My General Tag

TOGIE

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So begins the story of my quest to fill a Wyoming General Elk Tag.

I want this to be more a story documenting my emotions during a hunt rather than a story documenting a hunt. But, it will undoubtedly be both. It is inherently both. I find for myself that my hunting is often more a struggle against myself than against the animals and I want to be honest about that. That part of my story is developing in new ways as a brand new father to what is now a 1 year old son.

I went on my first bag game hunt now 6 years ago and filled a doe antelope tag in Wyoming in September, 2017. That same fall at the push of some friends I started buying points in Wyoming. I burned those 6 points to get a General tag this year for my 7th fall of hunting. Why did I do that? It's something I've admittedly started questioning. Such is the prelude to my personal struggles with hunting. Objectively, though, the why can be easily answered by looking at what's going on: the General Tag is undoubtedly creeping up in points cost, the writing is on the wall that it could be creeping up in the cost of dollars, and points continue to add to the cost of the tag; and, not least of all is time.

Now, I'm a father. This was well documented in my hunting last year. I was extraordinarily blessed and lucky to be able to spend some good time hunting last year with a freshly minted infant at home. I shot a cool buck in Colorado and filled a late season Wyoming Cow tag. But as was obvious last year and is something that continues to change in complexity, time means something else now. How and where I spend it is a constant added complexity to life. Knowing we will be looking to have more kids, if there is an opportunity to spend the time a Wyoming General Tag demands, this is likely to be the last chance for years to come. My wife was in full agreement after discussing how this fall might look during application season for 2023 - if there is any last year to "go big" for the foreseeable future, 2023 is it.

I bought a bow last year in anticipation of this. Wyoming allows you to hunt the archery season and the rifle season should the tag remained unfilled after traipsing about with a bow. Why would you waste the opportunity if you can help it?

So, General Tag easily secured at 6 points this spring, it all began...
 
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The archery season for this tag presents a solid opportunity to get an elk. But equally importantly, it affords some great scouting opportunity to the rifle season that awaits.

My intent was to do two weekends of this. If the opportunity presents itself with the bow, I'd be attempting to take it, be it a large mature bull or a spike. But being the epitome of a novice bow hunter, I approached these as scouting trips.

As life would have it, this got whittled down to one weekend. I wedged it onto the calendar for Sept 22-24.

Even packing and preparing for a hunt is stressful and hard nowadays. I won't bother this story with the saga of dialing in and practicing with a bow.

This is what my corner of the garage has started to perpetually look like as summer comes to a close and fall starts kicking in to gear. Backpacking, fishing, and peakbagging winding down while hunting starts to heat up.

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Sometimes I start feeling like I'm losing interest in a hunting trip before it even starts. We get dinner wrapped up, baby, dog, mom and dad fed then baby to bed. Then the house cleaned up, lunch prepared for work the next day, spend some time together as a couple if we can and then when normally it would be time for bed it's instead time to start continuing to pack and prepare. As I think about that packing and preparing i get overwhelmed and I don't even want to go. I'm just... tired.

Our baby is the perfect sleeper. But that doesn't stop me from being someone that has always struggled with sleep. And maybe it's some sort of underlying neurosis borne of various anxieties I have that are seemingly rooted in nothing at all, but I can't tell you how often the excitement for a hunt quickly fades to a desire to not go at all as the clock ticks near to departure time.

Nonetheless, I am excited. I have a very dear love for all things Wyoming. I spent many weeks of my childhood summers up there, even near where I'll be hunting. My mom's side of the family hails from Wyoming and I spent much time up there as a young kid and teenager as a result. Those memories, those places, those sights, are extremely special to me. Being up there, in those hills and those towns, makes me happy. I love it up there like no other place and I finally have an elk tag in those hills.
 
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It was Thursday, the 21st. I get home from work and it's time to pack everything into the truck and leave.

It was getting hard for me.

Hunting last year was hard because the absolute shock of becoming parents is unlike anything else. Those first few months are so sleepless while you are in the middle of such a brand new massively life changing event nothing can prepare you for it just makes it hard to logistically hunt. It is such an overwhelming shock to the system that the hardness of hunting had more to do with simply being able to be away.

Now, it was hard because I was realizing I didn't want to be away. I didn't anticipate this feeling very much when planning my fall.

I know every parent can attest to how much you start falling head over heels for these little buggers that are our children. He's 1 now and changing a lot. I'm gone at work all day during the week and feel like i don't get to be around him as much anyway, and while it's only a three day weekend, every part of my body no longer wanted to go. I wanted to be around my son.

It seems silly and trivial. It's a weekend of archery hunting not a deployment. But nonetheless, it made it hard to want to go. Why did I schedule almost two weeks of hunting this fall with a 1 year old at home? I started regretting getting the tag.

I gave him lots of kisses and squeezes, same with the wife and started making my way north. I started trying to reorient my thoughts towards doing something that despite what it may seem like, I actually do truly enjoy.
 
I arrive and as quickly as I can and get prepared to head out in the morning to spot number one.

