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2014 Eastmans.com Forum Elk Story Winner!

By: Tim Edwards

While taking the three-hour drive to my hunting location on opening morning of rifle season, I reflected on my elk hunting adventures leading up to that point in the season. Every weekend or day off from work since early August I’d been going into the same hunting area that my brother had filled me in on. On my first trip into the area, which required a two-mile hike, I was armed with nothing more than a GPS unit with a keyed-in waypoint and a can-do attitude. This was the first time I’d ever been hunting in this area of the state. Because I had changed jobs and relocated the previous spring I’d decided to apply for a bull tag closer to where I was working instead of the more familiar areas near where I grew up. This was also my first limited quota bull elk tag in Wyoming in 15 years, so I was determined to give myself the best opportunity possible to harvest a quality, mature bull.

Once my GPS told me that I had arrived at the destination that warm August day, I started glassing the area and analyzing terrain. There was an abundance of good grass in the bottom of the drainage for food, springs and creeks for water, wallows, large patches of heavy timber for cover and good vertical relief for protection from the Wyoming winds.  Basically everything that an elk would be seeking was on this piece of National Forest. The only thing missing was the elk. There was plenty of sign around that a good number of animals had been in the area earlier in the year, but I wasn’t seeing any fresh sign. After walking around for a couple of hours scouting the new terrain, I decided to glass a bit more before making the trek back to the pickup, eventually picking out a few cows and a young bull, confirming that this was a good spot.

Archery season followed that August scouting trip and I found myself chasing the growling bugles and faint chuckles of the large bulls establishing their dominance over the young bulls in the area. “Close, but no cigar” was the theme of my archery hunting after having a seven-point at 53 yards that never presented a shot, a six-point that pinned me down at around 75 yards, and a handful of encounters with immature bulls. There was no doubt in my mind where I was going on opening day of rifle season. There wasn’t any reason to even consider a change of venue after seeing three or four big boys there while scouting and archery hunting.

As I pulled into the parking lot I quit reminiscing and began putting my things together for the day’s hunt as the sun was starting to burn on the eastern horizon. I was filled with anticipation and optimism of how this day would unfold – so much so that I walked 50 yards away from the vehicle before realizing I’d neglected to grab any ammunition for my rifle.

“What an idiot,” I said, scolding myself for not mentally being in the game.

Finally, with all of the necessities in tow including ammo, I set out on the 45-minute hike to the hunting grounds. After I gained some elevation, I was walking through an inch of fresh snow from the storm the night before. This is perfect, I thought to myself as I picked my way through the pines to my vantage point above the drainages.

Upon my arrival to my glassing spot, I took off my day pack and began to assess the situation with my binoculars when, “BOOM,” a rifle shot rang out from a quarter-mile up the drainage. I carefully glassed the opposing hillside watching for movement instigated by the first gun shot of the season. This produced 15 head of elk, including a small six-point that I watched go over the peak about 1,500 yards from my location. After coming to the conclusion that the gun shot had spooked any elk over a year old out of the area for the time-being, I curiously made my way towards the direction of the shot to see if the hunter needed any assistance. Given the fact that I was hunting alone, as I’d done throughout the entire season, I figured that making a few friends in the field couldn’t hurt since I could be the one needing assistance at some point. I tracked down the hunters that had fired the shot and chatted with them for a short while finding out that they had cow tags and had missed the one they saw.

It was midmorning at this point and I thought it could be productive to take a sit and watch approach to the rest of the day’s hunt with other hunters in the area milling around. I found one of my many vantage points where I was semi-secluded from the wind and glassed the sparse timber for movement the rest of the day seeing a small herd of five or six elk with a nicely proportioned five-point. “You can do better,” I told myself as I watched them lay down on the hillside.

I conceded defeat for the day a few hours later and snuck around the small herd to avoid spooking them on my way back to the truck.  Opening day was on a Tuesday and I had a mountain of work to do so I spent the next two days in the office. However, I don’t know if I was all that productive because my thoughts were mostly occupied with elk hunting at this point. Thursday night rolled around and another early winter storm was in the area so I called my boss and told him I wouldn’t be in on Friday, I was going back hunting.

After the commute and required hike I found myself in familiar territory back at the same location I had started glassing on opening morning. I glassed, moved, glassed and moved and glassed some more before deciding to go back up to the highest vantage point where I had started. It was about 11 o’clock and all I had seen was a raghorn bull for about for a brief second. I found my perch in the rocks and glassed until my arms needed a break. Giving way to hunger, I started casually munching on a granola bar and mindlessly gazed across the terrain. I looked down, about 1,000 feet vertically, where the two drainages met and something struck me as not quite right, so I picked my binoculars up for further investigation. It was an elk, it was a bull and it was a big bull. I watched him feed across the small meadow and lay down in the sun. I can get him, I thought as I made a plan on the best route for the stalk.

I made my way down the hillside and entered the creek bottom, picking my way carefully through the dense timber trying to not make a sound until the terrain leveled out and the two creeks converged. The wind was blowing out of the west at about 20 mph so I veered east to make sure I’d be downwind of the bull’s location when I came out of the timber.

I came out of the timber on the far eastern side of the long, narrow meadow which I’d watched him lay down in and took my pack off, to be a bit more agile.  I started slowly making my way westward up the clearing, walking gingerly through the brush. I kept looking around and looking back at the area which I’d spotted him from until I came to the conclusion that I had to be right on top of him if he was still there. I watched for movement along the tree line that he bedded under when I made out the tip of an antler above the brush only 50 yards away. I knelt down quietly and cranked my scope down to 3x power.

A lot of good all of that practice at long distance did you. As I planned my next move I watched the antler tip intently for a couple of minutes, never seeing it move. The bull was sleeping 50 yards from me. Upon careful consideration, I decided to break a twig to arouse the bull. Snap! No movement. Next, I softly whistled and still no movement. I wondered if it was a shed. No, that would be too coincidental.

Oct 2013 Bull FrontviewNext, I whistled louder and the horn moved as I prepared for action. I waited for another minute but he never picked his head up. So I whistled about five times as loud as I could and the horn moved. I looked through the scope and the bull picked his head up where I could see the top of his neck, and I settled the crosshair on this neck and shot. The bull rolled over on his back with two legs kicking in the air as I stood up basking in my accomplishment when he seemed to spring up off of the ground as if he was struck by lightning. I cycled the action on my rifle and put another shot in him through the lungs as he got up to run. The shot didn’t seem to faze him, as he continued over the knoll and out of sight from my vantage point.

I went back to grab my pack and began tracking the bull, wondering how this bull ran off. Elk, and especially old bulls, are tough animals. After tracking for about 100 yards, I found the bull deceased. His last steps were down an eight-foot cut-bank onto a dead tree on the ground, which naturally, his horns became wedged in upside down. It took me about an hour of cutting tree limbs to free his antlers and get the carcass situated so I could begin the quartering process. Once that was complete, I stashed the quarters and head about under some trees for retrieval which was a chore but well worth it.  My brother Andy and his friend Brendon came back with me the next day to help pack out, for which I’m eternally indebted to them.





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