The Great Tule

Posted on March 28, 2014

The Great Tule
Join this bowhunter as he travels to the beautiful foothills of California, pursuing our continent’s third and smallest species of elk.

By Roy K. Keefer


Keefer and his trophy management Tule elk bull, which offered an adventure and thrill he'll never forget. He arrowed the bull from 44 yards, achieving excellent penetration with his Mathews Heli-M 52-pound setup.

Keefer and his trophy management Tule elk bull, which offered an adventure and thrill he’ll never forget. He arrowed the bull from 44 yards, achieving excellent penetration with his Mathews Heli-M 52-pound setup.

For many years hunters striving to kill at least one of all the North American species referred to them as the North American 28 (often called the Grand Slam), but that changed a few years ago with the addition of the Tule elk to the list. Tule elk were first recognized by the Pope & Young Club for inclusion in its records book in 2008. The addition of the Tule has made it more challenging to complete the Grand Slam due to the limited accessibility to the newest and littlest of the recognized elk species. California is the only state where Tule can be found.

Of the three subspecies of elk (Roosevelt, Rocky Mountain and Tule) recognized for Pope & Young records purposes, the Tule is the smallest in body size. Bulls range from 450-550 pounds and cows average 375-425 pounds. The horn size of Tules also tends to be smaller and the Pope & Young minimum score for inclusion in the record book is 225 inches.


Getting a Permit

The chance of drawing a Tule hunting permit is slim for California residents and nearly impossible for non-residents (as of this writing only one tag was available for non-residents). Consequently, most hunters, especially non-residents, choose to buy a herd management permit from private landowners. That is the route I chose to secure a tag.

Obtaining a Tule permit is expensive. Trophy hunts range from $16,000 to $20,000, or more, depending on the ranch you hunt. I chose to buy a management bull hunt since that was more affordable. You can expect to spend $6,000 and up for this type of hunt. Management hunts for cow elk are also available at a reduced price, about $2,000. Additionally you will need a California hunting license.


Where to Go

I will never kill all of the North American species due to money constraints and physical limitations, but I have chosen to pursue as many as possible. Also my wife, Shelby, and I like to travel and hunt as many different parts of the country as we can. A couple of friends told me about their Tule hunts and that peeked my interest. I chose the Shamrock Ranch in northern California as the place I would hunt. The Shamrock Ranch encompasses 17,000 acres of pine-covered mountains. The scenery alone is worth a trip and the Tule herd on the property is a bonus.

We met our host and guide, Frank Peterson, at the gate to the ranch and got a quick tour of a part of the ranch. Immediately I knew we had come to the right place. Accommodations were very nice and the food prepared by Frank’s wife, Julie, was excellent.

Frank has lived on the ranch for over 20 years and knows every inch of it and the animals that live there. In addition to elk, there are a lot of blacktail deer and some bears and mountain lions. We saw three bears in our five days there. Frank estimates the ranch has a herd of 130-150 elk. Many of the elk feed in large open fields in the morning and evening and it is a sight to behold. During the daytime, they retreat to the wooded mountainsides.


How to Hunt

Frank said we could hunt out of ground blinds or try spot and stalking the elk. We chose to do the latter. Most of the hunting consists of walking or driving ranch roads until you spot your quarry and then trying a stalk. The vegetation in California in July, when we were there, is golden and brittle. Stalking is tough due to the dry grass crunching as you creep forward on a bull.

The first two days were uneventful. We saw elk but could never put a stalk on them. On day three, we parked the truck and walked to a spot where we could glass a water hole the elk frequented. We walked toward the water hole and suddenly Frank stopped when he saw a horn sticking up on the horizon. We were stuck in an open field with the tallest vegetation being about 12 inches high. We froze as three bulls moved slowly toward us. The first two were trophy size bulls with racks in the 260-280-inch-range, but the third one was a 5×5 management bull. They continued toward us stopping at 50 yards with the smaller bull stopping at 57 yards quartering to us. We waited and I hoped the smaller bull would offer a better shot angle but they spooked and that ended our efforts.

That evening we went to a part of the ranch where early settlers had planted some apple trees. They had to be some of the ugliest apple trees I’ve ever seen. Elk and bears had ravaged them and they were missing limbs and looked totally beat up. Nonetheless they produce apples and elk love apples. Once we got to the old orchard, we saw a bull standing on his hind legs stretching as high as he could as he grabbed every apple in his reach. Slowly and quietly we crept up a creek bank that paralleled the field. Finally we got to within 51 yards but the bull never offered a good shooting position. As darkness set in, he finished his meal and ambled off.


Hot and Sunny

The next day was another typical July day in northern California – temperatures in the 90s and sun UV index about 11, hot miserable weather. We hiked down one of the mountains on the ranch and saw blacktails and one rattlesnake, but no elk.

That evening we resumed our efforts and Shelby suggested we try the apple orchard again. At first we didn’t see anything and then we saw an elk on the opposite side of the creek feeding on apples. We crisscrossed the creek much the same as we had the previous evening and got closer to the bull.

This elk was truly a management bull. The left horn sported five short points but the right side was freaky. It was a 12-inch club held on by skin and it flopped around as he fed. Later Frank told me the bull had eluded his hunters’ efforts for three years. Somehow the bull had broken the horn at the pedicle, separating it from the skull. Each year the left horn developed, fell off and regrew, but the club stayed the same, never shedding its velvet coating. Since I was limited to a management bull, the chance to take such a freaky critter appealed to me.


Show Time

Shelby ran the video camera as we stalked to the feeding bull. I checked my rangefinder twice and got the same reading, 44 yards. The bull stood quartering to me offering no shot. Fortunately, he turned his attention to an apple tree giving me the opportunity to draw my bow. I bracketed my 40- and 50-yard pins on his chest and released. The bull whirled and blindly crashed through brush and crossed the creek out of sight.

Darkness was setting in as we followed the blood trail. Frank spotted something ahead of us and said, “What is that in the meadow? I want to check it out.” We stopped trailing and walked toward the light colored object on the ground. It was the bull. He had run about 100 yards before collapsing.

We took pictures and examined the path of the arrow. Although I only shoot 52 pounds, the Victory VAP arrow with a 100-grain RazorTrick had nearly passed completely through, stopping at the vanes on the far side of the elk. The double-lung shot had brought a swift death to the bull that Frank aged at 5 years old.

He most assuredly isn’t the biggest bull that lived on the ranch, but he likely is the most unique. He’ll make a great conversation piece when visitors come to our house.

The taking of this bull marked the 20th species I’ve collected. As I said before, I won’t be able to take all 29 species, but there are a couple more on my bucket list – Quebec Labrador caribou and Sitka deer come to mind. We’ll see what the future brings.


Author’s Note: To book your own hunt, contact Mike Prescott, Ranch Manager, Shamrock Ranch Outfitters, LLC, PO Box 356, Laytonville, CA 95454; email:

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