Morning quickly arrives and I jump in the truck to drive to spot number one starting point to hike to my glassing spot. Getting up early is not my forte. How I lust for another December or January cow hunt where the days are short and the nights are gloriously long.

This is an area I've looked for Mule Deer before and incidentally found some bulls in at the time. Upon examination, it's no coincidence bulls would be located here. It's located in an area that can't be seen from a road and can't be approached from a road. It is full of blowdown timber and ridges separated by canyons that as they rise into the hills patched by sage parks become impassable due to the severity of the deadfall as the ridges turn to mountain sides. Gaining an opposing ridge 700 yards away turns into a mile of steep up and down hiking. Gaining a ridge two away that provides a path into the sage parks above can turn into a handful of miles of steep hiking as one navigates severe deadfall and ways around it.

There is no reasonable way to approach these areas from above. The amount of deadfall and the miles through it are, literally, not reasonably doable. Gotta come from below, which is no fun either. In my mind, this is a great spot.

Glassing must be intentional yet swift. A bull may only present himself for a brief 30 seconds or less as he transitions a 30 yard wide sage park from timber to timber. The bulls don't seem to linger so neither should your eyes. Linger on a spot so you can catch it, but don't linger too long or you might miss it in another spot.

Before even setting up the binoculars I find a black spot on the hills. Briefly wondering if it's a bear I set up. It's a moo cow. Well crap. That hill side is dotted with moo cows.

Then I see what look like moose cows on the ridge above the moo cows. Given at this distance they could easily be misidentified for a moo cow, I watch them for a little. It becomes unmistakable when the heads fully come up. Those are moose. At least there's something to see, they might even be bulls, can't tell from here. The presence of wildlife of any kind is always spirit lifting.


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Following!! I hear ya in terms of not wanting to go due to the little one at home. I’ve skipped a lot of hunting the past 8 years because of the horrible anxiety I get on leaving the family to go hunting. I tell myself it will change when they are older but in reality I don’t think it ever will.
 
I enjoy seeing the moose but I have to remind myself of what I already know about the area: do not linger.

So I continue to scan the sage parks above me and ridges across from me. Really only giving each park about 6 or 7 seconds time then doing relatively quick scans across the faces of the relatively close two opposing ridges and their hillsides visible to me. Then back up to hit each park. I continue this for about 15 minutes. Taking brief breaks to pull away from the binos to not just enjoy the scenery but to take in a larger context view of what's in front of me and let my eyes catch movement if it's there.

Then back to the glass.

Do my scans, starting at the steep sage parks, falling down to the ridges, then back up. In transition back up to the parks, on a ridge that comes off one of the higher mountains up above me I catch sight of that unmistakable light brown colored body...

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Why is that every time you find what you're looking in places they're supposed to be, it feels absolutely unexpected? Maybe almost unbelievable?

Maybe it's because they actually are just hard to find or it's a lack of belief in oneself. I dunno, hunting is weird that way.
 
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Good luck on your hunt. I understand how hard it can be to find time to hunt when you have a wife and kid(s) at home who depend on you.

But keep in mind you need to still live your life. Your family will benefit from a father/husband who leads a full life. It's a balancing act and it takes practice, but you can't leave either behind for the other.

Looking forward to the rest of the hunt.
 
So there he is. I can't see antlers from here, but it only stands to reason that this is a bull. He does what I expect, in that he does not linger. In relatively short time he has moved further to the right and over that ridge, back into timber. But now I know where he's hanging out.

Time to figure out a way up there. There's is quite a dizzying array of steep canyons to go down and back up between myself and that bull to eventually gain that ridge. Each canyon descent is pure deadfall timber. As the crow flies he's about 1.2 miles away. Let me think about this a moment.

It looks to me if I can gain the ridge opposite me it should be only one more bad timber whack down, and back up, to be able to work up towards that ridge he just crested. From there i can try some cow calling.

This is when I get mental blocks while solo. From one perspective, and it's true, it's very doable to get up there. From another equally true perspective, it's going to be quite an endeavor to get up there given this terrain and the timber between me and there. It's going to be very roundabout, losing a lot of elevation to gain it back and then have to go up even further. The physicality is not he issue for me, I'm pretty young and still a rather fit guy who spends lots of time in the mountains.

For some reason, while solo, the anxiety starts building whenever I start looking at making the move through vicious terrain - up and up, further from the truck, into the seemingly unknown.

Maybe I lack something, call it mental fortitude, or whatever, but it is my single biggest weakness as a solo hunter. I'm not gonna lie about it or hide that reality form myself or anyone else anymore. When I have a partner, I'm a different person. I seem to always be the one getting us further away and into the bigger tangles that will make getting ourselves and, if we're lucky, meat, back to the truck a truly horrific experience. But when I'm alone, I struggle to start the steps up and away. I don't want to have these anxieties, but I do.

