"The Heart Pounding Elk Hunt"
Thursday, before the opener, we set up camp in one of our favorite areas close to where we had been seeing some good animals. We would have two hunters in camp this year. A nonresident hunter from back east and a hunter from Utah who had obtained a "poaching rewards" permit to hunt elk. Within just a few miles of camp, we had seen several good bulls including the 370 bull, so we were very excited for the opportunities that awaited our hunters.
As with most nights before the opener, this one passed slowly and it seemed like forever before the moment arrived. As we waited for dawn, our ears turned to the sound of a few bugles ringing through the clear mountain air. The morning was hot and dry and the bulls went totally silent not long after first light. It seemed like we were on a totally different mountain than the night before, quiet and uninhabited by elk. We searched high and low throughout the morning, but only turned up a small group of cows. We returned to camp later in the afternoon finding our other group hot, tired, and a bit frustrated.
It's tough being a guide when you know that just a few days prior, elk were running everywhere. We had to reassure both our clients and ourselves that the elk were here and that we would find them. That evening we set up at a spring in the area, which the elk used as a favorite wallow. We watched as a dozen turkeys and a group of mule deer came and went. Finally, a few cows and calves came to drink, but the bulls stayed away. We waited patiently, listening to an impressive "deep pounding bugle" just out past our view in the thick aspens. With the darkness fast approaching, we decided to circle down wind and away from the wallow and return to camp. On the way out, we decided this was the place we needed to be on the second morning of the hunt.
Dawn was fast approaching as we stopped to listen. It wasn't long before we heard a bugle, then another, and finally a good sounding bugle, the kind that really gets the heart pumping. This morning was drastically different than opening day, the air was crisp and cool and the elk were hot. We proceeded in the direction of the heart-pounding bugle, anticipating it was the bull from the night before. We closed the distance in half, and then slowed our pace. Our eyes fixed in the direction of the bugling bull. At about 60 yards, I caught movement in the trees ahead of us. I was surprised to see the bull bugling from his bed. Our hearts were pounding with excitement, "was this bull the one we wanted"? We moved carefully until we had a better view. I slowly raised my Nikon 12x50's and began assessing the beautiful animal. After a minute or two, I told Aaron that he was a nice 6x6, probably around 320, but not the bull we wanted.
We turned back in the opposite direction towards the spring where we had been the night before. The sun was just breaking over the ridge as we approached the spring. We stopped suddenly as a cracking sound was heard through the trees. We crept in closer and were able to watch two satellite bulls, covered from hoof to head with mud, fighting like mad. What a sight to behold! As we watched the bulls, the show was suddenly interrupted by the "deep pounding bugle" coming from the trees to the east of the spring. The bugle was then followed by another powerful sounding bugle from a different bull to southeast of the spring. I told Aaron, "one of those bulls is him, and one of them will be yours!"
The other bull was close, just over the ridge to the west of us. Just then the two bulls let out consecutive screams. The adrenaline was pumping as we began moving towards the other bull. Crossing the first ridge in the trees, I knew we were getting close. As we approached the next little ridge, the bull let out another scream. We stopped dead in our tracks and I motioned for Aaron to hit the ground. We remained motionless and I let out a small cow chirp, and the bull began to take steps towards us. At about 50 yards he stopped, I could see his mass and length, but most of the antlers were blocked from my view by a large stand of oak brush. I slowly raised my bino's to my eyes as the bull turned to walk back over the little ridge towards his harem. I saw it all, his mass, length, and width! This bull looked all too familiar and I knew he was the one we wanted. Aaron and I took a deep breath and gathered ourselves. Then slowly, we began to creep over the ridge. I told Aaron, "This is it, he's the one you want. He is better than 360"!
Peeking out over the ridge, our eyes scanned the trees, nothing. A few more steps and another quick look. "There", I said, and pointed to some cows slowly feeding and mingling in front us. We again froze and the elk still had no idea we were there. We spotted the bull only 60 yards away, but Aaron didn't have a good shot because of the thick oak brush. I told Aaron, "get ready"! The bull nudged a cow, and moved forward into a clear shooting lane. "There"! I said, "take him"!
As the shot from Aaron's gun echoed through the trees, the bull arched his back and began to stumble. A quick second shot put him down for good.
As I congratulated Aaron on his successful hunt, we stood in complete awe looking at the incredible bull. Whenever I'm up close and personal with these huge animals, their size, mass, energy, and beauty never cease to amaze me. As we located my brothers, we all agreed this bull was the same bull I had captured on video just a week earlier.
Writers note: We noticed the majority of the bulls this year were a bit short. Their main beams and G-5's were all much shorter compared to their other tines. Aaron's bull only had 8" G-5's as compared to 18-23" G1-G4's. We contribute this mainly to the drought conditions experienced in 2000. There was fairly good forage on the mountain until the middle to end of July. The animals ran out of groceries and stopped producing antler growth leaving things a bit short. Aaron's bull most likely would have made the book if his G-5's and main beams would have matched the rest of his tines in growth.
Written by Todd Black as told by guide Travis Black
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