EAGLE CAP OUTDOORS
So, to catch everyone up, I won the lottery. Well, I should say I won the archery elk tag lottery. I drew a coveted archery elk tag in Wyoming.
We drew Unit 7 in the Eastern section of Wyoming, near Laramie Peak. To give you a sense for what that means…we had a 0.5% chance of drawing the tag! We were blessed to get such a coveted tag on the first draw. We still cannot believe we drew it so soon. I went in with a party of seasoned bow hunters from Eagle Cap Outdoors. It was my first year to bow hunt since back when I was 16 years old. I had been out of the bow hunting game for 36 years due to a wrestling injury to my shoulder. Surgery a few years back helped a ton. It was also my first year putting in for the Wyoming tag, so I was extremely lucky, since I had no accrued points. I put in with Chris Woodburn who was actually the person who drew the tag.
However, since Chris’s cousin John and I put in with him being the party leader, we benefitted! I learned a ton in that year. Chris took me through the entire process and helped me get ready for the hunt over a six month period. I dedicate this story to him and appreciate all he did to guide and mentor me in getting prepared for the hunt. I learned so much that I want to share. I will do so in other posts. I plan to write additional posts regarding getting into elk hunting to share in my journey from drawing the Wyoming Unit 7 hunt to purchasing a bow, to preparing, and getting ready to hit the road.
After much planning, downloading maps, talking to biologists, and paying for a “boots on the ground” scouting service we headed out on our hunt. We had seven guys going on the trip, but only three tags. Three of the other guys were there to assist with calling, running cameras, and helping locate elk. They are all avid hunters and wanted to go along to see what this unit had to offer. The seventh guy was there to hunt deer. We filmed the hunt and the film will be published soon on our website. I was super excited about the hunt and I look forward to sharing my experience with you.
Headed to Wyoming Unit 7 Elk Hunt, First Leg of Two Day Drive
It’s Friday morning, September 6 and I took my boys to school, hugged my high school senior daughter who was on her way out the door to school, and I had coffee with my wife. I was up at 5:30am that day getting things packed up and getting the new enclosed trailer loaded. I arrived at my friend Chris’s house at 9:45am. Chris is a co-founder of Eagle Cap Outdoors. The plan was to take some group photos and be on the road around 10:00am. When I got to Chris’s house, he had his quad torn apart, and Brian, joining our hunt to help with capturing video content, had his gear sitting next to the trailer. There was no way we were leaving at 10:00am, but I was stoked, so I didn’t care. We spent the next couple hours getting Chris’s trailer loaded and hooked up to the truck. Chris had spent the evening before making arrows for me…on top of a hundred other last minute details. Josh pitched in and mowed Chris’s lawn that morning.
Around 10:30am Austin sent a text saying he was running a couple hours late because he was wrapping up a project at work. He had started work at 5:00am Friday. Chris decided to hang back to wait on Austin. Josh, Brian and I left Chris’s house around 11:30am in route to Baker City, Oregon. Josh was driving his truck and I was following him in my truck, pulling the enclosed trailer holding gear. We had two vehicles because Josh planned to hunt the Keating unit outside of Baker City on his way back through Oregon. The trip to Baker City was a quick five hours. I dropped my truck off at Les Schwab in Baker City to have some work done on it, and because I needed a safe place to store it while we ventured on to Wyoming in Josh’s truck. Jake, the manager at the Baker City Les Schwab is a great guy! He’s the kind of guy you meet and instantly want to get to know better.
After hooking up the trailer to Josh’s Ford F150, we grabbed groceries and then stopped at Bi-Mart to grab pellets for Brian’s Traeger. By that time Chris and Austin were only 30 minutes out from Baker City. We rendezvoused at Barley Brown’s for a Kobe beef burger and a microbrew. I highly recommend Barley Browns if you are ever near Baker City. It is on Main Street; they serve one of the best burgers in Oregon and they have a great selection of microbrews. Beware, the Hot Blond beer there has a jalapeno kick!
We then set out in caravan style to hit a campground a couple hours East of Boise. About 20 miles before Boise we took exit 44 on a surprise side venture. By surprise, I mean a surprise for Austin. Austin’s parents lived in Kuna, Idaho which is right on the way to Wyoming, but Austin would never ask us to stop on his behalf. His dad was fighting cancer and Chris arranged in advance for us to swing by for a visit. Austin just thought we were headed to a remote campground in Kuna. It was great seeing Austin hug his parents. Seeing family is always special. Austin’s parents were wonderful and they had a beautiful home in a very peaceful country neighborhood. What a great way to end Day 1. After visiting for an hour or so we ventured on to a campground in Delco, Idaho. We pulled in around 12:30am and threw our sleeping bags on the ground and slept until 5:15am. Josh slept in his truck. You could actually see the freeway from our campsite and each semi-truck that drove by sounded like it was about to run over our heads. I might have slept an hour or two at the most.
