When it comes to big game hunting in Manitoba, it is no secret that elk are far and away Keevin's favorite species to pursue.
Some may even call it an addiction. This addiction of mine, for Manitoba elk hunting has formed over the last number of years, and it all started with drawing my first archery elk tag and hearing my first bugle in the wild. Hearing that bugle instantly changed my life and I knew that every September from then on out, I would find a way to get into the woods and pursue these prehistoric sounding beasts, that roam through our seemingly impenetrable forests.
Manitoba Resident Big Game Draw System
Many regions in Manitoba are home to abundant populations of elk and offer Manitoba residents the chance to apply for a limited draw elk tag. There are many elk hunting seasons offered in our draw system, from the rut filled early archery seasons, to the winter patterns of late rifle. These draws work off a priority system of 1-10, 10 being the lowest priority, and 1 being the highest. Each zone in the draw system gets assigned a designated number of tags. The likelihood of getting drawn is determined by the number of applicants in each zone, and your priority level. Each year of unsuccessful draws, your priority level goes down by one, increasing your chance to draw the following year. Once you successfully draw a tag, your priority gets reset to 10.
My First Elk Hunting Experiences
The years following my first elk encounter were full of huge learning curves. I spent countless hours of scouting and researching the elk’s patterns and behaviors, all in hopes of increasing my chance of getting within archery range of the elusive wapiti. Fast forward to 2016, another tag in my pocket, and a few extra years of experience, I was ready. After elk hunting hard for the first two weeks of season, the stars finally aligned and I was able to fulfill my childhood dream of harvesting my first archery bull elk. The experience alone was absolutely incredible, doubled with a full freezer of the best meat on the planet and my addiction to elk hunting only grew stronger.
The Draw Results
All this has now brought us to 2019. In July, I received a letter in the mail from Manitoba Sustainable Development. Inside the letter was a paper telling me if my draw application was successful or not. With butterflies in my stomach I slowly opened the letter. The first sentence read “Dear Hunter: Your application was successful in 2019 Big Game Draw.” Music to my ears! After taking my elk in the 2016 archery elk season, I had waited a long 1095 days to step back into the elk woods with a bow in my hand. (but who’s counting)
Anticipating a successful draw application, I had already set all my trail cameras in the elk woods in early June, and scouted almost every other night. As opening day for elk hunting in Manitoba quickly approached, things were looking promising. Sunday, August 25th, the day before elk season, my friends, Mike, Frank and I, travel into our elk hunting location and began setting up elk camp. We followed that with some last-minute trail cam checks and evening locating bugles, before enjoying a nice supper and an early bedtime in preparation for the mornings hunt.
Alarms sounded at 4:30am, and before long Mike and I began our hike into a swamp draw where we had been seeing a lot of elk activity on the trail cam. In position we started our calling. Only minutes before shooting light we heard a crash in the woods and knew it was game on. As the clock struck legal shooting light, I couldn’t believe my eyes as a beautiful cow elk quickly closed in on our location. For me, my goal this season was to harvest any bull that came my way, however, for Mike he was looking to fill his freezer and was going to take the first elk that offered an ethical shot. Mike readied up; and at 33 yards he made no mistake, as he sent a perfectly placed shot right into the vitals of the elk. In only seconds the elk was down, and under 2 minutes into our season we already had filled an elk tag.
Knowing we wanted to give the elk some time to be sure it expired. I continued calling from my position. Merely 40 minutes later a beautiful bull entered the draw and began heading my way. With each step it made through the crisp cool morning, my heart rate elevated and my disbelief on what was happening on this morning continued to rise. Quickly the bull closed in on my location. As he got into shooting range, my heart was pumping through my chest, however, he remained tightly quartering towards. This was a shot I was not willing to take. In each passing second, he ventured closer and closer to where the wind was blowing my scent. Before long the bull crossed my scent, became aware of my presence and swiftly moved back into the forest. Discouraged at how close I came to filling my tag, but satisfied with my decision on not taking the shot, it was time to regroup with Mike and begin the effort in retrieving his elk. The tracking job was quick and 40 yards into the bush laid Mike’s first ever archery elk. After snapping some quick photos with the elk to enter into Manitoba’s Master Hunter Program. We made quick work of the processing. Then took the quarters to a cooler at local meat processors, for the meat to hang for the next few days.
The Following Week of Elk Hunting
After the most eventful opening morning of my life, it was time to regroup at elk camp. While enjoying fresh elk tenderloins on the frying pan, I started making my game plans for the coming days. In the week that followed, it became evident that the rut was starting to peak. However, mixed in with the ever-increasing bugles was some of most nasty elk hunting weather conditions I have experienced. Wind and rain pounded us for the better part of the week. Although I never had any solid encounters, the time spent with boots on the ground helped me narrow down some of the elk’s patterns and once the wind broke, it would be game on.
