Text and photographs: Vladimir Donchev
Elk hunting in Alberta, Canada
Hunting this huge North American deer in Canada has always been quite exciting. Roaring stags that gather in groups with the female ones make up herds that sometimes consist of tens of animals. The two of us, Archie Nesbitt and me had the chance to see with our own eyes this impressive view on two occasions. And the sound of the roaring deer that tears the morning silence above the frost-covered prairie is the sweetest sound that hunters in Canada would not replace for anything in the world. Namely this roar in the freezing cold mornings guided us about the direction to follow in our search for a huge elk. The two of us with Archie were about to stalk deer in the open air or amidst the forest depending on the place to which the animals had relocated during the night. In the first hunting days the deer were not quite active. The weather was nice and warm. The 25 degrees Celsius that were far from typical for the season made the animals look for some coolness in the forest. Hence we managed to stalk only single animals. This approach allowed us on several occasions to appear some meters from the stags in their blissful ignorance. While Archie was hiding amidst the trees, he was skilfully blowing the created whistle thus resembling the sound made by a female one. On two or three occasions some lonely deer responded to his calls. He was approaching us while giving out his piercing roar and crushing the small twigs of the thick shrubs. Even though the animals were not “large” enough, I didn’t mind shooting these exciting moments. We could never know the size of the deer approaching us until he approached us at 10-15 meters in the thick forest. Archie always lifted his bow, while getting ready to release the strings if the elk proved large enough. I was lucky enough because we got usually approached by deer with 5 spikes at every deviation. I was quite lucky because these close encounters of the large 300-kilogram animals in the forest at a distance of 10-20 meters are among the most exciting and attracting moments I have ever shot. Nevertheless Archie wanted to shoot down some large stag with at least 6 spikes at every side and this gave me opportunity to shoot the tens of stalking you would see in the new episodes of the “Ultimate shot”.
So, after 4 warm days and occasional successes in the forest we decided to change the tactics and one afternoon headed for a small lake where the hunter saw the animals drinking water. We hid behind the thick ferns and before that made cutting in the forest through which Archie would be able to shoot at the passing animals. It was around 3 p.m. and the wind was blowing constantly from the lake. With this favourable wind the deer were not about to sense us, even if they had passed at 5 meters from our hiding place. In about an hour spent amidst the thick shrubs we heard the approaching roar of a young male. It was clear he was a youth because of the higher tones the deer was emitting. That as well as the longer whistling hinted it was not the trophy animal we were looking for. Even though we kept silence and continued hiding in the reed. Soon the animals appeared. Two one-year old deer ran to the water and started roaming in the riverside mud. One of them looked totally mad because of the mating hormones. He was digging with antlers in the sludge and was scattering algae and mud around. Then he was jumping back and forth near the shore and was entering the water again. 4 females appeared. Then the roaring male came. The animal was quite young and yet he was quite perspective trophy animal. The handsome animal was carrying with his noble stance symmetric and long 12 spikes at his antlers. Even though Archie was looking for similar trophy, the animal was too young and in the zenith of his strength. The hunter was of the firm opinion he would not shoot at the gorgeous young elk. I didn’t mind making several perfect shots with my camera. The golden glows of the slightly wavy water surface reflected the silhouette of the master of the forest bending his head for water-drinking. The photos I managed to take while the elk was drinking water would reveal you in the best possible manner the beauty of that moment. Nevertheless this idyll was not meant to last for too long. The animals obviously got frightened by something got out of the water and headed for the counter bank. Initially we thought the wind had changed its direction because it was impossible for them to have seen us in our shelter. Soon we found out we were not the reason behind this worry. The sharp barking of a coyote at some one hundred meters from us showed the guilty one. Then the howling approached even more. The elks became restless and started departing from the lake in the direction of the nearby hill. From the prairie near the lake we heard the howling of a second jackal. Soon I managed to see and shoot the animals in the high grass. One of the predators had approached at around 40 meters from our thick shrubs. Archie kept crawling and approached my shelter and I showed him the animal. The predator was standing still and was outshouting the other coyote with long howling that was at some 100 meters in the prairie and was approaching. The hunter didn’t wait any more, he stretched the bow and the strings, transferred the kinetic energy of the powerful 80-pound bow onto the arrow. Its flight was short and before the shot sound frightened the predator, the sharp point and the whole arrow passed through the coyote. The animal jumped up as if it was stung and ran away. Its strength was enough to make two leaps and roll in the high grass. Archie looked with his sight for the second jackal but the animal didn’t wait to see what had happened with his brother but had run away. That day was exceptionally fruitful to me as well as for the hunter. We had two perfect shots – a jackal shot with a bow and an elk shot with the cam.