Headed to Wyoming Unit 7 Elk Hunt, Second Day of a Two Day Drive
The alarm went off at 5:15am. It was 55 degrees out, still dark, and the dew had settled on our sleeping bags. We could still see stars. Because we didn’t set up a tent it was quick work for us to put away our sleeping bags and get back on the road. We had a 9 hour drive ahead of us, not counting stops before we got to the town nearest our destination. We were meeting up with Chris’s brother Clint (the deer hunter) and his cousin John in East Wyoming. They were driving to Wyoming from South Texas. One hour down the road we found a truck stop and grabbed a coffee and breakfast sandwich. The coffee was great, the sandwich had sausage on it that tasted like a salt block. That deli was too remote to offer fresh donuts. We pressed on and crossed over into Utah as the sun rose. Another beautiful day.
We met up with John and Clint at a small town service station one hour from our hunting destination around 4:30pm. We quickly fueled up, grabbed extra fuel for our ATVs and filled water jugs since our hunting camp was a little over an hour out of town. We caravanned up the mountain passing some amazing ranches and cabins. The landscape, rock formations and mountains become more beautiful and real as we ventured along. As we neared our campsite, we met up with one of the ranch landowners to pay a trespassing fee to camp on his property in order to gain easier access to the National Forest. There are parts of the National Forest in that area that are quite difficult to access without crossing private property. We noticed a few National Forest Service vehicles driving by during our visit with the ranch owner. He explained to us that the fire in our unit that our friend Colton had made us aware of a few days earlier was actually on his property about a half mile from the location we planned to camp, right where we were planning to hunt. There were several forest service vehicles, water tankers, etc. in the area. We were a bit worried, but we were assured they had the fire under control and almost 100% quenched. Once we settled up with the ranch owner, we ventured in and quickly located an awesome location to set up our camp. We settled in a beautiful location overlooking a meadow that was recommended by the scouting service we hired earlier in the summer.
We were in Wyoming for a highly acclaimed archery elk hunt, in Unit 7. We were stoked. I was there for a week, along with Austin, Josh, and Brian. Chris, John and Clint had committed to hunt for two weeks. Our camp looked like an ant farm as we set up our huge wall tent for sleeping, a canopy tent for staying out of the rain, kitchen and stove systems, and an area to shoot the breeze after each day’s hunt. Chris brought Kobe ribeye steaks for dinner the first night and we grill smoked those delicious stakes on Brian’s portable smoker. It was an amazing dinner for being so remote from town and for dry camping. We then spent an hour organized our gear and got to bed by 11:00pm in anticipation of our first day actually hunting.
First Hunt Day in Wyoming Unit 7, Already on Bulls
On our first day of hunting elk in Wyoming we got an early start as we headed into the back country. Chris, Brian, and I were together.
We hiked up through a canyon onto a ridge and bugled. Chris got a response right away. We set up and tried to call in the bull. My adrenaline was already rising. The bull just was not interested in engaging. John, Austin and Josh were on the ridge adjacent to us and we connected with them on the radio for a brief moment before they dropped over the ridge to head deeper into the wild. We had heard them bugle as well. Chris, Brian and I hiked another mile or so and then took a long midday break. Before long we were back at it and got another bull to respond. The chase was on. That bull answered every bugle that Chris threw out there, but the bull was on the move with his cows. We pressed in and increased our pace. We needed to close the distance. We finally got within that magic distance where a herd bull will stop, have his cows mingle while he addresses the aggressive bull trying to steal his cows. We were within distance of making a play and we started our strategic stalk. We were up high on the ridge at that point and the Wyoming weather changed for the worse. We had a huge thunder head roll in and heavy rain and winds hit. We also had loud thunder and scary close lightning. The lightning bolts looked like they were eye level.