Perfect Weather and the Perfect Encounter
The following week brought with it perfect elk hunting conditions, calm days and cool temperatures. Encounters began increasing, bugles were echoing through the forest morning and evening and it became apparent that before long, the encounter I was hoping for was bound to happen. The evening of September 5th I embarked on a hike to one of the furthest sequences of ridges in one of my elk hunting locations. On this hunt a good friend of mine, 15-year-old Zach, joined me. On our hike in, only about half way to the ridge we were hoping to get too, a bull bugled just a couple hundred yards from us. I quickly closed the distance, and began calling. Only a short time into calling it became clear that there were at least 2 or 3 bulls bugling around us. It was unclear how far the bulls were, or which one was going to be the best to try and pursue. As things got increasingly intense, the sound of a branch braking only 50 yards from me quickly made my mind up, as I settled in for the opportunity. At first it was slight motion through the trees, and as the elk approached, I could start to make out antlers sticking above its head, a spiker. My goal for this season was to harvest any bull that presented an ethical shot, and I could sense the moment was fast approaching. I hooked my release onto my string as the bull closed the gap, 40 yards, 30 yards, 25 yards… only a few more steps and he will be in my shooting lane. I drew back as the bull entered my lane perfectly broadside, I cow chirped, he stopped as I settled my pin, and I let it fly. I watched as the lighted nock on my arrow disappeared exactly where I aimed. I knew it was a perfect heart shot. Just seconds after the shot and a mere 40 yards away, I hear a crash. He was down.
Another Notched Elk Tag
A moment that I had spent more hours preparing for than I could possibly count, had finally come to fruition. Hours of research, days of scouting, thousands of trail cam photos and at last, I am able to fill my freezer once again with the best meat in the world. I quickly regrouped with Zach and after recounting the incredible experience we just had, to a chorus of bugles still echoing in the background. We knew it was time to track this incredible animal to its final resting place. As we approached the location of the shot, it was clear that my initial assumption of shot placement was correct. An easy 40-yard tracking job, along a perfect blood trail, led me directly to my second archery bull elk in as many seasons with a draw tag. Moments of elation quickly switched over to devising a plan to get the bull out. We tagged the bull, marked the location on the GPS, and hung a bright glowstick above the animal anticipating not getting back until after dark. Once we were able to get back into cell phone service, I called my father letting him know the good news and to get him to bring out our four-wheeler. Luckily an overgrown trail still allowed us to squeeze a quad onto the ridge and we were able to get right to the location of the shot. A quick scan of the dimly moon lit area reviled the bright blue light of the glowstick we placed above the elk, which led us to his location in no time. After a few hours of work, and a handful of photos to remember the experience, and to submit to the Manitoba Master Hunter Program. We were able to drag the massive animal into a location where we could load it onto our flat deck trailer. We transported the elk back to the farm where we begin preparing it for the meat processors. A cool evening permitted us to hang the quarters in the shop overnight, before taking it to processors the next morning. This was truly a day of elk hunting in Manitoba that I will never forget.
Another Elk Tag filled: Young Zach not to be Outdone
Tagging out early on in the season gave me the opportunity to enjoy another passion of mine, filming hunts. With my video camera in hand, I began to follow around some of my hunting buddies who also drew an archery elk tag. First up was young Zach, who I got to experience my elk harvest with. Now it was his turn. We ventured out morning and evening for many consecutive days, always making sure we got back in time for Zach to go to school. Close calls and close encounters became a regular thing over these days, the more time Zach spent in there, the better he began to understand the land and the behaviors of the elk that reside there. On September 13th, it finally happened. Zach headed onto the property first thing in the morning, closed the distance on a beautiful bull elk, and sent an arrow exactly where it needed to go. At the butchers, the bull came in at 360 pounds of bone-in meat and graced 5 tines a side on his rack. Not bad for a 15-year-old kid!
The Final Days of Elk Season
With just over a week remaining of the season, I ventured back into the elk woods with the video camera, only this time following around my friend Cameron. During these days of hunting we experienced some of the most action-packed elk rutting I have ever seen or heard in my life. Throughout these remaining days of elk season, close encounters with big bulls seemed to be a daily occurrence. As the season neared completion it was like we could do no wrong, what ever we did, wherever we went, we found elk. But when it came to opportunities with bulls in archery range, we could never quite seal the deal on a clear shot at a bull’s vitals.
The Final Sunset of Elk Season
As darkness fell over the final day of elk hunting season in Manitoba, I left the woods feeling a great sense of pride. Pride in having filled my tag, pride in being able to experience others successful harvests, pride in what I learned about elk and the encounters I had, pride in the footage I captured, and most importantly pride in the full freezers and close friendships as a result of this past season. Rest assured my addiction for elk hunting once again only grew stronger, and I can’t wait to be back in the elk woods, enjoying the camaraderie that comes with chasing bugles with fellow hunters in the seasons to come.
For more information on Game Hunting Areas (GHA’s), season dates and resident Elk licenses or additional information on hunting in Manitoba, please visit the Manitoba Sustainable Development website or refer to the current Manitoba Hunting Guide.
For more information on Elk hunting in Manitoba, visit our Big Game page.
Keevin Is a passionate hunter and angler with a love for filming, photography, and writing. Keevin now manages the HuntFishMB team and continues to explore the province and share his tips, techniques and stories.