Years of Waiting – Randy’s Tule Elk Hunt with
Being a big game hunter in California can be challenging. Let me paint the picture for you. Every year, I put in for draws in multiple states as drawing a premium tag in my home state is a real waiting game. If you are persistent and patient, that waiting game can pay off as it did for me.
When it comes to elk in California, you have options. They have three species – Rocky Mountain, Roosevelt, and Tule elk. Tule elk are unique to California, which makes it a very coveted tag. My friend and guide, Chad Weibe, owner of Oak Stone Outfitters, and I often joked that someday we would get to hunt elk together. As another draw was finished, I eagerly refreshed my draw results online, looking for my annual letdown to pop up on the screen. As my results finally came up, I saw an unfamiliar sight. The letter “Y” was listed after the question, “Did I win?” After over 20 years of applying, I had drawn one of only six Period 1 Tule bull elk tags for the La Panza elk unit. I sent a text message to Chad and informed him that we would be hunting elk together in the fall.
Chad and his team hunt the area for pigs year-round as well as deer and turkey during their respective seasons. He has contacts and leases throughout the hunt zone. He started making calls as soon as I told him I had drawn. Around August, I started receiving scouting pictures from Chad of bulls he was seeing. My anticipation for the hunt was growing with every day. I contacted a friend who is a private pilot and made arrangements for him to fly me down, pick up Chad, and look at some of the ranches Chad had access to from the air. I did not want to leave any stone unturned with this once-in-a-lifetime draw tag in my pocket. We flew several ranches in which Chad had or could gain access to, spotting several decent bulls but none that really excited us. Chad had heard that the last ranch we flew was holding a couple good bulls. As we made our final pass, we spotted two herds of Tule elk, each with what appeared to be a large bull. Chad decided they were definitely worth a look, and he made plans the following morning to see if he could lay eyes on them from the ground.
Back at work the next morning, I started receiving pictures on my phone from Chad. He had relocated and taken pictures of both bulls. They were good bulls with one being better than the other. We called one “Muddy Bull” as he was caked in mud and was also dragging a piece of black rope that was entangled on his rack. The other bull was called “The 6×7” for obvious reasons. Initially when we had seen them by air the previous day, we had thought Muddy Bull was the larger of the two, but that was not the case. I texted Chad that The 6×7 was sure a nice bull. His response was, “Yeah, somebody needs to kill that bull!” Chad said he was still looking to see if he or his other guys could turn up anything better, but The 6×7 was the top contender for my tag so far.
Friday, October 8th, I headed south to Oak Stone Outfitters in Bradley, California. Upon my arrival, I was greeted by Chad and three of his guides as well as Bob. He was another hunter who had ended up with his tag as an alternate after someone had turned a tag back in. After putting my bags in the lodge, Chad asked if we wanted to go look around and see if we could find some elk. Bob and I changed our boots, grabbed our binoculars, and headed out. I was with Chad and Joseph, and Bob was with guides Hunter and Preston.
We drove out the back of Chad’s compound and quickly started seeing coyotes as well as deer. However, it wasn’t long before we got into some elk. We saw a group of smaller bulls, four in total. Just another mile or so down a ridgeline, we spotted a group of elk below us. We parked the side-by-side and paralleled them on foot to get a better view of the bull in the group. The elk crossed the ridge in front of us as the sun was setting. We returned to the lodge to find a fire in the pit and a barbecue going with dinner. After a great dinner and a little more visiting, we set a departure time for the morning and turned in.
Both Bob and I were up early and ready. Chad pulled up with the side-by-side on a trailer as we were off to another property. We were going to go take a look at Muddy Bull and The 6×7. As we pulled onto the other ranch, we started seeing elk immediately. We unloaded the side-by-side and started into the interior of the ranch. We saw some small bulls working through the trees. We would drive a bit, get out and walk out to a hilltop, and glass for elk. The morning proceeded that way as we made our way across the ranch, stopping and glassing often. As we headed south, the hills became almost bald and void of trees. Chad told me that we were in the general area in which he had seen and photographed the two bulls we wanted to look at. It was not long before we spotted Muddy Bull and his cows. He had broken at least three points on his left side. We were certain it was the same bull as he was still dragging the black rope from his rack. We watched him chase off a young bull and eventually push his cows over the hill he was on. We pressed on in search of The 6×7. Just when we thought he had moved off the ranch or relocated to a hidden pocket, we looked back and saw him with his cows on the backside of the adjacent hilltop. He was magnificent. We watched him and his large harem through the spotting scopes as they slowly walked out of sight. The herd knew we were there but were not all that spooked.
I looked at Chad and said, “I think it would be a mistake to pass on that bull.” He agreed. We waited until the last stragglers were out of sight and hustled up the hill they had gone over. Before cresting the top, we started sidehilling around slowly, making sure we did not skyline ourselves and push them out of the area or off of the ranch. We started seeing the herd across a saddle on the next hillside. They were feeding and unaware of our presence. With no real cover, we crawled forward until we could see the bull. I got prone behind my rifle and asked Chad how far they were. They were between 295 and 300 yards, the bull milling around amongst the cows. While I could see him clearly, I had no shot due to cows either in front of him or behind him. After what seemed like forever, he cleared off the cows.
I told Chad, “He looks clear to me. Nothing behind him, correct?” Chad confirmed. I steadied my crosshairs and squeezed off a shot. Everything felt right, and we heard the “whap” of the bullet when it hit the bull. He ran a small circle and then stood still for a few seconds before he fell forward, stiff-legged. High fives and handshakes were exchanged, and we started our walk to put hands on my Tule elk. He was beautiful and completely unbroken. The bull I had been waiting over 20 years for was laying in front of me. We took some pictures and then tagged and field dressed the bull.
Back at Oak Stone’s headquarters, we hung my bull and I confirmed I was going to have them process the meat and shoulder mount my bull. We took a break for some homemade enchiladas and wondered how Bob and the boys were making out. They came back to the lodge for some lunch and said their morning involved some close encounters with smaller bulls but nothing Bob was willing to shoot the first morning.
Bob and his guides were going to one area, and we would become scouts in an area close by. Bob and his guides called on the radio and reported seeing a couple bulls that they were going to try to get a closer look at. It was just before dark when the news came that Bob had shot a great bull.
While my actual hunt was short-lived, I had spent years applying and dreaming and then months planning with anticipation. I would not change a thing. Those years of waiting for the tag were what made my hunt that much more exciting. Chad and his team are top notch, and I look forward to hunting with them again.