Utah LE Early Rifle Bull Hunt

2rocky

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A few folks might know I drew a LE elk tag in Utah. Season opened on Saturday.

Travelling TO my hunt

I pulled out on Wednesday morning and encountered scattered thunderstorms through out Nevada. Silly me, i thought i could beat the odds and sleep on a cot with my sleeping bag and all the weather I drove through would magically disappear when I went to sleep. I spent Four hours under a plastic tarp listening to loud booms of thunder and grape size drops of rain pound. I awoke before daylight and threw my damp bed in the back seat to dry out as I headed East.

I arrived in the Unit on Thursday (9/15) and set up camp in a beautiful Aspen patch. I'd packed 6 Breakfast Burritos, anticipating one every morning for the duration of the 6 day season

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2rocky

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Because I had a limited amount of vacation time left for the year, and I doubt I will ever draw another LE Early Season elk tag, I engaged the services of a Utah outfitter who was really helpful in recommending units to apply for. I'd intended to hunt General Hunts to get to know the unit until I drew the LE tag, but I ended up drawing the LE tag first. I bit the bullet, got an Airline Miles credit card with 0% APR for 12 months. Creative Finance plan in action.

After paying my deposit, I was called by my guide Eli in the middle of May. I never spoke again with the outfitter until the final settlement, Eli handled all my questions and probed me about "whatcha looking for?" I told him I valued character over score, and I'd never killed a bull over 300 inches. He laughed and said "I won't let you". Our deal was, I took care of all my own lodging and food and he would pick me up where ever I was and we would go hunting. I told him I'd prefer to camp and hhe sent me a pin for where his travel trailer would be, and that's where i set up my camp.

When I joked he might have to carry my bullets he quipped: "BS buddy, I'm holding your bolt. You might have a shell hid out!" Right then I figured we would get along just fine.

Throughout the summer he sent me pictures and videos from previous hunts. The week before the season he sent me video of a bull feeding. It was hard to make out through the smoke, but i could tell he had tall antlers and was better than any of my previous bulls. I told Eli as much. I also determined from my research that bull was on other people's radar as well. I told Eli i wasn't up for being part of a shooting gallery and he assured me we would try to find undisturbed bulls elsewhere in the unit....

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2rocky

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One cool experience the second morning of my journey was when i encountered a bull with seven cows along the freeway. I was rocketing along at 80 mph listening to Outlaw Country when I saw him and jumped out to film him. You can hear the Ray Wylie Hubbard song playing in the background...

 
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2rocky

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It has come to my attention that Eli has spies in the HT community and is aware of this thread. Now I can't talk crap about him and show embarrassing pictures of him. Your Loss HT..... :ROFLMAO:

In all truth the days I spent with Eli and his beautiful bonus family are some of the most treasured memories from this hunt. i really consider them to be close friends and look forward to doing more with them.
 

2rocky

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Eli took me on a general tour of the hunt zone that first afternoon. We made the rounds and shot the breeze with a number of folks in the unit. Other guides, locals helping friends, folks with rifle tags, bowhunters, one of the cattle permittee's, etc....I figured out that every BIG bull in the unit is known about by locals who glass all summer. The bulls are visible, it's just a matter of getting TO them. I could see being an outsider, trying to learn the unit i would have been at a disadvantage. Especially when the bulls move 5-10 miles in the rut.

The first afternoon I got to lay eyes on the bull Eli had seen earlier miles away. He was on a steep sidehill with a bunch of cows. It didn't take much time for me to declare him as "good enough". Problem was we weren't the only ones who saw him. We spent that evening trading bugles with a bull that had a nice growl to his voice and heard his cows mewing and striking rocks on the hillside. We never saw that bull that night but it was a solid backup. We also saw a small 6 point on a steep rocky hillside with cows that was too tough an approach to make unless he grew 100 inches overnight.

The morning 24 hours before the hunt, we loaded up the four wheeler before dawn and drove to a distant part of the unit where Eli had seen a really good bull last season. When we arrived and called at the crack of dawn, it was silent. As the sun rose we looked for sign at water and it was evident there were no elk there recently. We hiked and glassed and called for a number of hours, and finally wrote off that area and decided to go back to our core spot in the unit where we had seen and heard bulls. That evening, the growly bugler we'd heard the night before had retreated further up the ridge and a couple of small squealers answered as well. When we arrived back at camp we pow-wowed about our options for the next morning. I elected to go after the best bull we had seen. We knew how good he was despite other hunters knowing about him as well. We made a gameplan and had a plan B in the likely event someone who was quicker than us and a longer shot would beat us to the punch on opening morning.

I fully expected to be pivoting to another opportunity shortly after first light.....

My daughters have a tradition of drawing me a good luck drawing before each hunt. This sketch was all I could coax out of my 16 year old.

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2rocky

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During the hunt, I had service in camp. The local dove season was open at home so my little lady sent me a picture to inspire me I think. She used the Spring loaded Gamo air rifle I keep by the sliding door to do some killing of her own..

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2rocky

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So I prepped my gear for the next morning since we were going to be leaving camp in full dark. I had the coffee in the percolator and the breakfast burrito wrapped in foil to go on the propane grill. When the alarm went off at 4:30 I fired up the Coleman, the Buddy Heater in the tent and the propane grill on the tailgate and got dressed. By 4:45 I had my coffee, warm burrito, rifle and pack loaded in the pickup headed to the trailhead.

Nights were getting down to 38 degrees and warming up into the 70's by midday. This meant Elk were out for 30 minutes in the morning and evening but headed to the dark timber as soon as the sun hit them. When we parked at the trailhead, there were 2 trucks there all ready and another pulled in behind us. Wordlessly we shouldered our packs and hit the trail, determined to not be outrun to our perch to unleash death from afar....

