Herd Bull, 2016

I think I was just lucky last year. I made a single trip to Peck Ranch, found all kinds of elk including the herd bull and his harem and got some pretty nice shots. So I was a little spoiled and expecting things to go pretty much the same way this year. I even started making trips a month early so I’d be sure and hit the peak of the rut. Of course things didn’t work out as easily as I’d hoped.

My first trip was in late August. I really didn’t expect the rut to have started yet and this trip was really just to get the lay of the land again, since it had been almost a year since I’d last been there. I found elk immediately, thirty or more of them, but they were all cows and still-spotted calves save for one small spike bull.

Again, it was too early for them to be in rut and the big bulls tend to be more wary and stick closer to cover. No worries, this was basically what I had expected and I was planning to be back in the weeks ahead.

And I was. I made an additional four trips to Peck before the end of September. The first three of those trips produced lots of raccoons (there were eight of them on one trip), skunks, turkeys, mourning doves and exactly two cow elk each trip. I did not hear a single bugle on any of these trips. Then on the fourth trip I couldn’t find any cows, but a pair of young bulls instead.

I considered this a good sign since I figured the dominant bulls were gathering the ladies and kicked these youngsters out of the group. Still no bugling though.

An archery hunt closed Peck Ranch for the first weekend in October and I was unable to return on the following two weekends. So it was late October before I was able to resume the search.

It had been nearly a month since my last trip and I forgot to take into account the later sunrise. I arrived a good 45 minutes before the sun would top the hills in the east, so I parked in the first food plot and waited. Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore and started moving slowly down the road. I was running without headlights and there was just enough light that I could see several elk in the field ahead of me.

Even though they were only 50 yards away, I had to use binoculars to see if they were the herd of cows. They weren’t. They were bulls, ranging from a smallish fork horn all the way to a couple of pretty large 6x6s, seven of them in all.

I continued and drove all the way to where the road turns uphill, leaving the fields and food plots in the creek bottom. So I turned around and headed back, this time turning to the south towards the MOFEP housing. There’s a field to the west of the road here and I could see someone parked ahead, so I pull over and started looking. It was still ten minutes until the first rays of the sun would peek over the ridge to the east and barely light enough to make out a large number of elk moving around the field. The closest to me was a 6×6 and the other twenty odd animals were cows. I had finally found the herd bull and his harem.

By now, it was finally starting to lighten up a bit, two more vehicles full of gawkers showed up and the elk began moving towards the trees.

I watched them until they were no longer visible then turned and headed back to the field by the creek, where I had seen the group of bulls right off the bat. To my surprise, the cows were in the field and the bull was coming out of the trees too. When they had left the other field, I’d have bet you that they would have headed west to a small food plot nestled in a small, bowl shaped hollow well away from the road. Obviously they crossed the hill to the north and I would have lost my money were there anyone there to have taken my bet.

The herd was still headed for the timber, but they were heading for the thick stuff along Mill Creek instead of where I’d imagined they would go. Before the bull reached the trees, a bugle sounded from the northwest and he had to respond in kind, though it was kind of half-hearted.

There was no answer from the apparent challenger and the bull soon follow the cows into cover.

I’d finally found the herd bull and his harem, but I have to admit that what I’d found had left me a little puzzled. This bull was a nice 6×6 to be sure, but two of the bulls in the first group were probably larger animals. And, according to a very reliable source, there is a massive 8×8 roaming the area, almost surely the same one that challenged and killed the previous herd bull last year. So now I’m wondering how this relatively small bull is managing to keep hold of a harem, considering the competition.

Maybe this bull is just more aggressive and won his ladies through force of will as much as force of muscle. He had a wound on his face and had clearly been in combat, so he wasn’t in charge just by default.

This doesn’t explain how he’s held the harem in light of the 8×8. That bull is, by all accounts, a monster—as big as a horse across the hips and rump, one source tells me. Again, he’s very likely the same bull that last year killed a bigger bull than this 6×6, so I just don’t see how this bull could survive a confrontation with him.

So my hypothesis is this: there’s a second herd of cows that forms the harem of the 8×8. I know there are more cows than the 20 that are with the 6×6 and there’s a lot of the Ranch that’s outside the elk viewing tour and not easily accessible. I wouldn’t be surprised if you went to the fields further down Mill Creek, such as the ones that run back up Johnson Hollow, and found the 8×8 with a harem of his own.

That area is more than a mile’s walk from the elk tour road, but coming around and entering at the East Gate would put you much closer, though you’d still have to walk and it’s a steep climb on the way out. I have an extra day next week-end thanks to Veteran’s Day, so if I can motivate myself, I think I’ll head over and see if I can find my monster bull.

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