The next day we were about to return to that place to try out our luck for elk. Nevertheless our plans changed the next morning when we saw the weather changing and thick clouds hiding the moon. The cold had frozen the land and the frost on tree leaves made us change our hunting plans. We started the morning hunting with a long march and inspection of the open fields in the forest. It seemed the elks had gone crazy and we could hear at least 10 males. We found our way thanks to the sound to define the direction in which the herd was walking. Then with very fast walking we outstripped it and hid near the vast meadow. Even though we were almost running, our advantage was not more than half a minute. We could not even approach the forest end to hide behind the last trees. From around 30 meters in the forest, bent below the tree branches we could see the first several young elks chasing each other in the field and coming right towards us. That was a problem since the main herd with the large males had still not appeared in the meadow on the other side of the forest. The two elks were approaching through the meadow and soon they were about to enter the forest ahead of us. We didn’t have time for something else and Archie lifted a dummy of female elk in front of him. It was made of cloth, stretched onto carbon frame, this dummy had saved us from the sharp eyesight of the females more than once. The false silhouette behind which me and Archie tried to hide didn’t managed to fully mislead the animals. Even though they didn’t approach us anymore, they didn’t run away and this was OK with us. We were at the counter wind side so the elks could not make up their minds on whether we were threat. The two animals returned to the meadow where the main herd was going in at the same time. There were 3-4 large males surrounded by 15-20 females. One of them was fast to attract hunter’s attention. Shooting was out of the question. There was no way we could approach the forest end without causing the panic flee of the two youths that kept following us untrustingly. The herd carried on in parallel to the forest and we followed them while lowering and running on the ground. This move of ours frightened some of the animals and they fled to the main herd. There the animals panicked and all of them together headed in our direction. Archie made another 10 steps ahead and it seemed he merged with a trunk. He stretched his bow and waited. You could hardly believe what followed. The sight was really impressive. The whole herd ran towards the small cutting that started from the meadow and passed at some 20 meters before Archie. In the thick trees, in the end of the meadow a cutting resembling a funnel provided not more than two animals with the opportunity to pass. All this was happening before the hunter, at one shot distance. I was shooting this frame and in the cam objective I could see how 10-15 females and young males ran in front of the hunter. That was an incredible chance for close shot but a great challenge as well because the animals were not about to stop even if they wanted to. Then several more females and 3-4 large deer passed by, in the end of the column I saw the silhouette of the trophy animal. The large elk started running in slight trot before Archie and the hunter performed the following movement with the already stretched bow hoping the elk would stop for at least a moment. Alas this didn’t happen and the Archie had to shoot on the run. The elk jumped up as if he got stung and the whole herd ran in the forest. Archie turned round and looked at me. His adrenaline was so high I could swear his eyes were sparkling with excitement. I approached and together we headed to check for bloody traces. The hunter was not sure where the arrow had fallen and we were not convinced in the shot result until we saw leaves painted with blood. The bright red sprinkles could be seen at tens of meters in the direction where the deer ran away. Onto the freshly fallen bright yellow leaves the blood was clearly distinguishable from great distance. Even though we were impatient to follow the wounded animal we had to adhere to the most important rule when it comes to bow hunting. We had to leave the wounded animal at peace for at least 40 minutes. These minutes seemed hours to us. When we renewed our search we managed to achieve very good speed. The bright red trace could be seen for afar and we were almost running along it. Even though the animal had lost lots of blood, it had passed several kilometres before falling breathless underneath a pine-tree. We were fast to take pictures together with the trophy and process it to get the meat out of the nearly half a tonne animal. The long bloody trace that helped us find the elk could have attracted much more dangerous forest inhabitants. During our ten-day tour of our hunting territory we had noticed numerous grizzly traces and in view of these the bear was not a small one. Finding the elk made us really happy because of the successful end of this hunt. When we reviewed the trophy it proved to be a very old animal with massive and heavy antlers. That was the so-called non-typical trophy. It had 6 spikes on the left and 7 spikes on the right. Considering the non-typical trophy shot by a bow, the animal would have probably ranked in the first three of the Record book of Safari Club. Maybe it was even number one, but we could have known this after its official assessment. In the remaining 4 hunting days we were about to spend together with the hunter we went hunting geese and white-tailed deer. We even managed to stalk a large moose in the presence of grizzly with cubs, but you could see that in the new episodes of the “Ultimate shot”.