo Salinas “THAN OUR HUNT” for our famous saddle maker, Scott McCulloch, and the famous all-around farmer — excuse me, they hate being called a “farmer” — I mean “RANCHER” and “COWBOY” Clint White. Clint had won the All-Around Champion at this same big event last year in Salinas. The money we spent to hunt were pennies and didn’t come close to them big belt buckles and over $400,000 in prize money. You couldn’t help but have a strong admiration for these young reckless renegade cowboys. Clint reminded me of myself 20 years ago, and maybe sometimes, “even now.”

BACK TO HUNTING

 This was a 300- to 500-yard rifle hunt at best. I felt like I was on another spot and stalk Aoudad hunt – wide open, nothing to hide behind – only a stick and string in hand. I was going to have to pull a rabbit out of my hat and shoot like four of my great friends, Randy “Cowboy” Ulmer, Bill “Bad Ass” Winke, Fred “Stud” Eichler or Warren “Stallion” Strickland.

 After the end of Day One I realized this was the most expensive ranching school and hog hunt I had ever been on. What a damn hunt; I stayed in constant laughter, laughing my ass off and giving Pete, Clint and Scott a hard time. I told them, “I COULDN’T BELIEVE” that I had been lured in “ON THIS GOAT-ROPING TULE ELK HUNT.” I should have known better when Pete mentioned it was a Tule Elk hunt with a saddle maker and his rodeo buddy. “THE RED FLAG SHOULD HAVE GONE UP RIGHT ABOUT THEN!!  I kept asking why a bowhunter would ever be here. They told me they had only taken rifle hunters in the past; we were their first bowhunters.

 I thanked our hosts for their confidence in our skill level, and experience.  Clint and Scott now also realized this area in California wasn’t made for bowhunting!!  I did tell them I had a secret weapon: “A HOYT.” I can’t repeat what mechanical engineer Shepley had to say about that.

The whole day, the wind was wrong, the elk never moved out of the barley, and off the neighbors land. So we never made a single stalk.

STRATEGY TIME

 Over supper that night we decided the only way to get a shot on that biggest bull with the 40 cows and 80 eyes was for one of us to hunt in a blind on the largest and closest water hole to the elks’ food source. The cows were all spooky, and since there were only two waterholes on the ranch, the cows would most likely come to this one within the next two days and the bull would follow. Since Pete set up our working-ranch hunt — and since I respect my elders — I gave him the choice of a blind waterhole hunt or a spot and stalk hunt in barley stubble and bare-drought stricken CRP cover for the next two days. With his 50 years of archery and hunting wisdom, he chose the very tough set your ass in the blind waterhole hunt.

 I told him I wanted to set up the double bull blind for him and proceeded to go do just that. I overdid everything, knowing he would find all the problems with my setup on the next morning’s hunt and any failure would be my fault.

DAY TWO

 The next morning we arrived at the ranch at 4:30 and Pete was in the blind by 5. We brought him in the back way, downwind, hopefully not spooking the elk several miles away. Later in the morning, we looked at several stalk opportunities for me. But the six other bulls were lying on top of a small hill in harvested barley stubble and the wind was wrong. We knew we had to wait for them to move into some terrain combined with something just short of a miracle and a major wind change. Good luck!

 At 10 my phone rang. It was Pete. He was ecstatic beyond belief that the cows had come in and the bull had followed for one mile, bugling all the way, to the waterhole. The cows were wary and the wind was swirling, and it would take only one crazy cow to wind him and blow the whole deal. Pete knew time wasn’t on his side. The bull finally walked from behind a cow, and Pete quickly drew his low-speed PSE X-Force (ha, ha), making a great 30-yard shot through the lungs. The bull was down within sight. It was a once-in-a-lifetime Tule Elk - 7x8 bull scoring around 290. I told Pete I couldn’t believe all those sight pins on that X-Force; I told him I only had one pin on my HOYT. He quickly reminded me that it was an adjustable Single Pin sight from Spot Hogg  - a minor technicality.  We quickly took pictures and processed the meat so we didn’t lose a single steak to the heat.

 Late that afternoon, Clint, Scott and I crawled to the top of a hill. The second-largest bull was always two miles away. The elk spotted us moving the spotting scope, and got up and took off. Man, were they wild. That ended our afternoon hunt. I went back to the ranch house to shoot on my knees for a while, as I already knew what I was up against and wanted to be at the top of my game for the next day.

DAY THREE

 On Day Three, Pete and I were up at the usual 3:45 a.m., stopping to get our coffee and a bag of almonds for breakfast. We were laughing again as Clint only fed us one evening meal a day whether we needed it or not. We were on the ranch by 5 a.m. Meeting up with Clint and Scott, we eased up to our vantage point, careful not to break the horizon. Glassing with our Swarovski spotting scopes, we saw the six bulls two miles away in the edge of the barley.  One hour later, they were headed our way and would cross in front of us about 400 yards away through the CRP ground to another barley field, and the wind was right.

 As soon as they got out of sight in a ravine, Clint and I took off running, leaving Pete and Scott behind. We covered a lot of ground running and crawled around the backside of the hill. I peeked over and saw the rag horn; I remembered he was the one in the back of the six bulls. “DAMNIT.” They had beaten us through the draw. We crawled away and took off running back around the front side.  Luckily I caught the tips of the lead bull’s horns, I slid on my knees trying to slow my breathing.  We were in the wide open, I knew it was now or never and had to get my bow “DRAWN” before the 6x7 bull’s head cleared the hill.  Ranging where the shot would be open, I moved my pin, drew and steadied my 80-pound Hoyt Carbon Element before the bull came into view. Clint made a grunt and the bull stopped.  He was now locked on us as we knelt in 4 inches of grass. I focused with intensity that I have never felt, releasing my Injexion Shaft with Aerovanes, and tipped with the “AWESOME” 1½” 125 grain RAMCAT, it hit the Spot!!

