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 tent poles 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.