Mule Deer, Elk and Western Big Game Hunting -

The Elk Hunting Pursuit of "Swords"
By Jeremy Grimes

I had a Wasatch Limited Entry tag last year and we had a great hunt. We didn't know very much about elk hunting, but we learned a lot along the way and we got a decent bull. He scored about 280. During my hunt in 2015 we heard from other hunters in the area that they were hunting a bull that they had named the "Ghost Bull". There were actually several different groups chasing him. They were so wrapped up in hunting him that a couple of them never did get a bull that year because they wouldn't give up on him until too late. One of the guys helping us had seen this "Ghost Bull" 3 or 4 years earlier and had tried to stalk him then and then again last year. At that time he was a 7x7 and his fifths pointed straight out to the sides, so he was very distinctive looking.

This year my son, Danny, drew the same Wasatch Limited Entry tag with only 6 points. We were very excited and started planning immediately. I scouted around in early August and watched 4 bulls and about 50 cows across a canyon. Three bulls were smaller and one was pretty good but too far to really score. We hiked up another canyon a couple of miles away a few weeks later to see what we could see. We saw lots of good areas and I thought we should come back and set up cameras later.

About 6 weeks before the hunt, we hiked into a wallow that we knew about in a totally different drainage. This was the same area that the big bull had been seen in a few years earlier. We set up 3 cameras on the wallow and trails in and out of it. After a week I was going crazy, so I hiked in alone and traded out the cards to see what was on there. There were 2 smallish bulls and that got us excited. It was about a month before we hiked in again and retrieved the cameras. This was about 10 days before the hunt. I was worried about going in so close to hunt time, but we timed it in the middle of the day and thought it would be okay. We couldn't wait to check the cards so we took the cameras to my dad's house on the way home to check the pictures. There were 11 different bulls on the cameras and we named each one and took notes of which days and times that they were visiting the wallow. The biggest of the 11 bulls we named "Swords" because of his huge fourths. He came in to the wallow August 24th at 2:00pm and that is the only time. We were disappointed that he didn't come in any more after that day. There were several other great bulls that were visiting regularly. An hour before we picked up the cameras there was a nice 6x6 there and we were excited to go after him. We also had a bear and a coyote on the cameras as well as tons of turkeys. I emailed some of the pictures of the bulls on the camera to the friend that had seen the big bull the previous years. He immediately replied that we had to get this bull we had named "Swords". Not being super experienced we didn't realize what we were seeing. We were gearing up to go after at least a 330 bull. We would be excited for anything bigger than last year.

We drove up and set-up camp on Thursday afternoon, September 15th. We set up the wall tent and wood stove and situated all of our stuff. It was a really nice camp and we were very comfortable.
We drove around and watched a few canyons and listened that night and also Friday morning and evening. A few friends joined us Friday afternoon and stayed to camp that night. Early on opening day we drove up to a point before light and glassed all around to find elk. We heard a couple but nothing was moving at all and we didn't see anything. This is an odd year and it seems like the rut hadn't even begun. It might be the dry year or the full moon and hot weather, who knows? We went back and had breakfast burritos and planned our afternoon. We decided to hike into the wallow where the cameras were. We couldn't hunt the wallow in the morning without scaring the elk out due to thermals. About 11:30 am we hiked into the wallow and set up the shooter just south and a little above the wallow. The rest of us stayed out in the meadow about 40 yards away and glassed. We napped a little and had snacks and just hung out. We were there about 3 hours. Nothing came in so we headed back down to camp.

The second day we started out at about 6:30am. We hiked out across the ridge above the water hole below our camp. We had heard bulls in here last year and also this year. We heard 2 or maybe 3 bulls in this canyon below camp. We wanted to get above the water and look down into the water and also the pines to the west. When we got there we heard a very loud and low growly bugle and barking in the pines. He sounded like something we were interested in. Not that that sound means everything, but we sure thought this elk was something special based on how he sounded. We tried some cow calls and we got a few responses but that guy wasn't coming out of the pines. Eventually he retreated further into the pines and up the hill away from us. A couple guys wanted to circle around and into the pines after him, but I thought that was a bad idea because if it didn't work out he would be long gone. I opted to back out and regroup and figure a better plan. The other guys had to go take care of stuff at home and would return later that night. I told them where we would be if we were out when they got back. So my 2 sons and I went back to camp and had some food and took a nap. We slept way longer than planned. We woke up at about 2pm and I pushed to get the boys motivated to hike down to the water hole again and wait for that nasty sounding elk to come in. We hiked in and found a perfect spot on the hill above and north of the water. It was hot and I knew he would be hitting that water at some point.