I was in pursuit of the herd bull and saw him on the horizon of the ridge in front of me around 80 yards out. I suspect he would have scored around 360+. Big, mature body. Huge rack. He tipped his head back and responded to Chris’s call as the thunder rolled in the background and the rain began to drench me in horizontal sheets because of the wind. I had rain gear in my pack, but the rain came so quickly, and in the heat of the pursuit I had not stopped to put the rain gear on over my Sitka camo. I crept in toward the bull to attempt to get a shot and got within 60 yards when that big bodied animal dropped over the ridge to gather his cows. At that point I was getting really nervous about carrying a metal bow because lightning was striking right near my location. The bow I was carrying did not come in carbon – it’s the BowTech Realm RS. I also figured the pursuit might take longer than planned and I needed to connect with Chris and Brian before pressing on, so I stopped and put on my rain gear over my rain soaked Sitka gear. I figured that would at least help keep the heat in as the temperatures had quickly dropped. Around that time Chris and Brian met up with me and we decided to continue our pursuit.
That bull was a herd bull for a reason. He kept answering Chris’s calls but pressed his cows to move faster as he navigated ridge after ridge. Clearly the peak rut was not on and no cows were in heat. We finally gave up pursuit and stopped to glass the open units that were before us. We saw another group of elk across the draw and we were going to make a plan to hunt those elk but the sun was setting. We saw a big bull on the adjacent ridge below us in the direction we needed to move and we headed down the draw. Chris set up to call and I crept down the hill and up the other side. Chris kept the bull engaged answering his calls, so I was able to sneak in within thirty for forty yards. As I worked my way around a large rock formation a cow elk spotted me and alerted the bull and other cow, and off they ran. Defeated, I hooked back up with Chris and Brian. It was still raining. As we worked our way down the ridge the sun set and we only had about 30 minutes of shooting time remaining. Bulls began sounding off on all sides of us. It was like being in the middle of a pack of wolves, but they were Wyoming bulls! I went one way and Chris removed his bow from his pack and headed the other. It sounded like a choir of bulls around us. I think I counted at least five different bulls that evening within 10 minutes. Perhaps there was a cow in heat in that area. That evening Chris had an opportunity to shoot a couple bulls but passed since he wanted a bigger bull. One of the bulls was likely a 320 inch bull but was missing one antler so I guess he would score 160. We walked back to camp which was 2 miles away and it took well over an hour. When we arrived the rest of the team was already back. We swapped stories while eating Fritos and beans and grilled salmon before readying our packs for the second day of the hunt. Josh, Austin, and John had a similar experience because they also spent the evening hearing tons of bulls in a bugle fest just before dark.
Second Hunt Day in Wyoming Unit 7, Wyoming Winds Win
Austin’s alarm sounded at 4:45am on our second day of the hunt. We were hunting at an elevation around 8400 feet so everyone but Austin was a little tired from the first hike and high elevation air. Austin is younger than the rest of us and simply in better shape physically. We were all up and at it by 5:00am, except Clint. Clint had a deer tag and had learned from the locals that the chronic wasting disease had wiped out the deer population in that area so he had no reason to rush into the day. We boiled water for coffee, downed an instant coffee and then set out for the hunt. John, Josh and Austin took a ride in John’s side by side and headed over to a drainage a few miles up the road from our camp. That drainage is on the back side of the mountain that Chris, Brian and I headed up that day. Chris, Brian and I were hoping to get up into a bedding area that we had seen the day before. We even had our packs loaded with gear so we could spike camp and avoid the hike back to base camp. My pack was loaded with a spike camp tent, a new Nemo Tensor insulated sleep pad, a Kuiu Super Down sleeping bag, a Sea to Summit pillow, a Jetboil, a couple Mountain House meals, BlackOvis game bags and TAG bone out game bags. We hunted up the ridge and got a bull to respond within fifteen minutes from camp. Chris set up to bugle and Brian and I moved forward to find a location with a few good shooting lanes. It sounded like the bull might come in so I notched an arrow and waited. I squatted down to see under the trees and saw a fairly decent sized bull about 60 yards from us, but behind brush and trees so I would not have a shot unless it came in or we got closer. About that time, I heard a big crack and noticed a big spike bull coming in to check us out. He was within fifteen yards of Brian and I because Chris was further back and had his attention. It would have been a “chip shot” to put an arrow in him but it was too early in the hunt to kill a spike. The spike eventually winded us and ran off to the North. The other bull headed West. We gave up that pursuit and worked our way up the mountain. Just a few minutes up the path we were startled by a grouse that flew up in a tree. Chris grabbed his judu tip arrow and took a shot. He hit the grouse but hit it low and the grouse flew to the ground while feathers slowly fell from 20 feet up in the tree. We hunted for his arrow but we were not able to find it. We then ventured on to find a big bull. We got up really high and decided to take a break before heading into the bedding area that looked promising on the map. Brian doesn’t like to fall asleep during the midday break so he glassed; fear of cougars perhaps? Chris and I napped. Brian stayed awake and eventually spotted some elk on the North East facing slope adjacent to us but they were on private land we could not access. We were up pretty high and the wind was howling. We were positioned behind a rock to block the wind. The winds were twenty-five mile an hour winds with gusts up to 40 or 50. In fact, we were up so high that I got service on my cell phone. I checked my phone and noticed I had a text from Clint saying he went to find a location to get cell service and when he got back, he found our camp had been destroyed by the wind. He sent a picture. My heart sank. It looked like a tornado had hit our base camp. My OSU canopy tent was a mangled mess crumpled up against a couple tentpoles from the wall tent. The wall tent covering our cots and sleeping bags was 20 yards up the hill upside down with poles strung all over. Our gear that was in the tent, sleeping pads, clothes, pillows, etc. were blown all over the hillside. Welcome to Wyoming! Clint’s text just said that he was going to go to work putting things back together. We knew it was a job too big for one guy so we quickly gathered our gear, gave up our hopes of spike camping that evening and headed back down the mountain to camp. I sent John a text on my Garmin InReach Mini to let them know the situation. John’s response was one word…”sh#t”.
