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Avoiding Almost, for Record Book Elk at Cabela's

Avoiding Almost, for Record Book Elk

Author: Frank Ross

When you show a serious hunter a photo like this one, it happens almost every time. Their eyes grow very distant, and you know they're morphing - visualizing their own face in the photo.

Randy Ulmer poses with ever hunter's intended elk. This Arizona bull netted a score of 375 6/8.
Many hunters set out for the high country, with an image of this magnitude floating around in the gray recesses of their mind, only to come back with the cold face of reality. Obviously not many hunters score a bull of this caliber, there just aren't that many of them to be had. But every year a few stalwart hunters assume the position behind a big rack, and some seem to do it every year. How do they do it?

Mention the name Randy Ulmer and two things come to mind. The first is champion of everything in the 3-D world. He has won every championship offered, and so many state, regional and national titles that he could wallpaper a huge room with plaques. Ulmer has been referred to as a yardage-judging machine, often in muttered tones with expletives added by those he has vanquished with his superior skills. The second image of Ulmer that quickly comes to mind is posing with record book elk like the one above.

According to Ulmer, the techniques for achieving this "Kodak moment" are applicable for bow or rifle. Since he has also possessed title to the world record black-powder elk (1987), he has documented the concept. "If you're hunting with a rifle, you can never go wrong pretending that you're hunting with a bow," he said.

Since I've also pictured myself in his photos many times, I thought it might be useful to get inside of his head in order to morph myself into the image for real. After listening to him for a while it sounded simple. All you have to do is whatever it takes to get into position, and pass on a number of bulls that are almost big enough. Pass on a 330 bull, are you kidding?

Glass and Stalk
"Upper age class bulls are really pretty smart, cagey animals. They've survived many seasons and other hunters. I prefer to scout the bull I'm looking for and stalk that animal specifically. It's not as exciting, and there's not as much action, but to take a record class bull you've got to eliminate 95% of the herd from consideration. What it really takes, if you want a 350 class bull, is passing on a number of 300-330 bulls, and that's a very, very difficult animal to pass up," he said knowingly.

Sometimes the plan doesn't go exactly as laid out, even for a hunter of Ulmer's stature. "I like to choose a marker on the bull I've selected, something that will distinguish him from others in the herd. A couple of years ago, I was stalking a massive bull that had a perfect rack, except for about an inch that was broken off of the tip of a left side tine. At first light, I heard a bugle that sounded a lot like his and started the stalk, but the wind shifted. I could see him in the brush, and he was obviously very nervous. I could see the rack, and the broken point. He was about 10 yards away, swinging his head, trying to figure out where, or what I was. It all happened in 2 or 3 seconds. I let her rip. It was a really good 6x6 bull, but not the one I was targeting," he said with only a slight lament.

The Selection Process
"It's almost a hunting cliché. So many writers have talked about it, but the best way to find a big bull is to check the current record book to see where they're coming from. Idaho has a lot of quality animals, as does Montana, Arizona and New Mexico, but within those states are individual areas and counties that are more productive than others. General entry areas in Colorado have good quantities of animals, but not much opportunity for upper class bulls. Sometimes you're better off to pay a trespass fee. I've done that once, but it's not necessary. All of my big bulls have come from public ground, and there's a lot of it to hunt," he said emphatically.

"When I'm hunting a wilderness area, I carry a pack and sleeping bag, and sometimes I spend 3 or 4 nights out. Bulls bugle late in the evening and very early in the morning. Even if you leave camp early, chances are you're not going to be there when he sounds off. Sometimes they bugle all night. When you sleep in the woods you don't get much sleep, but when you bed one down, it's nice to know where he's going to be at first light," he said.

Are Big Bulls Call Shy?
Even though he's a well respected veterinarian, Ulmer admits that he doesn't know what goes through an elk's mind, at least not in great detail. "I'm not sure what an elk thinks, but I spend 3 to 4 weeks every fall, in September, hunting for elk. After 25 years, about 90% of the time, I can tell if the bugle I hear is an elk or a man trying to sound like one. I figure that a bull that spends 100% of his time in the timber ought to be able to tell about 99% of the time. Even if you're good enough that he can't tell, when an upper age class bull comes in, he is very cautious and instantly suspicious. I'm not against calling. Everyone has a call, and they're out there having fun. It's very exciting to call an elk and have him come right in. You can call in some nice bulls, but chances are you're not going to call in a big bull unless he's completely lost his mind in the rut. I don't bugle, or cow call. I don't even want him to know that I exist. I do keep a cow call in my mouth at all times, but that's just to stop a bull where I want to take him. You blow a loud cow call when you're close and he'll stop right in his tracks. But you better be at full draw when you do it. He won't stop long, but he will put on the brakes," he said.
For Ulmer, just getting the bull to stop isn't good enough. "I try to stop him with his lead leg, the one closest to me, extended out so I have as good a shot as possible. I prefer a broadside or quartering shot. You've just got to be sure. I pass on the shot unless I'm completely confident that I can take him clean. I've never hunted in Africa, but I've hunted all of the big game in North America, and the elk is the hardest animal to bring down. I've found a combination of gear that gets the job done better than any other that I've used before," he added.

The Shaft
"I'm shooting the Easton A/C/C 371, with a Rocky Mountain Titanium 125 grain broadhead. It's by far the best combination I've found. It's not extremely heavy, although I do have a 500-grain arrow weight. The stiff shaft and titanium head are extremely effective, and I still have a pretty flat trajectory shooting at 270fps.

Some archers don't see that. I've been the fast route. I've shot a lot at speeds of 300fps or more, but with a fixed blade broadhead it's too unstable at those high speeds. With a little slower arrow, everything becomes more forgiving. You want to achieve a balance of speed and accuracy. At 270, My arrows are right on the edge as far as stability. It's not about speed, it's about placement. In the past, I've tended to modify my equipment to get it shooting the way I want, but with the Hoyt Ultra Tech, I'm shooting a stock bow. It's the first time I've been able to do that, and I'm very happy with this combination.

I'm also using a new rest that has made a big difference. The Golden Key Free Fall rest is neat because it falls away the instant you release the arrow, and it allows me to use a whole lot more fletching without interference. I use feathers except in wet weather, and the Free Fall rest lets me do that much better," he explained.

Ok, I've got the concept, the gear, and the location picked out, but passing on a 330 bull -we'll just have to see about that.