Gaylord, Mich. — It took about 10 years for Mark Wood to get his shot at an elk hunt of a lifetime, and the Goodrich resident didn’t waste the opportunity.
“I thought I would end up having to go out west or something,” Wood said of shooting his first elk.
Instead, Wood was selected for one of 110 elk permits awarded to hunters this season through the state’s annual license lottery. Wood trekked north with his son and brother in late August to hunt the elk opener on private land east of Atlanta, but the warm fall weather kept the animals from moving much, he said.
When he returned with his brother in mid-September, conditions were ideal, and his guide – Bob Whitney, of Elk View Cabins – didn’t disappoint.
“The morning I got (the elk), we got a light frost,” Wood said. “They also started their breeding season, so the bulls started bugling and that’s kind of how we got this one.”
“The guide gave a cow call and the bull answered,” he said. “We took off on foot and tried to get ahead of him.
“He called periodically and the bull kept answering him.”
Wood and his guide worked their way around an old gravel pit and eventually came to a clearing, with the massive 5×5 bull within rifle range, standing about 150 yards away in an open area.
“He was kind of on a knoll in the gravel pit. We stayed with the cover and walked out and were looking for him and there he was,” Wood said. “When we were bugling and he was answering, it was very exciting. My brother told me he could hear him answering from the truck.”
After the first shot, “He didn’t even act like he was hit,” Wood said, but after two more rounds the bull went down about 100 yards away.
Loading the animal into the truck also was a unique experience, he said.
“I can’t believe how heavy they are,” Wood said. “It took four of us to get him in the truck using a winch. The last half we actually had to pick him up and slide him in the rest of the way.”
It was a similar story for the majority of permit winners and Pure Michigan hunters who participated in this year’s early elk season, in which 78 elk were killed during three hunt periods. In total, hunters tagged 34 bulls and 44 cows, boasting a slightly more successful season this year than in the past, according to Brian Mastenbrook, DNR wildlife biologist based in Gaylord.
“It was really excellent conditions the last two” hunt periods of the season, Mastenbrook said. “People could hear elk bugling really well. It was ideal.”
Hunter success was 69 percent, slightly higher than the 10-year average of 66 percent.
Of the bull elk taken, one was an 8×7, six were 6×6 – aged between 41⁄2 and 81⁄2 years old. Fifteen bull elk were 5x5s, aged between 31⁄2 and 51⁄2. Twenty of the bull elk were taken on private property, Mastenbrook said.
“We only had one issue where a person killed an animal they weren’t supposed to,” Mastenbrook said. “They had a cow permit and they took a spike bull.”
Two or three hunters did not show up for the season, which is typical, DNR officials said. Several hunters also passed their winning permits on to young hunters, an option that seems to be more utilized in recent years.
“We had a couple of kids get licenses that way and at least one of them was successful,” Mastenbrook said. “As more people find out about (the option to donate a winning license to a young hunter), it seems to be more prevalent.”
Mark Monroe, a DNR biologist working in the elk program, said the season was fairly typical, with the harvest spread evenly throughout the season, despite the fact that warm weather made for tough hunting conditions early on.
Two of three Pure Michigan Hunt winners shot bull elk during the early season, and the third will be heading out when hunting resumes Dec. 7.
DNR officials are encouraged the harvest fell within the targeted success rate of 50 to 70 percent, Monroe said.
“It was just a real normal season,” he said. “The one thing that stuck out was the success rate was at the higher end, which is great.”
Michigan’s second elk season will run Dec. 7-15 across most of the northern Lower Peninsula.