Fortunately, the only real casualty was my OSU Beavers canopy tent. It faired much like the Beavers football team in their two opening games that season. The canopy didn’t stand a chance in that wind even though it was tied down. The wall tent was fine, just upside down and in pieces. The canvas was totally fine and the poles were all straight. It took us three hours to get camp back in order and we found the longer and stronger tent stakes that were made for the wall tent. We had used the wrong stakes that were in the box. We reinforced the sides of the tent that night to help withstand the wind and Chris parked his truck sideways in front of the door to help take the worst of the heavy gusts. We all learned a lesson about staking a wall tent and commented that we were glad it happened earlier in the day rather than at night while we were sleeping. That night we had Mountain House and Peak instant meals and fell into bed exhausted. The wind continued to howl and the tent slapped against the frame and our cots all night. It was a restless night for most of us and I think Chris, Brian and I were fortunate that we were not spike camping that night due to the wind.
Third Hunt Day in Wyoming Unit 7, My First Shot at a Bull
Like clockwork, Austin’s alarm sounded off at 4:45am. Nobody moved. The wind was still howling. We were still reeling from the wind disaster from the day before and a bit reluctant to leave our shelter. By 5:00am the hunter in us awoke and it overpowered our desire to sleep in. We rallied, had instant coffee and headed out to try to kill a bull. We were pretty sure the bulls would be held up but we were there to pursue bulls so we needed to go find them. Austin, Josh and John headed back to the same general area they had been before but just one creek over. They headed up the ridge. They got onto a bull first thing and spent most of the day working that ridge. Later in the day they got onto a big bull and John dropped his pack while he and Austin headed off in pursuit. Josh stayed back with the pack. After about an hour, Josh could not reach them on the Garmin Inreach Mini radio so he figured they must have traveled a significant distance ahead and then would walk out without him. Josh grabbed John’s pack and headed to the trail down the ridge. It was not an easy task since he had his own pack on his back. After giving up pursuit of the big bull they were chasing, John and Austin returned to the spot they left Josh. It took them awhile to reconnect with Josh. It could have been a tough situation had they not been able to reconnect. Everyone was reminded how important it is to stay in touch in the elk woods when you are a party.
Brian, Chris and I decided to take our Can-am Defender around the mountain to save time getting to the bedding area we were dying to check out the day before. We parked the ATV and headed up the trail. Within a couple minutes we saw a bear bait barrel and a freshly skinned bear lying next to it. Evidently the bear hunters just wanted the hide. I thought of Josh, who is not a big fan of bears unless they are in the zoo. We took a few pictures then worked our way up the draw where Chris let out the first location bugle of the day. We had a bull quickly respond and the chase was on. I moved ahead and the three of us worked our way up the ridge trying to keep the wind in our favor so we would not get winded by the elk. We were not able to get in close to the bull so we reconnected up top. When I strolled over to where Chris and Brian were located, I learned that they were engaged with a bull right where I had travelled. My bad. We then worked our way up the hill. It turns out Brian had left his field glasses at the location we took a break the day before so we backtracked up the hill to find his glasses. Fortunately, we found them right where he had been glassing. We were the only people in that area. After that we worked our way around the ridge to the bedding area we wanted to hunt. We got another bull to respond and pursued him for at least a quarter mile before he faded out of sight. He was huge. I only saw him once but he was big. The rubs on the trees on that area were numerous and high in the trees, which is good evidence of the presence of a large, mature bull.
