Mule Deer, Elk and Western Big Game Hunting -

"Breaking Brian's Jinx"

Brian's 345 point bull
Brian Skeels (left) and Bill Hintze (right) with Brian's 345 point bull.
My close friend Brian Skeels is a diligent hunter. Now fifty-five years young, he has searched for elk in Colorado for a quarter-century. Being in good condition, he tramped the high country hard and for his efforts collected three cows and one five-by-three bull. Such results really are about par for the course, despite the disappointing totals. The odds of harvesting a mature 300 plus 6x6 or better on public land are much less than 10%, no matter what the nationally-distributed outdoor magazine headlines scream.

Nonetheless, Brian's dogged persistence struck a sympathetic chord with me. By good fortune, an opportunity to hunt a Wyoming ranch turned into a fair chase elk bonanza. With the help of guide Doug Cringan, I secured my (then) best bull in the first hour of a snowy opening day. Actually we had to wait for legal shooting time and to be sure we were taking the best of several 6x6 trophies.

Such a find is too exciting not to share with a buddy, and I persuaded Brian to put in with me for the following year's drawing. After one unsuccessful attempt, we both drew a year later; planning began.

Immediately a snag developed. Brian's three-week vacation had been scheduled to accommodate the first split of Colorado's three-part season. Wyoming's opening in our unit was four days later. Much discussion ensued before the matter was resolved: he would spend the initial three days in Colorado, then join me in the Cowboy State on the eve of that beginning. "And because I'll need to get back to my friends' camp in Colorado as soon as possible," Brian reasoned out loud, "I'll need the first shot opportunity." What could one do but agree with a pal?

Through the heat of a Texas summer we honed our travel plans and occasionally teleconferenced with guide Doug Cringan. Doug also would forward photos taken of the elk herds snapped while on scouting missions.

Then October action time was upon us. Brian left on his thousand-mile drive toward a Grand Junction rendezvous, while I finished last details before departure to Wyoming several days later.

Near 10:00 pm on the night prior to season start, Brian knocked on the door of my room. He and his chums experienced no luck in Colorado and his spirits seemed down. Contrastingly, Doug and I had just returned from a reconnaissance of our chosen area and had seen several 6x6 bulls; we couldn't wait for the night to pass. "Remember I get first shot," were Brian's last words before drifting off to sleep.

For once in my life a 3:30 wake-up call was not resented. We geared up and headed out on the hour's ride to the first observation point and our (hopefully) sighting of bulls.

Bill's 362 point bull
Bill Hintze's bull scored 362 gross points.
In the slate grey of early dawn, the three of us meandered down a faint trail through mixed pine stands and mini-parks. A 15-knot breeze kissed our faces and blew away condensed breath. It was going to be a lovely day on the high plateau.

My peripheral vision caught flickers of movement 400 yards ahead, quickly focusing our attention. A cow elk momentarily appeared in a brushy gap, then was gone; enough however to go to RED ALERT. Then, wafted on the wind came the squeal of a testosterone-charged herd boss!

Quickly Doug motioned Brian forward, while I dropped back five yards. "Chamber a round in your .300 Weatherby now and put it on safe," he suggested. "We'll use the pines for cover and move up. Conditions are great for a stalk!"

With infinite care, in 15 minutes we were viewing a feeding herd, including several satellite males and a clearly dominant leader. Bugles were prefaced by jets of vapor as he prodded his harem into a tight group with long 6x6 antlers. What a show!

"That's the stag I've been sending you pictures of," Doug whispered to Brian and me. "He's one of the best in the area. Take him when you're ready." At 250 yards, even a 190-grain bullet usually doesn't stop a royal trophy instantly with one shot. A second round, however, did the job quickly and Brian had his prize.

"Wow, this is fantastic!" Brian was ecstatic as we examined the king. "I couldn't have hoped for anything so big!" All his years of frustration were washed away in a flash. I looked at my watch; it lacked a few minutes being eight am. "That's a pretty good record, Doug," I congratulated our guide. "Big 6x6 bull elk down before eight o'clock on opening day two years running. Now, what are you going to do for me as an encore this year?"

His half-hour elk hunt over, Brian devoted himself to meat processing and taxidermy duties, then left for the return trip to Colorado. No one there had any success in this absence, nor did he score for the remainder of the short season. Subsequent measurement of the antlers yielded a rating of 345 B&C. The processor had kidded, "Go hunt some other species. You'll never get a better wapiti."

Now, left to our own devices, Doug Cringan and I searched for an animal that would be worthy of comparison to Brian's. Late the following day, a small group of cows controlled by a nice 6x6 bull fed into a park-like glade. By sliding crab fashion down a bushy slope, we closed the range to just over 200 yards. My .338's 250 grain Noslers did their work, and I had a well-shaped 290-point trophy.

Considering the low percentage of success on 6x6 and better wapiti no matter which state venue, we had been very lucky. I still had a further opportunity, having bought (at a RMEF banquet) a week's hunt with Edwin Johnson's Montana Guide Service on the Royal Teton Ranch, northwest of Gardiner. As winter progresses, more and more elk leave the untenable snow-drifted high plateau of Yellowstone for less hostile range north of the Park. Many of them cross the Royal Teton property in this migration.

My guide here was Wade Peck, whose regular job involves managing the Ranch's extensive agri-business. In bitterly cold (-10F) pre-dawn just before Thanksgiving, fellow Houstonian Gary Groves and I accompanied Wade up the north flank of Molheron Canyon. Our plan was to watch side drainage in hopes of intercepting bulls and bucks returning to high cover after a night of feeding in the bottoms.

Almost before I had settled my back against a massive Douglas fir, there was activity on the adjacent ridge. Six cow elk wandered down the crestal trail and disappeared into the quakies, to be succeeded ten minutes later by two mature bulls. Even at 500 yards, one was noticeably larger than his companion. I planted my boots deeply in the snow for a firm sitting position and began tracking their slow approach. Abruptly the wapiti pair turned right, heading into black timber where there would be no chance for a shot. Assuming a 400-yard range, I aimed five inches over the withers of the larger bull and squeezed the trigger of my favorite big game rifle, a .338 custom Sako.

Recoil obliterated the sight picture for a moment, but there was no mistaking the "whump" of a striking projectile. The target went down in its tracks, shoulder-spine juncture centered by a 250-grain partition slug.

It required nearly 30 minutes to negotiate steep snow-covered and deadfall-strewn slopes before Wade Peck and I stood beside the downed monarch. "This is a very big trophy, Bill. Perhaps it's the largest ever shot on the Ranch," Wade enthused. "We'll put a tape on the antlers when everybody has gathered."

The first thing I did upon returning to the lodge was to call my wife Doris and relate the event to her. And before signing off I asked, "Please call Brian and tell him he now has competition."

Guesses regarding the measurements were rampant among both guides and hunters, including General Chuck Yeager and Shuttle Commander Gen. Joe Engel. "Let's have a lottery," someone suggested. Each participant put in a dollar and his estimate of gross B&C score noted; mine was low at 335 and others' ranged up to 380. Then each taped figure was called out before recording, until the final number was 362, with 56 inch beams and a 52 inch outside spread. In telephoning Doris later, I added, "Advise Brian he's now number 2.

My bull indeed was the biggest ever recorded on the Royal Teton (it since has been exceeded). Both Brian and I each took our lifetime best bulls in the first hour of our hunts. Certainly there were no regrets about not "waiting for a larger specimen!"

Written by Bill Hintze

Click-a-Pic ... Details & Bigger Photos

Click-a-Pic ... Details & Bigger Photos

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