 I made the shot of my life — 83 yards — and smoked the elk.  As he took off running, I saw blood gushing out of the exit wound. I was about to cry with excitement, I had done something near impossible. This was the second-biggest Tule Elk on the place, a 6x7 260 class Tule, and he was on the ground!! Pete and his saddle buddy watched us, saw and heard the arrow hit; Pete, was fired up and couldn’t believe what he had just seen with his own eyes!!!  I told him it wasn’t luck when you practice this way at home, running up and down my lake dam and shooting on my knees after exhaustion, and “YOU HAVE TO SHOOT A HOYT!”

 OMG, I could never repeat the very fine words my special friend had for me then!!  Pete gave me a hug and said, that spot and stalk with all that running, was unbelievable and  “WHAT A GREAT SHOT.” Man the bow Gods had shined down on me with the miracle shot of my life!!   I told everyone Let’s go finish the Northern California Cluster *#($(#*$)# Ranch Rodeo Slam and kill some big “HOGS”!!

 Pete made a great stalk and perfect shot on a hog at 58 yards and he took off running and crashed only 90 yards away. It was my turn now. We found a big boar with the cattle, around a wet spring. He sprang to his feet and was spooked. I eased up to within 75 yards. I knew this was my only opportunity, as I released the Injexion Shaft the Hog turned to take off from the noise and movement.  My shot was a little forward in the base of the neck, with a pass thru.  He took off squalling, as he left a massive blood trail I could follow trotting in the barley field behind him. He cleared the little hill and I followed in pursuit, knowing all the while he wouldn’t go much farther before expiring. OMG was I ever wrong about this deal.  Another FIASCO was about to happen and I didn’t even have a “CLUE” what I was about to endure.

 Yes, Mister Shepley’s IQ was only a little higher than mine as he rode in the truck several times to catch up with me and that HOG. Pete would comment, ‘there goes my dumb Kentuckian “HOYT” shooting buddy running for 3 ½ miles up and down hills in 100 degrees after a damn HOG, not willing to accept defeat!! It’s going to be him or that DAMN HOG!! One of them is going to die!”  Pete joked to Clint.  “This could be an overnight deal.”

 After running over three miles, I saw the hog clear a thick grass hill 100 yards in front of me!!  I was elated and was closing the gap to get another shot. As I cleared the hill, I was caught off guard and shocked to have this BIG BOAR charge me!! The 300 lb boar was tired of running and had been hiding in the grass for me.  Seeing his big tusk; I knew I couldn’t let him get me on the ground.   “MY ADRENALINE” was insane, as I whacked the hog across the side of the face with the limbs and carbon riser with all the strength I had in my body.  It stopped the 300-pound boar hog; he squealed and took off running. I couldn’t believe what had just happened.  I was very lucky to have avoided critical injury. I ran up to a ridge and watched him bed down below in some dirt cliffs.  I gave him 15 minutes and crawled within 37 yards for a killing shot.

 ‘WHAT A TROPHY HOG.”  Yes, Kevin Wilkey, Our Great National Pro-Staff Rep for Hoyt USA, I chose not to run over the riser with a truck, but you can say the famously strong Carbon riser is now “HOG TESTED.” I told Pete that Hoyt was definitely one up on PSE. It made an excellent weapon when you run out of arrows. “NEVER GO HOG HUNTING WITH TWO ARROWS,” unless you have a “HOYT.” Pete just shook his head and again used some choice verbiage. 

 This would be one of my most memorable hunts. We had a super time and rode each other’s ass hard. We all are in this sport together!

 I admit I did tear up his factory Chronograph with his PSE bow in the factory; I knew PSE’s weren’t truly center shot.   (Don’t tell Pete it was on purpose. I wanted to shut down production for Hoyt’s benefit!) It was the PSE bow’s fault; it couldn't have been my fault. Pete thinks it was because my eyes were closed (don’t tell him that they were). OMG, sure glad I didn’t do that with my “GREAT HOYT”!!

 To Randy Walk or Greg Easton: If he sends a bill, don’t pay. The amount is increasing daily. He should have made the chronograph tougher and put the wiring on the backside and it wouldn’t have shorted out. Also, if he had over-engineered the frame and made it thicker, the arrow couldn’t have penetrated the frame. It was a homemade chronograph that Pete made himself 30 years ago. It’s kinda old, like Pete, and maybe a little worn – also like Pete.

I do want to say a special and sincere thank you to Laura and Pete Shepley for the extra days at their house on the early return from our hunt. Their kindness, hospitality and sincerity were so gracious. Laura, your cooking was off the chart. Pete thanks for all the extra things we did and time we spent together. Laura, you are one remarkable woman — like my wife, Marjorie — to put up with someone like Pete and me. Pete, thanks for the invite and setting up this Tule Elk hunt, which I needed for my super slam. Arranging this hunt with your personal rodeo friends — an awesome CALF ROPING rancher and the best saddle maker in the West! It was one of my greatest trips with memories I will forever keep. Still laughing my #%#%#%#% off about all our experiences. I value the lifelong friendship we developed with Scott and Clint. If I had not gotten an elk, it still would have been worth the trip. I know you would have invited only a special friend on a hunt like this, because anyone else would never speak with you again!!

 Thanks, your “HOYT” shooting Redneck Kentucky Buddy,

 

Chase