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A tale of a 7 year old and Minnesota Elk

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In 2005, I was blessed to have drawn the only bull tag for Minnesota Elk. Much preparation and planning went into this hunt. The elk were quickly located, however the bulk of the herd was outside the hunt boundary – they might as well have been on Mars. I had a couple of chances that got my adrenaline flowing, but it was just not meant to be.

The was a sliver lining, however. I met some great people, and have maintained contact with a lot of them. They were truly gracious in granting permission to hunt their land and providing guidance.

Since that hunt, I have often thought about going back to experience the sights, smells, and thrills of viewing elk in the rut. My wife Shannon and I were talking about going on a camping trip, and we hit upon a plan to go back to Grygla after Labor Day. Our daughter Amy is in the first grade, and has shown a great interest in wildlife, especially birding.

So the plan was set. On September 5, the camping supplies were packed in the truck, and we departed for Grygla as soon as Amy got home from school.

Upon arrival, it was getting dark. We quickly set up camp, and set out to look for elk. We stopped at a DNR food plot that was originally procured through the RMEF. We stopped, listened, and bugled a bit, but heard no elk. We tried a few other spots, but the elk were quiet.

We returned to town, and had supper and turned in, thinking of what we might see the next morning.

We were on our way before first light, and returned to the food plot. Again, the elk were quiet. We got back into the truck, and bugled at a site 2 miles to the west. Nothing but silence greeted us. Back into the truck we went and headed further west. I spotted something cross the road a few hundred yards ahead. It was large, but not elk size. As we approached, we could see it was a timber wolf. He turned and began to head east as we continued west. He passed us in a stubble field, only about 60 yards to our right. We managed to get a photo, but the light was poor.


Amy was very excited. She had never seen a wolf before, and this one was close! He was a charcoal grey color with a long black tail and a silvery mane. It looked to be about 80-100 pounds, with a noticeable limp to its gait. It trotted into some soybeans, and was gone.

We continued on, all the while enjoying the excitement of our daughter as she talked about the wolf. We saw a few scattered elk tracks, but no animals other than several deer.

Near one of the last spots we were going to check, I again spotted something unusual on the edge of a stubble field. I sped up, and as we drew even we could see it was a bobcat! It dropped into a drainage ditch and disappeared into the tall grass. Sadly, it happened too quickly for a photo.

No elk were heard or seen this morning, but the deer, bobcat and wolf more than made up for that.

We went back to camp, made breakfast, and packed for a hike. We returned to the food plot. Hiking along the edge of the corn plot and aspen timber, we found scads of elk and deer tracks. The corn was pretty much grazed down to nothing. Numerous elk tree rubs and beds littered the edge. On the north end of the plot, the DNR land is bordered by private land. We could see where the elk had been coming from the northwest. If we could get permission, we would sit here come evening.

We walked down the center portion of the DNR plot on the way back which was a grass clover mix. Looking back across the plot toward the aspen, it was startling to notice how high the browse line on the trees was. This is from years of elk feeding on them. It seemed as if a professional arborist had trimmed all branches up to a height of seven feet.

Here are Shannon and Amy at the Grygla WMA food plot that was obtained through a Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation land purchase.


Here are Amy and I checking out an elk rub.


Amy is inspecting the food plot, and having a blast chasing grasshoppers.


We made a side trip to the Aggisiz pools, and Amy was able to see and identify several species of birds and waterfowl.


We returned to camp and had a lunch of brats and sweet corn. I secured permission to sit on the land to the north of the food plot, and we took a short nap and enjoyed the playground in the Grygla Community Campground.

About 530, we piled back into the truck. We packed some mosquito spray, lawn chairs, and a notebook for our daughter.

We were set up against some old round bales for cover by 6pm. Almost immediately, we heard bugling in the timber to the northwest, probably about ¾ mile distant. There were two bulls talking, with a third and fourth farther to the west, and an intermittent bugle coming from the southwest. Of these bugles, four of them were frequent, and we began to tell each one by their own uniqueness. The two most active bulls stood out with their bugles. One had a thin, reedy tone; the other was more guttural and raspy with a long chuckle at the end. The elk did not seem to be coming closer, and Amy was getting restless. After about an hour and fifteen minutes, I decided we would quietly walk closer to the bugling, and perhaps then they would respond.

We left everything by the bales; only bringing binoculars, bug spray and the elk calls. I would later regret leaving the digital camera and camcorder. We got about 1/3 of a mile farther west, and were now almost directly south of the closest bugling. We could now hear brush popping and the bugling was much clearer. The two bulls to the west seemed to be static, and were not coming any closer. I looked at the time and it was 725. It heard a couple of faint cows mewing in the timber about 800 yards to the northwest.