We then worked our way down a ridge headed back toward the ATV before dark. On the way down we got into the timber and started seeing a ton of elk sign. About two-thirds the way down the hill I spotted a bull. I headed toward the direction the bull went while Chris bugled. After a couple bugles a bigger bull across the draw sounded off. We decided I would pursue that bull instead. I started my way around some brush and saw three decent bulls on the ridge across from us. Chris kept calling while I rushed in like a ninja. I had to work my way down the timber to the bottom and then assess where the bulls were going to be on the other side of the ridge before making my attack. Once I was within 140 yards, I slowed my pace and began my stalking pursuit. The bulls were feeding in a clearing and moving slowly. I worked my way through the timber to try to get a shot but noticed the bulls were moving forward to fast and would not be where I was set to pop out of the timber. I backed up and headed up the trail. Chris kept calling. I then worked my way in toward the bulls. I ranged the bulls again, this time at 115, then slowly moved in and got within 80 yards. I had very little cover at that point and had to advance each time they turned to feed. Unfortunately, Chris was doing such a good job engaging them they were looking directly toward me most of the time. After Chris and Brian moved down the hill slightly the bulls retreated up the other hill a bit, but Chris had their attention. They were barking so they knew something was up with me, but they could not identify me due to the low light and my Sitka gear. At that point I could see two bulls. Both bulls stood broadside and I ranged the bigger of the two bulls at 65 yards. I was at the last tree that would give me cover so I needed to make a play at that point and take a shot.
Chris was still calling and keeping them engaged. However, the bulls were looking straight at me since Chris was on the hill behind me. The bulls would spin around occasionally restlessly and I figured I had very limited time before they headed over the ridge where biggest of the three headed. I set my bow sight at 65, took a deep breath and started to draw my bow to shoot at the bigger of the two bulls. He turned away from me so I then only had a rump shot, but the other bull was still broadside. He appeared to be the same distance so I did not adjust my sight. I let an arrow go and couldn’t tell if I hit him or not since the light was low. The bulls rush up the hill out of sight and then stopped and called again. Chris and Brian saw the bulls scramble away so they knew I had taken a shot. They came down to help me look for blood. After a short search of the perimeter Brian found my arrow quite a distance up the hill. It had a little hair on it and one speck of blood. It appeared I shot high and just skipping the arrow off the bull’s back. No damage done, other than to my ego. I ranged the spot the bull was standing to the spot where I shot and it was only 56 yards. That second bull was actually closer to me but appeared to be the same distance away as the other bull. I was shaking as well during my shot due to adrenaline so I’m sure that also contributed to the miss. I dusted off the Kudu point on my Easton FMJ arrow and put it back in my quiver. We retreated to the Can Am Defender, replaying the situation and mentally logging lessons learned. Every day…we get better.
Mixing Things Up in Wyoming Unit 7, Elk Close to Camp
The night before the fourth hunt day I figured it was time for Chris to get an opportunity to hunt, so we talked about switching things up. Chris had been calling elk for me trying to get me a shot at a bull. He did his job and got me a shot on Day 5 so I felt it was his turn to carry a bow. On day 6 of our trip he headed off with John and Austin for a day of capturing video content of him hunting. Austin was filming and John and Austin were calling. Meanwhile, Josh joined up with Brian and me and we decided to hunt closer to camp, adjacent to the private land near our camp. Brian was on camera and Josh was on the bugle. It was a cold morning so we bundled up and headed out to find bulls. We made it two-thirds the way across the meadow and I was already overheating. I tend to dress lighter in the morning but was cold when we started out so I had on more layers than normal. It did not help that I had on my Sitka puffy jacket as well. We stopped to catch our breath and heard a bull bugle on the hill right next to camp. Brian had jokingly mentioned the night before that we should just sit at camp and hunt. He was ridiculed and laughed at, but perhaps there was some wisdom in that comment. We crossed the meadow and headed around the base of the hill to get downwind of the elk. The bull kept bugling as we made our way up the hill. We couldn’t believe there was a bull within 300 yards of our camp. Once we made it up to the saddle of the ridge the bull quieted down. He may have spotted us crossing the saddle. Or, he may have had cows he was keeping from us. We worked our way around the hill and caught a strong scent of elk as we rounded the side of the hill closest to camp. Josh thought he heard cow calls but we quickly assumed they were birds. As we continued around the hill toward the location we had started, Josh got a response to a bugle. Brian and I started the stalk and spotted a bull and a cow about the time they spotted me. They were only 75 yards away. We pursued them. We then heard a bugle from behind us lower on the hill. After finding tracks but no elk when we moved forward, we turned our pursuit to the new bugle. After 30 minutes of silence we retreated down the hill to camp to grab some breakfast.
