It was a lot of work, Matt Oliver of Post Falls said.
But who can remember that now?
On Sept. 6, the opening day of North Idaho’s 2018 archery elk season, Oliver and a friend were working a bull in a pillory of mountains in Unit 5 south of Coeur d’Alene. They sweated first, then called, sneaked, waited, listened.
They were miles from their starting point as surrounding bulls bugled in the first wash of daylight that painted the tops of the mountains.
Oliver and his friend were nestled in a small nook of country — a side-hill holler that was starting to fill with light.
“We were working another bull for my buddy,” Oliver said. “Then this one came in silent.”
The 5-by-6 bull though wasn’t brazenly looking for a fight. He hung up outside Oliver’s shooting range in the first few minutes of shooting light.
“He started raking the grass,” Oliver said.
So Oliver put his head down and slid forward on the ground toward the bull.
“I got to within 64 or 65 yards and made a good shot on him,” Oliver said.
The bull didn’t huff and disappear in a spray of hooves.
It didn’t go far at all.
“I watched him tip over,” Oliver said.
It’s the seventh bull Oliver has taken with a bow in the eight years since he began archery hunting, and “by far the biggest,” he said.
Although Unit 5 is not among the top 10 units in the state for elk harvest success, or for big bulls, according to the Idaho Department of Fish and Game — the state counts Panhandle units 1, 4, 3 and 6 among the best places to harvest elk in Idaho — Oliver’s scouting paid dividends this year.
“We put in our time,” Oliver said. “We have been hunting the same area for years.”
Predictions for this year’s elk season, which got underway last week with the A-tag and B-tag archery hunts (the 7-day B-tag hunt closed Sept. 12) are for a good number of animals, with fewer spike and raghorn bulls in the mix, according to Fish and Game.
“We’re not going to have as many spikes and small raghorns as we had a few years ago,” Laura Wolf regional biologist for Fish and Game said.
A long winter, with hard, crusty snow, and a late spring greenup, resulted in higher mortality among young animals, Wolf said.
Mortality rates for young animals have been up in the last couple years, but mature bulls and cows have weathered the winters pretty well, she said.
During mild winters, calf survival was about 80 percent compared to the last couple hard winters when survival was about 40-50 percent, according to IDFG.
But that doesn’t mean success rates will drop.
Adult elk saw a high survival rate of around 94 percent, according to Fish and Game. That means there should be a good crop of mature bulls this season in the Panhandle like Oliver’s 5-by-6.
Last year, throughout the state, hunters took 22,751 elk, and more than 20,000 Idaho elk have been harvested annually since 2014, according to Fish and Game. Compare that to before 2014, when elk harvests were well below 20,000 for seven years.
Wolf pressure on elk can prevent them from bugling Oliver said, and so can hunters.
“They get talking the first thing in the morning, and then they shut up,” Oliver said. “You have to get on them right away.”