Committed to Elk-Part II

Posted on September 11, 2013


This is Part II of “Committed to Elk,” a conclusion to last week’s post found here:

Tom Johnson, of west Michigan, 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.

You’re about to read an amazing story about one man’s persistence, strong will and ability to stay focused on a goal.

Johnson and his big Wyoming bull from the 2007 season, which he took by spotting and stalking.

Johnson and his big Wyoming bull from the 2007 season, which he took by spotting and stalking.

Luck Changes

In 2007, after nearly 30 years of going home empty-handed, Johnson’s luck changed.

“I drew a tag in Wyoming in a trophy unit that holds large bulls. On this hunt, I helped a friend get a 340-class bull, so we were all in good spirits. My friend tagged his bull by spot-and-stalking it. We were really starting to figure out how to spot-and-stalk elk and not call,” Johnson recalled.

A day or two after the 340-class bull went down, Johnson and a friend were staying fairly close to a herd of elk, hoping that one of the bulls would lag behind the herd so they could slip in on it and get a shot.

“Things were going well that day. We had a decent bull in close. We weren’t calling; we were stalking, and eventually, we got close to a big bull, but the bull saw my friend and bolted.”

With no better options, Johnson stayed after the spooked bull, but eventually, the bull was too far in front of him to catch up. In the process of chasing the bull, Johnson heard a low growl.

“It sounded more like a moo-cow than an elk, but we decided we should go investigate. The sounds we heard were crazy, so we went trucking in that direction. We didn’t expect to find a bull, but when we walked into a clearing, we saw a big bull in the brush, raking trees about 70 yards away. It was a gift from God after all those years!”

Without much time to think, Johnson started walking fast across the opening toward the bull. The bull was busy raking branches and didn’t notice Johnson slipping in on him like a hungry mountain lion.

“The bull was destroying the branches and was wedged between the trees,” said Johnson. “I stopped and came to full draw at about 25 yards. The bull noticed me, looked over his shoulder and started to quickly get out of the trees. I made a noise, and he stopped to look at me. I tried to aim and let the arrow fly.”

As with many times before, Johnson was shaking like a leaf, but this time, the outcome was different. The arrow hit the bull’s spine, and he collapsed. The bull scored 319.

This New Mexico bull came from the '09 season, and it is a trophy Johnson is truly proud of.

This New Mexico bull came from the ’09 season, and it is a trophy Johnson is truly proud of.

Another Success

Once the monkey was off his back, everything changed. In 2009, Johnson and I hunted 16D in New Mexico. Unlike many of Johnson’s hunts, the New Mexico hunt turned out great. Toward the end of our hunt, and with my bull already tagged and cut up, Johnson slipped in on a large bull and put an arrow in him at 48 yards. The bull only went 15 yards before piling up.

Now that Johnson has two bulls on his wall, his confidence is up. He has another elk hunt planned for this fall, and he is ready for the task at hand.

“It has taken me years to figure out this elk hunting game, but I wouldn’t change much—even if I could. All the hunts that led up to my Wyoming hunt were fun, and I learned a lot. Now, I am all about spot-and-stalk hunting and don’t spend much time calling. Elk hunting is a lot of work and lots of fun!”

Elk hunting is all about perseverance. Tom Johnson excels at this. I’ve hunted with many people over the years, but he is one of the few who is willing to go the extra mile (literally) in the planning stages of a hunt and while hunting to ensure that he gets into animals on every hunt.

Johnson is also very budget-minded. If you think you have to be rich to elk hunt, remember that most of Johnson’s hunts have set him back less than $1,000. If you are mentally tough and willing to endure years of dry spells, maybe you, too, can find success in the backcountry.

Hunting is not always just about antlers and success. It’s also about the sometimes-long journey that eventually leads you to success. After 31 years and over a dozen missed shots on elk, Tom Johnson has finally tagged several bulls. It wouldn’t be much of a story if he had given up after all those years.

By Tracy Breen


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