Archery Elk Hunting With Jessica Byers

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From Jessica Byers:

My love for archery elk hunting began in 2015 when my dad took me for the first time as a wedding gift. He really spoiled me by choosing to take me to New Mexico, where I shot my biggest bull to date. It’s funny to look back on that because going into the hunt, I had never seen an elk before and I didn’t know what a bugle sounded like. It was really simple: I was going on a hunt with my dad. Why did I need additional details? Being with him was enough to say yes. 

Woman poses with her compound bow and the elk she shot while hunting.

More often than not, it’s the location and the people that I remember most about my hunts. Girls tend to look up to their dad and I’m no exception to that, so while my initial focus was about getting to spend time with him, going back home to Texas a week later with a big rack certainly had me whistling a different tune. This is when my life took a drastic shift and I found myself longing to be in the mountains chasing bugles. I grew up in central Texas hunting whitetail on private land so the contrast in terrain, species, method, and strategy really impacted me. Since 2015, I’ve hunted, guided, or been a part of an elk hunt every year in many units across the West.

Woman and man in camo hunting in the mountains.

My fall 2022 hunt stands out a little more than other years because it was just my oldest sister Candice and I on the mountain in the middle of a wicked lightning show. I’m obsessed with the sky; sunrises and sunsets, the moon and stars, and I’m especially fascinated by a good storm. I used to drive to my hometown lake and watch them roll in, so you could say I was on a high getting to chase bulls for hours in the rain, thunder, and lightning. I know they say to get off the mountain in those conditions but it brought a smile to my face to hear bugles mixed with thunder and lightning shortly after getting out of my truck.


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My oldest sis and I ran ridge to ridge trying to catch up to a herd of elk that we believed had a handful of different bulls. They were on the move, pushing cows away from us and even fighting from time to time. The storm allowed us to move quickly in what’s normally very loud, crunchy terrain. I’ve learned if you can keep up with them and just stay close for as long as possible, a shot will usually present itself. It can be exhausting though; when they’re on the move like these were, you can’t slow down. So many times I thought, “Maybe we need to let them be and just come back in the morning,” because we were losing light fast and the storm made for even darker skies. At the same time, they were so wound up and rutting that I knew if we could avoid getting busted by a cow, we’d be okay. At the very least, we’d make some memories to share around the campfire.

When we finally caught up to them, a bull was running back and forth at the top of the ridge bugling and I couldn’t close the last 50-yard gap needed to let an arrow fly. It was wide open and he was directly above us, so I turned to Candice and said “I’m stuck, he’s not responding to my calls and it’s too open to get closer.” 

A male and female hunter pose for a photo at camp with the two elk skulls from the bulls they harvested.

I’ll never forget her look of uncertainty as she said in a childlike voice, “Well I don’t sound very good but I can try my call?” She has less experience but is just as crazy about elk hunting and we had nothing to lose. 

“Might as well try it and have some fun!” I thought to myself. She dropped back about 20 yards and let out a calf call. The cows in the herd immediately lit up. Until that point, they weren’t making a sound. I thought for sure the cows would ruin the plan, but the bull lost it and let his guard down before them, coming into 20 yards and giving me a picture-perfect broadside shot after ripping a bugle. It was amazing.

Sisters pose with a bull elk shot while hunting in Colorado.

After years of elk hunting, one thing I’m fairly confident in is the timing of my draw. Thankfully I had come to full draw as he came running in and put my 20-yard pin on him. I heard the crack of the hit, saw him run a bit and stop, then begin running again until I lost sight of him. I swore I heard him pile up but it was tough to know for sure with the constant rain and thunder. We waited to go look, which was a hard call because the weather was washing away any blood trail I hoped I’d have. It was absolutely dumping on us. I’m not sure if you’ve ever tried to navigate the mountains in the dark with heavy rain and lightning all around you with nothing but a single headlamp, but it felt unsafe. I usually keep a backup headlamp on me, but for whatever reason it wasn’t in my pack this time. After waiting for quite some time, I attempted to follow the path I saw him take, feeling confident that he went down, but neither of us could find him. I told my sis we should get off the mountain and come back since the storm wasn’t passing anytime soon.

The next morning, it was a completely different experience. As always, I had marked my shot location on onX Hunt the day before, as well as the location of the bull. This is the first thing I do after the shot on every hunt, even if it’s less than 20 yards between the two locations. You’d be surprised how easy it is to get turned around when you’re looking for an arrow or blood. I’ve learned that the hard way on previous hunts!

A side-by-side photo of a woman packing out a bull elk with trekking poles and the onX Hunt App's tracker user interface.

As soon as we got back to those waypoints the next morning, I opened onX Hunt again and turned my Tracker Tool on. This always helps me to see where I’ve already walked if I’m struggling to find an animal. I’m a visual person, so I had my sister stand where the bull was standing as I released my arrow, then once again attempted to replicate his path both physically and verbally so she was a part of my thought process. If you’ve ever had a bull bugling in your face, you know how hard it can be to stay present and remember the details. It’s one of my biggest challenges as a hunter. One of my tips to stay present is to tap into each of your senses and acknowledge what you smell, see, hear, taste, and feel when your adrenaline is pumping. It makes your brain slow down and focus so that you don’t black out. How many times have you heard someone ask the hunter, “What happened? What do you remember?” and their response is, “I don’t know, I think he…” and a stream of uncertainty followed.


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Within a few minutes of replaying everything, I spotted him. I couldn’t believe it, he had only run 65 yards from the shot! We must’ve passed him multiple times the night before, but again we were limited on light and the blood trail was long gone. It’s so frustrating, but also probably a blessing because my dad was able to come help break him down with us. And it wasn’t raining anymore, which was nice.

While I’ve tasted success on guided hunts and even solo, it was extremely special to have my big sis call this bull in during a lightning storm. We were just two chicks busting our butts and getting it done! It’s also the first bull I’ve shot while calling, as I normally sneak into their bugles without them knowing I’m there. It just goes to show that there are multiple ways to make it happen out there and you never stop learning. Once again I’m reminded why September will always be my favorite month of the year.

Jessica Byers

Jessica Taylor Byers is an avid hunter from Central Texas who began hunting at a young age with her dad. After college, she combined her love for writing and travel by building a brand, Followherarrow, to share her adventures around the world and inspire women and young kids to get outdoors. This led her to become the Marketing & PR Manager at Huntin’ Fool in 2019. She continues to seek first-time experiences year after year, chasing new species in wild places, while documenting the journey as a creative outlet.