Committed to Elk

Posted on September 5, 2013

 

Few bowhunters are as committed as Tom Johnson. Even after 31 years of elk hunting and being unsuccessful, he never gave up. Now, he has two nice bulls to his credit.

Few bowhunters are as committed as Tom Johnson. Even after 31 years of elk hunting and being unsuccessful, he never gave up. Now, he has two nice bulls to his credit.

This bowhunter’s heart, attitude and respect for the sport allow him to prevail in the end, despite a long and difficult journey. In this two-part piece you will read about an amazing story about one man’s persistence, strong will and ability to stay focused on a goal. 

That one man is Tom Johnson of west Michigan. He has spent the last 31 years chasing elk out West. Although he lives in Michigan, he sleeps and breathes elk hunting. He is a true “elk-oholic.” In those 31 years, he has tagged two bulls with his bow.

Johnson has chased elk with a bow in his hand almost every year for 31 years. He is an accomplished hunter. If you walk into his office, you will quickly notice more Pope & Young bucks on the wall than most hunters tag in a lifetime. Johnson tagged every one of them the hard way, by hunting on his own, mainly on public land, in states across the country. Although his office and house are full of bone, one thing you wouldn’t have seen until a few years ago was a large bull elk. You would see a moose rack from Alaska, caribou mounts and Dall sheep, but a bow-killed elk was missing from the lineup.

The First Hunt

“Shortly after I got married 31 years ago, a buddy and I went elk hunting in Colorado,” Johnson said. “My friend Bob lived in Denver, and neither of us knew how to elk hunt.

“However, we did the hunt inexpensively. We slept in the back of a truck and hunted hard. We stopped and bought little elk whistles that are meant to imitate the bugle of a bull, but they sounded more like a play toy. But they worked!”

On one of the first days of the hunt, Johnson and his friend heard a bull bugle about a mile away and they blew into their whistles.

“He bugled back at our calls, but he wouldn’t move, and we wondered why he wouldn’t come in. He was a mile away … that was the reason!” Johnson said with a laugh.

The next day, the bull bugled in the same place; this time, Johnson went after him.

“We shortened the distance between the bull and us. We were probably 700 hundred yards away when we called to him and he responded. We worked our way toward him and got set up, and he started coming in. He came in to that little whistle bugle.”

The bull eventually stepped out of some aspens about 35 yards from Johnson. He was a big, mature, 6×6 bull. Johnson drew his bow and let an arrow fly. “I don’t remember aiming that first shot. The arrow hit a tree! The bull stood there, so I let another arrow fly, and whack! I hit the tree a few inches below the first arrow.”

Johnson shot another couple of times at the bull. At one point, he took many hairs off the bull’s belly with one of the shots. (“I didn’t wound him; I just got a little hair. I never got the bull.”)

That bull was etched in Johnson’s mind for decades. Over the next 30 years, Johnson became a professional at taking hair off the bellies of bulls and cows.

“The amazing thing is that I have shot at over a dozen elk and haven’t hit any of them. I always shot over them, under them, behind them or in front of them for the most part.”

Johnson often scouts for several days before his hunt begins. Here he is, checking a fresh rub in New Mexico.

Johnson often scouts for several days before his hunt begins. Here he is, checking a fresh rub in New Mexico.

Still Determined

As the years passed, Johnson started taking elk hunting as seriously as he does deer hunting.

“I’ve hunted some good areas out West. I have applied for tags and drew some great tags, but something always went wrong at the moment of truth,” Johnson explained.

Once, when Johnson was hunting in Colorado, he called in a 5×5 up close and personal. Things were going well.

“I called this bull in and stopped him where I wanted him with a call or two. I thought it was a slam-dunk shot. However, I watched in disbelief as the arrow went right over the top of his back. I just couldn’t hold it together.”

The next day, he missed another bull.

As the years went by, Johnson got frustrated but became more determined.

“I know one of the big reasons I struggled is because I don’t live near elk, so the only time I see them is a few days a year when I am hunting them. The moment I see them, I get flipped out. I really got frustrated with myself when, year in and year out, I brought friends with me on archery elk hunts and they killed an elk on their first trip out West. It made me that much more determined to tag a bull.”

When some people get skunked year after year, they get frustrated and give up. However, the longer Johnson went without putting an arrow in a bull, the more he thought about elk, did more research on elk hunting and fine-tuned his archery skills.

Did Johnson get the bull he wanted? Find out next week in Part II of “Committed to Elk.”

By Tracy Breen

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