Editor’s Note: Audrey McQueen of Eagar, Arizona, nine-time World Elk Calling Champion in the Women’s Division and current champion, has guided for elk for 15 years. McQueen and her husband own and operate Trophy Ridge Outfitters in Luna, New Mexico, and guide hunters to take mule deer, antelope, elk and even oryx.
Question: What’s the most unusual elk hunt you’ve ever had?
McQueen: The most embarrassing elk hunt I’ve ever had was when I’d called-in an elk for a bowhunter. The elk was standing 18 yards away, but there was a branch in front of the elk’s vitals. My hunter couldn’t take the shot. The elk only had to take one step forward or back, and my hunter could release the arrow.
I either got the smell of a limb or a bush in my eyes and throat, and I had to cough. I fought that cough as hard as I could. My eyes were watering, my nose was running, and I was about to go nuts. Finally, when I could stand it no longer, I started coughing, and the elk took off.
Luckily, I’d hunted with this gentleman before, and he’d seen me fighting that cough. I apologized, and he understood. Things happen and regardless of how much you know about elk hunting and elk calling, sometimes you’ll blow a hunt. And on this hunt, I blew it.
Question: What’s the secret to getting a bull that’s hung-up just out of range to come that extra distance you need to get a shot with a bow or a rifle?
McQueen: Sometimes you have to do something completely different and unexpected with your elk calls to get that bull to come into you. I’ve used a fighting-bull call when an elk was 100 yards or less to get the bull to come in close when you normally will use a cow call really softly. I’ve even had bulls come in by making a long squeal totally out of the ordinary using a Wayne Carlton double-reed diaphragm call. Many times you can’t tell the difference between a young spike or a cow when they make that squeal.
I’ve learned that you can do really weird things with your elk calls and get that bull to come the distance you need him to come. You may run off the bull, but if you won’t get the shot anyway, you may as well try something different that just may work.
Down here in the Gila Wilderness where I hunt, most of our elks have PhDs in hunter dodging. When you blow an elk call, they almost can tell you the number of reeds on the call, the manufacturer and the year the call was produced. These elk really know hunters and have heard plenty of elk calling. So, when you use an unusual call the elk haven’t heard before, many times that makes your call sound more believable. Most of the time with these elk, you need to call, let them bugle back, shut up and then sneak-in close enough to take a shot. Hunting the old bulls in the Gila Wilderness is like hunting a highly-educated, mature gobbler on steroids. The less you call, the more you use your woodsmanship, and the better your odds will be for taking that elk.
Question: What’s the best way to hunt those old, smart bulls?
McQueen: I prefer to have the hunter out in front of me at about 200 yards. Then I can stay back and try to keep the bull talking while my hunter slips in close to the bull. Many times those older bulls will stand in the same spot and bugle for 30 minutes. Other times, they’ll stay in their beds and bugle. So, there’s no way to take them without going to them. If the guide can keep the bull calling, often the hunter has enough time and the right terrain to slip in close enough to get a shot with a rifle or a bow. If the bulls are hung-up, and they won’t come to you, this is the only tactic you can use to take them.
Question: What’s the most important key to taking bull elk?
McQueen: Being scent-free. I encourage all my hunters to use Hunter’s Specialties Scent-A-Way products to wash their clothes and their bodies and to spray themselves down. Where we hunt, there is a lot of climbing, walking and sweating, especially in September, unless you’re sitting in a tree stand. More than anything, you have to use the Scent-A-Way Spray while you’re hunting, and when you’re stalking, you have to hunt with a favorable wind. Not only do I use the Scent-A-Way Spray, but I also use the Fresh Earth and Cow Elk Urine Scent Wafers. If you’re scent-free wearing bright orange from head to toe, you’ll have a better chance of taking elk than if you’re camouflaged but not scent-free.
Question: What’s the strangest elk hunt you’ve had?
McQueen: I was archery hunting a few years ago, and during the last hour of the hunt, I sat on a trail where the elk were coming down out of the high country to feed. We’d already packed-out an elk that morning for one of our hunters, and I really didn’t have a lot of time to hunt. But I sat down behind a log, hoping to get an elk to come close to me, so I could take a shot with my bow. About 15 minutes before dark, a cow elk started coming behind the trail. I could hear a bull behind her bugling. But he was about 100 yards above her. My husband, who was sitting right beside me, and I were both carrying Hunter’s Specialties Scent Wafers and had sprayed down with Hunter’s Specialties Scent-A-Way Spray.
This cow walked and stopped 1 foot from my husband. We could feel the cow when she breathed. When I heard the cow coming, I’d gone to full draw with my bow. With the cow standing almost in our laps, I could see the bull coming at about 40 yards. I thought this would be an easy shot, and I almost took it. But before I made the decision to release the arrow, the bull started moving again and coming right for the cow. When he spotted the cow, he came running down the trail and stopped 9 feet from me and my husband. I drilled him with an arrow.
I could feel that cow breathing on me just as I released the arrow because her nose was less than 1 foot from my face. If I hadn’t been at full draw before that cow got so close to me, I’d never had been able to draw when I saw the bull coming. I had to hold my bow steady for at least 5 to 10 seconds with that cow’s nose almost touching me before I had the shot on this approximate 300-class bull elk and could release the arrow. This absolutely was one instance where the Hunter’s Specialties Scent Wafers and the Scent-A-Way Spray proved to me that they could save a hunt and give me an opportunity to take a bull I wouldn’t have been able to take if I hadn’t been scent-free.
Question: Audrey, how do you get a bull out when you’re hunting with a client, and your client takes the bull?
McQueen: I skin out the bull, cut him in quarters and pack him out.
Question: How much weight do you carry in your pack when you’re packing-out an elk?
McQueen: About 100 pounds. Most guys are surprised when they see me pick up a 100-pound pack, put it on my back and start carrying that elk meat out of the mountains. I’ve had some strong-looking guys who weren’t much help when it came to packing-out meat. One time I had one hunter, my husband, another guide and myself trying to pack the elk out after a successful hunt. My hunter had big muscles and started crying and complaining about how tough it was to carry out a hindquarter.
He could have had some elevation sickness, and I could have been just showing off. But I said, “Give me that hindquarter, and I’ll carry it out for you.” I already had an elk cape and antlers on my back when I put the hindquarter on my shoulders. Now that hindquarter and that pack were really kicking my butt, and I knew I was probably carrying too much weight. But I packed it out anyway – just to show that I could. I knew if I didn’t carry that hindquarter out that I’d have to go back and get it, so I just sucked it up, picked up that hindquarter and carried it back to the truck.