We ate in the covered trailer that transported by ATV and gear due to the severe wind. After weathering another strong thunder, rain and wind-storm over breakfast, we decided to head back to the location I had the opportunity to take a shot the day before. When we arrived, the elk were strangely quiet. We assume it was because of the wind. No matter which way we walked, it seemed the wind was behind us. We could not win. We climbed to the top of the ridge where we had seen elk the day before and hunted our way down the ridge. Josh sat back and called for us for a few hours. We eventually worked our way down to the trail and the sun began to set. The elk were quiet that day. They must not have liked the wind any more than we did. Talking to Chris, that night it seems the entire mountain was quiet. Other than the early morning activity, it was a considerably slow day in the elk woods. It was blowing hard still by the time we made it back to camp so we pulled the chairs into the enclosed trailer and all seven of us ate dinner in the trailer. It was much better than sitting in the wind. Chris and Austin downloaded video for the day and charged batteries. We all got our packs ready for the next day’s adventure. We were starting to feel a little fatigue.
Mixing Things Up Again, Caught Flat Footed
On day 7 the alarm went off as usual at 4:45am. However, this time nobody moved. I poked my head out of my sleeping bag to make sure our wall tent was still intact. The tent was there. The wind was also still howling. Nobody was stirring. I think everyone had the same sense of defeat from the night before and very low expectations for the new day since the wind was still blowing. I laid my head back down. Peer pressure is strong. At 5:00am several alarms sounded. It was our snooze alarm and backup alarm in combination. The plan that day was for us to mix things up again and I was hunting with John and Austin. I said, “good morning, John” and, “good morning, Austin.” Both were stirring and both responded. They are hard core hunters and it took very little effort to persuade them to get up. In fact, I think their movement motivated me to climb out of my sleeping bag. We were all going to the same area to hunt that day, but I was going to hunt with John and Austin and Chris was going to hunt with Josh and Brian.
Before long, we were in the Ranger and Can Am riding through the cold morning air to our destination. We were hopeful, but had low expectations given how slow hunting had been the prior evening.
When we arrived, we put on our packs and headed out to meet the day. My team headed to the left of a knob and Chris’s group headed to the right of the same knob. The plan was to meet up on the backside of the knob after an hour or so of hunting. Shortly into our walk Austin bugled. We heard a bull to our left just down the ridge. We headed toward that bull but ended up on a rocky slope with limited access directly down from our position. We decided to take advantage of the view from our location on the rocks and glassed for elk in the nearby clearings from this new vantage point. Austin uses a Vortex Razor 65mm spotting scope with a Leopold Carbon Fiber tripod.
After just a couple minutes of glassing Austin spotted a huge bull. He also spotted another couple bulls that were nearby that big daddy. All three would be a great kill for me. John would consider shooting the larger of the three.