A mile and a half in we were nearing the clearing on the hill that we had planned to be to watch the hillside across where we had spotted the bull 2 days before. Out of the darkness a beam of light hit us, then switched on and off right from where we wanted to be. We shrugged and headed further up the valley to the next open finger. The folks behind us had not caught up to us, and I was steaming with the early morning exertion at 9000 feet.

As my breathing slowed we heard a bugle from up the valley to our left. Eli and I looked at each other, both pointing to the south. Five minutes later the bugle was repeated and we lost no time grabbing up our packs and heading through the next finger of trees cautiously until we saw the light shadowy figures of elk in the meadow. I didn't count but it seemed to be a portion of the dozen or so cows we knew the big bull tended. They were 400 to 450 yards away and I couldn't make out antlers through my binos. Eli whispered that he saw the bull. I looked further to the right of the clearing and saw a mud caked black beast emerge from the trees with white tips gleaming in the half light four feet above his back. Eli hand signalled me "FOUR-ONE -FIVE" as I tried to read the yardage chart and then the scope dial in the low light. We fumbled with the phone screen to shine just enough light to dial the correct MOA without alerting the herd to our presence. Then I got prone over my pack on a low rock to try to steady my cross hairs. Problem was the rise in the ground and the low sagebrush made it tough to see the bull. After a couple moves and standing my pack up, I finally could see my crosshairs and the bull.

Glancing over at Eli he said, "Yeah I think he's good enough..."
I hissed "How is our time?" meaning shooting time 30 minutes before official sunrise
He gave me the thumbs up, and as I settled into the scope, I saw the bull suddenly on the left side of the cows and cows began trotting across the meadow from left to right, angling in our direction.
Eli hissed "He's on the move!" as the cows went from a trot to loping into the trees on the edge of the steep ridge.
The bull was behind them and kicked up a gear following his harem. I swung through and pulled the trigger as the crosshairs approached the shoulder. Shortly after the BOOM, I saw the bulls hind end go down and heard the solid "SMACK!" of the bullet. I jacked in another shell as the bull wheeled to quartering away and fired another round, heard the distinctive SMACK, and the bull dropped to the ground. He never got up.

Eli and I looked at each other and acted like a couple of kids who had just found a stash of nudie magazines and illegal fireworks. our celebration was interrupted as Eli began making strange sounds "EEEERRRRPPPPP----ERRRRPP"
In all the excitement, my seasoned guide had swallowed the fresh wad of Copenhagen he had uploaded when we had stopped a few minutes earlier. When I determined he wasn't going to die, I began walking towards my downed bull who blended in quite well to the dark sage and wet dirt, except for a massive white tipped beam arcing out of the sage like a snow stripped fir tree...

 
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2rocky

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My emotions were pretty mixed at this point. I'd never, in nine previous bull elk I'd killed, been able to go and look at the elk I ended up killing before the season and made the conscious decision to go after that one animal. It felt surreal that the biggest elk of my life was dead on the ground in front of me.
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2rocky

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After we took a few hundred pictures it seemed, we caught a glimpse of what made the cows spook. Further up the valley four orange hats bobbed in our direction. As we looked towards them I could feel the slight breeze on my face and knew that had been the cause for alarm and helped us in our position.

Eli radioed for some help from friends, one of whom had heard the shots early and called to check in. We began skinning the mud soaked bull as the sun peeked over the horizon. Help arrived before we had removed the half a hide. A few minutes later we heard the group behind us shoot twice. A lone hiker who came by 5 minutes later informed us his group had just killed a bull on the steep face. We discussed it and decided it was probably another bull that had been with the herd we had ambushed.

Pretty soon we had the carcass skinned and gutless quartered and bagged. The four of us shouldered loads, and I chose unwisely to pack the antlers, skull and cape. It was an unwieldy load of what I estimated to be 150 pounds. The Badlands 2200 I'd had since 2005 struggled to contain and control the top heavy antlers. After about halfway back to the truck I'd traded the pack off for a lighter load as Eli's friend marched the twisting load back to the trailhead.

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Eli instructed me to stay with the rack at the truck as the three of them made a second trip. There I fielded questions from curious onlookers and met the other party who had killed the other bull moments after us. They told us they had seen the bull the night before rolling in the mud while his cows watered. They had history in the area as the hunter's wife had killed an outstanding bull two years before in the unit.

Pretty soon we had all the pieces of the bull in the truck and we headed back to camp after an extended stop at the local store where the rack definitely caused some traffic slowdowns and a crowd gathered.

That afternoon we delivered the meat and head to White's Custom Meat Processing. Wayne promised he would get it cut up wrapped , caped and frozen on Monday so I could be on the road Tuesday morning.
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2rocky

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That night in camp after a shower and hot meal of pork tenderloin and rice pilaf, the celebration kicked into high gear. i broke out the bottle of Crown Royal I'd saved for the occasion. Eli's wife played DJ and we danced around the campfire and sang along to the Bluetooth speaker. It was a late night and I woke up to the sun beating down on my tent and heating me up like my morning burrito.

I spent Sunday driving around the area, reading all the highway historical signs seeing the varied terrain of Utah. The red cliffs just mesmerized me. I drove the "most scenic" highway 12 on Boulder Mountain and looked down over Capitol Reef NP. I definately plan to bring my family next summer to hit the Utah National parks.

Monday I drove up to Redmond , to have lunch with my sales rep from Redmond Salt. After lunch we went to their facility for a tour and some long distance dynamite shooting. Another first.....Especially seeing how they bowl in Utah!
 

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