This year, I was lucky enough to draw an elk tag in western North Dakota.
Here is where they identify the “Big 3” tags in North Dakota: moose, elk, and bighorn sheep. If you get lucky enough in the drawing, it is a once-in-a-lifetime tag and it will be your only opportunity. I knew my work was cut out for me when I found out I got the tag in mid-April!
Normally, my weekends in the summer are spent on the lake. But after July 4 this summer, I practically became a resident of Medora.
I would spend my days after work and class going to purchase new elk gear, practice calling, shooting my rifle, watching elk hunts on YouTube, and just about everything you can think of to prepare for the big event. I drew my tag in unit E4 which is about 20 minutes from Medora and surrounds the north side of the south unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. One of my best friends and I would pack up and head out west on most Fridays, sometimes Thursday nights (a special thank you to my bosses) to go and glass the badlands to see what was out there. Every trip made, we scouted public grasslands and a private chunk of land where we had a connection. We saw elk on every trip, so we knew we had a good chance to get one.
Finally, the season was here.
The opener fell on Friday, September 7, and although we hunted hard, we had no luck. We went out again the next weekend, but still no luck. Usually, the elk rut falls in the middle of September, so we knew our best chances would be favorable. After September, the hunting gets much harder as the bulls are not as mobile.
Once again, we packed up and hit the road for our third weekend of hunting and our seventh trip for “The Badlands Bull Project”.
The morning was September 28. We arrived at our spot around 5:30 a.m. mountain time in the moonlight and the bulls were already bugling. I will never forget it. All morning long we heard four or five different bulls bugling and I would respond with my Primo’s elk bugle and they would respond back to tell us who was the head honcho. We had one spike bull walk by that morning but other than that all we could do was wait. We could not even see the bulls because we were down low by the Little Missouri River and the elk were about a quarter to a half mile south of us and there was timber in between us.
One of these bulls we heard all morning finally stepped out of the timber around 8:30. He was about 500 yards on the other side of the Little Missouri and was fired up, looking to get in a fight with the bull we were trying to emulate (my calling must’ve been somewhat decent). He let out a bugle and I responded.
Before I was even done with my bugle, he was on a dead sprint down the bank of the river right at us.
After that, you could see his antlers rising from the bank of the river on our side. Now was the time to pick up my 6.5mm Browning Creedmoor thinking to myself that this is going to happen. My buddy with the rangefinder says, “300, 250, 200…”
The bull stopped and raised his head and let out another loud, impressive bugle right at us. He kept walking and ultimately got to 100 yards and stopped broadside. I whispered, “You ready, boys?”
I am literally shaking in my boots…
I put the bullet right behind his front shoulder and took my shot. My friend Jordan says, “You got him!” He slowly walked with his head down back toward the river. I had to get another shot off to put him down so again I put the crosshairs right on his front left shoulder and boom!
He fell right in the middle of the river. I looked back at Jacob and Jordan and we started celebrating. It was all so incredible!
The pack out took us six hours and we figured he weighed between 800-1,000 pounds. He is a 7×7 bull and scored 322 5/8. I thought I had a good idea of what North Dakota had to offer for hunting opportunities, but until I spent the time out there seeing these animals and their size, I really had no idea. There are some big bulls out there and you just must be persistent, patient, and have a little luck.
Being out in the Badlands was such a great experience.
We saw bighorn sheep, pronghorn, mule deer, bison, and everything in between. I was so blessed with this opportunity and have thought about what a great memory and story it is to share. I have been doing some research and last year in my unit there was 954 applicants and only 10 get a tag so I consider myself extremely lucky with a 1.05% chance. The 15 landowners in the unit also got a tag, so in total in 2017, there was 23 hunters in the field with a 61% success rate (12 bulls and 2 cows taken).
You can’t win if you don’t roll the dice.
So, if you enjoy hunting, I suggest you put in for the “Big 3” even though the odds are slim. I am very humbled by this experience and I hope that if someone I know is lucky enough to get the ND elk tag that I can do it all over again with them. Also, I have about 200 pounds of elk meat being processed right now so once it is done, I’ll be sending out a “snacks in the breakroom” email to my colleagues because I don’t think I’ll have enough room in my deep freeze!