Phillip Vanderpool: Getting Close To Bowhunt Big Bull Elk

Editor’s Note: Phillip Vanderpool of Harrison, Arkansas, one of Hunter’s Specialties’ hunting pros, can get close enough to a bull elk to give him a kiss before he shoots him. This week, Vanderpool will tell us how he gets close enough to take a big bull elk almost every year with his bow.

Question: Phillip, how do you get close to an elk?
Vanderpool: Before taking the shot, I evaluate the wind and the weather conditions to learn which way the wind is blowing. I also study the terrain to determine how to get close to that elk with a favorable wind. Most importantly, I use Hunter’s Specialties’ scent-elimination system to become as scent-free as possible. I wash my clothes and my body and spray-down my gear with Scent-A-Way products before I start hunting. Then I spray down as often as I can while I’m actually stalking the elk. Too, I use Cow Elk Urine and Fresh Earth Scent Wafers to cover my scent.

Sometimes, regardless of what steps you take to eliminate your scent, an elk may still smell you, especially when you’re climbing mountains and sweating. I’ve learned that even if I’ve done everything right and sprayed down often, sometimes an elk will smell me. But if I’ve sprayed down continuously with Scent-A-Way, many times that elk won’t be sure of what he’s smelled. Then he’ll stop and stand there for 3 to 4 seconds, giving me a chance to get a shot before he leaves the area. Often those elk aren’t quite sure of what they’ve smelled when you’ve got human odor mixed with Scent-A-Way spray and Cow Elk Urine and Fresh Earth Scent Wafers.

Question: One of the most difficult challenges for most bowhunters is when an elk comes in and stands out at about 100 yards bugling but won’t come any closer. How do you break that bull down and get him to come to you?
Vanderpool: That question has a two-part answer. If you have a caller with you, about 50- to 100-yards behind you and maybe off to the right or the left, besides calling the elk, the caller also will hold the elk’s attention on him and not let the elk focus on you. Therefore, you have a better chance of using the terrain to sneak in close enough to get a shot without being seen.

If I’m hunting alone, and the bull’s 100 yards from me and hung-up, I’ll make a call. If he answers me, I’ll inch-up another 15- or 20-yards closer to the bull. This way, the next time I call, the bull thinks I’m coming closer to him, and he may move closer to me. Sometimes I’ll use a young bull bugle or cow or calf calls to let that bull know I’m coming to him, so he should start moving toward me.

I want to know what call that bull likes before I move any further. Does he like the cow or the calf call? Or, is he excited because he thinks I’m a young spike bull? Even though I may mimic the bugles the bull’s giving me, I don’t want to give calls back to him that will make him think I’m as big as or bigger than him. I want that bull to think I’m a young bull he can whip if he wants. You never want to sound bigger than the bull you’re trying to call, because if you do, you’ll scare him off. If the bull starts answering the bugle as quickly as I finish the call, I’ll continue to give the call to him because he’s telling me he likes it.

Question: Phillip, what call do you use to bugle?
Vanderpool: I use the Mac Daddy, which really is about the only call I bugle with anymore, because I have better response to this call than any other call, including the diaphragm calls. I may use diaphragm calls when I’m changing-up calls and giving elk and calf calls. But when I’m bugling, I’m using the Mac Daddy.

Question: What do you do when the elk comes in and turns broadside to you but is looking straight at you?
Vanderpool: If that bull’s looking at me, and I’m at full draw, I’ve got that broadside shot, and the bull’s vitals are open, I’ll turn the arrow loose. But you have to be careful about range. That bull will react to the shot and drop-down just a little to jump before he runs. So, I always aim a little low under these conditions. Remember, elk can drop-down just like a white-tailed deer can.

Question: What do you do if the elk’s walking straight toward you and looking at you?
Vanderpool: I don’t want to shoot an elk quartering toward me. I want that broadside shot with my bow. If your arrow lands anywhere close to the shoulder, you won’t get much penetration from your broadhead. So, I want the broadside shot. Even then I’ll aim a few inches back from the crease in the shoulder. I’ve learned that I can shoot a little further back with my bow when I’m taking a shot at an elk than when I’m taking a shot at a deer and still hit the elk’s vitals.

Question: If that elk’s coming straight at you and looking at you, what do you do?
Vanderpool: Sit tight, and hope I’ve got a caller behind me who’s calling to that elk. Then that the elk will walk right past me toward the caller, giving me the chance to turn around after he passes me and get that quartering-away shot. When you’re in this situation – and I’ve been in situations like this before – your scent-elimination system really pays-off. If that elk is coming toward you head-on, you need the patience of Job to let that shot develop.

Don’t force the shot, or you’ll spook the elk. Sit as still as you can, as if you’re the invisible man. Expect that elk to walk right past you. More than likely, anything else you do will be wrong.

Question: Another tough question – what do you do when you’re at full draw, the elk’s looking at you, you’ve been at full draw for 5 to 10 minutes, your muscles are screaming, tears are welling-up in your eyes, and you know you can’t hold the bow back much longer?
Vanderpool: That’s a really tough question. If I’m kneeling, which I often am when I’m hunting elk, I’ll try to set the bottom cam on the bow on my knee and push down on my bow. You’ve got to be careful when you make this move because when you let off on that bow, you can hurt your knee. But resting that cam against my knee allows me to take the weight off the string and keep the bottom limb rested on my knee. Then I’m not holding the weight of the bow out in front of me.

This move allows me not only to take the weight off the string that my muscles are fighting to hold back, but more importantly it takes the weight off the bow that’s out in front of me. The weight of the bow out in front of your extended arms really creates more muscle pressure and strain than actually holding the bowstring back at full draw. This is an extreme tactic. You have to have your brain in gear when you do this, and you have to realize that if you let the bow down while that cam’s resting on your knee, you will hurt yourself.

Question: What’s the toughest elk you’ve ever hunted?
Vanderpool: All of them. About 3 years ago, I hunted elk with a friend in Colorado. The bulls were bugling good, but we could tell they had cows with them. We found a herd bull that had cows with him, but he was at the back of the herd. My friend, who was an elk-hunting expert, stayed behind me and started calling the bull, which allowed me to get in the timber within about 40 or 50 yards of the bull. However, the bull was in such thick brush that I couldn’t see him.

My friend kept calling, and I didn’t try to get any closer. I decided to just wait the bull out. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, the bull moved right to the edge of an opening. Since the bull wasn’t going to move out in that opening, I had to hold my bow at full draw for about 2-1/2-minutes. I could have taken the shot at the bull quartering toward me, but I knew that was a poor shot. So, I waited for him to take two steps and turn broadside, so I could get off the shot.

This bull had me and my cameraman pinpointed, and he was looking at us. But because my other friend kept cow calling and giving him a lot of different types of cow calls, including moos and the estrous whines, the bull took his attention off us for just a few seconds and took those two extra steps I needed him to take before he looked back, enabling me to take the shot. When I released the arrow, the bull only went about 40 yards before he piled up. That was probably the toughest elk hunt I’ve ever had.