I suspect these feelings are an extension of the same "neurosis" I can even experience packing for a solo trip, the desire, that pops up like a whack-a-mole, to ultimately just stay home. My suspicion is these are a larger part me as a person in relation to overall mental health and having nothing to do inherently with hunting, hunting just flares them up. It's not that it's necessarily a true mental health problem on the order that so many people have truly debilitating life altering struggles with. I feel that if nothing else it's a reminder to look at my larger life and be sure I'm dealing with things well. And might just very well be that I'm not managing underlying anxieties in my life as well as I should.
 
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But I buck up and start packing my things to go. I know that once I actually get moving, get that heart pounding, I will start feeling alive again and the anxieties will fade away.

I look at the deadfall directly in front of me thinking there must be a route through that to take a more direct route to start up the hill side opposite me. Once up there there I should be within a half mile of the ridge that bull was on. I should be able to find a route through that deadfall and work up towards the bulls ridge.

I literally can not even find an entrance to the dead fall in front me. I walk a about 120 yards back forth and don't even see a reasonable way into the trees. How many hours is reasonable to go 700 yards? What I anticipate it being is not reasonable.

Welp, time to go backwards, further away and down in elevation to where the timber ends, drop down, get on the hillside opposite, albeit much lower down the mountain, and work up to the top again and continue upwards. Making a few treks through some manageable deadfall once near the top of the ridge that was once just in front of me.

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The light at the end of the tunnel.
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A modest little treasure to take home.

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I gain my spot. It was about a 1.5 miles to get to here, not terrible, at all, but it took a little time.

But the worst thing happened once I get up there and start looking at the next descent of timber. The worst thing wasn't that this timber looked like the first round I tried to poke into, in that I couldn't even find an entrance, it was that the wind whipped up. It was steady and strong and as I stand there looking up to where I saw the bull, it was directly at my back...

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The wind seems to be making a decision for me here. I can't go hiking into where I just found a holed up bull with the wind at my back.

Further as I investigate the end of this ridge top I'm on I think I need to reevaluate the route up there. I look at what is now the next ridge over, what used to be two over. It looks like that's the one that needs to be taken up to this bulls location. It seems to provide a pretty straight shot, largely lacking deadfall timber and connects pretty well up to the same mountain that bulls ridge came off. It would put me perfectly in position to get up there and do some calling.

But the wind was no good. I set up to glass a little and have a mid morning snack.

The bulls approximate last known location circled in red.

I aet a cold mcdouble while sitting here cursing the wind and my newfound knowledge that I would need to approximately double my original estimated hiking distance to gain that location.

I sent this picture to a text thread of some HT guys. They flamed me harder than we do the manbun creedmore leg humpers round here.

I'm not sorry. McDoubles are yummy, packable, easy to acquire, and chock full of calories. Eating clean while hunting isn't really how it works. If any of you eat oreos and snickers out there you're no better than me in this moment. Let me enjoy these rare treats, even if, on some levels, they are objectively disgusting ;)

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Due to these factors of wind and needing to retrace to a new route. It was time to back out and go get a look at some of my other chosen spots for the evening.
 
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The evening would bring a new spot. Further, it would bring a brand new spot. I got sidetracked on my plan to hike in about 2 miles in a completely different location to some meadows to try some sitting and calling by finding a wallow. For some reason, my gut just said, set up here and do some cow calling and see what happens.

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Nothing happened. But as I joked to my wife, at least something is coming to my elk calls.

I've never been more ready to high tail it out of there like a coward if this cute little sniffin' about critter showed any indication of coming towards me.

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I would sit there until close to last light. The wind was whipping for the majority of my sit and would finally settle down with about an hour of day left.

I would call occasionally and patiently await to see if anything happens. I don't hunt this way often, it was both hard and really enjoyable. It was beautiful and serene once the wind stopped. Sitting and thinking and enjoying the beauty of the woods is a really nice respite from running around with burning legs in the mountains. Makes me excited for my upcoming Wisconsin hunt.

I finally just called it quits and decided to go get some rest to get after that bull from this morning first thing tomorrow.

On my way out I was climbing back up a steep sage hill and glanced randomly to my right. Oh crap. There's an elk.

I dropped down into a ravine bisecting this sage hill side and set up with an arrow and tried some cow calls. Oh, there's two elk. A spike and a cow. It would appear they had fed out from the same expanse of timber I was sitting in on the wallow. How close to me were they this whole time?

They both perked up hard at my cow calls. But didn't move. Eventually they started trotting up the hill. I tried to race after them to see if I could get handle on where they went, but as is obvious, it was futile. I suspect that cow had caught sight of me moving up the hillside before I saw her and neither of them would then be in any mood whatsoever to come near a cow call after seeing an odd shaped figure trodding along the same hillside as them. That's my story and i'm sticking with it, i'm sure it has nothing to do with how much I suck at cow calling.

If I had a rifle this hunt would be over. They were around 300 yards for a full minute and I'd be okay with taking a spike home. I think I would've shot either one of them if they came into bow range. I do have home sickness and a burning desire to be around my 1 year old son, after all. I wouldn't mind gaining the time back and not having to go back for a week of rifle.


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Tomorrow brings a new day. And I've got a location marked on a bull.
 
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