The bull just below us had become silent. Those other three bulls looked great through the spotting scope but they seemed liked they were at least a half mile away. John and Austin gave me the choice. I chose the bulls we had seen in the spotting scope over the bull we heard. Perhaps because of the size of the big bull. He was impressive. So, the hunt was on. We climbed down to the bottom of the draw and quickly walked a road down to the general area we saw the bulls. John held back to call as Austin and I started a quiet spot and stalk. I was checking the wind, and Austin was guiding our approach from just behind me with the camera. It was like he was a shadow to my every movement, but also a guide. He knew exactly where we needed to be with each response from the bull that was responding to John. Unlike me, Austin had precise hearing. Young ears. John continued calling and raking. The big bull was only remotely interested in John’s calls, but at least one of the smaller bulls were actively responding. Each response was like a beacon or lighthouse for Austin and me as we made our approach. We stalked quietly…tip toeing at times. One broken branch and our position would be exposed. We successfully navigated over the crest of the hill above the new growth fir trees and I settled in front of a small fir tree with several visible shooting lanes. Austin was right behind me but one step to the left. Austin let out a cow call and I thought it was game over. I figured the bulls would know our position and retreat. However, Austin knew better. We were in the bull’s space and he wanted us out of there. I heard one big crack and then the bull rushed in. I was ready for him…except one minor detail. I did not have my cow call in my mouth and I did not have my bow drawn back. The bull rushed in head on and turned broadside at 40 yards in a brisk jog. He did not stop. He jogged to our left and was able to get around far enough to pick up our scent. Within two seconds he was trotting off through the timber, well out of my range. From hearing that stick break to seeing that bull run off took about five seconds. However, it seemed I was frozen in time. I kept replaying things in my head and the fact that I had not drawn back my bow when I heard the bull making his approach. I guess I thought the bull would rush in and then turn broadside at 20 yards and look at me. I had been caught flat footed, on my heals. Had I been in full draw I could have released and arrow at 40 yards and the odds were pretty high that I would have hit the bull solidly. Austin and I just shook our heads and then shared disbelief that we were so close but had not closed the deal. Austin knew he had done everything right. And he knew John would want details as to what happened. However, he graciously allowed me to process my shortcomings. No blame was expressed, just disappointment. We headed back to John’s position and I had to relive the situation as we told John what happened. As an experienced bow hunter, I think John knew that I missed a great opportunity. He just commented on how cool it was to spot the elk a half mile away and then get to within 40 yards of the bull. It was one he was going to chalk up as a win in his book. From his perspective I suppose I would agree. Pick great guys to hunt with; it makes all the difference in the world.
We headed up the hill a couple hundred yards and then stopped for a break. We figured we would give those bulls some time and not push them. We ate a snack and put together a plan for redeeming ourselves.
Later that morning we tried one more time to call the bulls we had seen. One bull responded but I think they were bedding much further into the timber than we were willing to walk at that time because we did not want to scare away the herd if it was also bedding in that area.
We then proceeded to climb to the top of the mountain. The goal was to get up on top and glass the other side. We glassed and relaxed for over an hour. I called my wife. Shortly into my phone call, Austin motioned me to come his way. I quickly said goodbye and found Austin looking through his spotting scope. It turns out he had located 6 bulls on the North slope adjacent to us. I checked out the biggest of the 6 bulls in the spotting scope and began to realize why John and Chris were so picky about the size of the bull they wanted to kill. Those giant bulls grow trophy racks. Given the time of the day and the distance those bulls were away from our position, we decided we would hunt those bulls the next day. That was a morning hunt. We worked our way down the hill and found the side by sides. Chris, John and Brian were waiting on us. Their day had been uneventful for the most part but started with Chris getting within 30 yards of a 340 inch bull, without a clear shot. We put on our puffy jackets and gloves and headed to camp. That night we ate elk backstrap and chicken cooked on Brian’s portable Traeger. We then put together a strategy for Day 8 and decided that Chris, John, Austin and I would hunt together on my last day. The four of us retired early. The others stayed up and reminisced the day. Josh was going to be driving us back to Oregon starting at 10:00pm that next night, assuming I did not get a bull late in the day.
Last Day for Me in Wyoming Unit 7, Does Austin Get a Bull Without a Tag?
We woke up bright and early Friday morning. Friday was my last day to hunt Wyoming and the plan was to hunt all day and then start our drive home around 10:00pm Friday night. We were leaving at 10:00pm to head back to Oregon because Josh was scheduled to meet up with another group to hunt in Oregon on Saturday. Josh and Brian stayed back to get camp picked up and to get some rest before the big drive. Austin, John, Chris and I jumped into John’s side by side and headed back to the drainage where we had seen the bulls the night before.
We climbed the adjacent ridge to get high enough to glass the hillside where we had seen the bulls. Sure enough, the bulls were feeding along a clearing just beyond some aspen trees, working their way up the ridge. Chris stayed on the ridge to bugle if needed and to watch the elk. John, Austin and I dropped down and worked our way up the hillside East of the elk. Once on the other side John stayed back in the timber and Austin and I quickly but quietly stalked toward the bulls. Doing our best to pay attention to the wind, we worked our way through the timber to the clearing where the bulls were feeding. We visually spotted the bulls and ranged them at 135 yards. They were actually feeding up the hill ahead of us, but it was so loud in the timber we didn’t think we would have a shot if we backtracked and headed further up the hill. We figured our best bet would be to call them in to where we were positioned. Austin was right behind me with the camera and my Rocky Mountain bugle and he started calling. I stepped out to get in front of a fir tree. One of the bulls was looking straight at us. We suspect the bull winded us because the wind had shifted and was headed right in their direction. The bulls trotted off toward the other end of the clearing. Had they not gotten our scent, there is a good chance one of the smaller bulls would have come into our call.