Our spot was great because the wind was coming up canyon and we knew the bull was below us and would be coming from up wind. We set up at about 3pm and waited and waited. A little after 5pm we heard a huge bugle from the same elk that we heard in the morning. We all just looked at each other and smiled. A few minutes later we heard him again, but much closer. Then we heard him growling directly across the draw from us. He was about 60 yards away is all but we couldn't see him. He was coming down through some quakes from our right to left at about the same elevation as us. He was heading right for the water. My older son with the tag and I couldn't see him, but we heard him and knew exactly where he was. My younger son did see him and was watching him through the spotting scope. He tried to get our attention but I kept telling him to hush because I thought he was just talking to talk. Sorry Blake! At about that same time we saw the bull and realized he was a shooter. I saw my son's hands start to shake. The bull was about clear of the quakes when I looked to my left and saw one of the other guys that had just come back up on the mountain walking toward us in the open. I quickly motioned for him to drop and he did. At the same time he was dropping he saw the bull straight across from him. He said the bull was looking right at him so he tilted his face down and held still. The bull ignored him and kept walking down the hill into the water. There were several cows following the bull and I was worried they would see or smell us. They didn't, we were set-up in a perfect spot.

My son wanted to shoot the bull before he got to the water but I told him to hold off because he wasn't stopping. In hindsight he was right and it would have been a much easier deal if he had shot him sooner. I didn't want to take any chances with this elk. He slowly walked down into the pond. He drank and kicked water all over the place. He raked his antlers in the water and mud. He was right in the middle. I whispered to wait until he cleared the water before shooting. He eventually made his way to the side of the pond and was standing with his front feet out of the pond and his back feet in the pond. The cows were starting to come down to the water and we both knew he better shoot soon. I tapped him and said now. He was pretty quick about it and took the shot. It was about 160 yards. The shot hit the bull a little low but exactly right front to back. The bull obviously hunched up but did not go down. We later determined that this shot was definitely fatal based on the massive damage that we discovered. After a second or two I told him to hit it again. He was super quick again and the second shot hit him like a sledgehammer and he dropped immediately. He lay in the water for about five seconds and then with his front legs he reared back and over and lunged into the very center of the pond where he expired.

We were all going crazy and quickly packed up all of our gear and ran down the hill to check him out. When we got to the pond we could only see half of his body and one side of his antlers. Our buddy was stripped down to his underwear in 10 seconds and wading into the quagmire. My son did the same and between the two of them they were able to drag the elk to the edge. If the water had been any shallower they would not have been able to drag him out. We got lucky. At the edge of the pond it took all 4 of us all we had to drag him clear of the water where we could quarter him. We dragged him 2 inches at a time and it took us 20 minutes to move him 6 feet. We were looking at the elk and our friend said he knew it was the same bull from our cameras a month earlier and a canyon over. The bull we named "Swords". He was for sure huge but not a 7x7. Jordan pointed out the details and we saw it too. Jordan then said he thought it was the same bull he chased the year before. He was only a 6x6 but was very heavy and he did have the points that were about an inch long on the outside edges of his main beams. Those might have been the fifths from previous years that had stuck straight out the sides. We guessed he was pretty old and regressing.
The boys cleaned up and got dressed and we started to skin and quarter him. It was already getting dark and it was pretty cool. None of us had jackets and it was nearly 45 degrees and we were a mile down in a hole from the truck. Lesson learned for next time, always take what you might need. As we were cutting him up we were trying to come up with a game plan. It was decided that we would quarter him and take the head out that night and hang the quarters in a tree and come back the next day. It was about 8:30pm when we finally got everything finished and hung in a tree. The head and cape weighed more than one person could manage. We found a log about 10 feet long and 4 inches around. We lashed the head to that log and Danny and Jordan put it on their shoulders and we started up the trail. My 16 year old and I had the rifle and all of our packs and spotting scopes. It was completely dark with no moon yet. We had 2 head lamps between the four of us. About half way out I started using Jordan's cell phone flashlight to see where we were going. It was very hard physically, not to mention hard trying to fit this huge thing between the many trees along the trail. It took about 90 minutes to make the one mile trip. We were all dead tired when we got to the truck. Danny and Jordan were beasts and we just couldn't believe they had done that.
We drove up to the top of the mountain where we called everybody and sent pictures. I called my brother and arranged for him to come up the next day with mules and horses to haul the meat out of that canyon. We then went back to camp and crashed.
The next morning we drove down to drop off the cape and head to Massey Taxidermy. We did that and headed back up to meet my brother with the horses. I got to ride a mule and the boys all had to walk. We rode down and packed up the meat. It had survived the night just fine. No critters bothered it. The total round trip with horses was about an hour. We ended up with close to 300lbs of meat. I had a lot of jerky made and we still have a ton of steaks and roasts and burger.
Overall, I don't know how we will ever top that hunt. We had a great time with great people. Made memories that will last forever and tagged a great bull. He taped out at 376". Not super long beams but very heavy all around. The hunt never seems to last long enough.

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

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

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