I called back and about five minutes later, two cows cleared the trees and entered the CRP. The were looking right at us, trying to pinpoint my calling. I bugled, and they took of for us like a shot. They came in on a string, pogoing like a mule deer, then slowing to a stiff legged trot. We could see some water spray as they crossed a field road, and they stopped about a hundred yards from us. I quietly mewed, and they trotted towards us, their noses held high sniffing for an elk that was not there. The wind was slightly in our faces, so they could not smell us. We were also in a small indentation in the timber edge, so we were in a good shadow. We stayed still, and they came to within 30 yards! I looked down at Amy, and her eyes were as big as saucers. She was totally enthralled. The cows were so close; we could see their eyeballs rolling as they began to sense something was not quite right.

Then, one of the cows barked a warning. I thought it was all over, but I softly blew the cow call, and they stopped about 75 yards away and began to mew and feed. Occasionally they would look dead to the west. I could tell something was happening back there, but could not see very far in that direction. All the while I was bugling, and mewing. The two bulls to the northwest were slowly drawing closer to the timber edge.

Out of the corner of my eye, I caught some movement to the west. Two cows and two calves were within 100 yards. We now had four adult cows and two calves in front of us. The cows would intermittently alarm bark, but a bugle or mew from me would set them back to feeding.

I spotted some movement on the edge of the timber several hundreds yards distant. Another elk was moving into the CRP. I could not see antlers, but the dark mane and creamy flanks announced it as a bull. A bugle from me got him trotting towards us. I could see antlers, and my wife through the field glasses pegged him as a 5 x 5. He bugled in response to me, and this was the bull with the reedy voice. He hung up once he got into the cows. I would bugle, and he would bugle back. He would begin to push the cows toward the timber, but would circle towards us when I’d mew him. Eventually, he decided we were playing hard to get, and was happy with his four cow/two calf harem. He got them to giddy up and there were in the timber in about 30 seconds.

Almost immediately, elk started entering the CRP directly to the north. I a few moments, there were 22 cows and calves feeding and mewing in our direction. The came to within 100 yards, and began to mill about. We now had 22 noses and 44 eyes to fool. It was not easy, but we stayed still in the shadows, and I continued to bugle and mew to reassure them. Amy was doing a wonderful job at staying still. As the light began to fade, Mr. Raspy was getting closer and closer. He finally strode out onto the field, taking his time. He was noticeably larger than Mr. Reedy. He strode towards us, and began to gather his harem in a calm fashion. They were feeding contentedly, so he approached to within 125 yards, and put on a show for my bugling. He was beginning to get rather agitated at my constant cow calling and muffled bugles. When I would bugle, I would stick the end under my arm, and point it away from us in an effort to make it sound like we were in the timber. It seemed to work.

Ground fog and heavy dew was beginning to form around their knees, and it made the whole landscape almost surreal. As he stood there in the fog, he turned broadside and let fly with a bugle that shook me, and frightened Amy. Steam shot out from his mouth, and as his belly jerked at the end of his bugle, I could see urine spraying his underside and chest. He was letting me know that he was not to be trifled with. It seemed as if he was daring the mystery bull to come on out and tangle.

We watched for about 10 more minutes. He just ambled back and forth as the cows fed in the diminishing light. My wife had him pegged as a six by six. I took the field glasses from her to get a look for my self. I could see his dagger like fourth points sticking straight up, with two creamy tips behind each one - a 6 x 6!.He had nice chocolate bases that were quite heavy. I would venture he was about a 330 class Boone and Crockett. Those ivory tips looked like small candles in the falling light. It was difficult to tell, but his right main beam may have had one more back point, which would make him a 6 x 7.

He continued to work back and forth in front of us, keeping the cows and calves in a group. It finally became dark enough to where it was time for us to leave.

I was concerned that we would spook them when we left. We really had no other option than to simply walk away. They continued to feed, and I was somewhat surprised that they began to slowly follow us. The wind was still in our favor, so they never appeared to catch our scent.

As we drove back to camp, Amy continued to chat excitedly about what had just taken place.

Looking back after a few days, her excitement has not waned. She has been prepping for her upcoming show and tell at school. She has the cow call mastered, and is now working on the bugle. Hopefully we will not get any nasty notes from school, but that is a chance we are willing to take.

I would be remiss in not mentioning the role that the RMEF has played in Minnesota elk. Through the generous efforts of committee volunteers and the banquet fundraising events, the elk herd is growing in Minnesota. Besides the Grygla herd, there is another larger group in Kittson County. This herd is transient between Minnesota and Manitoba, and shows great promise.

We are grateful to have had an experience that many believe can only take place in the western states.

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Excellent story!

Too bad a video camera didn't record it....I would have been at your place Sunday night! grin Hopefully I will have the opportunity to get my daughter out there in 6 years to see the same.

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wife and i were returning from section 8 hockey game in thief river last feb. it was dark but a bright moon. we were going by the food plot you described. i noticed something just off the road. i slowed down and backed up and turned headlights to the east. we watched a magnifcent 6x6 for nearly 10 min. he was just beatiful. thanks to the rmef for growing this herd

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