Saturday, September 28, 2013

Elk Hunt

Here is the long awaited elk post!   After years of putting in for the limited entry elk hunt in the Wasatch unit, I was finally successful.  Back in May when I first noticed a charge on my credit card from division of wildlife services, I was confused at first.  But then slowly it started to sink in.  I was going to finally be able to hunt a big bull elk.  In Utah, the general hunt is pretty much spike bull only.  You can only get access to hunt the big bulls through a lottery system.  The state only gives out a limited number each year.  The good thing about this system is that it helps bulls to get big in the state.  The bad thing is that it can take on average 12-15 years to draw out.
I had scouted out my area a ton over the summer in preparation for my hunt. I probably went scouting about 10 separate trips up there. The week before Labor Day I went up with Tucker and we were woken up at 3:00 in the morning to a bull elk screaming and hollering. Turns out, I ended up shooting this bull (same canyon where we heard him, and we recognized his bugle. He had a very distinct bugle. High pitched). It made it pretty special for Tucker to look back and think that we heard him that night sleeping under the stars.
The buckets of rain that had fallen on this area made for a challenging and uncomfortable hunt. I don't think I ever remember roads being muddier or more slick than they were. If you didn't have chains, you weren't getting anywhere. The underbrush was just drenched with water and brushing up against it guaranteed that you would get soaked. I've never seen the forest around here that green in September. It felt more like I was in the Olympic mountains of western Washington. Hiking around the steep, 45% grade slopes we were on felt more like a slip 'n slide. But, knowing that I was after a trophy bull made it all worth it.
Anyway, I headed up on Friday and me, my dad, my cousin Jaron and my uncle Rees all spent the night in my trailer trying unsuccessfully to sleep because we couldn't wait for sunrise for opening morning.  Well, opening morning my cousin Jaron and I started out on the ridge and heard some bugling in the canyon below us that we had decided to hunt. We tried some cow calls, and he would answer back. He had a harem of cows, so he didn't want to leave them, but would call back every time. Over the course of a few hours we would cow call, locate him, and sneak in on him closing the distance each time. He was slowly feeding and pushing his harem to some deep timber to bed down for the day. We put the wind to our advantage and were able to position ourselves across the canyon from where we could hear him. At about 11:30 he bedded down with his cows and went silent. To this point we hadn't seem him yet, but knew he was the herd bull because we had seen about 5 satellite bulls hanging around the outskirts.
We decided to wait him out, knowing that he was there. At about 2:00 he started to talk again. Now there was a second bull bugling back. The second bull wouldn't respond to cow calls, just bugles (because he wasn't the herd bull), but the big bull we were after was still responding to us. We thought the other bull might be bigger because he had such a deep, throaty bugle. I know, you can't judge the size of a bull by the bugle, but we still wondered. We could only catch occasional glimpses of the second bull, but we knew he was big. We held out though in hopes of the herd bull.
At about 4:00 his cows started to trickle out of the pines and down into some aspens where we could catch glimpses of them. He began to work them back into the trees and he finally stepped out into the opening at about 630 yards away. We were so excited to see a gorgeous, big bull like that. I didn't feel comfortable shooting at that distance so we waited as he slowly made his way down the hill. That was the longest 30 minutes for me. I was panicking that he might duck back into the pines and out of view, but fortunately for us he continued on down towards an opening that was just over 400 yards away. We got a kick out of watching him rake the trees, bugle, and push his cows back into the trees.
After about 30 minutes, once he finally arrived at that spot at 400 yards, I pulled the trigger. I shoot a .300 ultra mag, 180 grain bullet. I can't believe that I didn't stop him in his tracks. You'll see from the video that I hit him 3 times, all good hits, but that beast was still able to get up and walk. Unbelievable how tough those guys are.
I measured him myself and got a score of 328. I'm sure it's wrong, but he is at the taxidermist right now and I should have a better idea of the accurate score in a few weeks. Either way, I'm super pumped to get him. I love his width and his cool front tines how the turn up at a 90 degree angle. I went into my hunt hoping for a 340-360 bull, but said I would be ecstatic with anything over 320. He's not the biggest bull on the Wasatch, but I am happy. Above all else, I loved being able to actually hunt and not have to worry about throngs of other hunters pushing the game around. We were able to implement strategy and call back and forth with that bull. That to me was the most fun. My cousin and I had an awesome time, and I owe him big time for helping me to pack it out and for filming it. He's a stud.
We also were able to recover one of my bullets. It had entered behind the shoulder, passed through all the vitals and stopped right in the hide on the opposite side.
We ended up not even being able to use the horses we brought. We shot him down in an area that was too steep and densely forested for the horses to access him. The ground was so muddy and slippery on that steep slope that they couldn't get a firm footing while descending. They started to freak out and my cousin and I were in a rodeo for a few minutes trying to get Dutchess and Lexie to calm down. So we tied them up at the top of the ridge and did it the old fashioned way. We packed it out ourselves. Good thing we are young and in shape.

Jaron spotting for some elk.

The hillside we were watching and ended up shooting my bull on.

My dad and me above the canyon where we shot the bull.

The position where the bull died.

He had a huge body!

Starting to cape and quarter the bull.

 Jaron and I ended up packing the meat and antlers out without the horses.  We packed most of the meat out on Saturday night, but had to quit because the sun set and we began to become hypothermic in that cold with our soaking wet clothes.  My dad had to peel us off the bull and take us back to the trailer.  Having that warm trailer, with warm food and dry clothes was heaven sent.  I loved it.  In fact, after I changed into some dry clothes that night and was eating some of the elk stew that Jaron brought, I started to drink a cherry Pepsi, and it felt like a little piece of heaven.  It's amazing how tasty that soda was after an exhausting, wet, cold day like that.
Here is a picture of Jaron with the antlers on his back.  Let me tell you, hiking that large rack up a steep, wet, slippery slope can be quite the challenge.

As I mentioned earlier, the roads were pretty much impassable without chains.  Jaron captured some really cool photos of my muddy truck.

We attempted to load up the horses on Sunday and take them down to the elk.

 Although they look cool and it was fun to ride them, we didn't get to use them to pack out the elk.  Maybe some other time.

While we were skinning the bull, Jaron found this bullet that had entered one side of the bull, tore through him, and embedded in his hide on the opposite side.  This is what a 180 grain .300 ultra mag bullet looks like after flying over 400 yards.  In under half a second it travels that distance and mushrooms out like you can see in the photo.  It hits the target like a spiraling razor blade.

Jaron also put together an awesome video.  Go check it out!
In all it was an incredibly fun hunt with Jaron, my dad, and my uncle Rees.  I really enjoyed being up there with them.  Good times.