We regrouped and headed up the hill. Throughout the day we were able to get a few more bulls to respond but we couldn’t get any bulls to fully commit to our calls. The rut had started but it was not yet in full swing. We took a long lunch nap refueled with Peak, Mountain House, and Next Miles meals before heading over the ridge (see Austin’s article on those meals). Within ten minutes of hiking we jumped a small herd. They did not respond to our calls so we held back. We then decided to work our way down the hill, essentially back to where we had started the day. I could feel my opportunity for a bull slipping away. I have been on the last day before and it is a desperate feeling as the clock ticks away. I could not be with a better team of seasoned elk hunters. But circumstances often dictate success. Chris spotted a bull and a couple cows just as we started down the ridge. Austin and I took off toward those elk while John positioned himself nearby to call for us. The bull was perfect for me, but he was not big enough for Chris or John. They were looking for bigger trophies and they had an extra week to hunt in Wyoming. Austin and I quickly moved in but we were not able to find the bull. We saw a spike but I was not really interested in pursuing a spike two plus miles back in the Wyoming wild. It turns out as we worked our way down the hill the elk had headed up the hill. Chris could see it all from his vantage point. Go figure. Defeated, we slipped down the hill toward the trail to walk out for the evening. It was my last day to hunt and I had given it all I had.
I was trying to reach Chris and John on the InReach Mini to coordinate a rendezvous near the creek bed when a bull bugled around 200 yards from the location we were standing. I thought it might be Chris but it came from the opposite direction. Austin bugled back and then motioned me to head toward the bugle with him. He was walking very fast but he is a lot taller than me so I was having to skip to keep up. It would have been comical watching me skip to his every stride while knocking my arrow. We got within about 70 yards of the bull. He was very vocal. Every time he bugled, Austin would cut him off and hit him with a fight challenge. The bull started raking a tree. He was fired up. The raking allowed us to move in closer. I ranged 50 yards to where I thought the bull might come out if he engaged us. At one point he stopped raking and moved liked he was headed our way. Austin was still screaming back at him and cow calling. I went to full draw just in case the bull rushed in. I had learned my lesson the day before. A minute later I let down my draw and relaxed. We then moved up again. I ranged 40 yards. My heart was racing. I had my Rocky Mountain call in my mouth. I was going through the checklist in my mind. Austin bugled again. At that point he must have really made the bull mad because he ran around the tree he was raking and headed right to the point I had ranged. He trotted by that point broadside and I let an arrow fly. I was not sure where I hit but it looked like it was back a bit too far. The bull spun around and then slowly headed the other direction quartering away. Austin hollered to me to put another arrow in him. I quickly fired off another arrow and hit the bull behind the shoulder high in the lung. He moved, whirled and then dropped. I fired a couple more arrows to ensure he was done. He was only 12 yards from where I initially hit him. We waited until he expired and then celebrated with a huge congratulations to one another. Wow! The bull was a 6 x 6 and measured well over 300. Austin had done all the work.
I was just the shooter…and I fired every arrow in my quiver to make sure he was finished. So, that is why I titled this day, “Does Austin get a bull without a tag? Fortunately, I had the tag and was able to get a kill shot in on that bull. It was surreal. My buddy Chris did everything to help me get that hunt and help me get ready for that hunt. He was ever-bit as much responsible for that success as me or Austin. It takes a team. We took pictures and then went to work quartering out the bull using the gutless method. By 10:00pm we had everything cut up.
Chris and John had been pursuing another bull that evening, but once it was dark, they joined up with us to help pack out the elk. The four of us packed out all 4 quarters, three bags of loose meat, the head and the cape. It was the heaviest load I have carried in several years. Two miles of walking like a hunchback. I had two bags of loose meat and the head and horns. My load felt like jello on my back. I was fortunate to be using an Exo Mountain Gear K2 2000 backpack and the S&S Archery Carbon Lite trekking poles. Good gear makes a huge difference! It was 12:30am before we got the meat in coolers and our gear all packed up. Josh, Austin, Brian and I headed for Oregon late that night. Chris and John scheduled a leisurely morning the next day to recover from packing out my elk.
That week of hunting elk in Wyoming Unit with a bow felt like the equivalent of ten years of hunting in Oregon due to the number of elk we saw and the many daily encounters. I learned a ton about archery hunting, elk behavior, calling elk, and Wyoming weather. I am hooked!
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